We arrived in Auckland after an overnight flight from Bangkok. It was grey and rainy as we drove north on State Highway 1 to Warkworth and up Matakana Road to the village. We found our rental house - a beautiful four-bedroom with a large yard, deck, pool and trampoline - then went out for food.
The house reminded me of many places we’ve stayed on Cape Cod - ranch-style and lacking air conditioning. My mold allergies here were the worst they’ve been in decades. I was fine as long as we were out of the house, but they always flared up at night and my over-the-counter antihistamines were not much help. But it was really nicely decorated and fully stocked (it is a primary residence, not a vacation property) and we got comfortable pretty quickly. I loved the views, especially after few weeks of city-slicking in southeast Asia.
The sun came out on the second day, and we still had a lot of energy for exploring. We drove out to Tawharanui Regional Park for a hike. We slathered on the sunscreen because, in keeping with the New Zealand as Middle Earth branding scheme, the sun here feels like the Eye of Sauron burning your skin. (We were a little surprised when the rental car agent gave us two complimentary bottles of sunscreen; later we learned that New Zealand has about the highest melanoma mortality rate in the world.) The sunscreen doesn’t help with the burning feeling, but it did prevent bad burns. (I think we may have come out a little pink, but that’s all.)
The Ecology Trail at Tawharanui took us along the beach, through wetlands and pasture, and into native bush. It was a microcosm of the North Island landscape, and it was beautiful. We saw ferns and flax and kauri trees. The kauri are a special species unique to New Zealand. They were nearly all cut down by the Māori and early English settlers and now face a devastating die-back disease. The park set up shoe-cleaning stations at the entrance and exit to the bush, because the disease is spread through soil movement. It was interesting having to scrape and spray the bottoms of our shoes during the hike, but important, too.
We had dinner at the Torkingtons that night - an excellent introduction to New Zealand. They live on a peninsula with gorgeous views of the harbor. There is a protected beach and walking trail nearby, too. Basically, they live in paradise. We returned to our place full of yummy food, happy from good company and in awe of the star-filled sky above us. I can’t think of a better way to start a staycation here or anywhere.