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Rain was starting to fall as we arrived at the start point ten minutes late to find only two other cars there. Had the others already left or, indeed, were there any others? The thought crossed our minds that the others had probably wisely decided to do something else with their weekend after hearing what weather was predicted for Northland. We were reassured however that most people were heading straight to the motel in Whangarei. So with instructions in hand off we went, but not before the Storeys decided to put the top up, accompanied by suitably snide remarks from the Clarks ("softies", etc).
With Auckland quickly behind us, great roads followed, but the promised "sunset over the Kaipara Harbour" (more Walbran propaganda) was not to be seen. With the rain really making its presence felt after the pitstop in Wellsford, it was SH1 all the way in the dark with lots of impatient traffic. I brought up the rear in the B, behind the Storeys' VA, which in turn was behind a TF. I was hoping the B's not particularly adequate tail lights (but certainly better than the TF or VA) would give some protection in the shocking conditions. For the two older cars visibility was made worse by their less than adequate windscreen wipers, and the speed of our little convoy was therefore considerably less that that of the other road users. It was a relief for tired eyes to see the lights of Whangarei and find the motel.
It was here at the motel that there was the first hint of an Auckland conspiracy against the Mooloo contingent. I know from reports of last year's tour that the Mooloo men and women (known as Team Waikato) attended in force and were rather too exuberant and noisy for the staid Auckland lot, but to put us in a separate motel all to ourselves across the road was a tad pointed. Nonetheless, in true Waikato tradition, we decided to ignore the slight to our reputation and trust it was merely a coincidental administrative necessity and not a deliberately orchestrated plot against us.
After a drivers' briefing, the Saturday run started, with the rain still our constant companion, and our heads full of Paul W's dos and don'ts. Our destination for the day was Cooper's Beach. Paul W once again found us lovely touring roads off the beaten track and we were not tempted to risk ruining our relaxed and mellow mood by tackling his optional trial. Morning teatime saw a group of MGs milling around Paihia that were soon abandoned by their occupants in favour of a nearby café. The rain eased enough to allow the female members of our party to shop for items left behind and for me to buy that lucky Lotto ticket.
Then it was off, via the Treaty House and Haruru Falls, to the Cottle Hill vineyard (Kerikeri) for lunch. It was very tempting to settle in for the day after a lunch of gourmet breads, dips and cheeses (and a bottle of their finest of course) but we were soon on the road again, exploring Kerikeri and the Old Stone Store before our second side trip of the day to a local landmark, the Whangaroa pub. Here the Clarks, Storeys and Walbrans did battle on the pool table, with the Walbrans emerging the champions, not, might I add, because of any prowess with the cue, but because the opposition kept sinking the black ball at the most inopportune moments.
With Coopers Beach only twenty minutes away the Clarks and Storeys recklessly dared each other to put their respective tops down (the cars, that is) and so it was that we triumphantly reached our motel in Coopers Beach only slightly damp for the experience. This time our room was in the same motel as the others, surprise, surprise!! Maybe there was no other motel in town or perhaps Paul figured he would not get away with it two nights in a row. As it turned out, he was only lulling us into a sense of false security for what was to follow the next day (more on that later!) The motel was right on the beach, and a wet cool walk along the beach cleared the sinuses. Pre-dinner drinks saw everyone happily recounting the day's experiences, and a predominantly seafood dinner at a local restaurant topped off what was a brilliant and most enjoyable day.
Heavy rain on the roof was a rude awakening on Sunday morning. On strict instructions from Paul W to leave by a certain time to ensure arrival at the Rawene Ferry by 11 a.m., most left early; but a lie-in and a B which wouldn't start (faulty ignition switch) meant the Storeys and Clarks were tail-end Charlie by quite a few miles. Some serious motoring was therefore called for and Awanui and Kaitaia were quickly dispatched behind us, with the VA's skinny tyres protesting at every corner. With the rain very heavy, the first inkling of trouble came crossing the Mangamuka Range, with several small slips partially blocking the road, and once on the flat again, water right across the road in places. This slowed us down but we managed to negotiate them safely, with the B being more of a worry with its low clearance than the VA.
