Thursday, March 8, 2012

Auckland airport

Well here we sit in that place that we all know so well: the departure lounge. What a difference it makes if you are outward bound or homeward bound. This time for us it is the homeward leg and with it comes a mix of emotion. There is sadness that an ending brings. Especially when it is the ending of five weeks of travel though New Zealand and all it's wonders.
Homeward bound

There is also a bit of sadness saying farewell to Kim who we will not see I the flesh again until her return to Canada in August. For me there is also a little trepidation concerning the long flight home and my concern that my back will again rebell despite all my preparation. Of course along with the sadness and trepidation there is also the happiness of the thought of being home again after so long an absence. There is also, this time, the happiness of having seen and spent time with Kim both on the road at the beginning of our trip and also at the YWAM Base in Crystal Springs. There we had the chance to not only see where she has lived for the last year and a half but also meet many of the people that are her family when she is so far away from her Canadian roots.
Our Kim

It brings us so much happiness knowing how loved she is and how loving and nurturing this community is. It was interesting to learn that the nickname her students have given her is 'mom'. This was also a nickname of Blake's at one time. What's going on here?Julie and I stayed at the camp last night to spend our last evening here with Kim. This seemed fitting given she was the reason we came here in the first place. The three of us had a good visit and went out for dinner and then played some cards in quiet companionship (I won). This morning when we went for our final hugs goodbye the whole group of 25 or so prayed for us and we were very moved. We left about 8am and it was a beautiful sunny morning. We took an alternate route into Auckland along some quiet country roads. The Kai Mai range ran for miles to our right and the rolling farmland was all around. It was our last couple of hours in this lovely pastoral area however soon enou we were into the city with cars thicker than sheep in the shearing sheds. After spending a few hours at the Auckland museum we reluctantly made our way to the airport and to the spot we now sit. Julie misbehaved badly coming through immigration hoping her passport would be impounded or something, but no such luck. We are homeward bound. We spent an hour or so here at the airport with Enno & Renate, friends we had met weeks ago in Whatawhiwhi and while there wasn't really time to play more bridge it was fun to catch up with the last bit of our travels and of course it was nice to see familiar faces in an airport do far from home. So that's about it for this blog as our flight is being called. When I get home I will do a final edit and go through the agony of trying to choose only a handful of photos to add here and there. When this is done I will send out an email to let everyone know it is finished. Until then I would encourage you all to put New Zealand into you travel plans. Keith, I now completely understand your comment you made in our kitchen about wanting to return here to live. My question now is: How did you ever manage to leave?
Saying goodbye

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Papamoa Beach - part 2

You can just see Mt Maunganui from our kitchen table
While we had originally planned to stay two nights and then move on it did not take us long to change this plan as we both independently thought this is where our New Zealand adventure should draw to a close. As I mentioned our cottage which was one half of a duplex was sitting right at the crest of the dunes with magnificent views.
The moon shines off Papamoa Beach

While there was no oven in it the interior was modern with a high ceiling that followed the arc of a wave. Furthermore, the was a spa tub which was wonderful after a swim in the ocean. And then there was the beach. Miles of it starting right at our doorstep. The second morning there Julie went to the office to get change for laundry. A little later while we were on one of our many beach walks she mentioned that she enquired as to whether we could extend our stay and sure enough it was free for the Tuesday & Wed night as well and so as soon as we got back we booked. Four nights staying put in such beautiful surroundings felt like true luxury. There were four of these beach front ocean cottage duplexes and during our stay there were only two others occupied thus it felt very much like our private domain. Aside from doing a bit of shopping and visiting a kiwi fruit operation we did not do much more than walk on the beach, swim a bit, eat, sleep, read, soak in the tub etc.
Just don't pinch me

The mornings were very cool and I could not quite convince Julie to be up early enough to come with me to watch the sunrise. Two of them were quite photogenic but the third not so much and this morning I didn't make it out in time for reasons I will not disclose. When we first arrived we were using the maps app to try and figure out which islands were which and there was one small blip right on the horizon directly in front of us that we couldn't figure out because the only thing that was supposed to be there was the Astrolabe Reef. We learned later that indeed this was not an island we were seeing, it was the container ship Rena that had gone aground on the reef last October. I recall reading about it in the news at the time but of course forgot all about it. They have still not offloaded the containers as none of the cranes are operational. Most if not all of the fuel leaked out which wreaked havoc on the sea life in the area. Apparently several of the containers that were lost contained various food products and as all this food drifted in towards shore the sharks followed it in closing the beaches for days on end.

