Kerikeri Part Two – Discover New Zealand.


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

Traveling in my own “backyard”

(This is the thirteenth post in a series. Missed the first 12? Click here to see them all.) With the Covid cases gone, we’re free to travel, domestically, in New Zealand. It’s a surreal experience to be living life “normally” while, literally, everyone else I know is wearing masks and still in lockdown.  Though open to travel, New Zealand is actually really cold, the farther South you go, as we’re heading in to winter, so I’ve been enjoying further explorations of the northland and getting to know more people in Kerikeri. Jess and I went to the local Op Shop here in Kerikeri a few days ago and I got a fabulous used pair of flannel PJs and furry bathrobe for a spanking $5 USD. Best investment I’ve made in the past week! Our hosts, Tania and Mark, at Wharepuke, have been so kind to bring us to some of their favorite sites in the area. I’ll be sharing those the next few posts and will be telling you about Wharepuke, itself, which is a beautiful convergence of philosophies and activities.

Jess, Aaron and I have been exploring Kerikeri together for months. During lockdown, we walked 2 meters apart and went to the closest waterfall, Wharepuke. There are actually five waterfalls in Kerikeri and we plan to see them all. The thing about this town is that, to the eye, there’s not much to it. The bus drops you in front of the library, on a small street, with an Indian restaurant across the way, and a funny sculpture that sort of marks your arrival. The main street is like an upscale version of a small town in the USA. There are a few cafes, a vegan restaurant, a bakery, an Indian restaurant, even a sushi shop! There are a few clothing and souvenir places and I’ve gotten friendly with the staff at All You Needle, the local yarn shop. Diane is from South Africa and we’ve had some great conversations about her country. I found this lovely shop in March, before lockdown, hoping they could shorten a pair of jeans for me. I ended up buying some knitting needles and wool and, throughout lockdown, have made a scarf and a very complicated hat. Now I’m buying yarn at the Emporium shop (about $1 a skein) and going hat crazy which fills my evening hours.

Paihia at sunrise

Downtown Kerikeri.

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

I’ve learned some secrets, too. The Packhouse is a craft and food market open on Saturdays. It’s about a mile from the town center. But, on Sundays, there’s a local market right near the library where the bus drops you off. What’s the difference? Well, the Packhouse is larger, but, to get in to the Sunday Bay of Islands farmers market, you have to prove that you’ve grown or made what you’re selling, yourself.  During lockdown I would order and get deliveries of fresh vegetables from Carole at Willowbrook farm. Now, I email her on Thursdays because she runs out of my favorite tiny bell peppers (capsicum) if I don’t order in advance. Sadly, her eggplant and cucumbers are done for the season so I’ll have to return to the supermarket for those. The other delights at the Sunday market are fresh avocados, right off the tree. And, it’s insane, for $5 NZD (about $3 USD) you can get a BAG of “seconds”. Depending on the size of the avocados there are 8 – 12 avocados in the bag, and they require about a week to ripen. My other favorite is the freshly made kombucha! I’ve never tasted it made fresh like this. And, they combine fascinating ingredients. Each Sunday I trade in my previous week’s bottle for another one – so we recycle and save money in the process.

On a recent adventure, Jess, Aaron and I walked to the local Fairy Pools. Every outing depends on the weather. When it rains in Kerikeri, it tends to be for hours, and can vary from pouring to drizzle. So, when the sun comes out, we go out. We decide to take the trail near Wharepuke through the woods to the pools. The entrance warns the trails are not maintained, and that you go at your own risk. We’ve learned from the locals that this trail, simply, is not maintained by the government. Instead, it’s upkeep is managed by the locals. The trails are very well marked and easy to walk. And you’re in the middle of a forest, I mean, cool! We find our way, passing beautiful views and end up at what we think are the Fairy Pools. We’re not sure, but our GPS seems to indicate we’re close. A few steps more finds us in a clearing, and that’s when we know we’ve found it. There’s a knotted tree, exactly like what you’d expect in the realm of fairies. There’s even a bench for humans. Gazing out at the water pools, we spy two black swans and some pukeko. It really is a mystical experience. However, it is upon leaving this spot that I realize why these are called Fairy Pools. When we approach the clearing from the other direction, I realize the trees are so huge and gigantic that they make us look small and tiny. In effect, WE are the fairies!

