Cape Crusaders

January 7th, 2012 by Tim Grimley

Hands up all those of you who, although currently engrossed in the Car & SUV website, should actually be at one gymnasium or another thanks to a fatuous and almost certainly drunken promise made around a week ago. If my own experience of New Year’s resolutions is anything to go by, I wager there may be more than the odd one or two of you now raising a paw whilst casting a guilty glimpse in the direction of some unused training shoes and miscellaneous items of spandex clothing with labels still attached.

And I suspect that by now you may be coming around to agree with the conclusion I made last week that any resolutions which involve casting asunder delicious calories and sweating like a sumo in a sauna are, by and large, idiotic.

So, while you may have wasted a week’s wages on never-to-be-used Nike merchandise, you can take heart and look forward to next year, because I can tell you now that resolutions to undertake more road trips are bloody awesome.

True to my word, at 10am on the 1st January, the current Mrs Grimley and I pointed my appalling Mercedes at Cape Reinga, pressed the ‘go’ pedal and headed off North.

Unless, like my illustrious colleague Mr Cottingham, you insist on heading to Coromandel with a million other people and rain over the holiday period then road tripping in New Zealand is an absolute joy. Where other nations have succumbed to the demands of commuting and installed networks of behemoth multi-lane highways, the single carriageway roads that meander through the Kiwi countryside make motoring so much more fun.

The Not So Dynamic Duo

Every bend is a different driving experience, each crest treats you to a new, exciting panorama and a few minutes of basic research into the flora and fauna before setting off turns you into the ‘I Spy’ world champion.

Yes, the camper vans can be a bit wearisome, but it adds a bit of spice to the journey when you can finally find a suitable bit of straight tarmac, plant your right foot and hare past the poor sod whose miserably slow trip is likely to end in an evening of crapping in a bucket whilst the saner members of society have long since checked into their hotel and headed off to the pub.

This is exactly what woman and I did once we’d arrived at Mangonui, our overnight stop for the trip to the Cape. I’d recommend this for two reasons; firstly, taking in the sunset over Doubtless Bay with a cold beer or two and fried seafood is a hedonistic treat and secondly, watching the Cockatoo at the Mangonui Hotel scare the life out of the tourists who misguidedly try to stroke it is possibly Northland’s best entertainment. When you’ve had a few anyway.

But while pugilistic parrots and scoffing bluenose and Mac’s Gold at the ‘world famous’ Mangonui fish shop was amazing, the motoring highlight of the journey came the next morning when we nosed off Waipupakauri Ramp and had our first experience of 90 Mile Beach.

There is something of the Wacky Races about a journey down 90 Mile Beach. It would certainly be a brave soul who chanced sunbathing or sandcastle building when there is an intermittent stream of 4×4’s, buses, confused Asian families in people carriers and miscellaneous tourists in every variety of car imaginable all vying for space on the safer looking hard sand at motorway speeds.

With the sea pounding away to the left and a seemingly never ending stretch of sand along which to put the hammer down it was hugely tempting to take the amazing beach road all the way up to the treacherous Te Paki stream. But with a massive lump of pig iron under its bonnet, rear wheel drive and road-spec tyres, it was decided that if the Merc wasn’t the world’s worst off-road vehicle, it would probably be a close second and we ducked out at the very easy access available at Hukatere Hill.

And while it was very disappointing to leave the beach, a blast down a forestry track is not a bad alternative; particularly when the road at the end is the last sweeping blast of SH 1 which terminates at Cape Reinga itself.

Beware Of The Cockatoo

Cape Reinga is a fitting end to an amazing journey. It isn’t the prettiest or even the most dramatic piece of coastline that New Zealand has to offer, but when you stand down at the lighthouse with the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean furiously arm wrestling below and an endless expanse of churning blue ahead, it is very special indeed.

I left Cape Reinga feeling like I had been immersed in an almost spiritual experience. And the feeling stayed with me for all of about 800 yards until the current Mrs Grimley decided to plug in her I-Whatsit and transmit some musical abomination from nineteen eighty-something onto the stereo. Whether it was a spirit of the Cape or just one of the myriad of electrical issues that plague the old girl manifesting itself through the cigar lighter socket I’ll never know, but as soon as the music started the engine fell victim to an almighty fit of coughing which only remedied when the offending audio-pollution ceased and my Foo Fighters CD returned to active duty.

The homeward journey was broken down into much shorter legs, with stops at Kerikeri and the beautiful Whangarei Heads before we finally rolled back into Auckland. It is only natural to feel a sense of disappointment when a holiday is over, but given that this trip was made in a twenty year old car with almost 200,000km behind it, the sense of relief when we stopped on the driveway without falling victim to any major issues was an endorphin boost in itself.

In fact the only downside to the whole trip was a combination of sun, salt water and an impromptu caving session at Abbey Caves, Whangarei killing off a pair of my favourite shorts. Although on the plus side, today’s trip to replace them confirmed that I have no problems getting into an 87cm waist.

And that means the sit-ups can wait for another week.