Daisy Bateman

Tuesday, Part 2: Big Trees, Long Roads and a Surprising Lack of Sweet Potatoes

It was about three o’clock when we made it to the west coast, at a tiny resort town with enormous sand dunes and abundant rental cottages. There was a gas station here, too, but this appeared to be the one part of New Zealand where the gas price standardization had not taken effect and, at twenty cents a liter more than we had been paying, it seemed steep. So on we went.

The gas light came on just as we were entering the Kauri Forest National park. We had passed up a gas station with a prominent sign reading “Last Gas”, but we didn’t totally believe it. After all, this was a major tourist area, right? There were bound to be more stations near the park entrance. But when we asked the lady selling overpriced snacks at the first viewpoint we came to, she confirmed that the closest station was the one back the way we came, about ten minutes that way; the next wasn’t for another twenty-five minutes or more ahead. (People in New Zealand tend to give distances in time, rather than distance, which suggests to me a certain consistency of speed.) We debated, and worried, while we went to take a look at the trees (they’re big), and eventually, reluctantly, decided to turn around. Because, as much as we didn’t want to backtrack, we wanted to be stuck out of gas on a remote road in a wilderness park in the gathering darkness even less. So back we went, which turned out the be the right idea.

(Okay, it doesn’t really sound like a big adventure, but it could have been. Call it an adventure narrowly averted.)

Once we didn’t have the gas thing to worry about, the Kauri forest was very interesting. Most of the island had been heavily logged, and it seemed likely that this particular area had been left alone more because it was up in a steep, mountainous area than out of any particular conservationist bent. Even so, some of it appeared to have been cleared at some point in the past, so you could see the various stages of the forest coming back. It was very peaceful, and almost completely empty.

Also totally empty: the town of Dargaville, Kumara captial of the world. At least that’s what the guidebook said. Driving through, we didn’t see much evidence of kumaras being grown there, unless they were cleverly disguised as sheep. There were a couple of fields that looked like they might have had something planted in them, but it was hard to tell. I suppose the qualifications for being a kumara capital are not that stringent.

It was just about dark when we found a place to stop, a B&B with an attached cafe in Matakohe (alert readers will recall that this is where I made it back to the internet and demanded attention). There was only one guest in the cafe, and none in the B&B, which meant that once the owners went home for the night we had the place to ourselves. The room was smallish, but there was a nice big sitting room with books and tea, and on our dresser we were provided with some chocolates and a small decanter of port, a development both odd and ideal.

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