Piha

We’re off to see the stormy west coast again, but catch a sunset this time.  The NZ west coast is truly wild along its entire length; the term is “tempestuous shores”.  There are lots of signs saying to swim at only certain spots, and to be careful that waves don’t come over the boulder and wash you off.  Yeah, sure, until you stand on a boulder admiring the view and suddenly the 20th or so wave comes in and sends you scurrying for your life!  Rip CurrentThe warnings are not idle. If you look at this picture, you’ll see a wave right-center coming at you that’s just about to crest.  However, click on this image to make it bigger, and if you look to the left of that cresting wave, you’ll see a smaller one about to crest at an angle 90 degrees from the first!  The water swirls and crashes and tries to suck the sand away.  And yet the beaches often have surfers hard at work (in their wet suits), making you wish you could do that too.

I’ve booked us into a lodge almost on the beach – a 2 minute walk.  The web site looks great, and my NZ guidebook says “suite with big deck, French doors and quality furnishings and bedding.  $220/night. ” Well, the price was accurate.  The furniture is 1950’s, the kitchen pots and pans are older, the bathroom is away downstairs along with the shower that has a trickle of hot water, and there’s not much heat down there.   Message to self: stiffen upper lip.

However, the Piha beach is gorgeous, and I am going to bombard you with photos from this place.  First, a LAST look at Northland scenery.  In your mind you should join these two images to get a better feel for the view.

Now a look at where we are.  We’re at the top of a hill (visitor center; we arrived 5 minutes

too late, but I’ve stopped and so need to take a picture).  Looking east (left picture), Auckland is in the distance (the beach we’re heading to is a popular weekend getaway).  Then turn 180 in the direction of the beach, and you see primeval forest.

I can’t help but take advantage of some tourist attractions, so here are the pictures.  Isn’t the picture on the left a pretty one?  The Maori carving on the right shows tattoos in some of the most unlikely places ….

OK, time to get serious.  After navigating narrow twisty roads going down, Piha appears.

It’s pretty.  I’m showing you this beach over several days from several heights.  Although Piha is a town, there are no stores and there are no gas stations (there is one restaurant of sorts).  The road to Piha does not subsequently link with any of the other towns along the shore.  It’s there and back.  If you want to buy anything, you go back up the twisty narrow road and then quite a ways further to civilization, at least an hour away.  But who wants to go back to civilization with these views?  The beach is a black sand beach, which is kinda Black sand beachcool, but I wonder about it’s allure under a hot sun.  In my experience even white sand can get pretty ouchy.  Still, it’s gorgeous.

Of course, being on the west side, there are sunsets over the ocean.  We didn’t get a great sunset, but a couple weren’t too bad.  Let me show you one of these.  You do know to click on one of the images for the show, correct?

Finally, a quick retrospective of the other (lesser) sunset, as the light fades.  Please click.

Well, it was more red than that, but I won’t complain.

Let me leave you with one last picture of what one should be doing Chillin'in this beautiful country, and what the Kiwi seem to think they should be doing rather than “getting ahead” or “making more”.  We call them “laid back”. They seem to think enough is all they need.  We’d probably be opening up a gas station on the corner … hey, with a mini-mart, a two-fer.  Big sign.  Make a killing, no competition ….  Be open 8 – 8.  Retire at 70 and … get a place on a beach like this ….  Are we missing something here?

Gannet Colony, Muriwai

Gannets are interesting birds.  They normally breed on islands, but there are a few places Gannet In Flight where they nest on the mainland instead, and return every year.  Muriwai is one of those places; a place of thundering surf, cliffs, and howling wind.  When we were there, we had jackets zipped and were leaning into the gale off the Tasman, cold as could be.  The birds, instead, looked like they were sunning themselves on a beach, happy as a lark.  Um – wrong metaphor.

The pictures below show you this Muriwai coast.  Part of that wave action is due to the wind, let me tell you. The churn is impressive.

