Auckland to the Bay of Islands

I need a picture here before I bore you with a long story, so here is a pretty tree in Auckland.  Auckland TreeOK, we need a car. The cheapest I could find to rent for 9 months is $16,000.  That’s calling all agencies, even ones in NZ.  NZ’s version of “Rent a Wreck” still wanted $12000 for a 2002 Nissan getting poor mileage.   There’s a monetary advantage to renting; the credit card gets me free insurance, and I can leave the car in the North Island and rent another in the South Island, avoiding the $500 for car ferry.  But still, $16,000?  Really?  Leasing wasn’t much better, and was impossible to do for a new car.  Soooooooo – time to buy a car.  I discovered I could buy a used car with guaranteed buy back, thus capping my car expenses.  Not any car, mind you, but ones the dealers wanted to dump.  Not a new car, usually an older model (eg, 2005, sometimes a 2010, but all before the big push for better mileage).   We really wanted a newer, more comfortable car, since we’ll be doing a lot of driving.  We finally got a pretty good deal on an inherently expensive car, a 2012 Ford Mondeo, diesel, 15,000 kilometer mileage, with a lot of bells and whistles.  Computer for everything – but no navigation system (say what!?).  Good thing the boys got us a Garmin!  So we bit the bullet and bought the beast (but caveats; drive less than 15,000 km, no damage, etc; I can live with that).

So now we need auto insurance (US insurance will not carry over beyond Mexico and Canada).  The car dealer said they could get it for us, but this was Sunday and the insurance guys didn’t call back (and I’m thinking, what a way to pad a profit, I’ll find my own).  I didn’t mention that while test driving the cars we were considering (driving on the “wrong” side of the road) I kept edging left (curb side), with Ginger gently suggesting that I’m about to broadside the parked cars (in falsetto, no less), and at a red light when I made a left turn I pulled into the far (wrong) lane rather than the curb lane, freaking out Ginger, the salesperson, and all the oncoming drivers before I scooted into my correct lane.  Would I insure me?  Hmmmm.  I visit the big insurance guys in their store (AA), go on-line, get the yellow pages and call everybody with a picture advertisement – same story.  You’re a tourist, we won’t insure you; you need a home address here in NZ.  Wow, this was just like buying a phone in Spain – I have to buy a house first!  So I’m thinking, the auto dealer has some motivation here to find us insurance since we haven’t signed any papers yet.  I go from “I won’t buy your stinkin’ insurance” to “pray you can find me any insurance”.  And of course they did, and not too bad, really.   Auckland from WaihekeSo all is good.  Now to get out of here – say goodbye to Auckland!

We left Auckland and put quite a few Kiwi’s at risk of life and limb as I drove north to the Bay of Islands.  Ginger was a nervous wreck and kept up a steady (continuous?) stream of “edge of the road” comments.  Most roads here are just 2 lanes, rather narrow, and often twisty and up-and-down with no real break-down lanes and sharp drop-offs, and  it’s hard to get a feel for where the left side of the car is when your steering wheel is on the right (“wrong”) side of the car.  With oncoming traffic zooming by inches from my (right) side mirror I tend to NOT hug the center line and I drift a little (!) bit left.  So Ginger was the official left-side audio monitor, which meant she was in charge of nail-biting, leaning hard to the right, and periodically (continuously?) reminding me that I was going of the edge – again!  We went to bed last night at 10:30 PM, it’s 9:30 AM now and she’s still sleeping it off.

Northland countrysideAlso attached is a picture of the Northland above Auckland – very picturesque!  Lots of cows and sheep!  Greener than you can imagine!  Almost Switzerland-like.  Ginger didn’t want me to look at anything as we were driving (“It’s really pretty, but don’t look”).  And if I pulled over to take a picture, she’d scream because we were suddenly lurching off the road (maybe at faster than normal?)….  Somehow we made it unscathed, though.

Our place at the Bay of Islands was carefully selected because we were going to spend 10 days there getting the blog up and using The Bay as a base to explore the Northland.  Our apartment (yellow)We chose well – an apartment in Paihia, a spectacular place.  The picture to the left shows our apartment from the bay – the yellowish one near the top, center.   And then there is the view out to the bay.  Mesmerizing, really.  This is a piece of paradise, ours for a short while.  The pictures below show a portion of the view from our deck ….

