Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Day 360: Sailing Day

Mike booked us a one-day sailing class/outing which was really way outside our budget but was still a lot of fun. We had both done some sailing as children, but we have forgotten most of what we knew.

We turned up at the dock at 9.30am and found that the lady taking us out grew up in Maryland, near Mike.  She sails around with her husband and two children and they live full-time on their boat so we had a lot to talk about.  Our plan was to take out a small sail boat (not hers, a smaller one), to an island on the far side of our peninsula, picnic there and head back. In the meantime, we are supposed to learn as much about sailing as possible.  Our first difficulty was to round the peninsula with the tide against us and very little wind.  Our second difficulty, once we did get into wind, is that the shape of the land makes it very gusty and changeable.  I had the helm (well, sometimes Mike was chatting and I kind of had everything!) and I wasn't super-comfortable with the boat's sudden changes of speed and angle.  I remember from sailing on the Med. that conditions were much more even, at least when our friend used to take us out.

Anyway, we made it to this island and went ashore in a very light plastic row boat that's very nasty to row or get in and out of and which I christened Ocean Detritus, because it didn't have a name, and that one was suitable. After a quick stroll on the island, we started heading back and when we rounded back into the channel between our peninsula and the mainland we found that both the wind and the tide were against us.  We tacked and tacked, only to remain where we were.  So we brought the sails down and motored back.  The lady who took us out was a bit disappointed by this, but it was the only way we were getting back before 7pm.  She had a race at 5pm, Antonia and I were exhausted by now, and Mike's steering at the helm had become, let's just say 'exciting'!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Day 358: Recorders and kayaks

This was a big day for of firsts for Antonia.  We drove over past Kerikeri to join in our friend's recorder group for one session.  Antonia has been learning the recorder (and how to read music) but this is the first time she played in any kind of group situation.  It really says a lot for her progress that she was able to sight read music well enough and fast enough to join in and well enough to pick up the thread if she got lost.  Her biggest problem was that there is still one note that turned up often that she doesn't know, and a couple of accidentals that she's lost on also.  It was a pretty challenging experience for her, but she did well.

After this, we went over to our friends' house in Kerikeri and took their kayaks out.  This was Antonia's first time in charge of any kind of boat all by herself.  People who know her will be interested to hear that she kayaks like she skis: as fast as possible, with limited steering control!

We went out for dinner to a restaurant in Kerikeri which was fabulous and enjoyed it so much that we missed the last ferry back.  With the ferry, we would have been about half an hour from home.  Without it, we had to drive south along the mainland for about 60 kms, then turn north back along our peninsula for nearly the same distance.  We had to drive through the forest on our peninsula over dirt track.  We got home about midnight, having seen a whole lot of possums and collapsed into bed.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Day 356: Circular walk with two ferries

Us posing on a mangrove boardwalk - Antonia and I are looking bored and resigned because it is the fourth time we've done this.  Mike is looking really excited and in to what he's doing.
 Today, for once it isn't raining, so we set off on a long circular hike from our house through forests and mangrove swamps over to Russell.  There we caught the ferry to Paihia, returned to Opua along the beach and more mangroves and caught the ferry back to Okiato.  It started raining when we about halfway along this last section, so Antonia and I got soaked while Mike destroyed his umbrella.  Lucky it isn't cold here!  The highlights of the walk were the fantail couples following us through the forest, the boardwalks over the mangrove swamps and the sailing boats all over the place.  It was nice to get back and into a nice warm bath, as if I wasn't wet enough already. 

Beautiful old style sailing ship seen from the ferry

Friday, 23 March 2012

Day 355: Waitangi Treaty Grounds

This afternoon, we went over to the Waitangi Treaty grounds.  The Waitangi Treaty marks the birth of New Zealand as a nation, so as Mike rightly pointed out, this is sort of the equivalent of the National Park in central Philadelphia where the United States were formed.  It's an interesting contrast.  The treaty grounds are in open countryside, with occasional homes and small communities.  They are composed of a mixture of fern forest and lawns with the sea at one side.  They contain two houses, the governor's house, representing the Europeans and the Whare Runanga, representing the Maori.  Some distance away is a large, open canoe house containing Ngatokimatawhaorua, a canoe of impressive proportions.  There is a small display of traditional Maori domestic architechture, a flagstaff and a visitor's centre and cafe.

