A Fond Farewell To Kerikeri, New Zealand

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

It’s time to move on.

When I set out for year 3 of my nomadic life, I never imagined I’d end up marooned in one country. I’ve spent almost nine months in the wonderful town of Kerikeri, and, this week, I say goodbye. Kerikeri has been the place I felt afraid, alone, depressed, and, also, a refuge and a solace surrounded by nature and a very mild winter. On the verge of my departure, I’m reminiscing about my experiences here, full of meaning – the ones I’ll remember, years from now, after the pandemic is a thing of the past.

Te Wairere Waterfall.

Copyright, 2020. Heather Markel.

1. Multiple Sources Of Rescue

Rescue #1: One week into my stay, mid-March, I made a difficult decision to remain in New Zealand, instead of fly back to New York City. Though my friends and family are there, it was the epicenter of the virus at the time, and with the warnings that I could both catch, and spread, the virus if I got on a plane, and then end up in the literal worst place on earth for the virus, at that time, I decided to stay put. Within days, I found a long-term residence at Wharepuke Accomodation, Restaurant, Garden and Art because I “coincidentally” ran into its owner walking through their garden, and he asked if I needed long-term accomodation during lockdown. Should you find yourself in Kerikeri, I highly recommend it. Just minutes from the Kemp House, Stone Store and Honey House Cafe, and about 15 minutes walk to town, you’ll find yourself in a beautiful haven of nature. (Also, there’s a wonderful dog here, Monte, who lit up most days when he would come round so I could pet him.)

Rescue #2: Just before, I ran to the local crafts shop, All You Needle, where I met the owner, Diane. She’s from South Africa so I felt instantly connected. I bought wool and knitting needles to have something crafty to do during lockdown. When the levels dropped enough for curbside pickup, I started a petite additction to knitting and made several hats and scarves my first few months here. 

Rescue #3: When we had conflicting reports of whether liquor stores could remain open, Ferment, my personal favorite wine store in town, delivered to our driveway for contactless pickup. This was a great find for our old socially distanced outdoor drinking at the worst of lockdown levels.

2. Perfect walks in nature in every direction

I befriended Jess and Aaron, an American couple stuck and staying in the cottage nextdoor to me. We did daily walks – socially distanced – until we were allowed to blend our bubbles. We made it to all five Kerikeri waterfalls (Wharepuke, Rainbow Falls, Charlies Rock, Wairere, and The Secret Waterfall), the Fairy Pools, and Parrot Place. The latter is not a walk in nature, but it is a very fun time having various birds perch on your arm, head, or shoulders so you can feed them. 

3. The “Pandemic 15” 

Truth be told, I spent most of lockdown sitting, drinking, and eating. I caved and subscribed to Netflix because New Zealand TV shows are not the best.  (Sorry New Zealand!) After 75 days of lockdown, I learned that the jeans I flew over in no longer fit. I was working on a Homer Simpson belly and it was not a pretty sight.

4. New Friends And A Shrinking Waistline

As New Zealand lowered it’s lockdown restrictions, I ventured to Diablos one evening with Tania, the property manager at Wharepuke, though, now she’s like family. We got a table inside next to a huge table of ladies who were laughing. They looked like they were having such a great time I had to go ask what brought them together. I learned it was a table of international women; from Peru, Germany, Holland, France, Paraguay and more. They were part of a dance exercise class called Latin Fit Kerikeri. I promised to check out their class since it was held five minutes walk from Wharepuke. Five months of Latin Fit classes later, I got my waistline back, my jeans fit, and, more importantly, I’ve gotten to know some of the most fabulous women and share stories, parties, and dancing with them every week. My last night of class was full of very sweaty hugs (it’s summer and very humid up here) which made me realize we are twice blessed. We can still hug one another, and, we can do it while swapping bodily fluids. (Special shout out to Aligned Movement, whose classes I also took for a few weeks that were superb and great Christmas party!)

5. Where To Go For A Haircut And Falafel Sandwich

When I decided to trust someone with my hair, it was the Northland Hair Company and I went all out and got purple and red highlights, something I’ve wanted to do in some fashion, for years. The pandemic provided the perfect reason to throw convervatism to the wind. I enjoyed falafel at Cafe Jerusalem, and became friendly with the owners – a man from Israel and his wife from Argentina. When I said goodbye this week, I also said congratulations as they’re expecting their first baby in a few months.

6. Where To Make A Difference In Kerikeri

I volunteered at St John’s Op Shop, and Bald Angels. I loved working the cashier at the shop every Friday afternoon, and going door-to-door asking for donations to help children in need in New Zealand. More farewells to people and organizations that enrich the community, and gave even more meaning to my time in Kerikeri.

7. Where To Buy Food For A Home-Cooked Meal

Churchills became my favorite food place. They’re the town butcher and have some of the freshest meat around. I got to know Joey, a young Maori man that used to work there. Jess used to call him the Buddha Butcher because he always had something wise and beautiful to say that would lighten up your day. I came to them a couple times of week for eggs, chicken, pork, lamb and beef. I was amazed that I could get four or five meals worth for about $15 USD. For fish, I went to the New World supermarket. I got friendly with Hedley at the fish counter. He’s always friendly and extremely knowledgeable about fish. Thanks to him I’ve tried pretty much every fish they ever had, and learned how to correctly steam the green lipped mussels. When I told him they wouldn’t open even though I boiled them for five minutes like I’m accustomed to, he said I didn’t cook them long enough, and that they all open. I realized, that day, that I was a mussel murderer, and not even good at that. From that day onwards, I went into it with the belief that they would all open, and they did, apart from the odd one or two.

8. A Few Of My Favorite Cafes

The rainy winter gifted us with rainbows, almost daily. I spent a lot of time at Honey House Cafe where I befriended Marie who runs it. She’s from France and she was another goodbye this week. In town, I went to Cafe Zest on a regular basis and loved their flat white coffee and their strong bandwidth. I finally ate at the local gluten free restaurant, Sandeez Cafe, and it was as delicious as everyone told me it was.

A Few Special Treats You Can Only Find In Kerikeri

In my time here, I’ve gotten to have lunch at the local golf club, drink fantastic wine at Marsden Estate, and sample the cosmetics at Living Nature. I contemplated knitting lots of items to sell at the Packhouse crafts market but never quite made enough inventory. My friend Leo kindly purchased a few items from me. He has a rather interesting idea in development – to create gratitude funds. So, I received some cash, and some gratitude credit that I can use to purchase something someone else has made, or, use in one of the local stores he’s working at convincing to be part of the fund.

A beautiful view near the cottages at Wharepuke. Copyright 2020, Heather Markel.

As you’re reading this, I’m probably already in the bus headed away from my beloved Kerikeri and on to the next adventure. This, however, is one I shall not forget, and I am thankful to this town, its wonderful people, and beautiful places. I’ll be back soon!

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