Now let me show you where the gannets nest.  Pretty picturesque, eh?  They’re on 3 separate flat areas at the edge of cliffs (there are two separate cliffs in the first picture, a

third in the second).  Each is a separate cliff.  There is also some spillage of nests up the side of the headland in the second picture, not shown.  Probably from overcrowding, or maybe the nests were cheaper out there.

Let me digress and regale you with some gannet lore.  They catch fish by diving into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater.  They can hit the water at a speed of 60 mph (Ouch for the bird!  And for the poor fish, it must seem like you’re being chased by a bird in a porsche).  When juvenile birds get kicked out of the nest, it’s a one-shot jump off the cliff.  Once airborne, the young gannets leave the colony and cross the Tasman Sea to Australia (about 1500 miles), no one knows why.  Two years later, they return for good to secure a nest site at the same colony, home.

OK, back to my story.  As you can see from the images above, gannet nests are very close together, so landing (in high winds!) is an air traffic controller’s worst nightmare.  Landing birds have to glide over the raised beaks of their neighbors – so getting it wrong is a bad idea (we watched an interesting “whoops”).  These are big birds with a wingspan of six feet, landing on something like two square feet of open space, and their mastery of the onshore updrafts (gales?) is impressive (er – most of the time).  We did note that it’s a

convivial group down there, as shown above.

As mentioned, we watched some take-offs and landings for awhile (a take-off means spreading your wings, and the wind lifts you up…).  One landing went awry, and the bird did this ignominious kerplop summersault face plant.  Sorry I missed a picture of that!  Expecting some Bronx cheers from the neighbors, we were surprised at zero reaction.  The bird gets up unruffled and steps over to a nearby bird, and they proceed to smooch and snuggle!  I can imagine her saying “Oh honey, that landing was soooo much better than the last”.  I’m sure that’s what Ginger would have said.  Pictures of the “Honey I’m home” event below.

Well, all for now.  We’re off tomorrow to one of those predator-free islands to see (hopefully) some rare birds.  Next post maybe I’ll show you some bird pictures?

Muriwai

Kiwi House

Kiwis are the iconic bird of NZ, but bordering on extinction.  These flightless, nocturnal birds occupied a mammal niche here in NZ, and then mammals got introduced – mice, rats, stoats, dogs.  Signs say one dog killed 150 kiwi in one night; apparently a kiwi smells like chocolate to a dog.  Now there is an enormous effort within NZ to preserve these (and other) threatened birds (and lizards).

We wanted to see a kiwi, and so went to a Kiwi House (and museum).  There are a lot of these houses around NZ, part of the breeding program.  The houses switch lighting by 12 hours, so the confused animals think daytime is nighttime, and we can see them (maybe).  Our bad luck, the female had been sent for release and a new young one had just arrived and was experiencing jet lag; the male’s territory was cut in half, and he was hiding.  We came back another time and another day, and fared no better.  We did see the resident Morepork (owl).  Below are pictures, including my shot of the kiwi (or rather his beak, poking from his lair).

Stuffed KiwiWe’ll visit more of these houses, because these birds are ‘way too cute!  A stuffed kiwi is shown here (from the  museum), along with the single egg the female lays.  She lays a single egg for obvious reasons.  Ouch!

The museum had a number of interesting Maori artifacts that I’ll show off.  The first is a “Mere”, a Maori club typically made from NZ jade called “greenstone”.  It’s basically in the shape of a flattened tear drop, with sharp edges.  It’s about a foot long; hand-to-hand combat are us!  Mere must have been very popular, because they are in many (most?) of the Maori carvings.  Then there is a Maori powder horn, a purse made of flax, an instrument used for tattooing (the cutting part made of bone), and a cloak – a flax garment with feathers woven into it.

These are basically Stone Age people doing all their cutting with jade (sometimes obsidian), but they did have talent!

