Vern: At 5:30am the alarm tore us out of a deep sleep. It was still very very dark outside, but we dressed, slithered through into the front seats and defrosted the windscreen. Then we rolled out of our rest stop and back on to the Kawhia Harbour road. We only had an hour.
The tiny beach town of Kawhia is where the first Maoris landed in New Zealand and the canoe on which they arrived is buried here in a sacred place. It's unmarked so as to keep it sacred. We, however, were looking for something which should have been straightforward to find in a beach town: the beach. But all roads led to the harbour; lots of sea, lots of boats, no beach. Half an hour left or we'd miss it.
Parked at the harbour, we desperately consulted the map book but Kawhia was just a yellow dot. The little note scrawled on this page which had led us out here in the first place ended with "Ask a local". On cue an old fisherman wondered into the glow of a street lamp. We summoned him over and he was very helpful.
Following the old salt's directions, we made our way out of town and followed a coastal road until it dead-ended. It roughly looked like a parking lot, so we figured this was a beach. Hopefully it was THE beach. Still dressed in our winter jackets and long pants but sans shoes and carrying our towels and swimsuits we scrambled up and over a large sand dune. The beach was immense and the sea very far away. The retreating tide had left a thousand divots in the sand, each now a little puddle. The tide was officially its lowest an hour ago but was still far out and this was in our favour.
The sand granules were like tiny balls of hail rubbing and freezing our feet as we plodded across the long beach and out to the water. We came upon the puddles and I inserted a tentative toe into one of these. Brrrrrrrrr! Something was terribly wrong. It was supposed to be at least luke warm.
The little scribbled note on the page of the map book had led us here promising a hot water beach. One hour either side of low tide the Te Puia Hot Springs rise to the surface and seep into the sand. One is supposed to be able to dig themselves a spa in the sand. But this puddle was cold, and so was the next one and the next one. The cold sand and colder sea water had rendered our feet numb.
We were on the verge of giving up when Andrea announced that she smelt sulphur. We followed the smell until we found a puddle which was not warm but it was less cold than the other puddles. Then in the light of the rising sun we could see steam rising off puddles a few metres away. We splashed over to those and plunged our feet in. Aaaahhh! YES! The water was near boiling. What a relief. We stood for a while and let our feet defrost in the steamy puddles. I bent down and started scooping sand away to make my puddle deeper and wider but it would take a long time. While we loved the foot spas, we decided we weren't committed enough to this phenomenon to scrape full jacuzzis out of the sand. A cool wind was now coming off the sea and while the steamy pool would be grand, the walk back to the car would have been terrible.
After the sun was up and our feet had cooked we retraced our steps across the beach and over the dunes. Our campervan was still there and just like we left it (a patch of broken window glass nearby suggested that someone else hadn't been so lucky).
We had breakfast back at the rest stop where we'd slept, and enjoyed a beautiful drive back to Otorohanga where we backed up some photos at the library. Then after lunch we headed to Hamilton. We navigated the small city's one-way system and found its museum where the guidebook said we'd find the fossil of a 30 million year old human-size penguin in the foyer. It wasn't there, but the receptionist said she'd call the Science Curator if we really wanted to see it. We did. A mousy woman found us in the foyer and took us down to the basement in an enormous elevator. She led us through a warehouse of undisplayed exhibits and to a display case with some very old bones set in rock. She gave us a run down on how it was found and how it isn't the biggest fossil ever found but it IS the most in tact. Nonetheless its head was missing. We had hoped that the penguin was in tact and standing upright (perhaps we expected too much) so were a bit disappointed. Nonetheless we took a photo with the fossil display case. It probably won't make the album.
The rest of the museum was quite good actually and after being ushered out (yes we're that age now where we close museums rather than nightclubs) we went for a walk on the high street. A few blocks away we came across the statue of Rocky Horror Picture Show playwright Richard O'Brien dressed as Riff Raff the time-warping alien from the planet Transexual. In this spot, working as a hairdresser at the Embassy Theatre, O'Brien had thought up the bizarre musical.
We left town and searched for a rest stop on the way to Aukland to spend our last night in the camper in New Zealand. There wasn't an appropriate spot anywhere and it got very late so we finally took refuge in a holiday park (after its office had closed). The next morning we drove into Aukland and pulled into a 'scenic lookout' to kill time. This is a small parking lot where people can pull into to watch planes take off and land. Though I don't think many people there when we were there were plane-spotters. It was clear that several people had spent the night there sleeping in their cars there and one guy pulled in just to smoke marijuana before work. That guy then got a bit carried away smoking and watching planes and having left his lights on had to go begging for a jump. I wonder what he told his boss when he finally got to work that day. We spent our last bit of New Zealand money at Dunkin Donuts, then turned in our campervan at Jucy and took a shuttle to Aukland airport.
When we checked in, the counter clerk talked us through all the things we weren't allowed to have in our checked bags and in our hand luggage. It struck us as a little odd that one is specifically not allowed honey in their hand luggage. Later, after security it struck us as downright bizarre that more than one duty free store was selling honey on a 3 for 2 offer. What game are they playing at?!
We flew to Cairns, via Brisbane and checked into our hostel, a converted motel, very late. It was sweltering. Our memorable month in New Zealand was over and we had turned to a new chapter, big warm Australia.