Boogie boarders in the surf at Port Waikato / tyre tracks in the black sand / Parents posing outside the Mercer Cheese shop / Tuakau Bridge, which leads to Port Waikato / a Bayleys exclusive property for sale / blurred Mercer cheeses / rough waters at Sunset Beach
While visiting New Zealand I generally limit myself to Auckland - apart from a week spent at the family beach house on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula (which is pretty much part of Auckland these days anyways) the main priority is to catch up with friends and family. However I do like to fit a day trip in at some point. Last time my parents and I motored northwards to Brick Bay Sculpture Park and the Scandrett Regional Park, both places I had never been to before, and both now with my seal of approval. This time I put forward the notion of heading in the opposite direction, as I never seem to venture southwards a great deal.
Driving south these days seems to take about half the time it used to, and the smooth sheen of the motorways detract a little from the sense of adventure (as adventurous as one can be, when your parents are sitting in the front seats chauffeuring you), but as long as you take some pit stops along the way, you feel like you are off the main drag a bit, even if technically you are not out of Auckland.
We stopped in Mercer, to buy some Mercer Cheese, one of those small towns where they are all known for something. I wish we had also stopped in Pokeno, for some Pokeno Bacon. We nibbled on our mature Gouda with slices of apple as we took a scenic route of our own invention towards Port Waikato, the small settlement on the West Coast which is the mouth of the Waikato River, New Zealand's longest.
Port Waikato doesn't have any of the glamour of Piha, Bethells, or Muriwai. It's decrepit, the houses falling apart, single storied, single roomed, they all seem hunched over, sheltering themselves against the stiff breezes that pound them with salt. The surf beach goes by the rather misleading name of 'Sunset Beach', perhaps trying to trick innocent tourists into thinking it's New Zealand's answer to Home and Away's Summer Bay. But it is so unspoilt, and it's bleakness is to it's benefit. The beach was empty except for a few boogie boarders and perhaps a dog, and the surf lifesavers camped between the flags sitting in their buggy.
An overcast day, one could just stand on the beach at look out to sea, and see nothing.
I stared out into the distance as the clouds and surf spray merged with the sand dunes at the end of the spit which curves around into the mouth of the river. Apparently there is a walk you can do around there, and in the springtime sightings of dolphins and seals are possible.
We stopped at the local café/restaurant/takeaways (it was maybe the only shop at the beach, there was a sort of general store by the old wharf) and in a fit of New Zealand patriotism indulged in an L&P and a Hokey Pokey ice cream. We drove around the streets before leaving, I think I noticed a library, half the houses seemed to be for sale. If anyone wants to join me in setting up an art commune there, pretty sure we could buy the properties on the cheap.
On the return trip we crossed the Tuakau Bridge which spans the Waikato River, stopping for mandatory photo documentation. Built in 1933, in a way it served as the 'bridge' (what other word can I use) between the 'island time' of Port Waikato and the pounding repetition of everyday life.