Northland – Loss and gain on 90 Mile Beach

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The Welsh guy had a job hiring out canoes along the beach. At first when I heard this I was jealous at both how easy it had been for him to find work as well as the thought that hiring Canoes sounded like quite a cushty job. It got me thinking about what job I’d like to do but so far, we’d applied for all manner of things all of which had been pretty fruitless. As our week was coming to an end though, I’d decided that unlike the Welsh guy, Paihia wasn’t for us long term. Besides, the man who ran the hostel seemed to hate us and so I think it was definitely for the best to move on. We stopped briefly on and off route to walk, see the Haruru Falls and catch some of that fine New Zealand air. By the end of it we’d ended up all the way at the top of New Zealand – Cape Reinga. A brief beautiful moment of a sense of achievement before thinking, right better make our way back down then.

Right at the top of the Northland is where 90-mile beach begins – lush green rainforest meets rolling sand dunes looking out of place sat next to each other. If you haven’t heard of 90-mile beach, it’s a stretch of beach, just under 90 kilometres long (not miles) that is officially classed as a highway and so perfectly legal for you to drive on. Some opt to take a bus tour along it, but we’d bought a fully shit car for a stupid amount of money, so had to make the most of it. It was the best thing – driving that hideous lump of rusty metal across the sand with a gentle spray of water leaping up at us every now and again. It was the one time I was grateful to have it. Fun as this was, the beach is quite long, so we had to pull over half way through and camp out.

Funnily enough the campsite we found to stop off at was one that had an avocado farm attached and we’d applied to work in. Needless to say we’d not been offered a job. We could see all the freshly employed travellers there all there having a good time mixing with their new friends. And there we were, on the outside looking in, rejected. Clearly, avocado picking wasn’t to be our calling and these people were not to be our friends. Never mind, we settled down for another aching, uncomfortable night on our car mattress of sharp, pointy rocks instead. We stayed the one night and as we were leaving in the morning we past a group of Italians towing and physically pushing their car back up to the campsite from the beach. Ha losers! They’d clearly broken down and I have to admit a small sliver of evil seeped to the surface and Tom and I chucked at their misfortune. ‘Someone got a bit carried away didn’t they!’. Oh how we laughed!

A little while later, it was my turn to take the wheel. Now, I would say I’m a very good driver generally but I’m a cautious and less confident driver which you could argue is likely more dangerous. Make of that what you will. But this time I was on a beach! There were no limitations, no other traffic – the beach was my beach and I was free of all those restrictions that made me nervy on a normal road. So naturally, I absolutely fucking went for it! It really is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done – driving along a beach on a warm day with the windows open, music on and regular spurts of water jumping up into the air. Beautiful! It’s good job I enjoyed myself because the blissfulness lasted for about 10 minutes before suddenly the engine started slowing down. I quickly resigned my post as super rally sand dune driver and handed back the reigns to the much more capable Tom. Really should have seen this coming eh! The car slowed down to a stop and then once it had a few seconds break, it would get second wind and start going again. Then gradually it would slow back down to a stop again. Each time, the bursts of energy got shorter and shorter. Fucks sake. That’d teach me for laughing at those poor Italians. At least they hadn’t ventured too far away from the campsite unlike us who were now stuck in the middle of nowhere. Like the good little travellers, we are we’d bought AA cover when we bought the car, the problem was the AA (very sensibly I feel) don’t cover vehicles that get claimed by the 90 mile beach. So even if it killed us, we had to just get the bloody car off the bloody beach!

There are only exits off the beach every so often and so it was quite a way until we reached one. If it had broken down on the sand I assume you’d have to pay someone somewhere to remove it and having already paid a ridiculous amount for this crap and having no immediate employment prospects, we desperately needed to get it on to the road. The first ‘fuck my life’ moment of the trip. To keep it going Tom just kept patiently restarting it and for some reason I just crouched in my seat and stayed really still as if this would make a huge difference.

