Kerikeri Part One – Discover New Zealand


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

Difficult decisions are brewing…

(This is the eleventh post in a series. Missed the first ten? Click here to see them all.) Even though Paihia is touristy, I’ve decided to spend a week there, after Kerikeri, because I want to see the Waitangi Treaty grounds, and Russel and it looks like there are some nice walks. I’ve booked one of the motor lodges in the center which was reasonably priced. I checked it out while I was there, seems ok. I’m just a little worried because I booked a week, and I’m getting the feeling I might be stuck in New Zealand for a while, and I’d rather be stuck in Kerikeri than in Paihia. I’ll have to think about this. 

I spend a few days in the town of Kerikeri. It’s small but very quaint. I’ve been going to Cafe Zest – they have a fabulous toasted open salmon sandwich and good internet so I can write my blog posts and the staff is really nice. If you go, watch this video, so you can find the bathroom!! When I go to the bathroom, I meet two adorable Chinese boys playing outside the back of the nextdoor bakery. Their mom is from China and moved to Kerikeri with them and opened this business. They’re lovely. The boys explain to me that they’re making a meal which appears to be made of stones and eggs, tasty! Their mom tells me they’re practicing English, and it’s pretty good already.

Paihia at sunrise

Near the water basin in Kerikeri.

Photo by Heather Markel, copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

I’m starting to get worried. My visit to Australia is now definitely off the table. Seems like they’re shutting down air travel till June. Now there are awful messaages from the US Embassy coming to my inbox. I’m on the STEP program and these messages sound like they’re telling me to get out of New Zealand ASAP or I might not be able to get back to New York. But then, New York sounds like one of the literal worst places on earth to be right now with the cases rising to extraordinary levels and the president one day brushing the whole thing off and the next deciding the economy is more important than human lives. (At least that’s what it sounded like he meant.) I can’t quite understand what’s happening and my anxiety is rising. I call a few friends and get more of a take on how it is in New York (doesn’t sound good). I also get more information on those emails. The US Embassy is, essentially, recommending that if you don’t come back now, you should be prepared to stay gone for a long time, with no understanding of what “long time” means.

I don’t know what to do. I had planned to travel until November anyway, but travel the world, not just a town. But if I get on a plane I may get infected, infect others, and I’m still fighting off that cough. I won’t be able to see either of my parents if I go home due to their risk factors, and I guess I can’t hang out with my friends, either. And, I’d self-isolate in an apartment and live in a huge city where the 2-meter distance will be impossible. I’ve inquired about flights home, and they’re roughly $5,000 and there’s a good chance they could be canceled. I have to go now, or be prepared to stay for a long time. I phone my mother. I break down and cry. I don’t know what to do. I expect her to tell me to jump on the first plane home. Instead, she admits she doesn’t know what to tell me. We run through the options, and it seems that, for now, staying in New Zealand makes the most sense. After this tearful conversation, I sit for a while. Then it dawns on me that New Zealand will now be my home. Being a nomad for 2 1/2 years, I realize this idea of “home” is one I wasn’t ready for. Once I accept this temporary home idea, I relax a bit.

“From nomad to temporary expat.”

The Honey House Cafe.

Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

March 24th, the day I have to grab a bus to Paihia to stay in the motor lodge, comes too fast. I have this nagging feeling and laziness like I don’t want to go. I’m really afraid if I do go, I might get stuck there. I hem and haw, and then I speak with my AirBnB owner about maybe staying with her a little longer. She has guests coming on Wednesday so I can stay two more nights. I decide to do that and cancel my accomodation in Paihia. It ends up a good decision. I walk into town to clear my head after making that decision. Now I have to figure out where to stay “long term”. As I walk into town, a man walking towards me stops me. He says, “Did you hear? We’re going into lockdown on Wednesday. In 48 hours.” That was such a strange sentence. Lockdown? The country is closing? The shops are all closing? I’m so befuddled. I head into the center of town and go to the Ferment wine store. I’m hoping they’ll be declared an essential service so they can stay open. I’m told they plan to deliver during lockdown. At least there’s one piece of good news.

Wharepuke Waterfall.

Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

When I get back to my AirBnB, Keri, my host, is shocked that I’ve been in Kerikeri for a week and haven’t even seen the nearby waterfall. I set out later in the day to go to the Wharepuke waterfall. The walk is beautiful and I discover the Honey House Cafe. I have a snack and a coffee and end up speaking with one of the hosts because she’s French. We talk about the lockdown. I’m a bit worried, as a foreigner, that if the hospitals get full, they might not treat me because I’m not a national. Most people have told me New Zealanders don’t think that way and I’ll be fine, so I have to trust that. Strange that this might be one of my last experiences eating around other people for a while. After my walk to the waterfall, which is beautiful, I walk back up the main road to the AirBnB, a bit stressed about where I’m going to stay. As I walk along, a sign for an art gallery called Wharepuke catches my attention. I find my feet walking down a road and end up by a reception desk. Nobody is there. So, I walk along a beautiful path, covered with nature, to the art gallery. I have a look inside, and then I see a wooden door. In front of it is a sign inviting me to explore a nature garden, with a warning that nature takes precedence, and a photo of a man named Robin who apparently made the garden. Hmmmm. I enter.

The garden is wonderful. It’s a small maze of passageways to plants and trees from around the world and sculptures by various artists. I walk along and find myself on a road inbetween paths. And then I spot the man in the photo! It’s Robin, himself, walking around. I feel like I’m in the presence of someone famous. He says hello and asks me whether I’m looking for a place to stay. I find this odd because I haven’t mentioned it, I’m just thinking it. And, he tells me they have cottages they’re looking to rent for the month. I’m a bit incredulous at how this happened. (As I’ve mentioned many times, during my nomadic travels, the number of times the thing I need the most shows up after I think about it is rather astounding. I’m beginning to trust that what I need will show up, and if it doesn’t, perhaps I don’t really need it.) Robin shows me the inside of one of the cottages and it’s perfect. He introduces me to his daughter, Tania, who runs the cottages. The price is a little high, but there’s apparently an American couple and a British couple, also stranded so I won’t be alone. She says we can talk about the price, but there’s a cottage ready for me if I want it. I tell her I think I’m interested but need a think.

Hole in the Rock, New Zealand

The view from my new home. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

I head back to the AirBnB and look online at a few other options. I just have this feeling about the cottage at Wharepuke. Tania made me feel like I was found and would be taken care of and wouldn’t be alone. It feels like I should go there. I chat with Keri and decide I will take the cottage. She is so kind and says she’ll drive me and my stuff there in the morning. I head into town the next day and get some silverware and plates so I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s germs, just in case. On Wednesday, the day of lockdown, Keri drives me to Wharepuke, and it becomes my new, temporary home.

To be continued…

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