Antonia went to see a cultural performance of Maori song and dance and I took a guided tour that focused on the significance of Maori carvings, mostly in the canoe house and Whare Runanga.  This was very interesting, and I now know what I am looking at when I see Maori carvings.  The main figure almost always represents an ancestor, often the founder of a lineages.  Additional figures may represent descendants in a general sense (that is, they are not named).  The detailed iconography of the carving varies since it may refer to events in the ancestor's life, his or her personality or characteristics, or tendencies associated with the tribe. Of course I wouldn't know what these details meant in a carving I haven't had explained to me, but I would know what sort of things the parts of the carving would generally refer to.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Days 348 - 354: Bay of Islands in the rain

We arrived in the Bay of Islands after a very long day of driving and settled in.  During the night it began to rain.  It rained and it rained, for days and days.  At night, we were kept awake by wind and rain.  On the news, Northland is flooded and roads are impassable, quite close to where we are.  This is the most rain we've experienced on our whole trip.  Oh well.  We are using the opportunity to get on with our work and studies respectively.  And also to watch television.  Television in New Zealand is interesting.  Most of the programmes are appalling, they are just imports from the UK or USA, or even Australia, and not always the best quality of import at that.  But the news is actually good. People discuss issues and raise points on it in a calm and reasoned manner.  Hmmm...

There are some other things about life in New Zealand that are interesting. In New Zealand, you don't find (at least not as much): dish-washers, dryers, bathtubs, ridiculously huge houses.... or insulation. So it's kind of a mix of the mostly good and not so good as far as carbon footprints are concerned.  In Northland, the Bay of Islands area, many people are on rain tanks for water as they were in Tasmania, but this isn't typical of the country as a whole.  At the moment we are staying in a house that has rain tanks and a bathtub, and we are using the latter because the former are overflowing.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Day 347: Driving Creek Railway, Coromandel

We had no idea that last bit of road onto the Coromandel peninsula was going to be so narrow and winding.  After a day in which the gps already got creative about our route and took us on the shorter, slower, scenic route.  However, we made it eventually and found a cabin in a campground just outside Coromandel itself.  It was a beautiful place, quiet, surrounded by forest and with access to its own beach.  Just as well, because the next day we were going on a sort of roller-coaster ride.

Barry Brickell is a potter from around here who started to build a railway up his land to carry clay down to his workshop.  It's rather a DIY style thing, with lots of loops, switchbacks and viaducts designed to somehow get the wagons up the track.  Then Barry ran out of money and decided to run passenger trains up his track for money.  The return ride takes about an hour, and while it's more scenic than scary, I could understand my dad's comment that he has a brave insurance company.  One of the fun things about the ride was that it features lots of art work of various kinds, as well as native plant species that they are trying to re-establish on this land.  Perhaps the most significant will be the kauri.  You would not be able to tell how impressive these trees are from the youthful version, but my parents found a mature one on a botany trail and took us to see it in the morning.  It must have been about 500 years old and quite reminiscent of the Avatar tree.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Day 345: Tongoriro

It would be fun to show a photograph of the beginning and end of the Tongoriro crossing and pretend I just did it with my parents!  Well actually, we didn't: we just did the section at the beginning over the lower lava fields, drove off to Whakapapa, then drove round to do the bit at the end through the forest!

It wouldn't have been a great day to do the crossing.  It was clear, but it was already intensely windy at the lower levels, and rather cold.  The last time I really did do it, I thought Antonia would blow away from me and it wasn't as bad as this.  So what we did, as an opportunity to look at different kinds of landscapes and botany worked out rather well.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Day 344: Napier

My parents were here to look at Art Deco buildings. Many years ago, Napier was flattened by and earthquake and the city decided to rebuild in the style of the times. Mike and I kind of left them to it and went to mooch around - an activity that ended in me buying a possum sweater.  Finally Mike and I have matching possum sweaters.  It may sound a strange thing to have, but possums are not popular in New Zealand.  In fact, they are one of many kinds of plant and animal life which is unpopular here.  Everywhere you go in New Zealand, there are traps, signs warning of poisoned bait and injunctions to clean your water-based equipment, or your hiking and camping gear so that you don't spread undesirable species into new areas.  It's a battle for its endemic and native species that I don't know if New Zealand can ever fully win, but which if would be even more devastating to just give up on.

