Finding a phone in water-logged Northland caves united German tourists with locals at New Year.
It was just another glorious Northland day for Lisa Topcsov, who holidays in the area every summer with family – that was until she dropped her phone in Waipu caves.
Not realising until she returned to the car, she and her young family traipsed back through the water-logged caves in search but came back empty-handed.
"It was really putting a dampener on the holiday as I had to cancel my bank cards, which were also with my phone and it was stat holidays. Plus, it was a work phone so I was trying to log it in as lost," she recalls.
But 24 hours later her luck turned when partner Braden Bryant randomly received a friend request on Facebook from one of Lisa's friends.
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"He asked me who this person was and I said 'Yeah, that's my friend, accept it', so he did."
The friend then sent Braden a message explaining that she had tried to phone Lisa and a German tourist had answered, saying they'd found the phone knee-deep in water. So, Braden rang Lisa's phone and spoke to them himself.
Somehow, the phone had survived 24 hours underwater but was locked so the tourists, who were now in Mangawhai, were unable to phone anybody from it. Lisa was about to jump in her car and head straight over to retrieve it when they mentioned they would deliver it as they were still trying to find accommodation for the night and had decided to head towards Whangarei.
As it happened, Braden's family and friends had gathered at Waipu at Braden's brother Tim's beach property for Tim's birthday – there were already tents, and caravans galore – what was one more? An invite was extended and, within the hour, a German couple and their friend rolled up in their camper.
Not only were they decent people, they were great company and walked in proffering a handful of beers with the apology: "We are birthday crashers? This is all we have to offer sorry!"
But Tim didn't mind at all. In fact, he was impressed they drunk Speights and so they joined the party and soon their story unfolded.
They had been visiting Waipu Caves the day before – the same day as Lisa - but ran out of time to complete them so returned the following day.
"I just shone my torch down at the ground and saw this phone," explained Linda.
"We took it out of the cave and had a look in the car park to see if someone was searching for it. Then we decided to take it with us and figure out a way to contact Lisa as we had found out her name on her cards.
"Marvin messaged her on Facebook and we saw that pop up, along with other messages, but, because we were unable to unlock it, that wasn't helpful. We just waited if she would answer there or someone would call her phone, which was what happened."
The tourist's plan was to camp at Aroha Island Kiwi Reserve, but that was fully booked.
"So, we were in the middle of discussing what to do next, when Braden suggested we camp where he was."
Linda, Marvin and Denise's goodwill evolved into a night's accommodation and social gathering kiwi-styles. Braden also took them under his wing for New Year's Eve the following night and they spent it at Whangarei Heads, learning to scallop.
"Our highlights in Northland have been 90 Mile Beach with our 4x4, the Mangawhai Cliff Walk, Smugglers Bay to Busby Head walk, Ocean Beach and, of course, this encounter and meeting everyone involved, which lead to celebrating New Years with Braden, Lisa and their kids and friends at Whangarei Heads," Linda said.
"Northland was very beautiful in general and in the end, I think we could have stayed there longer. We did not expect there would be so many locations to explore."