Weekend Retreat - Friday 19th to Sunday 21st June 2009

Sitting on the train headed for Kingsland, a back pack looked alien in a train full of laptops and briefcases. Once at Kingsland, Big Blue was sighted and the week’s worries melted away.
After the last-minute loading of packs, picnic baskets, cordon-bleu meals and in some cases, the extravagance of a double mattress, we were ready and set to go. Seating places were established. Spirits were high as we rolled out of Auckland and away from the working week.

The low rumble of conversations up and down the bus was soothing; the occasional jolt put you on good terms with your neighbours. After a few hours, we stopped at Thames. There were some ingenious practices of hunting and gathering. An improvised Flintstones car got some trampers a drive-through McDonald’s meal. Everyone congregated at KFC, much to the annoyance of the staff.
We drove into the caravan park after waving at the inhabitants of the pub from the inside of our bus. The caravans were inspected and groups departed for their beds or the pub.
The joy of arriving somewhere at night-time is the view you are rewarded with when you open the door next morning. In this case it was a glittering beach and a backdrop of mountains. The day was clear and bright and it seemed only right to explore the beach. A few stragglers were eventually found and then we were off to the first walk of the day.

The first climb was up Castle Rock or ‘the old man’. It was an advantage that Big Blue had done most of the climbing for us. It was a vigorous start and the view at the top, as always, was worth the effort. A few yells as we were climbing signified the top, and Wayne playing cameraman as you rounded the last corner gave it an edge. Lynette swore she had a sighting of a troglodyte, but it may just have been Noel in disguise.
Another journey through the stunning Coromandel and we were at the campsite. It was called Fantail Bay. The fantails swooped and dived all around, illustrating how the bay had earned its name. There were all the mod cons: toilets, showers and an amazing beach. The second walk led up to a ridge, but we unfortunately ran out of daylight. The sunset on the way down expanding over the sea was worth the agony of having to turn back.
On returning, there was a blazing fire and a unique fire-stand courtesy of Athol. Cooking pots were revealed and magical concoctions materialised out of bags. Beer and wine was passed around as the sun wove its way beneath the sea. Out came a radio, thanks to Bruce’s careful planning, and the All Blacks triumphed. The marshmallows were just one of the many touches which signified a well-thought-out weekend. The marshmallow sticks were a bit tricky to manoeuvre after a few wines, but the result was a delight. If DOC discovered the fire, I wonder what level of apology we would be using to get out of that one? Maybe a three and a five?

A chilly night was the payoff for such a beautiful day. The next day rivalled the previous one and after breakfasts, cold showers and tent deconstruction, we loaded up and shipped out once more. A good-natured banter between the opposing sides of the bus created good entertainment. The lucky side was blessed with a view and the others became well acquainted with the formation of the cliffs and the various ditches. Graeme was lucky enough to have that uncanny ability to read in the bus.

Sunday was the shortest day of the year and so it seemed only natural to have a mid-winter dip on this day. A quick detour and three nude ladies were sighted running into the waves. The walk was beautiful; being out of the bush for a section allowed the trampers to observe the views. This wasn’t always advantageous for those skinny-dipping types! There was a lunch stop at a lookout which allowed time for relaxation. The sun was reflecting off the water and the views of Great Barrier and Little Barrier were perfect. A couple of carrots and apricots were passed around, courtesy of Lynette. Kay quite kindly risked her life to recover a piece of chocolate which had become embedded in the cliff face.

Even at the end of the trip, when we reached Stony Bay there were a few more treats in store. A retreat was the next stop for the intrepid travellers. We did wonder whether it was a ruse and Athol had other plans for us, but when we got there, it was the perfect ending to a fantastic weekend. A spa pool was tempting and Hideo’s pool sharking revealed secret talents.

As the weekend creaked and sighed to a halt, a few hidden stories were unfolded as the sun crept out of sight and the mountains became distant. Asha’s stories were welcomed and allowed time for reflection, as were Martin’s reading recommendations, Kay’s love of literature and Chris’s vivid stories of camping and the scouts. Not forgetting Lynette’s sermon on the various methods of apology and the outcome of these apologies. Janet and Sarah are training for the Oxfam race and have made a good start. Chris created some beautiful mementos in record time. David was able to remember previous trips around these tracks. Sue provided a wealth of information for the rest of the group just through her experience as a tramper. Don and Sue provided good company all round. Craig demonstrated driving skills to rival Michael Schumacher.

On arriving back in the big smoke, Big Blue was changed back to a day bus. Many hands made light work. Under the glare of street lights, ‘thanks’ and ‘cheerios’ could be heard in abundance. I would just like to thank everyone on this trip for giving me such a memorable weekend. For myself, I have rediscovered why I chose to live in New Zealand in the first place. The once tight-knit group disbanded, but the memories linger, along with the faces and the stories.

We were: Chris & Noel Ashton, Athol Berry (leader), Sarah Bryson, Bruce Calvert, Wayne Clarke, Sue Grant, David Hamilton, Elizabeth Hindmarsh, Chris Mellor, Lynette Osborn, Graeme Pollock, Asha Sai, Janet van Schalkwyk, Craig Starr, Susan & Don Tate, Gemma Thomas (scribe), Kay Willcocks, Hideo Yoshihama.