Wednesday, September 29, 2010

At Home in Opotiki

Written 2:50 PM, Thursday, 30th Sept. 2010
Opotiki, New Zealand

Posted 3:15 PM Same day

I’ve felt a bit behind and out of communication, so it feels good to do lots of posting. There’s so much to tell, I know I’ll never be able to include every detail, but I love to try! This time I’ll bring you up to speed and up to where we are now, at a fantastic workstay in Opotiki (oh-POH-ti-kee –we’ve been pronouncing it wrong for weeks).

Monday night we camped on a roadside in a tiny place called Matata (MAH-ta-ta: nothing here is pronounced with the emphasis in the place we would give it in the states), right on the ocean, and then packed up first thing when we woke up (as we were camped at the end of a neighborhood) and drove a few klicks up the coast to a picnic area at the beach where we had breakfast and strung out a few items of still-damp laundry which dried up in a hurry in the bright sun and wind (one of many reasons why hardly anyone in NZ owns a drier). We spent the rest of the day exploring Whakatane (FAHK-uh-tahn-ee), which is gorgeous, and then exploring Ohope and Port Ohope, which are out on a sandspit that ends in a wildlife refuge, and then lunch at an oyster farm, where we had possibly the best fish and chips (fush en chups, as it’s pronounced here) of our lives. We ordered what we wanted, and then they went and pulled it from the catch of the day, breaded it up, and fried it right there.

After a nap in the back of the van (it’s handy for that) in Opotiki, we came out to our workstay in the evening, where our wonderful hosts, Lyn and Kate, welcomed us with hugs and a meal of mashed kumara (KOOM-er-uh, Maori sweet potato), sausages, mushroom and onion gravy, and salad from their garden. Their place is fantastic, and we will be doing some work here and some on Lyn’s family’s farm a few sections over. The house is amazing, in an old, practical, and slowly-being-renovated kind of way, and the land gorgeous. We are very happy to be here, where the people are kindred spirits, the house is lovely, we have a lovely bedroom with bright orange walls, and there are 20 chickens, two ducks, two and a half dogs (because the neighbor's terrier is always around), and three cats to keep things interesting! Some of the “chooks” are sitting on duck eggs (as the ducks don’t make the best mothers), so there will be ducklings in a few days!

The arrangement here is that we will be working 4-5 hours every morning in exchange for the run of the house, property, kitchen and pantry, our lovely bedroom, and three meals a day. If we want a day off, then we can work a full 8 hours the day before. The food is incredible- the yard here contains a grapefruit tree, mandarin tree, lemon tree, avocado tree, and macadamia nut tree. There’s probably more that I haven’t figured out yet! So between the fresh fruit and avos, and as many fresh eggs as you can ask for, and Lyn’s delicious home cooking, we are in very good hands. They are such gracious hosts, very flexible about when we work our hours, and are making use of our skills in gardening, tree pruning, etc. We will help sand and paint the house while we are here, so Matt’s work experience in painting will come in handy. Yesterday morning we went over to the family farm for a couple of hours and grubbed scotch thistles out of a series of sheep paddocks with Lyn, and then after lunch Matt and I put in a couple hours more on the property here, where we’ll be doing most of our work. We are helping clear and weed and get the yard borders cleaned and mulched, and expanding the vegetable garden. This morning we repaired part of the fence to the chicken run where it had been damaged by a fallen tree, and transplanted a grapevine! It is good, fulfilling work, but not back-breaking, and it feels very very good to be working the land, taking binfuls of weeds and wild herbs to the chickens in their (quite large) enclosure, and helping our hosts get their property the way they want it. I can honestly speak for both Matt and myself when I say that we are utterly satisfied with our situation here and the simple, hardworking lifestyle at this, our temporary home. We are so glad to be here.

Here are some photos of the place and a few of its inhabitants:

(Click on photos to enlarge)
The house from the chicken enclosure, with Paddington the dog, and Jinx, the neighbor's Jack Russell.
Jinx and the back of the house. 
The backyard. I've been clearing out weeds at debris at the right, where the black wheelbarrow is. 

Kitty and a veritable rosemary TREE!