Whangarei Head

I wanted to climb one of the small mountains on a headlands, and Whangarei Head looked like a good place.  Besides, the area has some wineries worth visiting (our version of multi-tasking).  We found a good-looking B&B on the internet, but y’know, those sites often don’t give you the full story, as we have discovered quite a few times.   The surprise with this B&B was getting to it; we had to travel on a narrow, twisty, steep, cliff-edge, white-knuckled road, much to Ginger’s dismay.  Even then, the gravel, rutted, pot-holed up-and-down driveway to the B&B was a challenge.  Once we arrived at the B&B it was quite pleasant, and certainly quiet!  However, the specter of doing that drive twice a day was a bit daunting – and going out for dinner meant returning at night. B&B View This travel stuff is always exciting, requiring a certain amount of stiff-upper-lip fortitude, and maybe a good sense of humor.  The picture is the view from the B&B’s back yard (notice we’re high up?).  The peak with the jiggles on top, just left of center, is the one I’m going to climb tomorrow – Mt. Manaia.

Ocean Beach

Ginger, bless her heart, has decided to accompany me on the mountain climb, but we miss the trailhead turnoff and end up at Ocean Beach on the other side of the little peninsula (I realize we’re on the wrong road, but there’s no easy way to turn around on the narrow road, and besides we’re exploring).  Not a bad little beach, eh?  They’re a dime a dozen, and at least for this time of year they’re lonely, looking for love.  But we have hiking to do, so back we go.  Between us and Mt. Mania is a promontory, Busby Head and Smuggler’s Cove, Busby Head and Smuggler's Covereputed to be scenic, so we decide to hike here first.  That little chunk of land with a hill on it, protruding into the bay, is where we’re hiking.

It’s a nice, sunny day – rare for us!  And the hike is very pleasant, with lots of birds to see.  Swallows zipping by on the ocean breezes, impossible to photograph – they’re haulin’.   I’ll show you some birds I did manage to catch a bit later.  Pictures of the hike follow.

Here are the birds, or at least some of them.  Some you’ve seen already – Pukeko and Tui are everywhere, but I don’t need to show them again.  Others I haven’t identified yet, but hey, there’s enough here to keep you entertained, yes?

So now on to Mt. Manaia!  On, on!  I have twisted my ankle on Busby Head by stepping into a hole while walking off trail beside Ginger, but I will not be deterred!  It’s the same ankle that I sprained in Brussels, where I walked miles on it every day, and it was just now getting better (it takes longer to heal at this age, I note).  The trail marker says the hike is very steep and will take 2 hours round trip, and Ginger decides she has had enough hiking and that only an idiot would do that climb with a sprained ankle.  Yep, she is right.  The trail doesn’t start out that steep.  I meet a couple of people coming down the trail, but it’s late afternoon and I am all alone now.  It’s a pretty trail, and it is increasingly steep.  Mt. Mania trailThe Dept of Conservation (DOC) here is amazing.  The parks and hiking trails and bird sanctuaries and mammal pest removal programs are everywhere and done very very well.  I wish we had trails like these at home!!!  They’re gorgeous, well-maintained, I could say perfect.  On this hike they have installed what seems like a million wood stairs going up this steep mountain.  A little wierd; I came here to hike, not climb no stinkin’ stairs!  But then I get it.  Brilliant!  The switchbacks that we would have had in the US would have made this hike about 3 times as long, with all the erosion problems inherent in switchbacks.  These stairs have a water channel on one side leading to pipes going under the trail.  Impressive.

More pictures of the trail, above.  That tree in the middle is a kauri, growing all by itself.  The last image shows 3 stair sections going up, the last one maybe lost in the sunlight, top of image, center.  The trail is steep!

