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It's great fun  to head off on a solo road trip, bubbling with that delicious feeling of freedom and filled with the anticipation of finding new places to explore.  Last week I was free of all my normal commitments so grabbed the opportunity and took to the road. I had an idea of where I was heading but was mainly just going to go with the flow and see where opportunities took me.  One place I had wanted to visit for years was the Kauri Museum, at Matakohe, so that was my only definite destination.

My first day was spent having a lovely long catch up and chat with my sister in law at the beautiful seaside town of Mangawhai Heads. Late afternoon I drove across country to the small town of Dargaville, stopping briefly at the village of Paparoa to admire a beautifully restored villa which the proud owner showed me through, the old country store and the grandiose bank building, now no longer in use. Banks were pretty important to small town life in years gone by.
The Paparoa Store, established in 1884

Those were the days, when banks were banks!  It seems very grand for a tiny village but would once have serviced farms and villages for miles around

 This was my first visit to Dargaville which lies on the Kaipara River, a fairly muddy looking river it has to be said, and the town is probably not the most exciting of places to visit.  Like many small towns in New Zealand it has a rather dismal main street with many empty shops and an air of decline about it. Nevertheless it has some pleasant residential areas, some lovely old villas and makes a perfect base to visit some beautiful places nearby.

Looking along the Kaipara River and the town of Dargaville

And looking south along the river from the Dargaville Museum
Verdant rolling countryside surrounds the town so on my first morning I went for a drive to explore it, getting quite lost but, in the spirit of going with the flow, loving it all the same.  I am not a fan of driving on unsealed roads however I soon found myself on one and decided to stay  on it for quite some time. Absolute bliss to be alone on the road entranced by the stunning views out to sea and the peaceful isolation of the farms along the way, a total contrast to life in the city.

A replica gum diggers hut at the Dargaville Museum
In the afternoon I visited  Dargaville Museum, a surprisingly good museum for such a small town. It is not well sign posted and can be hard to find but keep looking, it is worth the effort.  Located on a hill just outside the town it has commanding views over both the town and the river and is crammed with  plenty of items of interest, well displayed.  I highly recommend it.   The displays cover  the history and people of the area, stories of the gum diggers, ship wrecks and collections of all manner of things from thimbles, to bottles, to piano accordions.  Apart from the museum staff, I was alone, spending a good couple of hours there, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to linger for as long as I liked. As it started to drizzle I headed back to my motel to relax and cook some dinner.  Note: There are very few places to eat out in Dargaville.

Kiwi on display at the museum

The next morning dawned fine and sunny, perfect weather to explore.  My first stop was at Bayly's Beach, ....north of Dargaville.  Bayly's Beach is part of the spectacular Ripiro Beach, an unbroken  107 kms, or 66 miles long, running down the west coast of the north island.  It is longer than the more famous, but incorrectly named, 90 Mile Beach. The beach is a designated road so 4 wheel drive vehicles are permitted to drive on it but must observe the usual road rules. You need to be careful, though, since many a car has become bogged in the damp sand. I don't have a 4 wheel drive so just parked near the beach and walked.  With high cliffs of lignite behind me, long breakers curling onto the shore, the wind blowing sand into eddys around me and nobody else on the beach as far as I could see, it was wild and wonderful. I sat in the dunes for quite some time mesmerised by the surf,  the sea, and the sea birds squabbling and calling to each other until it was time to go and explore some more of Northland which I will write about in my next post. So far it had been the perfect day on the road.

Above and below: The glorious Bayly's Beach...not a soul around, just me and the birds, paradise!

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This is my 200th post on A Wandering Widow Solo Travel.  I find it hard to believe there have been so many, and this morning I got to thinking about what a fun journey it has been.  Not only has it been a brilliant motivator, making me get out, do things, see the world and meet people in order to have things to write about but I've had an absolute ball in the process. Travel has always been one of my greatest loves, and makes up most of my posts, but I have written about many other things besides, like gardening, sculpture, cooking and festivals, to name a few. It has given me great pleasure to relive my experiences in writing and, I have to admit, it gives me quite a thrill when I see it is being read in some remote corner of the world. I have lost count of the many different countries showing up in my blog statistics.