Not too bad.  But just to rub it in, here are views from the living room:

And from the kitchen:

In other words, it was spectacular from anywhere.   And like the sea, never the same from one moment to the next.  Plus, this is New Zealand, so you get boats, and sailboats, and ferries and Sailing… parachutes? Are we surprised?  Not really.

I’m going to close with a picture of an unfurling frond from a tree fern here on property (tree ferns and flowers are everywhere), and then a picture of “live music on Sunday, 3pm -6pm)” from Al Fresco, a local bar/restaurant.

Paihia is a huge tourist destination – very busy in the summer.  Almost all tours come here to view the islands and swim with the dolphins.  Nevertheless, there’s less than a thousand people living here, and it’s a small town.   The music venue was cute.  The band wasn’t bad, a lot of the people knew them, and you had a lot of 3 generation tables.  Grandma and grandpa were tapping their feet.  The food wasn’t great but hey, can’t have everything.  I ordered a pot of mussels (I love mussels), and was surprised when the pot came out with like 8 mussels in it, protruding from the bowl.  Each mussel is about 8-9 inches long, which pretty much fills the pot.  The mussels are big!  Arnold Schwartzenegger mussels.  Unfortunately quite tough and chewy, kinda like unbeaten octopus.  Bummer!  Maybe they’re better elsewhere.  We’ll see!

Auckland Art Museum

Well, this was a cool building and decent museum, with mostly New Zealand paintings. Auckland Art Museum The picture there to the left is a large artwork hanging from the roof of the foyer.  The flowers are puffy fabric, big, and open and close individually by a (somewhat jerky) robotic mechanism.  Actually pretty cute.

Many of the painters in this museum – guys you never heard of – had gone to Europe to learn and hob-nob with the giants of the day, such as the Impressionists and Cubists, and returned to NZ with these new ideas, but my reaction to the NZ art, with two exceptions, was rather negative – the art was nice, but didn’t seem to add anything new.  I’ll present a few (very few!) of the old-style pictures I liked, and then show the two exceptions.  A short post!

OK, I lost the title and painter on this upper left one.  The subject is a (defeated) wounded soldier being treated in a sympathetic town.  I liked the setting – the beams/tree trunks of the barn, the Dutch-master-like treatment of the black dress and lace.  Very romantic, don’t you think?  The image on the right is by Edmund Leighton, “Un Gage d’Amour”, 1881.  An Englishman, not a Kiwi.  Nicely done, really.  Romantic theme.  Am I a sap, or what?

The bottom left is a very large painting of a child funeral by Frank Bramley, “For such is the kingdom of heaven”, 1891, an Englishman rather than a Kiwi.  Hmm.  Is there a pattern here?  The painting very much reminded me of John Singer Sargent from about the same time.  The last image (engraving) on the right is by Albrecht Dürer, “The virgin and child with a monkey”.  Yeah, not a NZ artist.  Definitely a pattern.  I love Dürer.  The work is fabulous.  The monkey?  I dunno, whatever sells, I guess.

OK, let’s do 2 NZ artists.  der, Auckland Art MuseumThe first guy is not a professional painter; watercolor was just a hobby. This is John Kinder, “The Wairoa near Lake Tarawera with MissionChapel of Te Mu”, 1886.  There were a bunch of these paintings, and they were wonderful.   Kinder is important historically because he captured early times of European NZ settlement.  He’s an interesting guy – a top-notch mathematics student, he switched studies to become an Anglican ordained deacon.   After a decade of strict application of high church religious observances at his first position in England, the town asked for him to be removed.  Oops.  So that’s when you hop in your canoe and set off for the horizon, and he accepted a position as headmaster at the Church of England Grammar School in Auckland.  He did well, and he did a lot of paintings, thank you.  The other NZ painter I liked is a lady, A. Lois White, and the pictures were from the more modern 1930’s and ’40’s (Picasso time); and like many then, she was a Socialist.  The first line drawing is a subject common for that time protesting Nazism and Capitalism; I thought it well done, and might it apply today to capitalism?  My how some things don’t change.   The next three I loved because I found them different; such an interesting use of repetition!  And space-filling!  And hints of art noveau?