Finally the last scramble up some rocks.  Views from the top are a little disappointing; the

view is NOT 360.  There are vertical stone outcroppings that block the view front and back (those “jiggles at the top” I mentioned in the initial picture from the B&B), and moving around them is impossible – the end of the climb is a small piece of slanted rock with a steep drop all around, the wind is blowing like crazy, and the sign says if you even try to get around the crags you are trespassing on sacred Maori land.  Nevertheless, the view isn’t too bad, eh?

On the way down, there is a small unmarked side trail that I had noticed going up, and I take it, and it leads to an outcropping that has even better views.  The picture on the right shows that Busby Head again, where we took the earlier walk.

I am pleased that I make it down in 1 1/2 hours, a bunch less than posted.  Now to look like I’m not limping when I approach the car, otherwise I’ll get an “I told you so, idiot” from my adoring wife ….

The Northlands – Bay of Islands to Waipoua Forest

We’re off to see some Kauri, the world’s 2nd largest trees.  With some regret we leave that gorgeous apartment in the Bay of Islands, home for 10 whole days.  Quite a luxury, that length of time in one spot, but it was some good R&R and allowed me to get this blog functional, finally.

I’ve shown you a few pictures of the gorgeous Northland in earlier posts – green green green, impossible shades of green, rolling hills to mountains or ocean.  It’s really spectacular, and yet we know it is not the prettiest part of NZ.  Save the best for last, they say.  Let me show you the journey to the Waipoua Forest before I tell you about the Kauri.  Ladies and gentlemen, the land of sheep and cows.

I can’t leave you without a picture of NZ’s most numerous resident, can I?  They’re Sheepeverywhere, dotting the landscape as beige blobs on a green background.  Cows too, in this neck of the woods, but they’re less photogenic.  Apparently many residents outside the cities use cows or sheep to cut the grass.  No need for a lawnmower.  This was the case for the B&B we’re headed to, but a part of me thinks of the ditty about the little ol’ lady who swallowed a spider.  I’m betting the lawnmower is less work.

Of course there is more to the Northland than gorgeous green hills.  One is never

far from water!  Here are a couple shots from Hokianga Harbor.  Looking out to the Tasman Sea, the incoming waves are ferocious, true for the entire west coast of NZ.  The smaller images look across the harbor to (big) sand dunes.

OK, on to the kauri.  Today they only survive in NZ.  The Northland and regions slightly lower were once covered by these magnificent pine trees.  They can live to be 2000 years old, reach 150 feet, and be 60 feet in diameter.  The Maori used smaller kauri for their war canoes that could hold 100 or 150 fighting men (and a village didn’t need too many of them!).  Then the Europeans sailed in.  The trees are straight as an arrow, and the Europeans saw the younger trees as perfect for tall ship masts.  Later, the straight-grained, durable, blemish-free, easy-to-work and beautiful wood dominated the NZ economy, supporting many cities.  Getting those monstrous logs down to sawmills was quite a challenge, and Northland still has remnants of small dams (some 60 feet tall) that were built and then demolished to send these trees crashing over waterfalls and down mountains.  By the early 1900’s, the trees were almost all gone (and with them, the economies of most of Northland’s cities).  Waipoua Forest75% of all surviving mature kauri trees exist in just two forests, together covering only 60 square miles.  The Waipoua is one of those and has the oldest kauri.  The biggest boy is about 2000 years old and has a name, Tane Mahuta (Maori for “God of the Forest”).  I’ll show him to you a bit later.

The forest is fascinating, with moss everywhere and epihytes Epiphyteseverywhere else (epiphytes grow on trees but get nutrients from air and rain).  I’ve seen epiphytes before, but not where they totally obscure the bark of a tree, all the way up!  They are varied and beautiful.  Something that resembles Staghorn fern, or maybe it is Staghorn fern, is frequently seen in the trees.