The owner of the Top 10 resort told us that this has. Even her worst season on record (42 yrs) as nobody wanted to holiday at Papamoa because of the wreck. Julie did manage the sunset beach walks and we watched with interest as the surf casters came out with their 12 foot long rods to fish for red snapper and other local fish. After baiting their hooks they would wade out into the surf and then launch a mighty cast with the objective of making it out to the ocean side of the breakers, right where the fish like to feed at dusk. Then, back to shore they would go where their rods would sit vertically in the sand, the fisherman watching the tip for any nibbles. There were other forms of shore fishing we watched; one involved setting out in a kayak with the baited hook, line and sinker to get passed the breakers. Another involved a small machine called a nautilus. Shaped like a miniature submarine this radio controlled device was propelled electrically and could go out to sea for miles if you had enough line. Anyway, it was all very interesting to watch. For the first two days the ocean was fairly calm. The breakers coming in could and did bowl you over should you try to resist them, but they were manageable. At night you could hear each wave as it came in and you knew when a wave a bit bigger than the rest had come into shore by the sound and feel of the 'whump' as the wave broke - little deeper sound and a little more sonic vibration. Yesterday however things were very different and we came to understand why this beach is a destination for surfers worldwide.
This section was crowded with surfers by 6:00

 It was a fine sunny day with only a light breeze but the waves rolling in from the open ocean were huge in comparison to the first couple of days. Rather than hearing each wave break there was now a continuous roar as these giants pounded into shore. At 4 pm the were maybe half a dozen surfers out there. By 6 pm maybe 30 or 40. At sunset the was not a surf caster to be seen which is understandable as neither cast nor kayak nor nautilus would have been able to overcome this surf. It was marvelous to behold. Now, the last little tidbit I want to leave you with concerns the stars. As I mentioned earlier I discovered that the moon was waxing which was a disappointment to me given that I had not yet sighted the famed Southern Cross or that star so many scifi tales find irrestsistable - Alpha Centauri - and I was afraid that with such a bright moon any hope of seeing them before our departure from the southern hemisphere would be lost. Wanting to make one last effort I went online to try and find a website that would help me as I was finding the star charts very difficult to understand. Anyway, one of the sights described where you should look depending on what time of day during what month. For me to look southward I had to go to the front door which I did without much optimism given that not only was the moon very bright the we're lots of street lights out that way. In any event, I opened the door and, boom, there they were in their glory just jumping out of the sky at me. The bright moon had acted as an aid not a deterrent. When will I learn not to prejudge how things might affect me and my surroundings?

Sunset walks are good for the soul

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Papamoa Beach - part 1

Once again our destination was but a short drive away just beyond the city of Tauranga midway down the Bay of Plenty. The guidebooks suggested that the 90 minute walk to the summit of Mount Maunganui (an elevation of 250m) was well worth the effort on a clear day and as it was a clear day and as the Mount was between us and our destination and as we thought a decent aerobic hike before lunch was a good idea and as we checked to make sure this ancient Maori site was not a sacred site (refer to Cape Reinga) we decided to do it. Mount Maunganui is an extinct volcano and is at the northern end of a beach that stretches south for miles and miles and miles.
Looking down The Bay of Plenty from a'top Mount Maunganui

The beaches are known internationally by surfers who come from around the world. (more on this later). To get to the Mount we had to drive through Tauranga, a port city and I have to say it was a bit disconcerting to be faced with having to negotiate a multilane freeway after so many days of twisty but low traffic volume roads. Tauranga is not an attractive place, at least from its main road and then the area at the base of Mount Mauganui is a long strip of highrise buildings, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Choked with traffic it was not a pretty sight. I was getting close to high tailing it out of there when we finally found a spot to park and so we headed out. We were right. It was a good aerobic work out. The guidebook was right. The panoramic views on this beautiful sunny day were stupendous. Our lunch, washed down with a couple of beers that weighed heavy on the ascent was stupendous and guilt free (see Cape Reinga) although we could tell by the looks of some of the others that had reached the summit that they wished they to had thought to bring nourishment. Anyway, it was a fine way to spend a few hours and I look forward to posting a few of the photos. Now, on to Papamoa Beach and our lodgings.

