It all tastes better with a little sand
For our last remaining days in Northland, there are a few things I really want to do. I want to go to Cape Reinga, I want to go to the Karikari Peninsula, and I want to go to the Saturday Kerikeri markets. And - I want to have picnics on the beach with the stuff I get from the markets there.
It's a funny thing, eating out of doors.
Sometimes it is spectacular; oftentimes it is a bit of a pain in the arse - bugs and biting insects and wind conspiring to ruin your al fresco dining buzz.
But hey there must be a reason why there is "sand" in "sandwiches", eh? And boy, was there sand in these sandwiches.
The Karikari Peninsula is visible from where we are staying in Cable Bay - a long, dark silhouette against the skyline. I've heard that Matai Bay there is pretty spectacular.
And, after a 40-or-so minute drive, there it is, pretty as a picture.
Fine, white sand, crystal clear blue-green water gently lapping at the shore, set against a backdrop of rolling, native tree-covered hills.
You can see why people go a bit mental over New Zealand's scenery. It would have to rate as one of the most spectacular beaches I have ever seen, let alone swum at.
We have brought with us a picnic, pretty basic stuff - bread rolls, hummus, ham, cheese, salad leaves, tomatoes, some biscuits and juice - and after a cooling, restorative swim and a bit of a lie on the white sand, we tuck in.
Even though this is far from the most spectacular food I have eaten on this trip, even though it seems impossible to keep sand from blowing into the mayo, these "sand"wiches taste pretty damn good.
Saturday, and we head down to Kerikeri to the farmers market there.
I like Kerikeri - it has a relaxed, small town feel, but is very well appointed with shops and cafes, and, of course, the market.
Primarily a market for food and produce, there are a few craft stalls just across the road (I gather the rest have upped sticks and headed to the larger craft market in Paihia, where the cruise ships dock).
There seems to be just one stall selling each foodstuff - one selling bread, one selling coffee, one selling orange juice and so on.
I like this - it gives the perception (rightly or wrongly!) that each market seller has been specifically selected for what they bring to the table, so to speak.
There is a man selling macadamia nuts and macadamia butter.
There is a place doing calzones (I split a spinach and feta one with Plus One - it is delicious), and a German Bratwurst sausage stall which finds much favour with Lola Dog when the sausage-slinger feeds her a stray half-sossie.
There is also a guy playing acoustic guitar and singing whose voice is a dead ringer for Tim Finn.
Seriously - ever wanted to hear Tim Finn singing The Lady In Red, or American Pie, or, um, Fall At Your Feet (ummm...) - uncanny.
I have a pleasant chat with the bloke from the Virgin Press olive oil stall about the trials and tribulations of producing a premium, hand-picked olive oil for market - perversely, he makes less from their most expensive oil than from the cheaper varieties. I try some, the lemon-infused oil in particular is quite magnificent.
We also collect a loaf of nutty, grainy bread and a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice that is tart and sweet in just the right combination.
We then head over to Russell via the car ferry - cute town, one of the first settled in NZ - it feels to me a little like Akaroa on the Canterbury Peninsula down south - but warmer, obviously. Much, much warmer...
The trip up to the cape the next day feels a little like you are heading towards the end of the earth, which I suppose in a way you are - lots of winding roads, leading to where the coasts (and the tour buses!) meet.
If you have never been there, I highly recommend that you do.
It has huge spiritual significance for local Maori as the place where souls leave the earth - eating or drinking here is frowned upon - and it feels powerful and wild.
You can see where the Pacific and Tasman seas collide. It is awesome.
For lunch, we then take our picnic-goodies from the previous day's markets to neighbouring Spirits Bay - another spectacular spot, a more rugged sort of beach, practically deserted.
Just amazing - and another set of sand-infused sarnies, augmented by tart cherry tomatoes from the market that pop in your mouth, the last remnants of the gouda from Kaiwaka, the nutty, grainy bread, and some blueberries that just burst with flavour .
And probably just as well the sand makes it into the sarnies - I have forgotten to bring my uber-bourgie pocket Maldon salt dispenser, so it provides a little seasoning, as well as grit (it's pretty fine sand, anyway...)
Packing up to leave the following day, I feel an immense sense of gratitude at the way Northland has welcomed us. It is a beautiful place, brimming with sensational beaches and immaculate produce - and if a little sand in the sandwich is the price you pay for combining them, I don't think I mind that one bit.
Sand in the sandwich - do you have a solution? Or, like me, do you not really care if the "vibe" is right? And Karikari Peninusula and the Kerikeri markets - you visited, and enjoyed?
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