Sunday, November 28, 2010

Road Trip to Opounake

Monday, November 29th, 2010
10:20 AM

After recovering from our awesome Thanksgiving experience (by laying around all day Friday eating pie and chicken soup), Matt and I decided it was time to explore more of Taranaki, since up to this point we have basically been wearing ruts into the road between Oakura and New Plymouth, and not gone anywhere else. So on Saturday morning, we packed up some lunches and the surf gear, and headed south around the Bight to see some new territory. First stop was Kumara Patch, one of Taranaki's more famous surf breaks (they all have fun names, of course: Graveyards, Stent Road, Kumara Patch, and my personal favorite, Fin Fucker). Having surfed almost exclusively at Ahu Ahu Road until now, Matt wanted to go see K Patch, which involves hiking half an hour down the beach from the nearest road.

 These big pinecones were littering the beach. With no pine trees remotely closeby, I can only guess that they washed up from somewhere else along the coast.

It's a bit of a laborious process getting down the beach, especially with the sand is so hot we couldn't walk barefoot- and any of you who have walked through sand in jandals (flip-flops) will know how much energy that takes. While Matt surfed for an hour or so, I sat on the rocks in the scalding sun, chased off the sand by multitudes of sandflies (evil, evil cretins). It was an absolutely gorgeous day, HOT in the sun, and gorgeous colors of sea and sky. From the beach there, I got this cool photo of Mt. Taranaki rising up behind the dunes:

After leaving Kumara Patch (taking the high road through a series of cattle paddocks, unhooking and rehooking the electric fences behind us - a handy skill we learned in Opotiki), we headed south to Cape Egmont, where we drove out to the Cape Egmont Light, a gorgeous old white lighthouse that sits at the westernmost point of Taranaki, on a high point of land surrounded by more cow paddocks. I loved the views there, and the setting, at the edge of the sea but right in the middle of the ever-present farm land, with the mountain rising up behind it. The lighthouse was built in London in the 1860s and shipped to New Zealand, and originally sat on Mana Island near Wellington, but was moved after concerns that sailors were confusing it with another light, resulting in a number of shipwrecks. It's been at Cape Egmont since 1881, and eventually was automated in 1986.

 (Click on photos to enlarge)

 View of the sea from the light. 

 Peekaboo cow.

Peekaboo Matt.

 It was quite a windy day, as evidenced by my hat's position in front of my face. 

 A classic New Zealand view: the NZ flax plant against a blue sky!

Matt communing with livestock, per the usual.

 For Mom & Dad, a bit of New Zealand roadside geology: All along Highway 45 are these mounds, caused by ancient lahars flowing from Mt. Taranaki, which got caught up on various boulders strewn around the region. They exist around pretty much the entire length of the Taranaki Bight, with many of them once used as Maori fortifications due to their height and defensibility.

War Memorial in Rahotu, south of Cape Egmont.

We continued our explorations south to Opounake, a really sweet little town most of the way down the bight. It has some pretty good surf spots and gorgeous cliffy bays, and almost every free wall in town is covered with a mural. Here are a few views of Opounake:

From Opounake, we turned inland and came home via the inland road that skirts the edge of Egmont National Park. It was roasting hot in the car in the sun, but we came through some lovely farmland and got great views of the mountain as we drove straight at it:

From the high points on the inland road, I could see the two oil rigs, Maui A and Maui B, that sit 33 km offshore of Opounake, and provide this region with a lot of its non-dairy economy and job opportunities.

We got home around 3 PM, and after a powernap, we went for a really great surf down at Ahu Ahu, in some of the best conditions I've experienced (for me, which means gentle waves and nothing over 3 feet!) Matt has been helping me build up a lot of my surfing confidence, and my wave sense is getting better, and with all the paddling, I have built up some pretty major arm muscles!

Yesterday and today we have been doing our usual cleaning around the place, job searching, and working on a vague plan for the rest of our time in New Zealand. Now it's time to head into town to drop off a couple job applications and hit the library again. It's a pretty good life.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In Other News

November 26th, 2010

By now you've probably all heard about the Pike River Mine disaster. I wanted to mention it, because it has been affecting our lives here recently, but I didn't really want to include it in my post about Thanksgiving, because it's kind of a downer. I'm writing about it briefly here in the hopes that you will hold in your thoughts all the people here in New Zealand and elsewhere whose lives have been turned upside down by the tragedy.

For those who haven't yet heard about it, last Friday there was an explosion in the Pike River Coal Mine near Greymouth, on the west coast of the South Island. Two miners who were near the surface of the mine made it out with minor injuries, but 29 more were trapped in the mine. For almost 6 days, no contact was made with the trapped miners, and rescue teams attempted to check the air quality in the mine to determine if it would be save to go in. Many of the tests were hampered by conditions and by equipment troubles, and the tests that did come back showed that gas levels in the mine were unsafe for rescuers. On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, the news came through that there had been a second large explosion in the mine, of a volatility such that no human would have been able to survive it. A test of the air in the mine shortly before the second explosion showed levels of carbon dioxide that were off the charts. The 29 trapped miners have been declared dead, and in all likelihood did not live to see the second explosion, so the small comfort is that they probably just went to sleep, given the carbon dioxide levels inside the mine.

