"" Writer's Wanderings: October 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Napier, Gannets, Art Deco

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Mon Logis our Bed and Breakfast has a historic marker at the front entry we hadn’t seen last night. It was first built as a terrace house in the late 1860s. In 1913 it was enlarged in the back to become the Capeview Private Hotel in 1915. It survived the huge earthquake that level a good bit of Napier in 1931 and was renovated later when it became the Mon Logis.

This morning we’ve decided to take a walk along the path that follows the beachfront into the city center. There is an information center there that we’ve already explored. Since the Hawkes Bay Scenic Train is not in season yet, we are off to the I Center to pick up a map of the self-guided Art Deco walk.
As we stroll the boardwalk, we suddenly discover a pod of dolphin frolicking near the shore. We stop and watch for a while. It appears they are feeding and kicking up extra food for the seagulls to feed off of. When they swim further down the beach, we turn to find a lady behind us watching them as well. Another friendly Kiwi encounter. She had just moved to Napier and was excited about the dolphins as well.
At the Information Center, we pick up the map we need. It costs less than half of what a guided tour would be per person and this way we can be on our own time schedule. We find the starting point and Bob begins to read about the art deco buildings as we walk. Basically, much of the town was rebuilt or restored during the 1930s after the big earthquake of 1931. Some of the buildings in between are much more modern but if you think Gatsby, you have a good idea of the atmosphere that is created by the art deco rage. Frank Lloyd Wright is mentioned often as having a big influence on the architecture of the time.

When we stop for tea and a rest, we discover in our conversation with the ladies there that a festival is held in February that lasts a week. Everyone dresses ala the period, Gatsby style, and the old cars come out and are paraded around. It’s great fun, we are told, and it certainly explains all the vintage clothing stores we’ve seen on our walk. There is one particular young woman at our church I think of who would absolutely love to attend that festival.

About 11:30 we start back to the Mon Logis to pick up our car. We need to be at a place call Cape Kidnappers by 1:15 for a special tour we’ve booked. Our drive out to the meeting point does not yield any good places to eat. We stop at what we fear might be the last takeaway place and order two hot dogs which are wannabe corn dogs without the cornmeal. The coating is more like a beer batter and the hot dogs inside have a red skin. The salt is enough to make us pucker. We eat enough to satisfy hunger, pitch the rest and continue on our way.

At the meeting place for the Gannet Safari Tour, we join four students from Germany and our guide who is just a delight. Jo drives us through a huge farm full of sheep and cattle and a golf course. Yes, a golf course. This farm, or station, is so large that the current owner decided to allot a part of it to a lodge and a golf course.

The further we go, the narrower the road until finally after passing through a couple of gates, we are on a graveled road winding up a precipice that overlooks the shore line and a valley full of sheep and cattle. Jo begins to explain that there are four colonies of Gannets here. Gannets are birds that look like a cross between seagulls and albatross but are actually related to the Booby family. Their wing span is about six feet, a bit smaller than the albatross.
This is nest building time and the males are appointed this task. Unfortunately they are not terribly good at it. They fly out to the shoreline and pick up seaweed and then try to get it all the way back to where the nest is to be built. Often they lose it on the way or when they land and drop it, it blows away.
The birds look so graceful in the air but a bit clumsy as they try to land in the middle of the colony with the wind whipping them around. I watch as some of them are rubbing heads and beaks, a type of courting move and then I see two who look like perhaps they are quarreling over a female. You can’t tell the males from the females by looking at them. They all look alike. But I guess they know the difference and that’s all that counts.

Jo tells us that the young Gannets make a flight over to the Australian coast and stay for a bit before returning. No one understands why they do it and why a few of them choose to stay in Australia. Most return to NZ though to stay and reproduce.
We gratefully sip on hot coffee while the birds entertain us with their flights and fights and merrymaking. It is a noisy bunch. This colony is on a high point but the other three are on lower levels including one colony along the beach.
On our way back Jo, who was once a farmer, tells us of some of the things she and her husband learned from raising cattle and sheep. She explains why it is best to put them together on a field. The cattle eat the higher grass and the sheep trim the lower grass keeping the fields looking as good as a golf course—provided you watch your step.
This farm we are driving through is also a bird sanctuary. Current and previous owners have gone to great lengths to rid the land of the predators, the stoats and weasels that prey on the kiwi and other birds of New Zealand. The kiwi population is growing on the farm.
The tour is three hours long but the time passes quickly and we’ve had such a great time, it is sad to see it come to an end. When we arrive back at our starting point, Jo gives us a map that shows us how we can get to the top of Te Mata, the ridge of stone we’ve seen across the valley. We follow her instructions and find our way to the top of a very windy lookout with an astounding view.
There is one more thing on our list to do before we can call it a day. We want to see the National Tobacco Company building which is supposed to be the iconic Art Deco building in Napier. We find it without any problem, do a Chevy Chase nod—seen it—and take off to find dinner. On the desired menu: lamb shank.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Aratiatia Dam, Hobbits, Napier

Friday, October 11, 2013

We awake to rain. It had to happen sooner or later. The weather for our first week was outstanding. The good news is that the rain seems to have freshened the air and I don’t smell the sulfur as much as we load the car to start our day’s adventure. Today we will drive to Napier but along the way we have some interesting stops planned starting with a stop in the area where some of the filming for the Hobbit was done.

