WHEN we dropped the Pipster off in Aramoho she looked like she knew something was up, but she was in good hands, we thought.
We were dropping her with temporary caregivers while we headed off to Auckland for a family Christmas.
We broke the trip and stopped at Te Kuiti, which appeared to be still recovering from the loss of Colin Meads.
About 3km towards Benneydale, by a free-camp set at the confluence to two streams lined with limestone cliffs, a swing bridge led to a Department of Conservation reserve and a picturesque cascade.
We shared the camp toilets with the travellers of 50 other vehicles, mostly station wagons with young European independent travellers.
A Te Kuiti freezing worker with wrap-around sunglasses sold a bit of weed to the tourists.
The caravan is equipped with comfortable beds and has two 100-watt solar panels on top feeding a deep cycle battery which runs night lights, the radio, phone charging station and a small fridge, which runs fine when the sun is shining but has to be turned off at night.
We pulled into the Te Awamutu rose gardens for lunch and the milk was cold. We boiled up on a heritage Rinnai LPG camp stove and after a cup of tea and a walk around the garden smelling the roses we were "on the road again", to quote Willie Nelson.
Driving in Auckland with a caravan can be a challenge but in a previous life I had worked as a truck driver in inner Auckland.
The traffic was heading south and, as long as there are median barriers, it's good to be heading in the opposite direction to the prevailing traffic.
Set in the middle of Auckland's wealthiest suburb is the Remuera Caravan and Holiday Park. Laid out on three levels, at the top it has motel units and a swimming pool and at the bottom there is a shower block and kitchen/lounge surrounded by caravan and tent sites.
Maui and Juicy campers and young Germans on bikes come and go.
In the middle are the "permanents" living in caravans and awnings.
The office letter rack contained Winz letters, and the office manager looked like an ageing hard man, well capable of being the "unpaid social worker" to the permanents.
We've stayed in the camp ground a number of times, and we are getting to be able to recognise the "regular permanents".
A Remuera businessman and his wife, with the rare quality of being able to mix with some of life's walking wounded, said they really enjoyed living there.
A Tuwharetoa permanent mowing the campground lawns said he lived there because "I don't have far to go to work, bro — the bus is too expensive".
He said Auckland had been invaded by hornets, which had built a nest there, and that they were sending out scouts looking for new nest sites, which proved that you never know where a conversation with a permanent might lead.
On Christmas Day an invitation from the office manager was relayed by one of the permanents for us to attend the camp barbecue by the pool at the top of the hill.
I felt touched that they were concerned that we might be alone on Christmas Day and that we were being included in what would be an interesting gathering.
But I had to tell them we were joining a family gathering in Mt Eden. The entire web of descendants was gathering around the ageing family matriarch and we couldn't not go — but "thanks for the invitation".
At the family gathering, uncles and aunts and cousins caught up.
The only family member missing, I thought, was the Pipster, still in Whanganui.
Not long afterwards my cellphone rang.
"Hello, this is Whanganui animal control, do you have a black-and-white terrier?"
It turned up that Pip had escaped from her temporary caregiver but had handed herself in not far away. I explained that we were in Auckland.
"No problems, Fred," the animal control officer said.
"You have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year."
"Me koe hoki," I replied.