Have you ever sat in a old car as it takes its final breath?
Chugga. Chugga. Chugga. Thud!
This weekend the hubby and I headed west on a day trip in our three-litre Ford Taurus - Roxanne.
She had carried us from Auckland to our new Kiwi home. Taking her to Hokianga on Saturday was just asking for trouble. It was like sending granny to Pak'n Save on Christmas Eve, when she shouldn't be allowed further than the dairy for a bottle of milk.
As she battled to climb the hill 5km outside of Opononi, she gave up. Her murderer, a missing oil cap.
Hours before - we stood beneath the mighty Tane Mahuta and pondered on the giant's effect on the local tourism industry. One tree - so many visitors. Why?
I'm from the Emerald Isle, where trees are as plentiful as the verses of our epic Irish ballads. I didn't get it - what was the big deal?
On the roadside a British couple pulled over and offered to drive us back to Opononi. We accepted.
A smiling hostess at the Opononi Hotel handed us a phonebook, pointing to a nearby scrap dealer.
A chirpy bar patron offered to tow the rusting car corpse to safety.
Then another member of the hotel team drove us to the nearest backpackers - free of charge.
A tow; a metal grave; a lift; a bed - and not a dollar spent.
Down at Omapere, a hotel waiter suggested that rather than emptying our coffers into the mitts of a taxi driver, his friend would drive us for a reasonable price.
Local gal Ruth delivered us safely to Whangarei by lunchtime Sunday - having given us the tour guide treatment all the way home.
I'm not a naive tourist, and sure, there are places we all dread breaking down in, but this was not the Northland that the naysayers moan about.
We were strangers in a village. But it was more than a village - it was a community.
I found Tane Mahuta - a giant made of people, standing strong with deep roots - albeit, hidden in Hokianga. Oh - and the big tree was kind of cool too!