It is only 9:15 when we arrive at the Aratiatia Dam on the Waikato River. It sits above the Aratiatia Rapids which are pretty dry at the moment. Three or four times a day, the spillways of the dam are opened and the water cascades down 28 meters in a one kilometer area. Since we have some time before the scheduled 10 a.m. release, we walk over the bridge that is situated right in front of the spillways to get a feel for the area. Then we see the signs for two different viewing areas—a high point and a mid-point. We decide we have time to check them both our and find the one we like.
After hiking all the way up and getting a great panoramic view of the rapids, we decide we like the mid-point better. It’s a little closer to the action. Bob takes the lower part of the viewing area and I stand on the upper part. He’s taking video and is excited for it to begin. At 8 minutes before the hour, a siren sounds warning. Three more sirens at 2 minute intervals and suddenly we see the spillways begin to open.

It takes a little while for the water to pool near the spillways but soon we see it cascading over the rocks headed for us. We are well above the wet zone. You can see the level the water reaches by looking at where the moss has washed away. Everything in this area is mossy. Is it any wonder the film makers chose it?
The Hobbit film crew dropped around 25 barrels down the rapids from the dam’s spill gate each time there was a dam release. You can see it in the scene where Bilbo Baggins rescues the dwarfs from elves by hiding them in barrels that float downstream. No actors or stunt crew were actually in the barrels. Guess I have to see the movie now.

From the dam, it is just a short drive to our next stop, Huka Falls. Did I mention it was a rainy morning? Thankfully we get a bit of a reprieve while at the dam but the drizzle is a little heavier as we get out of the car to see the falls. I toss on my all-weather coat with a hood and hope it will keep me dry enough.
We cross over a bridge above the falls and it looks like a raging river. The Waikato River is one of the most voluminous and funnels into a narrow channel here before plunging over a 20 foot shelf. I haven’t seen water move this fast or powerfully since standing next to Niagara Falls. Looking at the actual falls on the other side makes me question just where all that water could go. Is it any wonder that the dam down river needs to be opened several times a day? Needless to say, there is a lot of hydroelectric power generated by this river. As a matter of fact, one of the signs we read says that it generates 15% of all power in New Zealand. Wow.
Leaving the falls area, the rain comes down a little harder. We find our way to another nearby attraction, the Craters of the Moon. It is a thermal area that was activated in the 1950s when the geothermal power station in Wairakei was constructed. Somehow it changed the underground structure and this area became active. While it steams and there are some pots of bubbling mud, it isn’t as fascinating as the thermal area at Wai-O-Tapu was and once the rain starts in earnest, the 45 minute walk isn’t quite as much fun. My all weather coat is drenched by the time we get to the car and both of us have wet jeans from the knees down.

Not finding a stop for lunch, we break out a bag of potato chips and a Coke I have in the insulated bag. By the time we are through the bag of chips, we see a sign for a small café. What catches our eye is “Cream Tea.” But when we pull in and go inside, the homemade tomato soup sounds like a better choice. It turns out to be great tomato soup. Definitely not Campbell’s. While we finish our soup, the sun pokes out for a few minutes and we hope for a better afternoon drive.
Alas we arrive in Napier in the rain and slosh about a bit at first but eventually, the sun does come out and the rain dwindles. We find a café and enjoy some coffee and free internet! One of the maps we’ve picked up from the information center shows an overlook a short drive up a hill at one end of town. We still need to kill some time before we check in to our B and B.

The view from the lookout is spectacular with the sun shining and warming us. We look down on the port area of Napier and discover the place where all the logging trucks have been going. The docks are full of pine logs and as we watch, one truck pulls up to a huge picker that takes his load and puts it on a pile of logs.
We had no idea that New Zealand exported so much wood. Their forested areas are harvested and then replanted and during the week we have been driving part of the North Island, we have seen mature forests, harvested forests, and newly planted forests. And lots and lots of logging trucks around every twist and turn in the road. Quite a challenge to a driver used to driving on the right instead of the left.
After checking into the Mon Logis B and B, we set out to find the Turkish restaurant that our host has recommended. We find it and order two different lamb dishes. Both are served over rice but one is spicy. Both have thin sliced lamb like what you would find in gyros. Not what we expected but it is good.