The walk through the forest to the big Kauri is magical!  It appears to us to be a tropical forest.  This is definitely not Kansas!  Today it is of course raining in a drenching kind of way (hmm; are we being taught why they call this a sub-tropical rainforest?), but we are undaunted (expecting the rain, we carry umbrellas).  A couple pictures of the hike below:

The kauris are magnificent.  They have a whitish bark, the younger ones look like growing Tane Mahutatelephone poles, and branches do not occur until you have craned your neck ‘way back.  The big guy (picture to side) is, of course, Tane Mahuta.  Others are also quite striking, as shown below.  I confess, I think the California Redwoods are more spectacular.  For me the redwoods have a cathedral-like quality to them, and I feel a quiet reverence in their presence.  They are also more numerous and taller, and pretty much all by themselves; you are surrounded by the pillars of that cathedral.  The kauri, on the other hand, are here and there and surrounded by a riot of almost-jungle.  Nevertheless, the kauri are so very old and so very massive, yet still so very beautiful, and the thought that they were almost eradicated from this world in order to make a buck is sobering. Respect your elders – isn’t that a Maori prinicple?  Pictures below.

Amen.

Bay of Islands Retrospective

I thought I would share an experiment with you.  The pictures below are shot from our apartment at the Bay of Islands using a telephoto lens to look at a far-off headlands.  Far enough away to give everything a blue cast, typically, and general loss of color.  Then I just kept shooting the same spot over different days and different times, trying to capture the changing moods of the ocean and sky – because one of the joys of looking at a bay is that the same view is never ever ever the same.  The result isn’t great – I probably should have shot something closer to avoid the blue – but nevertheless, I think it is somewhat interesting.

Tour of the Bay of Islands

Well, ya can’t walk to the islands, you gotta take a boat.  At some expense, I might add.  We did the 4 hour morning trip, with a chance to swim with the dolphins, which I thought could be fun.  MorningUnfortunately NZ has a lot of rules about that, things like there can’t be a young dolphin in the pod, they have to be bottlenose, the number of people in the water can’t exceed the number of dolphins, and so on.  I had my suit on but was not optimistic.  Ginger was less enthusiastic – no way was she going into that cold water with fishy things bigger than her.  As you can see, the morning was really overcast, but at least not raining.

Well, that’s our boat.  This is a major thing to do in NZ, and the tourists fill these boats pretty well.  Our boatWe’re off-season, but there are two major boat companies, each doing more than 2 trips a day, and our smaller boat still had about 50 people on it.  There’s a bit of a jostle getting position to take a picture.  Not our thing, really, but we’re giving it a go.  There’s also a chance to see whales.  Interestingly, orcas were seen the previous day, which meant for that day there were no porpoises to be seen.

So we saw some islands.  Not too exciting, really.  There is some history involved.  For example, the first picture is the cove where Cook stopped as he was mapping and naming features of NZ.

And of course there are islands (or chunks of islands) owned by the rich of the world, such as that house above on the right.  Because many of these nice houses – with nice beaches, I might add! – are empty most of the time, as in the picture below,

nearby there is often a much much much more modest caretaker’s house – like the last picture – to keep the place clean and chase off the riff-raff.  There are indeed many very pretty beaches on this Bay, all empty when we came by but which are apparently occupied in the summer (it’s still pretty chilly here).  Here are a couple of interesting beaches.

There’s actually a fair amount of interesting island scenery; jutting out crags, rock faces, shallow water of a different color, lonely lighthouses, etc.  Examples below.

Ah, the aquatic mammals we were supposed to see!  Well, we did see them, but pretty shy ones.  Photographing a dolphin or whale is not as easy as it sounds.  They’re up, you point the camera and push the button to focus and snap, and you have captured the bubbles of their departure.  And the rocking boat and jostling crowd do not help your success rate.  Yes, we found a small pod of 4 dolphins, yes they were bottlenose, but yes, they had a younger one (we were told; I think there just would have been a small riot to allow only 3 people into the water).

