If you read my last blog post, you’ll know that last Sunday I was in Whangarei, which is the northernmost city in New Zealand. I drove the whole damn way myself, and most of it on my lonesome in my lil car. And I’m so glad I did it.
In Whangarei, I stayed with my flatmate/best friend/soulmate Kate and her family, who were very kind and put up with me for basically an entire week. Kate and I had first started talking about the idea of me visiting Whangarei back in 2014: she was excited to show me all the places she grew up loving, and I was excited to see proper golden sandy beaches and eat at the renowned cupcake shop I’d heard so much about. I’d also never been that far north, except for when I was a fetus, so I was keen to see a new part of the country. Due to various other factors (anxiety, work, etc), the trip didn’t happen in the summer of ’14/’15 as we’d initially thought it would. But this summer I was determined to make it happen. And I did!
I wasn’t crazy enough to do the whole drive from Hastings to Whangarei in one go, so after driving to Auckland on the Wednesday (13th) I spent the night staying with my friend Judith, which was very cool considering we hadn’t seen each other in a year. She and her boyfriend were very kind and let me crash on their couch.
The drive up to Auckland got me thinking it’s funny how a lot of people my age (myself included) dream of going overseas to explore different places, and I think we often forget that there’s so much to explore here in New Zealand. On my way north I passed through picturesque holiday cities (Taupo), countless little service towns, winding mountainous terrain, geothermal parks, rolling green pastures, sprawling urban wasteland (Hamilton) and multi-lane motorways that confused the poop out of a smalltown driver like me. And that was all before I’d even made it into Northland.
I was born in Auckland, but we moved to Hawke’s Bay when I was three, so I’m not super familiar with the city. However, I had spent a couple of days there for ODESZA in January last year, but I didn’t really enjoy myself properly because I was Sad and Anxious for reasons I might one day talk about – but now is not the time. One year later, however, I was amazed at how much I’d grown. This time around I was able to properly take in the city and, to my surprise, I took a bit of a shine to downtown Auckland. There are so many amazing looking eateries just absolutely everywhere, and I wished I had four stomachs so I could sample all the different food. Then there’s the whole fairy lights thing, which I was mad into. And also so many shops that we just don’t have in Wellington.
Kate met me in Auckland on the Thursday morning, and kept me company for the remainder of the drive up to Whangarei. (Naturally, we stopped in at the cat cafe on our way out of Auckland, an experience that felt too beautiful to be true.) What struck me the most on the drive was how different everything felt. I didn’t feel like I was somehow in a different universe or anything: it was still obviously NZ. But it was a part of NZ I didn’t know.
I actually caught up with my dear friend Dylan a couple of days ago, and we were talking about just that. It was his first time in Hawke’s Bay since he was a small child, and he was in awe of the dusty brown hills, the deep green pine trees, the enormous bowl of sky and the stony Napier beach – all things I’d grown up with and were to me so ordinary as not to warrant a second thought.
That was how I experienced Whangarei. I was in awe of all the green everywhere, the banana trees, the hills covered in dense bush, and most of all how humid and muggy it was. To Kate that was normal; to me it was foreign and weird.
We packed a lot into the few days I had up north. On the first night I was there, I went with Kate’s family to The Old Stone Butter Factory, which is apparently the “cool” bar in Whangarei. We were there to see some live music: Natalie Wilson opened for the incredible loop artist Graeme James. They were both so talented and I had such a lovely time. Still feel so lucky that I was there on the right night and was able to see them perform. Graeme did a sick cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” which is one of my favourite songs. Here he is performing his cover in Wellington, where I believe he’s based.
The next day we went to Wooley’s Bay with our friend Phil. It was lovely getting to spend the afternoon on the beach with friends, boogie boarding and eating ice cream and BBQ chips. If that’s not an ideal summer day then I don’t know what is.