The town of Napier is pretty quiet as we walk back to our B and B. We’ve found that most of the towns so far have closed up by five or six in the afternoon. Several food stores, the larger ones, stay open a while longer and some of the restaurants but they close on odd days of the week sometimes. Our feet drag a bit as we near the Mon Logis. I’m hoping to have enough energy left to make it up the narrow stairs to our room.

Monday, October 28, 2013

New Zealand Diary - The Kiwi House

Thursday, October 10, 2013

There are some lines you draw when you are out touring. Some involve physical challenge. Some involve personal interests. And then there’s just a line to draw on cost. We have a little time before lunch to explore the Governor’s Gardens and the Rotorua Museum. The Museum is housed in the old original bath house and Bob has an urge to go see the basement, the place where the original pools were. When we go inside, the lady at the ticket desk shows us all the floors of the museum. It is not evident that we can even get to the basement and we would have to pay $12 NZD and spend time going through a museum rather than enjoying the sunshine. While $12/each may not seem a lot, I have no interest and Bob decides that it’s too much to pay for a look at the basement. We walk through the gardens instead.

When hunger persists, we pull into a Burger King just a short distance from the park we want to explore this afternoon. A little taste of home at a good price.
The Rainbow Springs Park is a bird and reptile zoo with some fish, mostly trout, as well. It is beautifully laid out and a pleasure to walk through but we are here for one specific creature, the kiwi. It is the national bird of New Zealand and is endangered. Added to that, it is also nocturnal so there is little chance of our seeing one on our own. We have opted for the behind the scenes tour and the return to see the kiwi at night. While it is quite pricey we chose to buy the tickets as this may be our only chance to see live kiwi. Our tour begins at one so we spend a few minutes looking around the park.

The Kiwi House is one of several throughout New Zealand that has been established to try and save the kiwi from extinction. Our guide tells us that there are only about 70,000 kiwis left in NZ and that includes all five or six different species. Several small mammals were brought to NZ to keep down the rat and mouse population but stoats and ferrets have proliferated to the point that they are endangering some of the natural inhabitants of NZ including the kiwi. Weasels also prey on the kiwi and dogs and cats can be a threat as well. Only 5% of the kiwis born in the wild will survive.

One of the facts about the kiwi I find fascinating is that they resemble mammals more than birds. The feathers are more like fur, its bones are not hollow and it has whiskers like a cat. It has small wings but cannot fly and it produces one of the largest eggs of any bird especially in relation to its body size. The egg grows to be almost 2/3 the size of the kiwi mother. She lays the egg—only one a season and only about 3 a year, and daddy kiwi sits on the egg. Mom’s apparently had enough after putting the egg in the nest. The egg is soft when first laid and hardens outside the bird but still, I’m surprised they want anything to do with having more. (Check out the x-ray picture to see the size of the egg.)

The Kiwi House foundation sends their workers out to collect eggs and bring them back to the facility to hatch. Since September of this year, they have hatched 13 eggs. They keep the kiwi here until they are six months old and then release them, tagging a leg of the males so that they can track them to another egg. After all, the male will be sitting on the eggs. They have determined that the birds they release at six months of age have a 70% survival rate. They are a little big for the smaller mammals to bother with and since the eggs and very young kiwi are the most vulnerable, the system is helping the kiwi to repopulate albeit slowly.

We look at eggs in the incubators, see how candling is done to determine when a kiwi might hatch, and then watch as dinner is prepared for some of the newer hatchlings. Some liver is cut up into small pieces to take the place of the worms in a kiwi’s diet. Then the small kiwi is hand fed to be sure it’s getting nourishment. Eventually the kiwi will learn on its own to forage for its food sources. We watch as one attendant puts the pieces of liver into the bill of the small kiwi she is feeding and he swallows it down.

Around a corner from the lab we have seen is a public viewing area with a kiwi behind glass. They have altered the lighting so this poor bird has his nights and days mixed up. But it enables the visitors to see a kiwi moving about. Much better than the stuffed one we saw on our last visit to New Zealand. We watch in fascination as the ball of furry feathers meanders about under a reddish light. (Please note: not picture taking is allowed so those posted are of the stuffed variety on display.)

In the evening, after sunset, we return to the park and are allowed into the area where there are four separate exhibits each with a kiwi. Low lights give just enough illumination that you can see some of the kiwi moving about. There are lots of children who are trying so hard to be quiet. Noise causes the kiwis to hide. I’m glad that we are among the first to enter for I fear that those behind us are going to have trouble seeing the kiwis. They have sensed the presence of the strangers and have scattered to the back of the enclosures. Still, it is fascinating and fulfills the desire to see real live kiwi. Like I said before, you make choices based on interests and desires when you travel. You budget for the good stuff.

