The Commercial Hotel and Blah Blah Blah!

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Before checking into The Commercial Hotel in Dargaville I grab lunch after spending time in The Woodturners Studio with NZ’s master woodturner Rick Taylor. Seems people here have a good sense of humour and I can’t resist eating at Blah Blah Blah in Victoria Street – the name alone called me in!

Dargaville sits on the banks of the Northern Wairoa River and is the largest town on the Kauri Coast and is the gateway to the Kauri Coast in Northland, New Zealand

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Ernie starts the show!

The Kumara Box and Ernie are about 10 minutes’ drive (from Dargaville) heading south on Pouto Rd and once there, for about an hour I watch the live Kumara show!  Ernie, the kumara, shares his stories and interesting facts about the history and people of the Kaipara area and this much-loved, tasty, sweet potato. (Seems there are ten varieties grown but supermarkets only want 3 of them!)

According to ‘Ernie’ the vegetable came to NZ via an American ship in 1850 where one of the crew gave three to a Māori – luckily he planted them and now they are a kiwi staple.

Kumara growing in NZ's 'kumara capital.'
Kumara growing in NZ’s ‘kumara capital.’

I enjoy a cuppa, (along with scones made with kumara) with this couple who almost fell into tourism and now thrive on their new job. They now leave it to others (family)to plant the 1½ million plants each year. The ‘train’ that takes guests around the farm was wisely not started up for just one person but I get a tour to see the farm and what I suspect is the smallest church in New Zealand on a quad bike. Note: bookings are essential to visit the Kumara Box and the vegetable has taken on a new life in my mind making shopping for them enjoyable.

Continuing south on Pouto Road I next visit Zizania Paper Products on Turkey Flat Rd where a weed (pest?) is being given a new life.

It seems the Manchurian ricegrass came into the area in either ballast water, or bricks from China which were then used to build stables – the rest as they say is history. Manchurian wild rice (Zizania latifolia) is a giant semi-aquatic grass that has smothered riverbanks, invaded pastures, and run rampant through drainage channels in parts of the North Island from Northland to the Kapiti Coast – now it’s being used for beautiful paper. “It’s the only good thing about it’ I’m told, and Zizania Paper now creates acid-free papers for artists and other lovers of fine products – using also material from red-hot pokers; flax, cabbage tree, and of course in keeping with this area, kumara. See more on their Facebook page.

paper making from an unwanted weed
paper making from an unwanted weed
View from The Pavilion
View from The Pavilion

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Alongside Zizania is The Pavilion – a one-Queen-sized bedroom, kitchen, and lounge is a  self-contained cottage that’s ideally placed for a relaxing stay in the area. A historic cricket club-house that was relocated here in 2006 and  sits nicely in the gardens with its lake – home to frogs, black swans and herons and other birds. However, my accommodation is already booked so I head back to town to the  John Logan Campbell kauri-built  Commercial Hotel, on River Road.

This is completely refurbished heritage-listed waterfront pub was built during  the 1880s, overlooking the mighty Northern Wairoa River. Peter & Pam Kelly spent some 35 years farming sheep and beef farming in the northwest of Dargaville before they took on the task of restoring this fabulous building. They’re people-people and with a love of travel they are the ideal hosts for this charming building – and the care with which it’s been restored is clear. I’m not surprised it’s being used for weddings and other gatherings!

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My room was comfortable and with the room overlooking the river it was great watching the river traffic from there and on the veranda where I had a ‘cuppa’ with my hosts as the sun went down. This is an ideal starting point a road trip on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway – the 800km circular route from Auckland that takes you around Northland, and the big sky here makes for fabulous photos too!

The (5-hour) Historic River Walk has the 1867-built Commercial as #14 on the map and says “perhaps a notorious watering hole but a historical part of the pioneer days – gory stories and a fascinating past.

detail - Commercial Hotel
detail – Commercial Hotel
Detail - Commercial Hotel
Detail – Commercial Hotel

This is my last night on my 2 week trip ‘up north’, so if you are planning to visit this fabulous part of New Zealand, I suggest you a search on ‘Northland’ in the categories to the right on this blog and find out about places that could be added to your must-see, must-do bucket-list.

The bombed - by the French - Rainbow Warrior masts are at the Dargaville Museum
The masts from the bombed – by the French – Rainbow Warrior  are at the Dargaville Museum

Many thanks to Destination Northland  for sorting out much of my trip and NZ Rent A Car  for the car. I took my TomTom GPS and was often told, when I took a side turning “Mate! Turn around wherever possible and let’s find a mean steak and cheese pie.” Perhaps you can tell I have a kiwi voice guiding me wherever I go!