On Saturday we drove up to Paihia and spent the day up there (stopping in Kawakawa on the way to see the Famous Loos). Paihia is an idyllic little beach town and I found it hard to believe there are people that live there all year round. We enjoyed brunch in a cafe overlooking the sea, and then drove up to Waitangi.
Visiting Waitangi was definitely the highlight of my time in Northland. Some call it “the birthplace of a nation”, because it is the (now-historic) site where, in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Maori chiefs and the British crown. As someone who is passionate about history, it was an amazing and at times moving experience to see the site where arguably the most important document in New Zealand’s history was signed. (Obviously the treaty was deeply problematic from the outset: the Maori translation was an inaccurate representation of what the English version said. But that’s a discussion for another day.) Visiting Waitangi shed a new light on the colonial history of this country – I felt a renewed sense of pride in my nationhood, and at the same time my heart hurt for all those that the treaty shortchanged.
Returning to Paihia in the afternoon, Kate and I caught the ferry across the bay to Russell. Russell is a town with a rich colonial history: it was the first permanent European settlement in the country, and in the 1840s was a place of considerable unrest. Today you can go, as we did, to see the oldest surviving church in New Zealand and touch the numerous bulletholes in its walls.
Kate’s family are Christian, so on Sunday morning it was off to church for a service that even they considered to be a bit too long. But that was okay, because after that we went to the Quarry Gardens for lunch (which was delicious). As the name suggests, the Quarry Gardens used to be a quarry and have since been turned into some quite spectacular gardens. After lunch we had a good old wander through the gardens. My favourite part was the section of the gardens that was filled with bigass cactuses that looked like the ones you see in Western movies.
Monday was my last day in Whangarei. It was very rainy and also very humid, so I didn’t get up to much. However, Kate and I did get dinner at Reva’s on the waterfront and it was very enjoyable, despite the mugginess and the constant downpour. The next day it was back to Auckland where I spent the night and got to catch up with Judith again, as well as my friend Liv, who I hadn’t seen in far too long. On the drive home the next day I avoided Hamilton, opting instead for the highway 27 route. Which was much more pleasant: way quieter and with some considerably lovely scenery. I thoroughly enjoyed that portion of my drive home.
One thing in particular stood out to me during my travels to Whangarei and back. In comparison with my ’14/’15 trips around the country to Gisborne and Auckland, I have come so much further in my recovery since then. When I started blogging on Iron Beth (almost a year ago now!!!), I knew I was going to fully commit to getting better, but there was also a part of me that doubted I could ever really get much better. That part was not insignificant, either. But looking back at how I was last summer during those roadtrips, and looking at what I’ve just done, it’s clear to me that the progress I’ve made has been enormous.
Things like travelling by yourself on roads you’ve never been before, spending a week staying with people you don’t know too well, spending the days travelling and exploring and packing in as much as possible… They don’t actually sound like too big of a deal, right? But to me, they are huge. I can’t stress that enough. THEY ARE HUGE. When I was unwell I would never have been able to do anything like this. I had my tiny little safety bubble in Wellington, and anytime I ventured outside it could cause an anxiety attack or a panic attack. It was only on the drive home that I realised what I’d just done and was like, “Whoa. Holy shit. I actually did all that.”
The coolest part about my trip was that I only had one tiny 20-minute bout of anxiety – totally totally manageable, and for the rest of the trip I was good. FOR THE REST OF THE TRIP I WAS GOOD. Like, completely and totally good. And I don’t know how I can stress it enough but THAT IS FUCKING HUGE, GUYS. I know that the Beth of last summer would be so so proud if she could read this post and know what I have just done. It’s no small feat.
I’d like to leave you with the option to watch the vlogs I put together of my time in Whangarei and Auckland. I know I’ll definitely be watching these back a lot, because I so enjoy the scenery and the memories. If nothing else, scroll on down til you get to the bloopers one, because that has some funny moments including me embarrassing myself in the famous toilets.