Friday, October 25, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Rotorua, Waiotapu Thermal Springs

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Another morning. Another brisk walk planned. This time it will be at Wai-O-Tapu a thermal area that is part of a Scenic Reserve. This area is called the Taupo Volcanic Zone and this is the largest area of surface thermal activity around. The morning is chilly but the sun is shining again. Yesterday afternoon’s rain seems to have passed and we are promised a good day by the morning show’s weatherman. As we drive to Wai-O-Tapu we pass through areas that are foggy due to the thermal activity. It is a bit like driving through the Smokey Mountains only these clouds are full of sulfur smell and come from the ground up.

It is almost nine when we arrive and we have an hour to walk around the park and explore before we need to drive a few minutes down the road to the Lady Knox Geyser. The points of interest on our map are explained and creatively described with their names. Devil’s Hole. Artists Pallette. The list goes on. Rock formations are unique and the colors that are forced up by the thermal pressure running through the minerals beneath give them varying colors. Yellow is prominent in many spots because of the high sulfur content.

There are three tracks to follow, all nicely marked and in good condition. We don’t linger in the lookout spots and are able to cover all three trails in the allotted hour. We don’t want to miss the geyser and it is scheduled to go off at 10:15. We follow a line of cars and find a parking lot filling up fast with people ready to view this natural phenomenon.

Several hundred people sit on bleacher seats that are arranged like an amphitheater around a cone shaped rock structure that sits on a flat bed of shiny white stone. The information we have says that the geyser is seeded so that observers can be sure to see it go off at a certain time. Otherwise it could take a wait of 2 to 72 hours before it goes off again.

At the appointed time, a park ranger with a microphone stands next to the cone shape and explains a little history. The area was once a place where convicts were sent to plant trees. Several of them found a thermal pool and decided to do their laundry. They wet their grimy clothes and then worked some soap into them to get them clean. They put them back into the pool to rinse them out and within a few minutes, they got a big surprise. The pool erupted with a geyser and sent their clothes flying into the air.

The cone, he says, was formed when people put rocks around the geyser area to indicate where it was. Eventually the rocks were sealed by the minerals deposited over the years as the geyser erupted. Now it is surrounded by an amphitheater full of people expectantly waiting on a good show.

The ranger explains that the mixture he puts into the geyser is not soap but an ecologically safe compound that will accomplish the same thing—break the surface tension of the water below allowing the hot water to build into a force that will send it shooting into the air. He steps up to the cone and empties his sack into the opening. A few minutes later we begin to see bubbles and then a few spurts and suddenly the geyser gushes up into the air amazing all of the observers. The eruption lasts quite a while before it peters out—maybe 15 minutes. By then half of the observers have already bailed and are trying to make it through the congested parking lot.

Most cars turn left at the road to go to explore the thermal pools but we’ve already made our trek so we head for the mud pools. They sound like a lot of fun. They are. There is something fascinating about hot mud glurping periodically. We stand for a few minutes and watch and listen. Then it’s time to move on. There is lots to do this afternoon. We have kiwi to see—the feathered kind.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Rotorua

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

There’s nothing like a climb to the top of a mountain right after breakfast. Especially on a chilly, crisp and very windy morning. Our host at our motel had suggested we not leave the area until we had made it to the top of Mount Paku, a pointy little mountain that overlooks the Tairua area. Since we find it has stopped raining and the sun has broken out, we decide we have enough time to take it in before starting on our day’s drive.

We wind our way up as far as we can in the car and find a parking area next to a marked trail that leads to the top. Donning our extra jackets, we grab cameras and head up the trail. Shortly we arrive at a spot that looks down on the Tairua harbor area. A pretty view but not the top. Rarely ones to dodge a challenge, we start up the trail that leads to the summit. Huffing and puffing, I can only grasp the comfort of knowing that once we’ve arrived our return is all downhill.

Lots of steps and some nasty boulders that were supposed to be like steps and we’ve reached the top just as a gust of wind threatens to knock us over. The view isn’t much better but we have the knowledge that we made it to the top. Challenge accepted and accomplished! As we turn to start down, another couple meets us with a tabby cat in their shadow. This is the cat our host said usually accompanies visitors to the top as the local tour guide. Apparently we were too early for the cat to be up when we started out.

Another dispute with Lady Garmon takes us off in the wrong direction but this time it proves she is right. It adds about a half hour on to our drive for the day by the time we backtrack and go the right direction. Part of the problem comes when we realize Lady Garmon does not tell us to make u-turns. Instead, she has us follow a loop back that often takes us completely out of the direct route. It’s probably safer that way for her. She can’t see the spots where we could pull off and turn around.

