15 March 2011 | Opua, North Island, New Zealand
We are now in the final phase of our Trans-Pacific Odyssey, our Right-Instead-of-Left Adventure. We've pared down to the third and smallest version of our stuff -- which started with a reduction from house to boat, then from boat to camper, and now, from camper to guest quarters aboard s/v Paikea Mist.
Our last days in m/v Henny Quarters were good. We snared a fantastic slab of beachfront property in the Top 10 Holiday Resort (they don't even call that one a campground) in Papamoa, near Tauranga on the east coast, and from there we ventured off to the airport for further forays into the Kiwi aviation scene. Friday Allan finally got his ride in a 1940 Tiger Moth; Saturday we flew in a DC-3; Sunday we had an unofficial home stay on a 10-acre ranch; Monday it was back to Auckland, and now we're on the northeast coast in Opua.
Allan's Tiger Moth ride with Andrew, the museum's head dude and all-around great guy, went perfectly. It took a bit of effort to make the Tiger ride happen -- most people want a ride in the Boeing Stearman biplane, which they keep more readily available in the big hangar. The Tiger, on the other hand, is tucked back along the side and doesn't get out much. All the museum volunteers were out helping and observing as she was pulled from the hangar and fueled by hand from a high ladder, a precarious job that requires heaving the fuel jug overhead and carefully pouring fuel into a funnel, trying not to spill or drip into the open cockpit below. ("Andrew owes me a beer for this one" muttered John as he hauled the jug up the ladder.)
Allan was suited up in an olive-colored flight suit that the museum had procured from US military surplus, looking right at home in the very garb he wore for 21 years in the Air National Guard. I got a few photos of them taxiing out, dragging an ever-increasing blob of grass behind the tail skid (really old tail draggers had no tail wheel -- just a curved skid -- which is how they got their name.) Andrew gave Allan a great ride over the coastline and the local area on a spectacular day, meanwhile I drank tea and wandered through the museum's hangar. 40 minutes later they dragged back in, looking wind-blown and happy. The dream of flying a Canadian de Havilland Tiger Moth now realized, Allan hesitantly peeled the flight suit off and we went in search of a few friends we'd made the day before in nearby hangars.
Saturday was the DC-3 ride and, after having coffee with the lovely couple in the camp site next to us on the beach and sharing our shock over the Japan earthquake and tsunami (continuing our vigilance of prayers there) we packed up HQ and headed back to Tauranga airport. Another Andrew was at the helm for that flight, a terrific and very funny guy who we liked immediately. And Kiwis are so friendly, (although Andrew is an Ozzie) that within 10 minutes of meeting us he'd invited us to come spend the night with his family on their 10 acres south of Auckland. More on that later. The DC-3 ride was fun, a quick 20-minute low-flying zoom over the coastline, (we snapped an aerial photo of our neighbors in the camp ground and emailed it to them later.) After the flight we did a bit more visiting, said farewell (but not before being graciously gifted with patches and pins from our museum friends) and drove north to the Coromandel peninsula, a part of the North Island that we've been meaning to explore for the last 2 months and had left to the very end.
But to date it remains unexplored: we stopped short at the Miranda Hot Springs and spent the night at a great camp with a big, lovely natural hot pool. The Miranda Hot Springs is close enough to Auckland that it seems to be the final stop for many campers and motor homes before they are returned to the rental companies, so people are cleaning and off-loading extraneous stuff, including piles of gourmet food - jams, coffee, cookies, canned goods. It would be a good place to stock up on the front end -- just get there before 10 am and watch for the frazzled tourists walking to the communal kitchen with armloads of goodies to give away ...
We made a quick stop at the Miranda Bird Stopover, where migrating Godwits come to feed after their 11,000 mile journey from Alaska, and then it was on to, yes, another airport. Ardmore Airport south of Auckland has yet another cool collection of historic aircraft, and was the designated spot where we were to meet Andrew the DC-3 Captain so we could follow him to his home for the night. Andrew was a bit delayed, so we fell into conversation with a couple who invited us to climb aboard the big Catalina PBY, the huge seaplane that had just returned from a scenic flight. (We missed it by a few hours!) We sat happily in the old boat-plane and chatted with Dee, the world's first (and only?) female PBY Captain. Andrew arrived around 5:30 and we were off through the countryside, following him to his beautiful 10-acres of horse and cow and cat and kid ranch.
We parked HQ down by the barn and had a relaxing evening tossing balls with their 3-year old daughter Lexy and holding 4-month-old Charlie, petting their delightful cat and watching the furry cows -- Scottish Highland Longhairs (or something) grazing in the paddock. Caroline had made a fantastic lasagne, and I had brought some rather abysmal chocolate cookies which we redeemed with blobs of ice cream. Being guests on their little slice of paradise was a real treat, and we feel a bit more bonded with New Zealand having finally had a "home stay."
The next morning we laboriously cleaned out HQ, trying to organize things into those smaller versions of our stuff before we took the bus north to spend a few days with Michael and Gloria. But first, a stop in Auckland, where we returned our metal box-of-a-home for the last 6 weeks (not without a few tears) and had one last night on s/v Curious with Steve and Trish.
And now, once again, we're homeless. Through the kindness of friends we have a roof over our heads, and it's a perfect ending to our fabulous 18-month Odyssey: 5 days aboard beautiful Paikea Mist with our dear friends Michael and Gloria, sailing in the Bay of Islands. Michael is busily finishing off a few projects with Allan's help, and Gloria and I, having put away the last of the groceries, are tapping away on our tiny laptops. Outside, a mix of sun, puffy clouds, and a soft NW breeze are calling for one last sailing trip.
And then: home -- how odd that will be!