Writing up notes for my blog - Port Douglas, Australia
 A Wandering Widow Solo Travel has now reached close to 50,000 readings so I thought it would be fun to see which were my most read posts.  Here are the top 15 starting with the most read at the top. 6 of the 15 are about places in New Zealand, my stunning homeland.

If you are interested in any of these posts they can be found easily by typing the title in the search box at the top right hand side of the blog.

Art Deco in Napier
Oamaru - New Zealand's finest Victorian town  

Napier - the Art Deco capital of the world

Des Goupillieres - Troglodyte village, Loire Valley, France

The Giant's House Sculpture and Mosaic garden, Akaroa, New Zealand

Gibbs Farm, Kaipara Harbour, New Zealand - An art lover's dream

Flavigny Sur Ozerain...and Chocolat (France)

Tracing the Ancestors - Bradford on Avon, England 
Den Gamle By, Aarhus

Akaroa - New Zealand's only French village

Craft Beer - Smog City Brewing, Los Angeles

Saltaire - Yorkshire, England

The Ghan Adventure - a train trip through outback Australia

Den Gamle By - Aarhus, Denmark
The Ghan, Australia

Homestay on a Turkish Farm

Top Tips for Solo Travelers - Updated 
 ( this is the second post of tips)

Day Trip to Waitomo

They are just a small sample of the many and varied topics I have written about over the last few years.  There will be more adventures to come, I hope.

Meanwhile this is one of my favourite travel quotes and I think it is one all keen travelers can relate to: "Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote and I shall be happily infected until the end of my life"  Michael Palin

Happy travels, everyone!
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Nestled at the foot of the magnificent, soaring mountain range of Ko'olau, near Kane'ohe Bay, lies the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. Within the park is the tranquil and beautiful Byodo-In Temple.   It is one of my favourite places in Hawaii.
The magnificent Byodo-In Temple under the misty mountains of  Ko'olau
The temple is a half size replica of the original, World Heritage listed, 900 year old Byodo-In temple in Kyoto, Japan and is a fine  example of the symmetry of Heian architecture. It was built and dedicated in 1968 to celebrate the centenary of the arrival of the Japanese in Hawaii. The Japanese originally arrived  to work the sugar cane and pineapple plantations and their early years were difficult, marred by poverty, hardship, and prejudice. The temple is an acknowledgement of those early days, of their hard work and of the gifts they brought to the culture of Hawaii.

The temple is a non-denominational Buddhist temple, it does not have  a community of monks or a local congregation, and is open to everyone of all faiths from all over the world for prayer and meditation. Thousands of people visit it every year.
My Grandson ringing the peace bell. I hope he has the peace and good fortune promised
Built from concrete the 11,000sq ft (1000 sq metre) temple houses an 18 toot tall  (5.5metres) statue of Buddha covered in gold and lacquer while the lush, serene gardens surrounding the temple contain large koi ponds, a three ton peace bell and a small meditation pagoda.

I highly recommend a visit to Byodo-In to enjoy its peace and tranquility, to take a step back from the fast pace of life, to listen to the bird song and the gently flowing stream, to admire the carp and to mediate for a while. It is also said that ringing the huge bell will bring you peace and good fortune, now that has to be worth a visit, doesn't it?

Above: carp ponds      Right: the meditation pagoda

Byodo-In 47-200 Kahekii Highway, Kane'ohe
Open daily 9am to 5pm                                     
 Admission : $3 per adult $1 per child                  
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Recently I went to visit my cousin, John and his wife, Jan, in their new home in Napier. They had relocated from Auckland about a year ago so I was looking forward to seeing them and learning about their new life in  Hawkes Bay.  As it turned out my short visit evolved into a fantastic foodie weekend.  It hadn't really been planned that way but like all the best getaways, one good thing led to another.
Stunning views of the central North Island mountains from my flight to Hawkes Bay
A glorious sunny winter's day was a perfect start to the weekend as we headed out to the small seaside settlement of Clifton to get a view of the large gannet colony of Cape Kidnappers. 