Our Papamoa Beach Pad
Upon looking at the location via the ipad maps app I was somewhat disconcerted to see that this Top 10 resort was in the middle of what looked like a very urban area. This was also the most expensive place we had booked as it boasted itself as 'absolute beachfront' but somehow I was skeptical. We found it without any difficulty but all my fears of being in the middle of a busy urban area were confirmed. Traffic lights, round abouts, shopping centers, greasy looking take away shops - they were all there. I am happy to report that all of my fears were ill founded. Between the road and the ocean there was several hundreds meters of dunes. When you are down on the beach nothing exists except the ocean on one side and the dunes on the other. Our little cottage sits at the edge of the dunes. When we look to the left we see Mount Mauganui 15k in the distance and beyond it the Coromadel coast and mountains.
First stars over Mt Maunganui
When we look to the right we can see White island (an active volcano) and Cape Runaway marking the southern end of the Bay of Plenty. Looking strait out to sea you see nothing but the horizon for such a wide expanse that it is easy to discern the curvature of the earth. I'm afraid I'm not really doing justice to the majesty of the vistas we enjoy from our little cabin perched on the crest of the dunes. We hear nothing but the crashing of the surf and the squawking of the gulls. The beaches are essentially empty save for the surfers, dog walkers and at sunset the surf casters hoping to return with snapper for dinner. This place is a little piece of paradise and it is here that we will stay until it is time to go home.
A surf-caster tries his luck at sunset with Mt Maunganui in the background

Waihi Beach - part 2

I'm sorry if everyone is getting tired of how I keep raving about all the wonderful beaches we have been experiencing but let me remind you that these blog entries are firstly for my own personal use in the years to come when I know I will need more than just a few gentle prompts to dredge memories of thoughts and feeling long forgotten. And so yes Waihi Beach is another long crescent beach with firm white sand and when the wind is right, boasts surfer quality breakers. Very close to Auckland it is a popular weekend getaway destination. We were excited to be on a beach again this day as winds up to 150k had been predicted in the region and indeed the previous day they had cancelled the Cook Strait ferry crossings, a rare occurrence given gale force winds are regularly encountered. Unfortunately for we storm watchers the promised winds did not materialize and what there was turned out to be pretty much offshore in direction thus the seas were unnaturally calm. The small village of Waihi Beach is only 10k or so from the town of Waihi, the site where the Martha mine was established in 1882.
This bridge led to a great hike, but bring your light
This gold mine was one of the largest in the world at the time and a significant percentage of global gold production (which I can't now recall) was at this site. Waihi is really a sleepy little town except that essentially right in the middle of town is the mine. We're talking open pit mine to a depth of 250 meters. From the road into town you can see a large minehead now in disrepair. It had a very familiar look to it and the puzzle pieces fell into place when we saw we could tour the 'Cornish Minehead' and take a ride down to the depth of the pit. We passed on this opportunity and instead headed for the Karangahake gold fields. Here we had a fantastic walk through the Karangahake gorge. This hike took us over swinging bridges, past abandoned mining equipment and through mine shafts.
Access to the notched pathway was blocked.  Back through the tunnels again.
While the use of a torch was recommended we of course did not have one with us and thought we could probably get away without one. Wrong! While the first couple of sections of tunnel had light coming in from windows cut out to the edge of the gorge every 50 meters or so, the last section was totally and completely pitch black. Eyes open or closed made no difference. The tunnel still had the narrow gauge rail lines and ties and there were a few spots where I had to duck down a bit so it really wasn't safe to try feeling your way forward.
Go to the light!
We negotiated the last several hundred meters using the flash of my camera to illuminate the next few steps. It wasn't until we made it to the light at the end of the tunnel that Julie remembered Kim showing her how her phone had a little flashlight setting and it wasn't until lunch when I reached into my backpack and discovered my headlamp. We had a delightful picnic lunch on the rocks by the river and then retraced our steps through the tunnels then back to camp, however not before provisioning ourselves for that evening's repast. Now most of the cottages we had been staying in had fairly limited cooking facilities: a two burner hob, a microwave, a toaster and a communal barbecue. However this one also had a small oven. We were excited. We could roast something. Thus into the butcher and immediately two of the most amazing looking lamb shanks seemed to cry out and say; 'Take me! Take me!'. So we did. Thus after rubbing them down with grated garlic, salt and pepper into the roasting pan along with an onion, some carrots, kumara and a bottle of Monteith's summer ale they went. It's worth noting that as far as we could tell the roasting pan had never been used before. Our plan was to walk along the beach and into the bakery while the lamb slowly roasted so we could fetch a suitable desert for the impending feast. We already had the mint sauce. We had the wine. We had the green veg and salad. It retrospect, it was a good thing that the bakery was closed when we got there. When we returned to our little cottage about two hours later any anxiety we might have had about being away so long was quickly dispelled by delicious aroma that assaulted us when we opened the door. I thickened the gravy using some of the boiled potato and Kavli biscuit. It was passable but in my opinion the weakest part of the meal. But, OMB felt we ate like kings enjoying these tender succulent morsels of delight and that night's repast will be of those meals we long remember.