“There are five waterfalls in this “tiny” town of Kerikeri.”

The Fairy Pools of Kerikeri.

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

Another sunny day found Jess, Aaron and I braving the walk to Te Wareire Falls and The Secret waterfalls. My favorite part of the walk was hearing cows  moo. We walked over a bridge, and there, to my delight, were a couple of cows! They seemed to be on someone’s property and we were still in Lockdown level 3, so I made a note to self to return as soon as we dropped to level 2 so I could knock on the owner’s door and get permission to photograph their cows. As we walked along the trail to the waterfalls, we saw many painted rocks, as if children had decorated the path with beautiful intention. It also seemed that everyone in town had the same idea as us – we encountered many people taking advantage of the gorgeous weather after days of rain, on the same trail. We even met some French people working at the local kiwi farm (yes, Kerikeri has farms that grow kiwi fruit!) and I worry that I may have stood closer than 2 meters to these fabulous people in my excitement to speak French and meet people from other lands. Speaking of that, side note – there are kiwi pickers in town that, I learn, are from Vanuatu and Tonga! I’ve never met anyone from there! So, when I see a bunch of men I think are from the islands, in the local Emporium shop, I say hello and learn they’re from Vanuatu. On our first encounter, they seem, well, a little cold, but polite. They don’t really respond to my questions. I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have said hello. A week later, I see them again, and try to tell them I love meeting people from other places. That’s when I learn that their strange looks at me are because they don’t speak English!! Happily, one of them speaks some French. We chat for a few minutes, and, the next two times I see them in town, they waive and say hello to me! 🙂

Te Wareire Waterfall

Te Wareire Waterfall.

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

Back to Te Wareire – it’s beautiful. It reminds me, in a way, of a much smaller Laguna Esmerelda, which I hiked to in Ushuaia, Argentina. My FEELING at this spot was serenity, and that’s the same feeling I have here – it’s enclosed, of course, the water isn’t from a glacier, so not the same color, but it’s peaceful and we sit and admire the water cascade and watch someone driving a toy motorboat across the water. Eventually we stand and walk to the Secret Waterfall. Along the way, there are colorful jewels placed in trees so the whole walk feels creative and fun. When we walk across some brambled branches to the next waterfall, I feel like I’m in an Indiana Jones film! The first glimpse has some strange view with jungle-like nature obscuring the waterfall in the nearby distance. It’s almost like a Hollywood backdrop. We take in the beauty and head back. There are two paths to get to the falls – on the way TO the falls, we take the less direct one, which warns not to use it when it rains. Even dry, it’s a bit steep and slippery. So, for the return trip, we take the more direct path. It’s funny, because what took us, maybe 30 minutes, on the way to the falls, takes about 5 on the way back. 

Just down the road from our temporary home is an inlet. One of my favorite features is the wishing well. I mean, a town with a wishing well is, in my opinion, a good town! The inlet is apparently on a list of sites to become a UNESCO heritage site because it commemorates the first meeting spot of the local Maori people with the white settlers who first came to New Zealand. There’s a small Maori village up the road which I’ll be visiting one of these days, and a beautiful view of boats on the water, as well as a Stone Store which is now a souvenir shop. 

Reviewing my difficult decision to stay here, instead of returning to New York, months ago, I feel I made a good decision. Like you, I have no idea what the future holds, but being in a country with a leader who values life over money, and with people who, for most of my experiences, are kind and treat me with kindness, has made this time less lonely and less scary than it could have been.

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