At Mangamuka Bridge we turned off SH1 for the ferry with twenty kilometres to go, convinced we had enough time to catch the others and the ferry at 11 a.m. With only about 3 kilometres to go and about ten minutes to spare our race was unfortunately over, prematurely blocked by a huge pine tree that had toppled during the night completely blocking the road. The decision was then made to turn around and drive round the Hokianga Harbour to Rawene. Not so easy though, as with the rain heavier than ever (possible only in the "Winterless North" - that Walbran propaganda again), the flooding was becoming a real anxiety, necessitating a much slower trip back to Mangamuka Bridge, not helped by the B throwing its wiper onto the road. Our sense of relief at regaining SH1 was short-lived as the local garage proprietor, with some glee, declared that we would not be going anywhere. SH1 was blocked to the north by a huge flood (which we had negotiated carefully an hour or so earlier but which was now impassable) and to the south by the Mangamuka River that was right over the bridge, and then ten kilometres further on by the even more flooded Rangitahi River. We didn't know it at the time, but the tiny settlement of Mangamuka Bridge had just become our refuge for the next 17 hours. We consoled ourselves that it could be worse. At least our island (paradise?) had a pub, a tiny general store and a gas station. We felt sorry for the occupants of the queue of cars we could see stranded on the other side of the flood waters, forced to wait in their cars till the water receded (though some of the more intrepid motorists waded through the chest-deep water to buy food from the Mangamuka store).
The locals explained that the high tide was holding the water in the rivers. Low tide at 7 p.m. might see the flooding recede back off the road, but if not, the road wouldn't open until the next low tide early Monday morning. Putting our money on a 7 p.m. departure, we had lunch at the pub, plundered the local store for reading material and settled down in the public (and only) bar to wait. A beer was off the agenda while there was still a chance that we would be away at 7.
With seven hours to kill, it was inevitable that we started to wonder what had happened to the other MGs. If they had gone as far as the fallen tree, we reasoned, surely they would have had to retrace their steps, and if so, how did they have enough time to get far enough south before SH1 was closed? Renewed thoughts of a conspiracy against the Mooloos again surfaced and convinced that our stranding was a deliberate plot against us, the time was whiled away thinking up and discussing suitable methods of retribution against the perpetrators.
As the appointed hour approached, in high hopes we headed south down the road to the flooded bridge and joined the queue of milk tankers, trucks and cars. After hanging around for some time, and not even the trucks willing to risk the turbulent muddy waters still swirling over the road, we faced the inevitable and backtracked to the Mangamuka pub. The publican called the cook back in, and dusted off the rooms which I'm sure hadn't seen many guests in recent times. After a good meal we had a convivial evening in the bar with the locals, so much so that when the bar closed there were hugs and kisses all around, and invitations to come back for a hangi anytime. Bed was a welcome finale to an eventful day.
We were awakened in the early hours of Monday morning by the rumble of trucks passing. Halleluia! The road's open at last. After a scrambled shower, we were off. Incredibly most of the water had gone, leaving muddy paddocks with debris caught in the fences and even up in the trees. Rain was still falling, albeit lightly, and we decided to head straight home and do the Kauri forest, etc, next time. A call to the office to say I was delayed by flooding was greeted with disbelief; only the photos will convince the staff I wasn't cribbing an extra day intentionally.
The journey south was without incident - petrol at Whangarei, breakfast at Waipu, an icecream at Pokeno and tops down for the rest of the trip to Hamilton (where the sun had shone all weekend).
|Can't go north, south, east or west!|
|"Tree time" roadblock|
|Coffee stop at Paihia|
|Road to nowhere - the Rangitahi Bridge|