Waihi Beach - part 1

Waihi Beach is only about an hour's drive south of where we were on Hot Water Beach and after several days of walking mainly on beaches we decided that we would look for tramp in the woods enroute. Not that we were bored in any way with the beaches but the forests were just as interesting. Enroute we came to the town of Whangamata and stopped at the isite location - NZ's tourist information centres. After discussing the many options we had, we made the decision to do what was described as about a 3 hour hike up the Wentworth Valley to a waterfall. The route would take us along the river through a thickly forested steep sided valley. Sounded great and we were excited to begin.

Mobile, Hmmm?
Now for just about the entire trip Julie had been talking about her ambition to find a dress - no, not a dress; the dress - (or dresses) suitable for some upcoming summer weddings. Up until recently this had not really been a concentrated search - the kind that would require a coffee shop and a bookstore nearby for me - but now that our time in New Zealand was starting to wind down the priority of this task was starting to rise. Thus I was not surprised when having just exited the isite Julie turned around and went back into ask if there were any dress shops in town that sold New Zealand products. Yes indeed there was and so off I headed to the cafe and then to the bakery where I acquired a baguette for that day's lunch as well as a couple of sugar donuts thinking Julie would probably need a bit of comfort food after another disappointment. I am happy to report that the comfort food was not required. While the dress had not yet been chosen when I arrived it was very shortly thereafter. Julie was thrilled, I was thrilled, the salesperson was thrilled and best of all the dress (or dresses) look absolutely thrilling on Julie. Thusly thrilled we were ravenous and decided to put an end to the baguette before heading out for our tramp. The parking lot at the trailhead was about 10k off the main road and the seal lasted for maybe 2 of those and then quickly deteriorated from gravel to a Minefield of potholes that required a maximum speed of maybe 10 for fear of breaking an axle or something. The valley was lovely with sheep and cattle grazing. A guy on his tractor passed us (his tires were better able to handle the potholes). We knew we were getting close when ahead we saw one of those road signs with an exclamation point on it and the word: Ford. Sure enough, there it was with the water flowing smartly, but smoothly over the surface of the road. This time however, there was evidence of it having been used recently and it wasn't until we were half way across that the thought occurred to me that it was probably the tractor that had passed us a while back.
This time we did it!
In any event we successfully forded the river and shortly thereafter arrived at the parking lot. This little adventure seemed to put a spring in our step as we arrived at the waterfall in a little less than an hour. It was a lovely walk with a couple of bridges across a river comparable to the Seymour River. The falls were difficult to photograph as they were in a steep and narrow gorge that was heavily treed. We saw a total 6 people there and back and this peaceful solitude in this lush green place made for a delightful afternoon (especially with a new dress - the dress - safely tucked away in the car).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hot Water Beach

