Visiting long-neglected friends & family

Returning from Wanaka and Queenstown, it wasn’t long before confirmation of a job interview in the North Island finally came through. As I had to be near Auckland for a wedding at Easter there wasn’t much point in coming back in between, so a three week trip up north was hastily booked and all of a sudden I was back visiting familiar faces and places.

The nights either side of the interview I was pleased to back at one of my favourite places – Lake Tarawera – visiting Bron & Terry. Among the numerous improvements since my last visit, there’s now a spa pool at the edge of the lawn. The view has always been spectacular – it’s even better from a hot-tub.

It wasn’t too bad in the morning either!

Straight after the interview, I drove to the Redwoods, got changed out of my suit in the car & pulled my bike out for a ride around one of the most popular riding destinations in the country. Surprised by all the development at the parking lot, I did a route I regularly did before I left. I must be an awful lot fitter or my memory is fading – it didn’t take nearly as long as I remember. These trails were feeling pretty worn in places – I’m sure I’d have had more fun if I was on a more trail-oriented bike or chosen new trails.

Still, I got to ride this classic – which I never get tired of, even after twenty years.

Back to Auckland, there was time to drop the rental car off and bike across Auckland for the first time before catching up with and baby-sitting for Shelley and Andrew & family. Before noon the next day I was in Parramatta ready to see my grandfather for the first time since November 2008. In that time, dementia has well and truly set in (much as it did for my grandmother in the years before her death) so I had some idea of what to expect. I was pleased to find Grandad a lot more cheerful than he could have been, even if any sort of short to medium term memory has pretty much gone.

While most of my time was spent at my grandparents’ house, that’s now usually unoccupied and hasn’t changed much in my life and I suspect since it was built in the mid-sixties, there were a few pleasant day-trips around the city. Unfortunately, I’m pretty useless at taking photos in Sydney as I’ve been visiting since I was eight months old. But here are some token ones.

A day trip to Manly with Valerie – mostly on the Rivercat and the Manly ferry.

A great day catching up with Kiwi cousin Chris, who I last saw before he left London in mid-2011. $2 all-day public transport on a Sunday – brilliant. My first visit to Watsons Bay and the south head of the entrance to the harbour.

Back in Auckland, I had arrived in time to watch the thrilling cricket semi-final between South Africa and New Zealand – with Eden Park just down the road from Andrew & Shelley’s we could hear the cheers for each wicket and boundary, not to mention the fireworks. With not much sleep after that excitement and the change in time-zone, I headed off on a little bikepacking tour.

Much more than usual, the cycling was a means to an end. Being so, the riding on roads I’ve been familiar with my whole life was pretty boring. The riding highlights were cycle trail through the Karangahake Gorge (especially the over-a-kilometre long tunnel) and riding back past Kawakawa Bay. But the general tedium of the riding was more than made up for by catching up with so many people that are dear to me – plus meeting all the new offspring, I think there were six in various homes.

Back in Auckland for a couple of nights there was the chance to see a few more people and try to fly kites at a local park and all of a sudden I was in Waiuku, within sight of the steel mill, and with more old friends. But that was nothing compared to the Easter weekend to come.

For Luke and Anna’s wedding a lot of us stayed at Castaways at Karioitahi Beach. I’d only visited this beach once while I lived in Pukekohe, and never Castaways – what a great venue. Quality accommodation and the views up and down the beach and over the Tasman were fantastic. Anna being the eldest daughter of the family in whose home my sister, Adele (who was one of the bridesmaids), and I spent so much time  growing up in Te Puke – there were many familiar faces. The wedding was absolutely lovely and we all had a lot of fun. About half of those at the wedding stayed the three nights after, so there were many good times together over barbecues, on the beach (I even tried to explain making steel from the sand to a seven year old, I’m not sure that was successful), some mountain-biking at my old local trail and more good food.

I even got an unplanned trip back to Te Puke in when Kathryn (Anna’s eldest sister) needed help moving furniture from Auckland before jetting off to live in the UK. Muggins me had nothing better to do, so I was happy to help a little and go for a fun little road-trip.

Back in Auckland it was a beautiful day for a trip out to Waiheke Island to visit a Pukekohe riding buddy (we’ve both obviously moved since then). The riding was nice and the beer and hospitality so good, I crashed in the guest room before heading back to town on the ferry with a whole lot of commuters the next morning.

This ferry trip from Queen’s Wharf has many similarities with leaving Circular Quay in Sydney.

Catching up with more friends over the course of the day, and continuing to indulge in the now-in-season feijoas, it was a big day in which I still managed to pack up my bike and everything else I’d been dragging around for the last three weeks. It’s nice to be home now, but it’s so much more autumn-like down here unfortunately. Perhaps that’ll give me time and motivation to try a little harder to find a job…

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