Part 8: Hicks Bay to Huntly
If you go to East Cape, come back along the northern side. The other side is stunning, too, but there's something about the way the northern side hugs the coast.
It follows every curve until it can't. Around the bays, up and around the connecting bluffs - the road holds close to the sea except where it cannot possibly.
And the sun! Our trip was in winter and the sun sat low in the northern sky when it wasn't overhead. The light on the bush, across the beaches - a symphony of colour. The sunset behind the church at Raukokore stopped us in our tracks.
We cleared the cape and hit the road to Opotiki. On a Sunday afternoon, local kids do wheelies on their bikes up and down the main street.
From there, the Bay of Plenty happens all too quickly. Taneatua, Whakatane, Te Puke - distance flattened by the straight roads leading to Tauranga.
Did you know that you have to pay to get into Tauranga, depending which direction you approach from? The most straight-forward path into the city from the south is going to cost you.
I like Tauranga. Fair to say, it's not something which has blossomed to love. I know decent and sensible people who do love it, so I can commend the city on their behalf. But I'm glad it was company money which paid the toll.
Tauranga is like one of those sprat catchers you fish off wharves with when you're a kid - there's a hook every way you turn.
Off we went over the Kaimai Range. It's such a great road, State Highway 29, which goes west and straight over. The wide, straight uphill is brim-filled with possibility, such is the way it urges the motorist on.
And lo, possibility is realised! Cresting the hill, just past the bush reserve used as a toilet by freedom campers, the Waikato is laid out like a carpet below. The road down the western side of the range slaloms until it reaches the flat.
First there was Matamata, where Doug Purchase was out for a walk with wife Shena. They retired here from up north, wanting somewhere more affordable in their later years.
They had met a Matamata resident on the ship they took to move to New Zealand, a journey taken many years ago. They came here to make a life and did.
I asked Doug for the word which summed up what being a New Zealander meant to him. "Opportunity," he said, and that was what it had been for so many who had come here from somewhere else. It still is.
Cambridge hosted us for a night, Hamilton we skirted and Ngaruawahia was approached with some trepidation. It wasn't that long since a television personality had slighted the town. How might they welcome another media outlet?
In the end, people take you as you present don't they? Thanks Frank Tahana and Miruwai Turner. Thanks also to Tama Paekau.
It used to be that the Bombay Hills marked the arrival of Auckland but it is creeping south. Prices in Huntly are going up. Pokeno is in the midst of an outbreak of development. The outskirts are expanding.
When the Bombay Hills are at your back, you know you have truly arrived. There is traffic and after 5000km on the road, we are no longer moving.
• Tomorrow: Auckland to Dargaville
About the series
The current flag got a tick from the people of New Zealand, but the referendum triggered an unprecedented debate about our sense of national identity and how we're seen on the world stage.
What better time to hit the road and visit every corner of our amazing country. We wanted to know how we feel about ourselves. What are our hopes? Our fears? Do we like our national character? What could we do better? What should we celebrate?
We met dozens of Kiwis. This week and next, we're telling their stories, showcasing the places where they live and investigating the themes that unite - and sometimes divide - us.
We're publishing daily travelogues and video blogs by two-time reporter of the year David Fisher. His words are illustrated with stills and video by award-winning Mark Mitchell.
We're also publishing animated graphics featuring everyday New Zealanders and the word (or words) that best sum up, to them, being Kiwi in 2016. Here's today's:
Later this week, we'll go into even more depth, publishing a series of mini-documentaries about those themes.
The series will conclude with an interactive presentation showcasing our conclusions.
We want you to be part of this special project. On social media, share the word (or words) that sum up being Kiwi to you. Use the hashtag #NZin1word and we'll add the best submissions to our #NZin1word hub which will run throughout the series.
At the end we'll analyse the answers to create the Land of the Long White Word Cloud - a visual representation of how we perceive ourselves.