The trip around the Firth of Thames was punctuated by a soak in the Miranda mineral baths. The large pool fed by several hot springs lies in the middle of a large flat area, once a combination of swamp (since drained) and mudflats. Every year this area is visited by millions of migratory birds. Or so we are told as they seemed few and far between the day we drove through. Between the town of Thames which marks the beginning of the Coromandel peninsula and our destination this day, a small community on the eastern shores called Hahei lies the Coromandel Range and so once again we found ourselves driving up, down, over and around a breathtakingly torturous road. But we survived, our lunch remaining intact in our stomachs despite the devilish attempts of the road to pry it loose. The Top 10 site we were staying at for the next two nights was located maybe 10k south of Hahei along a stretch of beach named Hot Water Beach. As a result of some geologic quirk, thermal vents bring heated CO2 up through the sand in a small area of a very large and beautiful beach.

Nobody was steamed at Hot Water Beach
  For a few hours before and after low tide one could walk across this section of beach and feel the warmth of the sand. One could walk, except for the fact that this small section is thick with people all carving out or rather digging out their piece of the beach forming private hot pools. The idea is to have a wave deposit some sea water into your little pit which would quickly warm up. Spades could be rented for around $5.00/hr. It seemed they would be useful not only for the digging, but also for defending your territory. Anyway, while the scene seemed a bit obscene to us, we did linger there to wiggle our feet into the sand to search for these hot spots. We found them. They were hot. Very hot. If you stood in a hot spot and let the waves wash the sand from beneath your feet you could only stand it for maybe 5 or 10 seconds before you had to move lest the soles of your feet would be scorched. While this was all very novel the lure of yet another largely empty crescent beach was too much to resist and so we left this industrious knot of spade wielders for the stretch of cool firm sand beyond. Hot Water Beach is also a surfing beach and we watched with interest a group of four boys maybe twelve or thirteen heading out.
This beach had much more to offer
The surf was definitely up. One of the four was clearly very accomplished and he quickly and skillfully overcame the barrier that the crashing waves presented them. The other three despite determined effort were repeatedly overcome by the breakers and thrown back towards shore. Two of them eventually made it but we watched the forth, head hung low, trudge further down the beach to a spot where the resistance was less fierce. Ah, the triumphs and the tragedies of youth! That evening we shared a communal picnic table at dinner with a policeman from Copenhagen traveling solo and mid-way through his 3 week vacation, a young couple from Sweden about to return home after 10 weeks and a couple from Victoria at the beginning of 7 weeks of roaming. Communal kitchens are terrific things at campgrounds like this. The following day we drove the short distance to Hahei to hike to a place called Cathedral Cove, a much photographed and much promoted stretch of beach on the south side of Mercury Bay. Mercury Bay is so named because it was here that in 1769 Captain Cook sailing the Endeavour observed a transit of the planet Mercury across the face of the sun.
Looking across Mercury Bay to Hahei from the Cook monument
A sunny day in a rain forest
This allowed the location of bay to be plotted on the globe exactly. From there he proceeded to map the coastline. I digress. The walk to Cathedral Cove is not unlike the walk to Quarry Rock in our own Deep Cove in terms of distance and difficulty. There the similarities end as the dramatic coastline looks out to sea and the curving horizon. A grouping of small islands in the distance jutting out of the ocean reminded me of the islands of Vietnam's Halong Bay. The beach of Cathedral Cove is truly a gem and despite the danger warnings and signs forbidding entrance one could not help but enter the cathedral like cavern which led from one beach to the next. (except that Julie did resist)

