I’ve got a good mate that I played rugby with in London, back in the day. We look alike, so much so that even my own mother once got us mixed up. He’s a generous man is David.  He lives in Singapore and was out for the Lions tour and attended a Rugby Foundation dinner in Auckland, which of course included an auction. The following week he stayed with us in Wellington and gave us the item he successfully bid for, a weekend in Northland.  Generous not just once, but twice. In my version of the story he says, “here you go Pete, you better have this, I must have forgotten where I lived”.

So this is why I returned to the top of New Zealand with my wife and four good mates last weekend, it wasn’t supposed to be them, but it was. Bird and I drove up to Cape Reinga from where we were on the Saturday. It was my third time right up at the top and the first time I couldn’t see a bloody thing. We could hear the sea and feel the wind but could scarcely see our hands in front of our faces. It was Bird’s first time, he’d barely been past Auckland before. There’s a lot of land up there, Taupo Bay Lodge was four hours from Auckland, the sharp end was a further two hours.

We drove up in a brand-new Land Rover Discovery, it was red, Firenze Red – according to the brochure. The drive on the Saturday was the motoring highlight, they’re good driving roads and in October there wasn’t a lot of traffic. We drove on Ninety Mile beach for sixty clicks or so too. It’s quite disconcerting driving on what appears to be an airport runway, sea on one side, cliff-like sand dunes on the other. The occasional vehicle coming at you, usually on the wrong side, strangely very little driftwood and one solitary seal. Several long-distance walkers, elongated in the odd light, marching southbound on the hard, flat sand.

Back in ’88 I rode a bike from top to bottom and slept the first night of that trip under the stars in the dunes of Ninety Mile Beach. I had Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust on my Walkman. It was a special moment, especially when I found out the beach was only 88 kilometres long. This time as we cruised up in the Disco I couldn’t help yearning for the old days on the bike, especially given that the smattering of walkers were just starting their own top to bottom trip, following the national Te Araroa trail. It can take up to six months so October and November are the prime start dates for those intending the whole route. I couldn’t help but wonder how many would make it to The Bluff.

We stayed at Taupo Bay Lodge, it sits above the bay in its own substantial gardens. I swam in the sea twice, scooting down the private path through thick bush. We sat outside on both nights, drinking wine and eating tua tuas gathered at the beach earlier in the afternoon, steamed open on the large outside fire. We put the world to rights whilst the moreporks talked to us as the night settled in. This is Kiwi country too, though we never heard one, we might have made too much noise.

A good cross section of New Zealand art was on the walls, each of the main bedrooms looked out over the bay and the unusual black rocked topography around it. Even the shower in the main suite had a view with ceiling to floor windows. Really the only room without a view was the sauna – it’s some years since I had one of those. The lodge had everything we needed and more.

My only regret was a lack of time.


Special thanks to Dave.

The NZ Rugby Foundation supports seriously injured players.

Thanks to Taupo Bay Lodge, excellent place to stay especially for a Big Chill type weekend. We enjoyed cooking in the massive well-equipped kitchen and spread out at other times to read or chat.  Never met the owners but all communication was very easy and they left a bottle of wine for us.

The Land Rover Discovery was a great vehicle to drive. Plenty of smooth acceleration, great handling too and lots of extra bits we didn’t use. Really good stereo, very important to us. Only downside was that with six of us and no-one you’d exactly call small, luggage and shopping, the poor person in the back was a bit squished. If I was in the market I’d be keen.

Pete Carter is the author of This is Us. Due out in June 2020 it will be published by Exisle and tells the story of more than 200 New Zealanders in words and pictures. The book is really a portrait of the nation and how it is made up. Pete wrote Our Dog Benji a children’s book illustrated by his nephew, published by EK in 2017. He is also the author of two books of poetry. He has had magazine articles published and poetry in anthologies. As a photographer he has had two solo exhibitions and work included in group exhibitions in NZ and overseas and has sold work to and been commissioned by corporate clients.

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