And whales?  Well, a whale, but this whale was harder to photograph than dolphins.  It briefly came up here and was gone, and you waited for forever, and it came up there and was gone.  And like the dolphins, the whale was not in a joyous mood; no leaping out of the water frolicking, no tail flick, just a small gray hump appearing, rolling and gone.  So here are my pictures of a whale, hard to get excited.

There were other animals as well.  Seals and our friend Charlie the red-billed gull,

who flew with us on most of the journey, hoping for a handout.  Finally, the trip ends Hole in Rock, aproachwith a zip through “The Hole in the Rock”, that big chunk in the background.  A tourist thing, I had an initial negative reaction, but in fact it was kinda neat.  Here are the images of the funnel through the tunnel.  The last image shows a much smaller boat coming through (yet another tour group).

Well, that’s it for excitement.  Really, we’re more into hiking than boating, and it’s cheaper!

Hike and the Pied Shag Tree Nursery

We did a relatively short hike in the Waitangi area, and were thrilled with the Pied Shag Hotel and Nursery.  You’ll see.

This hike actually started with a waterfall at the beginning rather than being the reward at the end.  Falls, Waitangi WalkIt wasn’t a loop route, so we had a choice.  It had rained recently (I mean, it rained almost every day.  Have you noticed the skies in my photos?) and there was a bunch of brown silt in the water which you can see in the waterfall.  Unique for me, I could walk right up to the corner of that falls there in the foreground and put my hand in the water, my toes at the edge, the water going by at quite a clip as it executed its lemming thing.  Ginger opted out of the thrill.

Hikes here are interesting because the flora is like nothing we have seen.  The trees are amazing, and the tree ferns incredible.  Below are two shots of the trail.

Then, as we walked along a bank over the river, we encountered quite a few trees filled with birds called Pied Shag (they act like cormorants).  Many in nests.  With the cutest cuddly fuzzy babies.  Quite a nursery, with feeding going on, teenage Shag begging for more handouts, mommas diving, daddies building nests, birds fighting, real family time.  Because we’re on a bank and they’re in a tree, we’re eye-to-eye.  Amazing.  Here are some pictures.

The hike also included a trip through a mangrove swamp.  Big mangrove swamp (they’re everywhere, really, but kinda hard to walk through without a boardwalk).  Mangrove SwampThere was a loud snapping sound occurring randomly in the swamp – turns out they’re “snapping” shrimp in burrows.  I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t show you a photo of shrimp burrows (holes) in the mud.

Next post will be about a boat trip around the Bay of Islands.  How can you not take a boat trip if you’re visiting a place called “Bay of Islands”?

Historical Waitangi and Area

Kia Ora (that’s Maori for hello or welcome).  Waitangi is just north of us in Paihia and is historically the most important place in NZ due to the signing of the Waitangi Treaty there in 1840.  This treaty bestowed British citizenship on the Maori and subjugated them to British TreatySignlaw while supposedly protecting the Maori’s land and interests.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, this document is central to current day discussions over land issues.  Kiwis see this as the equivalent of the US Constitution.  Maori see this as a very different document than the one they signed in the Maori language; in the English version, Maori land and interests were anything but protected.  The Maori chief, Hone Heke, who was the major proponent for signing, was also the chief who, 5 years late,r precipitated the Northern WarsHeke expressed discontent over a period of a year by chopping down the British flagstaff flying over the nearby town (Kororareka) on 4 separate occasions.  The last time was too much, war broke out, and Heke and other chiefs took the town; in clashes it was burned to the ground (to be resurrected as Russell).  I mentioned before that the Maori were a warrior society, living in or near fortified hilltop pas.  Male children were trained to be warriors starting at age 5.  Maori were good at war, with constant practice (raids on other tribes).  They were a Stone Age culture; weapons were wood spears and sharp-edged jade clubs.  With European arrival, they also acquired muskets; these were quickly seen as a huge advantage in their wars, and an arms race was on.  Many Maori artifacts in museums are the result of trades for muskets with Europeans who treated the artifacts as art objects rather than tools.  We’re talking giving up a Maori tribe’s treasures, even war canoes!  Missionaries came under huge pressure because they were reluctant to engage in musket trade.  One of the Maori chiefs, Hongi Hika, went to London where he had a meeting with the King (!), who gave him a suit of armor, which on his return via Australia he traded for something like 400 muskets.  So when war broke out with the Europeans, the result was predictable but did not come easily.  Usually Maori were outnumbered at least 2 -1, but still managed to win half the battles!   It was not unusual for the British to lose a third of their assault force, with the Maori warriors  slipping away under cover of darkness.  Some of the major battles the Maori lost were due to other Maori tribes joining with the British forces (to settle previous scores).

