New Zealand – February 22, 2016

Jesus Christ, that’s a fucking rooster I hear. Fuck-a-fuck-a-you. Fuck-a-fuck-you. It’s still night, for Lord’s sake. Yesterday, at twilight, as we ate our sandwiches on the patio, bird insanity erupted in a tree a short distance away, hundreds of deranged creatures squawking for dear life. Birds are so annoying.

We’re on the west coast of the Northland now, in a cabin by a lovely, nevertheless unseen, lake. At breakfast we now have enough perspective to look objectively at yesterday’s hapless journey. There is this new invention called a ‘map’ that can provide truly amazing clarity.

“Look!” says Joss, pointing. “We went THAT way!”

“Well, it is diagonal, the shortest ‘crow-flies’ way.”

“Yeah, but look here. Roads are coded, there’s Limited Access Highway, then Major Route, then Main Road, then Minor Road, then Other Road, then … Other Dirt Road. We went down Other Dirt Road, Dad. If only we had this map then. It’s miraculous!”

“Let’s never be without one.”

While offering a surfeit of bird noises, the Wai Hou Oma Lodge stints on hot water. No showers this morning. Let’s go, then. In an hour we find ourselves at the Kauri Museum in Matakohe, noted in all guidebooks as ‘not to be missed.’ True. It could not be more spectacular. Every aspect of the kauri trade, from its fine-grained wood to its glowing fossilized amber called ‘gum’ to the communities that supported the industry, is exhaustively illuminated. New Zealand’s great kauri forests are gone now: all that remain are isolated groves. And these remaining are in terrible jeopardy from a soil borne ‘die-back’ disease. Enormous ghostly trees can be seen from the road. Sad sentinels.

In the early 20th century, the Northland boomed as the ancient giants were chopped down and milled into lumber and fine furniture. Kauri gum, the byproduct of these conifers, was exploited as an ingredient in varnish and linoleum, as well in fine jewelry. We wander through room after room of large logs, large machinery, milled wood, hokey/eerie dioramas (see: dentist’s office), peculiar collections (the wall of 100 chainsaws, for example): all describing every detail of life in the Northland. We know these Northlanders intimately after two hours.

‘Not-to-be-missed’ within ‘not-to-be-missed’ is the Gum Room in the museum’s basement. It glows with a treasure room’s radiant light because it houses a dozen personal collections of this amber in all its forms, from big, brown, raw lumps to golden, fossilized chunks; and carved into all manner of things, from women’s fan combs to busts of Maori chieftains.

We’re back on the road at two o’clock with maybe five hours to go before we’d reach our destination, Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula. We will be obliged to traverse every type of road, with the exception of ‘Other Dirt’. Joss and I chatter and complain and hiccup along. Hopefully, it will rain and wash some of the perma-dust off the Focus. The trek is fucking endless. A long black to take-away at a café called Bugger Off helps a bit.

Coffee in New Zealand seems to be exclusively espresso. A long black is a double shot of espresso with a splash of hot water, not unlike an Americano. It is delicious and all business. A flat white is two shots of espresso topped with velvety milk froth, not foam. It is not a latte. It, too, is delicious and sometimes a necessary substitute for a long black when the wallop is too intense.

Bleary, but situated at last at the aimed-for terminus, we drop all pretense of intelligibility and focus on our next meal.

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