In the afternoon, we drove to Lake Taupo in the rain and set about the task of finding an affordable motel room containing a private spa tub.  Taupo falls into the geothermal section of New Zealand and most motels offer tubs at varying rates.  We succeeded, and I spent as much of the next two days as possible soaking in hot water. Aaaaah!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Day 343: Gannets at Kidnapper's Bay

Young gannets
 At the end of Kidnapper's Bay, near Napier is a gannet colony.  There are several ways of getting there:  you can take a minibus right up to the colony, you can take a tractor along the beach at low tide and walk up the last hill.  Alternatively, you can walk along the same beach at low tide.  Obviously, we chose the latter option.  We set off just as soon as the tide made it possible, with angry waves lapping at our ankles.  To the far end of the bay it took about two hours of walking.  At the point where we had to turn to the next bay we began seeing gannet chicks then a few adults nesting on rocks and we thought that was pretty cool.  It isn't the main colony however.  To get to that, you have to continue along the beach, then climb a steep hill to the top of a cliff.  My Mum and Antonia stayed on the beach while my Dad, Mike and I climbed the hill. 

When we got to the colony, there was an overwhelming stench of ammonia and a whole lot of gannets, nesting in an orderly way on their side of a small chain fence.  We visitors kept to ours, where we could sit on benches with clothes pegs over our noses and look at them.  The highlight for me was seeing one of the young gannets make its maiden flight.  For the first few moments, it acted rather astonished that its wing flapping exercises had somehow launched it into the air.  After that, it manifestly realised it had better concentrate on keeping an even keel and steering.  It wasn't very good at it, and I kept thinking it would get flipped on its back. It was the only young bird in the sky and all the adults were flying around so gracefully it really stood out.  Its third problem was trying to land again without being blown off the edge of the cliff.  It had to circle several times before it managed this and when it did it made contact with the ground like a falling meteorite.  That does seem to the normal technique for gannet adults as well.  After this, we had to rush back to get along the bay before the tide came in again.  We arrived just in time, with angry waves lapping at our ankles.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Day 341: Wellington

The last time we went to Wellington's botanic gardens it poured on us.  But it was February and the flowers were in full bloom.  It was interesting to visit a month later in the season and see how much fewer flowers there are.  But there were still a lot, and we could actually see them instead of having to peer through a wall of water.  This time we got to enjoy the sculptures as well.

I do not know what New Zealand has done to deserve this!
The Te Papa museum has not changed at all, but it is still a great place to see the natural history collections of every kind of animal known only to New Zealand, walk all over the floor map of New Zealand and admire Maori carvings.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Day 338: Puponga

Antonia sliding on dunes

I had to take my parents to one of my favorite places in all New Zealand - the sand dune beach on the west coast of south island, just under Farewell Spit.  All the way there, I was afraid it would rain, but fortunately, it was only cloudy. Antonia had a great time sliding down the dunes, and we had a great time exploring the sands and rocks, and watching the seal pups.

Seal pup

We had a bit of an exciting time getting back.  In theory, I knew that if you walk along the beach there is a path at the far end leading back to the car park past a couple of lakes.  We set off to look for it, but after a while we weren't sure if we had gone too far or not far enough.  We headed off into the bush, hoping to strike the path, then decided we weren't striking it.  My dad - whose age will not be mentioned - decided to be the advance scouting party, and started pushing through the trees to see if he could find the path.  After deciding he couldn't, he started to come back down but went a different way and ended up to one side of us on the other side of dense bushes.  Meanwhile we were waiting and waiting, then eventually started calling him. He replied a couple of times then stopped despite our encouragements.  This was unfortunate because sound was the only way we could locate him, but he, being deaf in one ear, doesn't appreciate the usefulness of sound in this respect.  Eventually, we found him and once we all got ourselves together we realised we were standing on an expanse of rock, with the path at the far end of it and the beach just visible at the end of the path.

So a good time was had by all, and everyone agreed that this is a very beautiful beach.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Days 322 - 337: Work and family time

We spent about a week at the end of February doing nothing much except work and lessons.  I walked down to the cafe every morning and did a couple of hours work there. Then I walked home, had lunch and did a couple more hours work.  Mike has been helping our host with various internet and electricity related issues.  Antonia has been studying (and spending inordinate amounts of time on the phone with friends in various time zones).

On 1 March, I drove to Picton to pick up my parents who had just flown in to Christchurch and taken the train up.  We hadn't seen each other for 11 months!  We spent the first week in the Abel Tasman area, before setting off on a whistle stop tour of north island.