To get to Paihia is a good three hours’ drive from Auckland airport. Once I left the main city suburbs the land gets greener, as the road twists and turns through wooded forests with the ubiquitous Myna birds hopping by the roadside and once an Australian harrier floats across and over the trees. The land seems parched – on a stretch of road just south of Whangarei, the acrid smell of smoke permeates the car, and a helicopter flies overhead dragging an enormous bucket – it’s one of two urgently ploughing back and forth into the river and dragging water across to put out a bush fire.
I cross the brow of a steep hill and there! A beautiful sparkling bay studded with tiny wooded islands glints in the late evening sun. I lean that the Te Reo (Maori) name of this place Paihia means “Good Here”.