Our goal is to make a stop at an information place in the town of Taurangua. We end up needing a rest stop a bit before then. Thankfully we have found lots of public restrooms because McDonalds are few and far between. There is a restroom sign right next to an information place in a town called Katikati. Refreshed and loaded with a few more maps and pamphlets, I decide I really need a little sweet to tide me over to lunch. We walk down the street a bit and find a small bakery that has all sorts of temptations. I choose one that looks like a mini strudel and we walk back to the car munching on our treasure.

This little town looks interesting but we have miles, er kilometers to go before. . .well, you’ve heard that before. Taurangua, our original first stop is about a half hour down the road and we find the information center but it has much the same as we’d found in Katikati. As we take a walk down by the harbor area, I wonder where the cruise ships come in. This is one of the ports I remember from the cruise we took in this area. I realize we are too far inland when I see a bridge that is a permanent structure that stretches across the inlet. The cruise ships must put in closer to the open end by the sea.

A Turkish restaurant offers an interesting menu and we decide to try it out. We split an order of salad on a flat bread with chunks of lamb on top and a vinaigrette dressing drizzled over it. Turkish bread with EVO is a delicious side dish. The lamb is tender and tasty and makes us anxious to get to the South Island where we think we will find more lamb on the menus since there is more lamb raised there.

On to Rotorua. We skip the planned stop at the information center and head straight for our motel since we have more maps than we need and they tend to make Lady Garmon uncomfortable. Our host shows us our room which is very nice with a small kitchenette and nice bathroom. The smell however is a turn off. I don’t say anything at first and wait for Bob to come in with the first suitcase. Meanwhile, I run water in all the sinks and the shower. We had a place in the past that had a sewer smell that came up through the shower and I think that maybe the traps just need some fresh water in them.

About the time Bob comes in, I realize that what I am smelling is not sewers. It is sulfur. After all we are in one of the world’s best spots for thermal activity. When I walk outside the smell is even stronger.  Am I up for two nights of this?

We need to do laundry and I found a place online before we left that was around the corner from our motel. The motels so far have offered guest laundries but want $5/load to wash and $5 to dry (that’s $4/each in USD). Unfortunately by the time we are done at the self-serve laundry it totals $12 NZ ($9.60 USD). Ah, but now we are assured of clean underwear for another week.

After we are settled and finished with laundry, we explore a bit and we find pool after pool of thermal activity. Some of them are encircled with decorative stone but there are others that are just out in the open alongside the road. There are lots of places where you can see steam rising from little holes in the ground. The air is ripe. Bob keeps telling me that I’ll get used to it. We shall see.
Dinner is in a historic pub called the Pig And Whistle. The building is unique. The pub food fantastic. We leave satisfied and smiling. A good meal makes most anything seem better.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Breakfast turns out to be very good and we decide to buy some coffee both decaf and regular so that we can make our own. Most places make espresso which neither of us likes and where we have been traveling hasn’t had a lot of McDonald’s to get something that tastes closer to home.

Our drive is not as long today since Lady Garmon behaves. The sun is welcoming although a cool and sometimes chilly breeze confirms the cold front that is predicted to come our way soon. If it will just hold off until after our planned beach experience, it will be great.

Spring is breaking out all over and while they don’t get really hard winters here on the North Island, you can still see lots of trees that had lost their leaves and are now taking on that wonderful spring green and reddish color that comes from new growth. Seasonal flowers are in bloom. Wisteria blankets fences. Calla lilies and snow drop flowers carpet the roadsides. There is an occasional garden where a hot pink flower blooms. I haven’t yet gotten close enough to see what it is. The Kiwis are friendly but I wouldn’t want to impose by invading a garden I wasn’t invited to enter.

The sign for the Cathedral Cove walk signals it’s time to stop and get some exercise. Along the way when we stopped for coffee a the young lady asked our plans. Her comment was, “Cathedral Cove? That’s a bit rugged.” So I am a little concerned. She was young and considered it rugged. I’m a bit old and, well, we shall see.

It turns out to be a challenge but worth the twenty-five minute walk/climb to the shore. The “cathedral” is a huge arch carved in the rocky shoreline. There is a small beach being enjoyed by some of the younger people. Or is that older people trying to get the energy for the climb back up those steps that led all the way down here?

The walk back to the car park is longer with a few more rest stops to catch my breath and calm my heart rate since much of it is uphill and up steps. We chat along the way with a couple from Germany who eventually move on ahead. We are obviously slowing them down.