These guys were on opposite sides, and I only show the pictures because I find the facial tattoos to be fascinating.  The Northern Wars lasted a year, the final fight showing Maori ingenuity.  Presaging WWI, in response to overwhelming British firepower, they built gun-fighting trenches and tunnels and withstood 10 days of cannon bombardment and attacks before finally being breached.

Let me show you some of the area around Waitangi before going to its cultural center.  The area below is one of the oldest European settlements with buildings still standing (eg, the whaling taverns and brothels in Kororareka were burned down).  An early missionary establishment next to the pa of Hongi Hika is shown in these pictures.

That’s the earliest wooden house in NZ, the missionary house (Kemp house) built in 1822.  The missionaries brought new technology and agricultural methods to the Maori, and hoped their religion would also be adopted.  The Stone Store is right next door and is the oldest stone house in NZ, built in 1836 to facilitate trade with the Maori; it’s a (tourist) store today, containing pretty much the same contents as would have been sold then – burlap bags, hand-made nails and so forth.  The interior of these houses is surprisingly modern to be there in the middle of nowhere, as shown in the images below:

And then it hit me – we think our country is young!  This place is a baby!  Walking through the missionary house I was struck by how much it reminded me of the time I lived in an old house just off Market St in downtown Charlestown SC (around 1955), in a house that was probably built before this one (although our furniture wasn’t that good, the kitchen was a little better …).  Connecticut has a stone house that is 200 years older than their stone house – a difference in years that exceeds Kiwi history in NZ!

OK, shifting gears back to the burnt town of Kororareka, rebuilt as Russell.  It’s a quaint little town across the bay, about 2 blocks by 2 blocks, with a single house (missionary) spared in the burning.  Pictures below:

One of the buildings there is the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, the oldest hotel in NZ, with liquor license #0001.  It’s pretty nice; we had lunch there on the veranda.

Finally, a view of the Waitangi treaty grounds.  They have a Maori meeting house, the signing house, and a war canoe.

We took in a performance of Maori culture at the meeting house; we were met by Maori warriors emerging from the meeting house fully armed & doing choreographed movements, chants, vocalizing, all the while demonstrating their prowess with their traditional weapons; this was meant to be intimidating and a challenge, and was it ever!

Especially for me, having been chosen the “chief” of our of little group and being the object of their feints.  After doing their challenge, one of the warriors laid a “gift” – a palm-like branch – in front of me, to pick up if we came with peaceful intent (otherwise they probably eviscerate me on the spot).  We were then welcomed into the meeting house with song and dance.  Inside, a ritual song & speech of welcome followed, and I had to respond with my own speech, followed by the hongi, the simultaneous touching of foreheads and noses together & the symbolic exchange of breath with their chief.  Much song & dance with explanation followed, along with demonstrations of weapons use and games with sticks that improved limberness, hand/eye coordination etc.

One song started as a solo, finished as a duet, and even though it was in Maori, its beauty and emotion moved Ginger to tears.  A final group photo.We are Maori now

Well, I know, this has been a long post, but let me add a final “art” photo – an unfurling frond from a tree fern.

TreeFernFurl

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!