The line drawing is “Study for collapse”, 1944.  The upper right is “Funeral march”, 1936.  Lower left, “Pattern inspired by rain”, 1941 (and I like the subject matter).  Last, “Jonah and the great fish”, 1945.

That’s all for now.  Next post, we’re leaving Auckland for the great beyond.  WoooHoooo!!!

Auckland Museum (Mostly Maori)

Kia ora.  Humor me to continue briefly about Maori influence.  Captain Cook named a bunch of bays (eg, Doubtless Bay, from a ship log entry – “doubtless, a bay”).  Other than that, at least for the North Island, names are mostly Maori.  Impossible, multi-syllable, thousands of very similar names.  Names like Whanganui, Waingaro, Waitangi, Waitiki, Whangarei, Whangamumu, Whatuwhiwhi, Whangaroa.  Those cities being located just in the small arm of the North Island above Auckland – and there are more like that.  And there are lots lots lots more going south – Whakahoro, Whitianga, Waikaremoana …. my brain shuts off.  Oh, and to make it more interesting?  Whangarei is pronounced “Fahn-ga-ray”.  Confusion reigns, and no, it is not just the “W”‘s.  So when reading a guide book and you see a city name, you are guaranteed to have no bloomin’ idea where in the island they’re talking about.  My brain thinks all the cities have the same name.

OK, onward to the Auckland Museum, which, among other things, contains the world’s finest collections of Maori and Pacific art and craft.  The carved wood art is amazing.  Intricate, often full of difficult fenestration, and full of Maori meaning, the art is incredible at any level.  It was applied to buildings, to gateways, to walking sticks, to canoes, to paddles, to boxes, to musical instruments, to bailing buckets for the canoes …. Let me share some examples; I’ll start with a storage shed for food and items of value to the tribe.AustraliaMuseumStorage1  Not too shabby – the sides and back are also carved the same way.  Some details:

Carved panels were used for building decoration indoors and out, and as gateways.  A pretty example below:

Carved Panel

Of course, carved boxes to store valuables (like your favorite feathers):

OK, small things to big things, let me show you a war canoe.  It was built in 1836 from a single log; it is 25 meters long and can hold 100 warriors.  The vertical image is the very tall canoe’s tail.

Some examples of carved ship prows (and a canoe paddle):

Musical instruments were interesting.  There were no stringed instruments prior to European arrival, just drums and wind instruments; examples shown below:

As you might expect, bowls were carved (or shaped, the last one from a single piece of bark):

We’re getting near the end!  Stay with me just a while longer, the best is last.  Let me show you some of their fiber arts, done by the women.  Below is a kiwi feather cloak, each feather woven into the fabric.  A fiber mat and 2 skirts.  And fiber baskets.

OK, for me the most spectacular was the meeting house, shown below:Meeting House

The meeting house is constructed of wood panels and woven fiber mats.  Each panel

typically represents a story from that tribe or sub-tribe, often regarding ancestors.  Support poles are typically images of ancestors.  The meeting house had many functions.  It was a place for the tribe to receive visitors, to do business, to entertain or have parties, or for weddings or funerals.

Truly spectacular, I thought.

Museums are tiring.  The receptionist told us the museum would take us 2-3 hours to see; we spent 5 hours and did not come close to seeing everything (a diverse museum, it had for instance an Edmund Hillary wing with his gear, pictures, and a large mock-up of Everest on which was projected in a time sequence his team’s daily progress up the mountain.   Cool!  And some pretty incredible fossils, like this one. Fossil But enough for now!





Except for this one last item from the museum, a stuffed Kiwi.  Aren’t they cute?  For those of you old enough to remember (are any of you old enough to remember?) Al Capp’s Shmoo, don’t they look like a Shmoo with feathers and beak?   We hope to see one while we’re here, but Shmoo – I mean kiwi – being in the forest and nocturnal, I dunno.Kiwi

The Maori

Kia Ora, welcome.  Hey, every now and then you gotta pay for looking at the beauty.  It’s not just about gorgeous, it’s also about context.  To be in NZ one has to know a little of its history, and that means the Maori, the original human inhabitants.  They arrived in canoes in the 1200’s.  I mean, how do you just hop in a canoe and paddle off to the horizon?  Your boss piss you off?   They found quite a bonanza here; in addition to sea-food and seals, there were Moa, Moaostrich-like birds that can weigh over 500 lbs (wiped out within 100 years).  Being isolated then (as now) they developed a unique culture with their own language (all spoken, no written).  Also distinctive crafts and performing arts (they were great wood carvers!).  Like the American Indians they were clannish, with a tribal organization and reverence for ancestors (whose images they would capture in wood carvings, displayed like heraldry).  And so, human nature being what it is, with time tribal societies engaged in endemic warfare and developed a prominent warrior culture.