My last blog (of this Northland series) will be about the award-winning Kauri Museum so come back in a day or 2!

Sunset - see in the slideshow for an early morning shot I took the next day.
Sunset – see in the slideshow for an early morning shot I took the next day.

The night sky, NZ’s longest drivable beach, and a kauri pen!

Warning!
Warning!

Continuing my trip around Northland, along the Twin Coast Highway, which was taken in my favourite car rental company NZ Rent A Car I leave the Hokianga and head South on SH12 to check out the night sky and the wild west coast.

I stop again at Waipoua Forest to see Tane Mahutu in the daylight and it’s a popular site with a number of tour buses in the car park. The road winds its way through the forest of kauri and other natives making for pleasant driving. Heading north on the same road are many campervans and I know the travellers in them will have a great time here in the north of New Zealand.

Kauri Coast road - beautiful.
Kauri Coast road – beautiful.

I eventually turn off the main road towards Baylys Beach and the vast Ripiro Beach – the longest driveable beach in New Zealand – I don’t drive on it but take a walk instead!

This west coast is lined with spectacular beaches and petrified forests: 157 sailing ships were wrecked here which lets us know just how wild the Tasman Sea can be.

Checking in at Sunset View Lodge I have great rural views and can even hear the sound of the waves.

???????????????????????????????The Lodge has free Wi-Fi J and an honesty box in the bar – I’m sure some people would be happy with that but also suspect many travellers choose a B&B so they can spend time with their hosts – however with the honestly box I guess the choice is yours! With only 3 suites, this is a relaxed place to stay and the heated pool is an added bonus  . . .  especially after horse-riding as Pam, the owner, operates a horse trekking business but I’m not doing that but will be gazing skywards tonight. (Note – The Baylys Beach Horse Treks run from 25th October to 25th April.)

Rural areas in Northland, because of the lack of light and pollution, are good places to check out the night sky – and Astronomy Adventures is the place to start. (You can even stay here too)

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The charity side of this observatory – the ‘Skydome Observers Group’ – is made up of locals and I get to join them at their Valentine’s Day meeting where the focus is on Venus – after the goddess of love. In the lounge of our host, I learn Venus is the hottest planet and so not surprisingly has the most volcanoes of any planets. Named after the Roman Goddess of beauty and love, Venus, and other planets or stars, were not visible to us because of the clouds. If you like the night sky, this would be a great place to visit – as is Tekapo just south of Christchurch, and the Carter Observatory in Wellington.

 

 

???????????????????????????????Next morning I head for Dargaville and stop at the Kauri Coast Info Centre and Woodturners Studio and Gallery on Murdoch Street – just north of Dargaville town-ship.

I meet award-winning carver Rick Taylor (and his wife, Sue, who runs the info centre) and I hear that Rick harvests ancient Kauri from swamp land on the Kauri Coast and creates it into the stunning pieces that surround me in the gallery – no wonder he wins awards!???????????????????????????????

They show me how the kauri is recovered from local swamplands and then the Kauri paper (and soap) is handmade from the kauri shavings. Along with beautiful kauri lidded treasure boxes and bowls rick also turns pens on his lathe. I watch as he goes through the many processes and at the end of the demonstration, when its’ been sanded and oiled many times, he gives me the pen! I was (am!) thrilled with it, and have had many, many comments on my fabulous reminder of his skill and the fabulous kauri coast. The kauri he uses has been taken from an area of swamp which has been carbon-dated as 3860 years at which means my pen is about that old too!

My father was a hobby wood-turner and I know he too would have loved visiting this gallery. Rick is appalled that NZ kauri is sent to China to be made into products for the New Zealand market. “Make sure your things are  made in New Zealand’ he said. “Get something that’s good stuff, cheap, not cheap stuff cheap!”

He’s a perfectionist and his work reflects that and he suggests to travellers that NZ-made kauri products are the perfect gift for yourself or friends. Wood-turning for over 30 years Rick is arguably NZ’s leading artist and has travelled to many parts of the world to demonstrate his skills and offers individual tuition. (email him for details –  kauri4u AT xtra.co.nz)

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Tonight is the last of my two-week Northland road-trip and I cannot believe that so many spend so little time in the area – even with my 14 nights up here I have had to miss out on much the area has to offer.

But now, onto my last bed for this wonderful trip – at the heritage-listed The Commercial Hotel, Dargaville.

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