I tell Lady Garmon what our next stop is and she obligingly directs us to the pink road we need to start out on. The way to our motel leads us past our afternoon excursion, Hot Water Beach. We turn off to check it out and find that there are two places to park, one in town and one at the other end of the beach. The beach itself stretches for quite a ways but the part that is most interesting is the area where thermal water springs up onto the beach mixing with the cool sea water.

The hot spot is reached during low tide so we move on and check into our motel. Our host gives us a shovel and some towels for the beach and says once we get there, we’ll get the hang of what’s going on. Sure enough, when we arrive at three o’clock, just a little before the actual low tide time, the small beach area is full of people digging holes in the sand.

The idea is to dig a hole about a foot or two deep, pile a little barrier around it and wait for it to fill with hot water. There’s actually little waiting. It fills pretty fast and if you dig in the right spot, you get REALLY hot water. You can actually see the places where the hottest water bubbles up. And if the sand shifts and you are standing in a stream of it, you get a hot foot real fast.

Now here is where I have to admit, it isn’t my thing. It was fascinating but I’m not a beach person. I love beaches. I just hate sitting in sand. I mostly watch Bob enjoy himself as much as the kids in the hole next to ours. They keep repairing the wall between the two pools. I must admit though that the warm water feels good on my feet and ankles as the cold front is obviously getting nearer. You can see the steam rising from the hot water as it meets the colder air.

After about an hour of play time, we give our spot to some others and head to our car. My feet are caked with sand and I’m quite sure Bob is carrying a load (of sand) in his bathing suit. We do the best we can to rid ourselves of it. When we arrive at the motel, Bob rinses off as much as possible and we spend a few minutes enjoying the spa tub that is in a small room. Not much of a view but the water feels good.

Outside our room is a long porch that extends past the several units of our building. There is a small plastic table and chairs for us to use and we set up for our dinner of takeaway Japanese food. I reheat our afternoon purchase of miso soup and katsu don over rice and we finish eating just before it starts to rain.

The rain is more of a mist and stops just long enough for us to decide to walk into town for some desert. The only thing open is the grocery store and we find Tim Tams, a delightful cookie made in Australia, and a Magnum bar. I snap a few pictures of Tairua. It’s a cute little town. The rain comes down a little heavier on our way back but it doesn’t pour until we arrive back to our room. I make coffee using the new skill I’ve acquired of coffee plunging and we enjoy our desserts in front of the TV which is showing some unusual New Zealand mystery show. Another day in the land of the Kiwis ends. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Coromandel Peninsula

Monday, October 7, 2013

Another sunny day greets us as we set off for Coromandel Peninsula. But first, we decide on a stop at a place we’d passed on our way in to Snells Beach. Puhoi is a historic Bohemian settlement according to the sign at the turn off for the road. It is a tiny little place along a small river. It was settled by a group of  83 Bohemians from villages near Pilsen in Bohemia. The offer of free land was what encouraged them to leave their homeland in 1863 and emigrate to New Zealand.

Each adult was given 40 acres and each child 20 under the Waste Lands Act. In Puhoi the land was steep, the bush thick, the only access the river and only a rough shelter house. Te Hemera Tauhia and his men brought the immigrants to Puhoi and helped them to learn a bit about the bush and survival. The Bohemians, a hearty people, managed to survive by using what they found in the bush as a means to generate income and slowly put their settlement together. Steamers began coming up the river to receive the timber and other goods for shipment and by 1881, about 3000 acres were beginning to be farmed.

Why is this so fascinating to me? Well, because my grandfather came from Bohemia. He was a farmer and immigrated to America not too long after these people. Under different circumstances, I could have been a Kiwi!

We are here so early in Puhoi that nothing except the general store is open. We mail some post cards and take pictures of the old hotel and the stables and set out on the road again. Surprise, surprise! Our next stop is another waterfall. Hunua Falls. This one is quite impressive. The Kiwis have erected a frame so that you can take a postcard-like picture. Kind of funny. I like the more natural scene a lot better.

Our route to the town of Cormandel takes us along a magnificent coastline. Lush green islands dot the water and contrast with the deep blue of the sea. It is rockier here than any other place we’ve been yet and it makes the shoreline even more dramatic. Around every turn there seems to be another breathtaking view. Of course some of the turns are pretty breathtaking too especially when you are met by a huge logging truck coming the other way.

We check in to our motel, again finding it much nicer than expected, and quickly drive to the Golden Stamper Battery. It is a place to learn more about the gold mining that went on in this area. Unfortunately, we arrive about ten minutes too late for the last tour which seems didn’t happen anyway because we are the only car in the parking lot. Disappointed, we turn and head for the other site on our list, the Driving Creek Railway.