A remarkable part of Maori life was body decoration – tattoos.  This was done by a skilled and respected Tohunga-ta-moko, who would take a sharp tool and cut the skin in a design, then add ink to the wound, making the design permanent Mauri Painting(painting by Lindauer, late 1800’s).  Women would do this mostly to their chin and lips.  Men would do this to their entire face, as well as other parts of their body.  To some degree this practice (now as a conventional tatoo) continues with the Maori today.  So let’s take a look at a drawing of a Maori person in the 1800’s, and at some Maori carvings from before that.

In the middle image, our man holds a war club.  Of course, for capturing ancestors in wood, the tatoos Mauri Ancestorsprovided instant recognition (from the look of the ancestors portrayed in this image, they seem to have been caught in a rather compromising position).

Back to the warrior culture, the Maoris were fierce.  There are stories of Maori coming upon an inhabited island, being welcomed, handshakes all around, and then pouncing on the inhabitants and killing them all.  Genocide R us.  Before battle warriors would perform a dance, a haka, to declare their prowess and intimidate their enemies.  The haka uses fierce facial expressions, grimaces, weapon waving, showing the whites of eyes, grunts and cries, and – pointedly – sticking the tongue out and down.  The display of the tongue in the haka is an indication to the enemy that they will not only be defeated and killed, but eaten.  That message is seen in many of the Maori wood carvings.

Along with the warrior culture came fortified hill forts (pa) and some of the largest war canoes ever built (and carved).  Mauri PaThere are many, many many small hills in NZ, and terraced remains of pas are everywhere.  One of the interesting (to me) aspects of the model pa shown here is the gate in the middle of the picture.  The pa gate uses an uphill entrance and right angle turns, something we saw in Moorish forts a continent (and 5 centuries) away (and that I’ll show you as I backfill posts from Spain).

And then the Europeans (pakeha) came; Captain Cook mapped NZ from the sea in 1769.  Whalers came, and traders, and there were generally positive and amicable relations (the Maori language became written, for example), but things slowly deteriorated due to the usual problems of Old World diseases, alcohol, land grabs, a huge demand for firearms for inter-tribal conflicts, rough whalers, escaped convicts from Australia, prostitution, etc, all leading to a crumbling tribal structure.  Missionaries came, intent on converting Maori to Christianity.  Settlers came, with land issues and mistreatment of the Maori.  Finally in 1840 there was the seminal event in NZ history; partly to prevent French expansion, the British Crown sought to convince the Maori to become British subjects with all the protections of citizenship, including land ownership.  The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by the 5 major tribes of the North Island in 1840, purportedly guaranteeing Maori control of their lands, rights and possessions in return for their loss of sovereignty.  Small problem – the treaty was in English, with a Maori “translation”, but the two did not say the same thing, particularly regarding land and resource ownership.  Then the usual happened, with more settlers and land grabs, leading to the NZ wars of 1860.  After a year the Maori were subdued, and with it much of their lifestyle.  Unlike the American Indians, however, there are no barren deserts in NZ to send the natives to.  Maori were somewhat integrated, and over the years have had some of their grievances addressed.  Maori lag behind their countrymen in many categories, and currently there are as yet unsettled wrangles over cultural identity, land and resource rights.  A positive sign for the future is an increasing Kiwi pride and appreciation of the country’s Maori heritage.  I’ll share some of the amazing Maori art in the next post (with a LOT fewer words!  Sorry about the length of this post).