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After what seemed like forever, the end was in sight. At this point the stop starting was constant. It seems rather unbelievable but about 100 meters off the beach and on to the road, our pain in the arse RVR gave its last breath, rolled to a stop and would go on no more. I mean great we were off the fricking beach, but we were still in the middle of bloody nowhere with a car that wouldn’t move. Then, as if by magic, a friendly looking chap who looked remarkably like Quentin Tarantino popped out of nowhere. Even he couldn’t write this shit. This was all so weird. He lived on the one house on this street and offered to help us and look at our car. What can you do in a situation like this except just accept the help from the kind and conveniently located stranger and just pray that it doesn’t turn out like Wolf Creek. After looking at our car he concluded that it was, in fact, buggered. So we admitted defeat and called the AA. While we were waiting he invited us into his garden for a beer. These are the sorts of situations your parents ingrain in you that should start the alarm bells. But when you’re in that situation, what can you do? Refuse his hospitality and sit bored and distressed in the car or have a nice cool beer? I think go for the beer. I suppose you just have to trust your instincts and I decided that I did trust fake Quentin. I still mentally planned my exit route though just in case. His wife popped out with the beers and I knew we’d made the right decision.

Eventually the AA turned up who appeared to be just a man and a car and I’m not convinced he actually was affiliated with anyone. He said he couldn’t do anything and that he’d have to just tow us to a local garage. Problem was that in New Zealand, they still take their weekends very seriously. There’s no such thing as 24/7 and so our car wasn’t able to be looked at until Tuesday as it was a bank holiday and today was Saturday. What on earth were we going to do until then?! We waved goodbye to Mr and Mrs Tarantino and went off with another stranger to the local town Kaitaia. He dropped off our car and said he knew of a hostel we could stay in. Course he did! At this point I didn’t care if we were being swindled in terms of being put up in his mates hostel rather than finding our own place, which I think we were, I just wanted to get it over with and rest. The dude drove us to this little hostel in the village of Ahipara, where there was one shop, a handful of houses, this hostel and another beach. Which I have to say, was absolutely beautiful and as he had said, the people who ran it where absolutely lovely. It was small and ridiculously quiet. We had a four-bed dorm room to ourselves and the only other guest was a French guy called Baptiste who was working there. Everyone else seemed to be friends with the owners and so came and went as they pleased.

Tom and I mostly spent the next few days either arguing or silently looking out over the beachfront, wondering what the hell we were going to do next. I thought it was his fault for wanting to buy the car and he thought it was mind for practically running the thing into the ground. It was definitely my fault. We broke this up with every now and again nipping to the one shop to get a cheese and mince pie to eat our feelings. We had hardly any money left, had applied to all sorts of jobs and received nothing back and we still had that bastard car, responsible for all our problems, stuck in some garage unable to move. The guys at the hostels made us feel better once we’d had the courage to actually leave our depressing little room and go and talk to them. We had some beers outside and a man called Les who hung around a lot came back from a swim in the sea with his wetsuit on and some fish he’d caught… by hand I think… He absolutely insisted we ate its cheek saying it was the greatest bit. Tom was game, but I politely refused his kind offer. It really was all a bit weird.

Tuesday came around and we were calmer. They told us that we could either pay to get a proper diagnosis and potential fix for the car or we could take their word on initial inspection that the head gasket had blown and would therefore be more expensive to fix than to buy a new car. Did we want to pay to hear this news again or cut our loses. We ended up doing the latter and selling the bloody thing to a man named Thomas for $200. Who knows if they’d completely done us over, but who cared by this point! I refused to put any more money, time or sleep into this vehicle.

It was a sad time and I have to admit it had crossed my mind to even give up and go home but as luck would have it, just as luck had helped us out with getting off the beach and the arrival of Quentin Tarantino before, it struck again and within the space of a day we had two employment prospects arise. It had been a lot of highs and lows in a very short space of time and was one of those moments where you question what on earth you’re doing. Why don’t I just give up and go home. No one is forcing you to stay. But we did stay which was of course the right thing to do. Travelling isn’t and will never be breezy all of the time, like many Instagram accounts suggest, but it’s these crappy shitty crazy moments that you’ll remember for years to come and likely look back on in fondness and even more than likely, laugh at. So our car broke down, big deal, we’d carry on without it! We still had so much more to come.

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