The chookies and gorgeous Mr. Rooster. They all come running whenever one of us comes near, hoping we are bringing treats. They are friendly and beautiful, and now I'm convinced I want chickens!

The 18-year-old spry old gentleman dog himself, Paddington Bear.

We're settling in nicely, and the library in Opotiki has ulimited free wi-fi, so I should be able to make it to internet every couple of days. Lyn and Kate have also offered their satellite internet, but I have yet to figure out how to change the settings on my laptop to access DSL instead of wireless. 

I hope you all are well wherever you are, and thanks for reading!

Rotorua and Waiotapu

Written 9:30 AM, Wendesday 29th September

Posted 2:45 PM, Thursday, 30th September

Monday morning found us at Lake Rerewhakaaitu, where we both slept incredibly soundly. When camping, we basically keep daylight hours, which means waking up at 6:30 or 7 AM, and going to bed around 8 or 9. At Lake R, I woke up at 6 AM, just as the sun was rising, to a clamour of birdsong, and opened the curtains of the van to see this:
(Click on photos to enlarge)

Totally awake, I got up and went for a walk through the muddy campingground, and down the road a bit to the next farm. The sky, lake, and birds were all fantastic.

The lake was in high water, and covered in ducks, ducklings, geese, herons, and the trees full of songbirds. All over the campsite were pukekos, the long-legged iridescent blue birds that I had thought were takahe. I was wrong, as the bird guide I purchased yesterday told me- Takahe are incredibly rare and live only on the south island, but look like huge pukekos. Dad, here’s a good photo for you:

I learned the name of them from our friendly neighbor at the campsite, who was fishing at the lake from sunup that morning. 

The dishwashing setup I've devised for our vancamping: Wash in the dishpan, rinse under the waterjug propped on the stool, and dry in the sun in the dishrack.

I set up our camp kitchen outside the van and cooked up some eggs and toast and tea for breakfast as the sun came up, warming everything, with the scenery absolutely fantastic all around. It was an absolutely incredible way to start the morning. We helped some other campers get their big heavy campervan unstuck from the mud, with some other campers as well- a great example of the Kiwi spirit.

We spent the first half of Monday at Waiotapu, an area advertised as a “thermal wonderland.” It is leased by private owners from the DOC, and was well worth the $30 entrance fee. Here it is in some pictures:

Lady Knox Geyser

Geyser Fail

The bubbling mud pools may have been my favorite. *blorp*
The color of this pool absolutely blew our minds!
Hot waterfall!
Silica terracing.

 You can't see it very well, but the path by my toes is bubbling.
Yellow algae on everything from the thermal gases. 

Manuka plant and flowers. They grow back first in places that have been burned or destroyed, so were the first thing to take over after the giant Mt. Taupo eruption that caused this area. 

And last but not least, the cat of Waiotapu.
The whole place was absolutely fantastic, and I feel very grateful to have seen it, and to Matt for doing the research to find out which of the many thermal sites would be the best investment.

We had a picnic lunch at Waiotapu, and then went back into Rotorua town for showers at the visitors information center (best business planning ever!), and internet at the library shop while we ran a load of laundry (MUCH needed) at the local Laundromat, which was run by possibly the sweetest lady in existence. Daylight savings had happened the day before and we forgot about it (we have been terrible about keeping track of time), so had an hour less than we thought, and she kept the place open a few extra minutes so we could get our clothes dried.

Rotorua is a really touristy, expensive town, but gorgeous and so insanely geothermal- I’ve never seen anything like it. Steam comes out of the sewer vents in the middle of downtown, and the city park is full of steam vents and bubbling places surrounded by little fences, and has little developed pools everywhere where locals and tourists alike stick their feet in the hot water for a soak.
 Steam vents between homes.

It sits on Lake Rotorua, which is lovely, and we went down to the waterfront to St. Faith’s Anglican Church, which is at the edge of a little Maori settlement and across a carpark from a gorgeous Marae (interesting contrast). The entire cemetery at the church is above ground, because if anyone was buried there, they would be cooked by the thermal activity in the ground. Ew.
The Tiki that guards the graveyard. 
Amazing artwork on the ceiling of the Marae. 