Auckland2It’s an interesting city.  San Francisco on steroids, it sits on 50 or so extinct volcanoes that are 100-200 meters high; except for the wharf area, you are walking up or down, steeply.  One out of 3 Kiwis live here (but total NZ population is only 4.5 million – half the population of New York City).  Polyglot; it is the world’s largest Polynesian city.  Lots of skyscrapers, many quite interesting.  I did not take many pictures of Auckland buildings.  I was more interested in their parks and the wild stuff they do.  That central needle, the Skytower, is the height of the Eiffel tower.  There at the biggest bulge of the tower you can tether yourself to a ring and walk around the building on a narrow, flat, no hand-rail walkway, or even throw yourself off.  Or at the ground level downtown right there on a street corner you can get hurled upward in a cage tethered by rubber bands attached to two towers.  Pictures below.

Alas, all this is at some monetary cost and we were still reeling from the high cost of living.  Breakfast is $30, lunch is $50-$60, dinner is at least $80 with a glass of wine.  So I didn’t throw myself off a building.  Probably a mistake, I should do this on the way back through.

Also interesting are Auckland’s parks.  They’re plentiful and fabulous.  I mean, this is downtown Auckland!

Finally, NZ is so environmentally committed!  The picture below is a coffee cup.  It’s a pretty heavy cardboard, works great.  One can not find styrofoam anything here.  To use diesel fuel, there is a tax of $50/1000km for the carbon offset.  Hotels ask you to separate recyclables.  Pretty cool.Coffee cup

The wine tour that wasn’t

4th day in paradise.  My plan today was to rent a car and visit wineries.  Waiheke is packed with highly regarded wineries, none more so than Stonyridge.  They produce the world-class Larose, one of NZ’s top Bordeaux-style reds.  Most of the Larose vintages are sold out even before bottling (at $220/btl). I was looking forward to their tasting (and most of these wineries have excellent restaurants), as well as visiting several other wineries since they’re all nearby.

HOWEVER, it’s pouring rain outside and Ginger says she’s going to stay home and have a crash day after her ordeal yesterday.  If I know what’s good for me, I’ll stay home too and take care of her .

Sigh.  Oh well, the grapes were probably sour.

Coastal Hike

3rd day in paradise.  We decide to take a hike along the coast.  My NZ guidebook says “One of the island’s finest walks (2-3 hrs) which visits secluded beaches and windswept headlands ….”  Sounds good to me!  It visits 4 bays – Fossil Bay, Island Bay, Owhanake Bay and Matiatia Bay.  And pretty it is!

Now, pretty as those pictures are, we’re now heading toward 3 hours of up and down, we’re in the middle of nowhere, and Ginger is getting tired.  We have light, but like an hour or two.  There are two “bails” shown on our map that go up to a ridge road, but we’ve seen other trail offshoots that look like bails, we’re not quite sure where we are on the map, and that ridge road itself winds around quite a good distance before it gets us back to somewhere we can bus or taxi home.  It’s shorter, but it’s not short.  I convince Ginger she can do it, and to press on.  She agrees, but is not happy.  I would say grim.  The next section going down is really really steep, mud slippery, and on an edge.  It’s not too bad, really, but Ginger is not amused.  Then in looking at the map, she notices what it says about our trail (the map describes 10 separate trails on the island): “3 hours: access from wharf at low tide only.  A challenging route, with some steep, exposed and slippery sections ….”  So now she’s gone from “not happy” to “pissed”.  Somehow I’m at fault here.  She occasionally expresses displeasure.  Then at the base of that last picture’s headland (above) is a sign that says how far we are from the end: “3km (45 min); the last stretch impassible an hour either side of high tide.  Experienced trekkers only”.  Oooookay.  I’m thinking we’re pretty close to the other side of high tide; but how much?  But that is enough for Ginger, who looks tired, is a bit red in the face, and wants to kill me (luckily the cliffs are back a ways).  So off we go, goodness knows where, up a trail that may or not be the bail on our map.  It is steep.  I keep out of swinging distance.  Finally we get to the road.  It’s desolate, with occasional driveways disappearing into the forest.  We can at times see our destination on the other side of the ridge, but getting there?  The road goes parallel to it.  A couple cars pass, and I ask if we should flag one down.  Ginger doesn’t answer, but is either thinking about it or is planning to throw me under one.  Hey, why is this my fault?  Luckily we pass a lady walking her dog, and she shows us a driveway we passed that says “Private; do not enter; not a path to beach” and says “That’s a path to the beach, keep right”.  So off we go.  It’s not short, and it takes us back to the part of the trail along the beach that is impassible at high tide, but it is passable, and we limp to the end.  We just miss the bus, and it is an hour until the next one, but a local takes pity on us and drops us off in the little town near our apartment.  Whew!  We decide to celebrate our adventure and survival with a good meal and good wine.  View from restaurantPicture of the view from the restaurant is below.  Isn’t that nice?