The gannet colony of Cape Kidnappers on the Hawkes Bay coast
 Keen for a coffee, after a stroll along the shore, we spotted a cafe in a converted house set back across a field.  How fortuitous! Hygge at Clifton Bay was a delightful find.  Open for only three weeks the cafe is a new venture for former orchardist, Kerry and his school teacher wife, Robyn Brannigan. The whole aim of their cafe is to create a cosy, welcoming place of comfort, peace and enjoyment following the Danish principles of Hygge.  They have managed to achieve this and then some. With its wide views out to sea, comfortable settees, roaring log fires and scrumptious food - you must try the fig and date scones! - I could have happily spent an afternoon there. It was new to John and Jan too and they said that from now on it will be high on their list of places to take visitors.
A cosy corner of Hygge at Clifton Bay
But we had more foodie experiences to come so after a visit to the delightful and quirky potter, Maggie Taylor at MT Pots at Te Awanga, we headed to the nearby Clearview Estate Winery for lunch. I really enjoy winery lunch platters.  I think they are the perfect lunch and Clearview produces a particularly good one.  Here it is:

Hohepa feta and peperonata salad
Chicken liver pate
Barrel smoked marinated mushrooms
Chilli garlic fried prawns and chorizo
Spice roasted olives and whole almonds
Sundried tomatoes
White bean dip
Cumin crackers and fresh baked bread

We washed it all down with their delicious Black Reef Blush Rose 2017

Yours truly with my cousin and his wife at Clearview Estate

Feeling well satisfied with our foodie morning we returned home for an
afternoon of rest and relaxation.

The next morning we set out for the Hawkes Bay Farmers Market.  I'm a great fan of farmers' markets and I think the Hawkes Bay Market has to be one of the best in New Zealand.  In summer the stalls are set up outside under large shady trees but this is winter so it was held inside in spacious pavilions. It is always a pleasure to wander around a market, meet with the producers of a diverse range of fruit, vegetables, meats and artisan products, have the odd tasting and listen to music in a relaxed atmosphere. 
Sauces, jams, mustards, pickles, at Hawkes Bay Farmers Market
It was also a pleasure to meet Jan's brother, stall holder, Clyde Potter, owner and director of The Chef's Garden @Epicurean and to view his lush, fresh, organic vegetables and selection of heritage seeds. Once laden with goodies we headed home to offload them before going out to lunch.

A selection of Clyde Potter's organic vegetables

Then we were off to the Philippine Restaurant, PAK, at West Shore, Napier, to attend a FAWC, ( Food and Wine Classic) event. This festival offers restaurants the opportunity to showcase their cuisine.  The atmosphere at PAK was convivial with diners seated together at long tables. The restaurateur started proceedings with a short talk on the Philippine style of cooking, the ingredients used and the philosophy behind it. As the meal progressed she  introduced each course with a description and short explanation. There were six courses in all:

Lumpiang Sariwa - Fresh vegetable spring rolls with sweet garlic sauce and peanuts
Patotin - Sous vide duck with asuete paste, cane vinegar and vegetables
Pochero - Beef bone broth with bone marrow
Fish - Gurnard with eskabeche sauce and vegetables
Lechon Baboy - Slow roasted suckling pig with vegetables and condiments
Biko - Sticky rice cake with coconut cream, and anise 

Gurnard with Eskabeche sauce

It was a pleasant surprise since I had never eaten Philippine cuisine before. The main features of Philippine food are the three flavours of sweet, sour and salty and a generous use of vinegar.  Dipping sauces are typical and something sweet is often paired with something salty so it is not unusual to be served mangoes dipped in salt. The result is unusual but very, very tasty. I will certainly eat Philippine food again whenever I can so I guess you can say the FAWC festival was great advertising for PAK restaurant and their particular style of cuisine. It was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon - great food, excellent company and a convivial atmosphere. Amazingly it turned out that one of the friendly, chatty people sitting next to us was a relative, by marriage, of my late husband. 
Lechon Baboy - slow roasted suckling pig at PAK
To round off a great weekend we went for a couple of walks - well we needed to after that eat fest! - and spent time chatting, relaxing and catching up on news.  All in all a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. It was so good to spend time with relatives, who are also good friends, and to revisit part of the country I am very fond of. The fact that we got to enjoy some outstanding food was a major bonus.

Hawkes Bay Farmers Market is open on Sundays from 8.30 to 12.30

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