Thankfully we arrive just in time for the last train run of the day. The train is narrow gauge and diesel driven and was originally used to bring clay down from the mountainside for use by the artist’s colony that formed there. When the man, Barry Brickell, who originally built the whole thing was running out of money, he began to use it to take tourists up to the top for a view of the surrounding area. Eventually he built a lookout he calls the Eyefull Tower and it affords a panoramic view of the ocean, the peninsula and the surrounding islands.

Again, we find the friendliness of the Kiwis amazing. The engineer sat with us on the way down (we were in the last car which became the first car on the return) and asked us about home and Bob’s volunteer job with our Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. He answered all Bob’s questions about the little train we were on and even gave us a great suggestion for dinner.

Coming into town, we had noticed the low tide revealed several square patterned areas on the exposed beach that were lined evenly. Obviously an area where something was being farmed. We learned it was mussels and when we checked out the restaurant suggestion of the engineer, we found it had mussels on the menu. Ah! A no-brainer. Our dinner of mussels is wonderful. We order fries to go with it like we did in France. The sauce is lemongrass and coconut with a slight kick of something—maybe cayenne?

As we eat, we ponder what the long black roping with loops on it is that is draped across the restaurant. Finally we ask. It is the rope that is used on the beach for the mussels to attach to and grow. How appropriate.

After dinner, we shop for some things for breakfast. The cost of breakfast at the motels is a bit much and for a lot less, we can eat well. We get English muffins-whole wheat with raisins- a couple of bananas and some jam to go with the peanut butter we brought with us. I will learn to make plunger coffee in the morning. A new skill to acquire.

Friday, October 18, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Glow Little Glow Worm

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Several people we have spoken with who live in the area suggested that we visit the Kawiti Caves to see glow worms. They told us we would get closer to the glow worms there than in the large cave down south that is a popular destination. We say goodbye to our hosts at Allegra House, sadly take one last look at the beautiful view we have enjoyed for three days and set off toward our next destination with a planned stop at Kawiti Caves.

It is early Sunday morning but the sign says the caves are open every day. In a small white booth, we find the tour guide who sells us our tickets and asks us to wait at the entrance. I ask if I can take some pictures and he tells me I can take them outside the cave only even if I turn the flash off on my camera. We find this so often. I think it is because people don’t know how to turn their camera flash off or they take advantage and flash anyway.

The stalactites are huge hanging at the entrance to the cave. We wait there a few minutes and are joined by a dad with his two kids. There is a school holiday going on for another week. The kids go to school year round in four quarters with breaks in between. Our guide joins us, lights the lanterns and we begin. He carefully explains how stalactites and stalagmites are formed and then a few yards further into the cave, he turns out the lights.

Above our heads it is as if the roof of the cave has opened and we can see into a night sky. Hundreds of pinpoint bluish lights dot the roof of the cave. Our guide says they have called the section the Milky Way. I can see why.

The glow worms, our guide explains, hatch from eggs and become larvae. In this worm stage, they find a spot up high to attach to and spin a cocoon like tube that is like a hammock. This is the worm’s home for its transformation time. The worm then spins several long threads that hand down from the tube. Each thread has drops of sticky saliva along it. When the lantern is turned on, we are close enough to several glow worms to be able to see this. The threads resemble a strand of silvery beads.

As we walk on, the guide talks of how little flying insects enter the cave and are caught in the sticky threads when they are attracted to the light in the worm’s tail. The light is a bioluminescent chemical that is created in the worm’s body much the same as the fire flies we have at home in the summer except that the glow worms don’t flash off and on. The lights will get brighter the hungrier the glow worm according to our guide. Once the insect is stuck, the thread is sucked up by the glow worm “like sucking up spaghetti.”

We stop several more times to wonder at this amazing creation. Once the glow worm has changed into a small flying insect resembling a mosquito, it can no longer take nourishment as it has no digestive system. It has about three days to mate and lay eggs before it dies.

At the exit to the cave, we are directed to the “bush walk” that will take us back to the car park. Along the way the dad strikes up a conversation with us and begins to point out the different kinds of trees and bushes native to the area. He grew up on the North Island in this region and was an outdoor person. He and his kids are added to the growing list of wonderful friendly Kiwis we have met in just this short time here.

We find our next stop, Whangarei Falls, to be a park like setting. The walkways surrounding the falls are easy to navigate and we enjoy the bit of exercise after our drive. Back in the car, we decide to ignore Lady Garmon and take a side trip on a road that looks like it will take us along some coastline. It doesn’t really get close to the water but we enjoy some more beautiful countryside.

At Snells Beach, our stop for the night, we check into our motel. It is much nicer than we expected. We walk down to the beach area and find that the tide is low. Some people are out we suspect finding mussels or oysters. And way in the distance, we can see a tractor with a boat trailer behind it. When you can’t bring the boat to shore, I guess you take the tractor to get it.