From the looks of things, I’m still in the dog house.

Arrival NZ – Waiheke Island

We left Tacoma Washington for Auckland NZ on Saturday the 7th, arriving 18 hours later at 6:30am NZ time on the 9th (A day?  We lose a day?  Where does it go?  It’s gotta be lurking somewhere).  It’s a little weird to be writing this in sunshine on Sunday and knowing that it’s still daylight there in Cincinnati, only it’s Saturday.  So it sounds like I could buy the Wall Street Journal here on Tuesday and make a killing in the stock market there on Monday.  No?

As soon as we arrived in Auckland we left the airport for the wharf and took a ferry directly to Waiheke Island.  We’ll recover here for a few days (did I say they have some very good wineries here?  Like >20?  Waiheke is quite an attractive place – in spite of having their warmest winter ever, and no rain for like 5 months, the place is green, green, green.   And green with different flora than we’re used to seeing.  Lots of flowering stuff.  The pictures below are from the beach that’s at the base of the hill where we’re staying.  Nice!

2nd day in  paradise.  After sleeping for 12 hours we walked to 2 wineries a few miles away, up and down hills along a coast before turning inland.  Living on a coast certainly has an allure; there’s the rhythm of tides and breakers, a tranquility, dogs and owners walking on the sea strand, dog chasing the gulls … nice.

The many wineries on this island are apparently all boutique.  They sell everything they produce, and prices are high – they start at $30.  One of the two wineries was amazing – MudBrick Winery.  They own 15 acres and produce something like 15 wines, for a grand total of 4,000 cases.  We tasted 10 wines, bottle cost $30 – $50, and they are worth every penny.  Yummy!  I’m really going to like NZ!  I asked if they export at all, and they said yes – they send 40 cases to Auckland (35 minutes away).  Below is a picture of their vines, protected from the wind by those hedges at the top of the hill.  Wind here can be fierce.  We also got an interesting tutorial in our wine tasting; the hills produce quite different microclimates, and the wines from the same grapes just a km away were quite different.

Speaking of prices, we are shocked at the high cost of living here.  Auckland, NZ’s largest city, is known to be expensive, and here on the island everything has to be ferried over, but still!  A decent simple house is $500,000, with a view $750,000, and an actually nice house is well over 1 mil.  Asparagus is $1 a stalk.  Pasta is $14 a box.  Bananas are $2.25 a lb.  Everything is at least twice the cost in the US.  Lunch for 1 (crab omelet, coffee) is $25.  We quickly decided to do dinners here in our room (seems like most hotel/rooms come with an efficiency kitchen).  We’re hoping things settle down once we leave the Auckland area!

The landscape here is really interesting!  It’s sub-tropical, so all those fascinating plants you see in nurseries there in the US are growing wild here.  It’s kind of like walking through Cincinnati’s Conservatory.  On the hillsides no tree type is dominant, so there is an incredible mix of tree ferns, palm trees, evergreens and deciduous trees creating a multi-hued quilt of green (and white, it’s spring).  The trees themselves look like they were designed by Dr. Seuss.  Tree ferns are 20 feet tall.  Some flowers are recognizable house plants, others just strange.  Pictures below:

The birds we see are typically large and interesting, with very beautiful calls.  I’ll be showing  you pictures of birds – NZ has unusual ones; the islands originally had no mammal predators like rats or possums or foxes, so birds evolved to fill the niches that mammals usually inhabit.   That gave rise to, for instance, the flightless kiwi bird that feeds at night …. The birds took a beating when mammals were introduced (Kiwis [the people] hate possums), but predator-eradication programs have created sanctuaries on islands and other regions where these birds now do well.  There are two birds below: we don’t know their names yet.

I almost forgot to mention what I think is a somewhat wacky sense of humor in the official NZ world.  For instance the duck crossing sign?  Also an official sign for parking at the wharf, that says “Parking”, next line “48 Hours”, next line “2880 Minutes”.  Duck crossing

All for now, more adventure tomorrow.