Cathedral Cove was beautiful but also quite busy compared to most beaches
 The wind and water carved limestone cliffs reached up maybe 50 meters or so and conveniently there was a small freshwater stream that tumbled down offering a freshwater shower to wash away the salt water from your swim before humping your way back up the steep, steep trail for your return to Hahei. From there we headed to Cook 's Beach and a small Passenger ferry that for a small fee took us across the Bay to the town of Whitianga. While we had originally planned to have dinner there we changed our minds given a) the prices at the restaurant we had chosen daunted us a bit; b) we had enjoyed the previous night's communal repast so much and; c) we chanced across a lovely looking butcher's shop and a very funky natural food store with wonderful veg on display. Thus after finding the perfect something for a bride-to-be that we know and love we headed back to the ferry and our car, speculating on where in the world our dinner companions might call home.

Orere Point

I have observed that the water vortex in a draining sink or a bathtub rotates in a counterclockwise motion but cannot visualize what happens at home so will have to wait a few more days to complete this experiment. I can tell you however, that in the northern hemisphere if the left side is dark then the moon is waxing. In the southern hemisphere a waxing moon is dark on the right side. I look forward to observing the moon from somewhere along the equator someday. If the moon orbits the earth every 27 days why are full moons 29 1/2 days apart? I have to say, gazing up into the night sky and speculating on celestaial brain-teasers is infinitely more interesting than watching the bathtub drain. However, the purpose of this blog is not to try and sort out these puzzles, rather it is to describe our travels through this amazing country so I'd best get back on task. I am still days behind and our days remaining are drawing short. So, where was I? Oh yes, I was in Dargaville, a small town in the Northlands, known as the kumara capital of NZ which would probably make it the kumara capital of the world. Kumara is the Maori word for sweet potato and in many of the grocery stores the kumara section rivals that of the potato.
A kumara processing plant in Dargaville

You can choose from yellow, orange or red flesh and we have found all to be delicious. They boil in half the time of a regular potato and are dryer and a little more textured than the sweet potatoes or yams we get at home. Another food product that we have been enjoying is avocado. This is avocado season and we are in an avocado growing region. At the roadside stands one can buy 10 huge, perfectly ripe avocados for $5.00. At the office at the place we are currently staying (Papamoa Beach) they have two large baskets on the counter full of avocados and we are encouraged to help ourselves for free, which we do. It was explained that these avocados are 'windfall' and therefore not suitable for sale. A local farmer is a friend of the owner and in season delivers crates of them and so if the proprietor did not give them away they would rot. Needless to say we are only too happy to help avoid this waste. It is something like zucchini season at home - never leave your car unlocked or you will return to find a few in your back seat. I digress. The day I intend to recount was Tuesday Feb 28th. It was essentially a longish travel day wherein we departed from the Northland back through Auckland and towards the Coromandel peninsula. Enroute and still north of Auckland we were in need of a break and noticed a sign advertising a sheep show as well as a shop and so decided to stop to have a look. We left perhaps 90 minutes later rich in the knowledge that our loved ones will appreciate our random roadside rest but poorer, hundreds of dollars poorer, in the pocketbook. I will say no more at this point, knowing that some of these loved ones are reading this passage. Back in the car and wanting to avoid the toll road into Auckland ($2.00!) we headed back to Orewa where several days previously we had watched the kite surfers skip across the waves. This day was calmer and we enjoyed fish & chips for lunch. We also stumbled upon a dog shop and even though we had already acquired something for Mitchell there was something 'on sale' that could not be resisted. I will say no more at this point even though Mitch does not know how to read. Orere Point is at the northwest tip of the Firth of Thames and across this bay lies the Coromandel. This was to be a one night stop off and after a long walk on the beach we came back to our cabin and enjoyed barbequed lamb with boiled kumara and a salad. There were no avocados in the salad as the ones we had purchased a few days earlier at a roadside honesty box were still like rocks. Despite this, dinner was delicious.
Two flowers admiring one another
There were four or five ducks that took a great interest in what we were doing and at one point we had to close the door as one of them had come up the steps and stood at the doorstep quacking in a rather polite tone. No doubt he was asking permission to enter but we were not really in the mood for company that night and you all know how difficult it can be to converse with a duck.