I really look forward to going back to Rotorua and seeing more of the town, visiting some of the gardens there, and spending a bit more time getting to know the place and the surrounding area. 
 Matt at Lake Rotorua. Note the steam coming out of the ground to his right. 

 Black swans on Lake Rotorua.

Mt. Maunganui and Mauao

Written 8:55 AM Wednesday, 29 September, 2010
Opotiki, Bay of Plenty

Posted 2:16 PM, Thursday, 30 September, 2010

We have been so many places and seen so many things that I have a bit of catching up to do. I think I’m going to break it up into a couple different posts just to make it more manageable for you and me. I’ll start with Sunday, when we climbed Mauao, the mountain of Mount Maunganui (!).

We had camped in a carpark in Te Puke the night before, but came back to Mt. M to do some shopping and take a hike to the top of the Mount. 
 Downtown Mt. M and the Mount at sundown

We started off the day by buying a surfboard, and a wetsuit for me, at a great little surfshop on the main drag of Mt. M. We got a 7’4” epoxy funboard, which we should both be able to surf well on, and which fits on top of the bed in the van (important detail.). At night, it goes underneath the van.

 I also bought a wetsuit for me, which was a far better deal than I thought it would be. The shop was selling all their wetsuits at ½ price, and recommended a 3.2 suit for me (3mm of neoprene on vitals, 2mm on limbs), and I found a great one at a good price. It fits perfectly, and feels ridiculously light and thin compared to the 5.4 I wear in Oregon. (Matt brought a thin wetsuit with him to NZ).

After a lunch of bread and cheese and mandarins at the windy waterfront, we took a couple hours’ hike up Mauao, the reserve that is the mount of Mount Maunganui. It is a beautiful, dramatic old dormant volcano that rises up at the end of the spit of land that forms downtown and encloses Tauranga Harbour.
(Click on photos to enlarge)

Part of the mount is leased to private farmers, so the track to the top went through open sheep pastures, so sheep were right off the side of where we were hiking. An interesting pastoral contrast to the stunningly blue-green subtropical water and white beaches surrounding us. 

Lambies on the side of the track.

The top part of the mount is covered in fern trees and other forest shrubs, none of which I could identify! At the very top, we were rewarded with absolutely fantastic views of the curve of the Bay of Plenty, deep brilliant green water, and the city of Mount Maunganui spread out in front of us. 

The water was so clear that we could see a couple of stingrays cruising about 50 yards off the beach, 2,000 feet below us. The whole place just put me in utter awe of the whole country. 

After the hike, we headed south to Rotorua, one of the most thermally active regions in the world. I drove the road to Rotorua, which was absolutely terrifying. 

Aside: I may have mentioned before that Kiwi highways leave something to be desired. None of them are straight or flat anywhere (the landscape is too dramatic to allow for this), few have more than a couple inches of shoulder, and the lanes can be ridiculously narrow. Often they go through steep roadcuts that periodically slide down onto the road. And the speed limits often make no sense at all- you’ll see a 100km/hr sign, and 50m later there is a super sharp curve with a 35km/hr warning sign on it. There are also passing zones on corners. And then there are signs everywhere telling people to drive safely- seems to me they could save a bit of trouble by just putting up the proper signage. For all the love I have for Kiwis and how kind and fun they all are, the whole realm of driving in this country is a bit insane. That said, driving on the left is almost second-nature to us at this point. Almost. Occasionally, in moments of surpise, we still turn on the windscreen wipers instead of the indicators (they’re on the opposite sides here).

I had been fighting an incredibly sore throat and cough for a few days, brought on, I think, by the terribly stuffy dorm we were in in Auckland, so Matt finally convinced me to go to the doctor. There was an urgent care center on the main street in Rotorua, and they were super nice and about 15 minutes after going in, I came out with a dose of antibiotics and all the receipts needed to have it all covered by my travel insurance. I am already feeling loads better.

Sunday night we again went exploring after dark to find a good place to camp, ending up at Lake Rerewhakaaitu (Reh-ray-fahk-ah-EE-tu), southeast of Rotorua. We keep going to campsites after dark, so we find out what they look like in the morning, which is quite fun. This post is getting a bit cumbersome, so I’ll continue