Dinner is take away from a place across the street from us. The restaurants are all closed but the takeaway place is doing a great business. Our hamburgers are paper thin and not very tasty. We’ll have to try again somewhere else but I suspect there will be a definite difference in taste from our beef back home. It appears that the cattle here are all grass fed.

 After dinner we walk back down to the beach to see what it looks like with high tide. The change is striking and the change in the temperature is significant as the sun begins to set. Time to snuggle into bed and rest. Tomorrow is another day to explore.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

New Zealand Diary - A Kauri Tree, A Waterfall, A Train

Saturday, October 5, 2013

There are several clichés that come to mind to describe the start to our day: Best laid plans. . .foremost. Bob had preprogrammed our Garmon for each of our destinations before we'd left home so confidently we clicked on the Tane Mahuta Walk and let Lady Garmon lead the way. "Turn left in 1.7 kilometers. Then turn right in 3.3 kilometers" and so on she chirps happily. I sit with the road atlas on my lap. It's not that I don't trust her exactly, it's more that I want to know where I am in relation to all the other areas around me. As my finger on the map slips further south of where the logical turn should be, I casually mention to Bob that we look like we're a bit off track.

"Impossible," he said. "She wouldn't lead us astray, would she?" That said, we make a U-turn and program the next attraction on our list which is supposed to be near the Tane Mahuta Walk. We arrive in the Waipoua  Forest and find the Tane Mahuta trail sign. We put Lady Garmon in time out in the glove compartment.

See Bob in the ferns?
 The Waipoua Forest is full of Kauri trees. They grow tall (about 150 feet) and old (some up to 2,000 years) and can have a tremendous girth (up to 48 feet). The North Island was once covered in Kauri trees used by the Maoris for canoes, carving, and house building. When the Europeans arrived, they ravaged the  tall straight trunked trees using them for masts on ships and their buildings as they settled the area.

The Kauri tree we were about to see on this walk is called the Lord of the Forest because it is the largest and oldest living tree in New Zealand. The height of the tree is over 150 feet and its girth is about 40 feet. It is thought to have grown from a seedling that sprouted sometime during the life of Christ.
The path we follow is actually a boardwalk that protects the delicate roots of other Kauri trees in the forest. We arrive at the viewing platform and find the tree. It is unbelievable. While the giant sequoias in the States are really tall this one is not only tall it is wider than I could have imagined. The shape looks like something out of a fabled movie. Pictures, I’m sure, are not going to give the tree its due. It is huge.

After saying goodbye to a family of New Zealanders (Kiwis) we set Lady Garmon back on the dash and hope for the best. Our next stop is to be in two side by side towns, Opononi and Omapere but as we arrive, we find that there doesn't seem to be any place to stop for refreshment so we travel through noticing as we do that the water in the bay is deep blue and the beach lovely. It would be nice to stop but thanks to Lady Garmon's escapades in the morning, we don't think we have the time.
Down a long long gravel road we find our next destination. Just about the time we thought we’d made a wrong turn or passed it by, there was the sign: Waiotemarama Loop Track where we will find the Waiotemarama Falls. It is a ten minute walk to the falls which really can’t be seen very well without stepping out into the middle of the stream on some boulders. Bob steadies me a bit as I hop onto a large rock and from there to one where I can get my pictures. I figure the worst that would happen is that I’d get wet up to my knees if I slipped in. Thankfully I don’t and our trip back down the muddy path is without incident as well. Mission accomplished.
A stop at Kaikohe, a town that had a hidden walk that would take us past some thermal pools is on our list but we pass it up deciding that we’d see plenty of thermal activity in Rotorua and we drive on to Kawakawa. It is a great decision. We haven’t had lunch but really aren’t that hungry so we decid to find a place where we can get coffee and something sweet.

Kawakawa says it has the most beautiful bathroom in the world so of course we have to check it out. It is quite impressive as you can see by the photos. And right across from the bathroom is a coffee shop. We stop in and order a latte and a flat white (a less milky version) and two absolutely delicious muffins. The manager stands and talks with us for quite a while and encourages us to stay and wait for the train to pass by.

The train which used to be a steam train runs right down the middle of Kawakawa’s main street. Originally it ran to Opua 14 kilometers away. The steam train is being refurbished and for now the train is pulled by a diesel engine. Until all the bridges have been deemed safe, the train only travels to Taumerere. Sure enough, just as promised, the train rolls around the corner and right past the coffee shop where we sit, cameras ready. Our patience rewarded, we move on toward our B&B to freshen up before dinner. It has been a great day despite Lady Garmon. That’s what is so nice about setting our own itinerary and time schedule. We can be flexible and just enjoy.
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