It's been really horrible to watch it all unfold on the news here. I was watching when TVNZ was given the news that all the miners were dead, and watching the anchorwoman relay that news as she was handed it was pretty devastating. It has been a tragedy of a national scale here. I think it was especially hard to take in light of the successful recent rescue of the 33 Chilean miners. I think everyone may have had a lot more optimism after that rescue than they would have otherwise, which made the bad news all the more devastating.

Anyway, I just wanted to put an acknowledgment of the whole thing out there, and hope that you will all take a minute to think of all the miners' families and friends as they try to cope with losing their loved ones, and take a moment to appreciate your own families and friends, as well as the fragility of human life.

Thanksgiving on the Far Side of the World

Friday, November 26th, 2010
Oakura, New Zealand

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here, and today is Thanksgiving in the U.S., so Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home, amid heaps of snow it seems! I just got off the phone with my family, I called my brother's mobile and he put it on speaker and set it in the middle of the Thanksgiving table at his in-laws' house in our hometown, where my parents were also celebrating, so I got to talk to everyone at once! Although I miss them all very much, especially at the holidays, I have to say that with temperatures back home well below freezing and a heavy blanket of snow on the ground and more on the way, I am pretty thankful to be here, where today we are under a cloudless sky, and it is 26 C/80 F in the sun!

Our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday was a resounding success, and has formed one of my new favorite memories of New Zealand. It was everything Thanksgiving should be: loads of good food, good company, lots of laughter and song, and of course lots of pie! We had such a great time cooking, and sharing our traditions with our multinational family here, none of whom had ever had Thanksgiving or pumpkin pie before! I am so thankful for the experience we had, and how everyone here embraced our efforts and asked lots of questions and showed their appreciation for what we had done. It all worked out fantastically- Matt and I bought and prepared all the food (I honestly thought we would need more hands to help, but somehow Matt and I did it all ourselves with no stress!) and everyone chipped in $8 or so to cover expenses, and several people brought wine too. We planned for 10 and ended up with 12 and a baby--about an hour before dinner, a young Israeli guy named Noam turned up, and was glad to join in, although he got a lot of teasing about being an opportunist by showing up when he did! With six nationalities at the table (American, Austrian, Irish, English, Israeli, and Kiwi), it was a pretty cool experience.

I am pretty confident in my cooking abilities and Matt's, but we've certainly never cooked for 12 before, and I'm really proud that we managed so perfectly- we ended up with exactly the right amount of food, finished cooking exactly on schedule, and polished off every last bit of it, except the two extra pies I made expressly for the purpose of leftovers! We made stuffing and gravy for the first time (my mom has always made those, but my parents sent me the stuffing recipe, and I've watched Mom make gravy enough times that with Matt's help I got it figured out). Altogether we cooked for 7 hours, but by doing the pies in the morning, then chopping and other prep in the times when nothing needed to be cooking, it all worked out just right and without any anguish. The menu was as follows:

-2 roasted stuffed chickens, bought from the local butcher (our pocketbooks, cooking skill, and size of the oven here preventing the traditional presence of a turkey)
-Steamed green beans with a garlic-lemon-olive oil dressing a la Matt
-Several pounds' worth of mashed kumara (our tribute to New Zealand, in lieu of yams) and potatoes
-Stuffing, of course
-Cranberry sauce (it took trips to three different stores to find any, but it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it)
-Pickled garlic (my substitute for Mom & Dad's traditional plate of dilly beans)
-Black olives for Matt
-The world's largest apple pie (my signature dish- I just realized that I have a signature dish! Cool!)
-A big pumpkin pie (Made from scratch from a white pumpkin, Matt put it all together, it was the best I've ever had!)
-Whipped cream and French Vanilla ice cream with the pies (and New Zealand ice cream is out of this world!)
And of course wine :)

It was epic, and we had a really great time explaining the origin and significance of Thanksgiving, and answering questions like "Do you give each other gifts at Thanksgiving?" (the answer is no). We ate at 7 PM, as opposed to the traditional 2 or 3 PM, because of course it isn't a national holiday here so everyone else had to work, so we answered some questions about that too. Matt gave a toast, and then, naturally, we had everyone go around the table and say what they are thankful for. I have the coolest video of that, with everyone saying their bit in all their different accents. A truly neat moment.

We ended the evening with a couple of guitars, a ukelele, and a bunch of singing. My favorite evening moment was when Noam, from Israel, turned the page in the songbook to "House of the Rising Sun" and started rocking out with it on the guitar- not a cultural alignment I would have predicted!

It was the neatest Thanksgiving experience, one I'll definitely remember forever. I'm pretty grateful to have been able to share our holiday with everyone here, and am grateful to the Wavehaven family for letting us do so and embracing it so thoroughly.

As you might have guessed, it was all duly photographed. Here are the pictures:

(Click on photos to enlarge)
 Biggest batch of pie dough EVER. And so much butter...

 Pouty Matt preparing the bread for stuffing

 Prepped food on the sideboard

Pumpkin pies on their way to the oven

 The ginormous Wavehaven apple pie, and the smaller one that we are digging into today

 Chickens getting rubbed with olive oil and rosemary

 It was so nice to cook with fresh herbs. I'm chopping parsley and holding fresh sage!

 The obligatory glass of hard cider while cooking...

 Finished pumpkin pies

 For our relish tray, and you can see what a New Zealand light switch looks like :)

 Cooking up the goodies for the stuffing

Ready to go in the birds

I realized many of you have probably never seen a Kumara (KOOM-er-uh, Maori sweet potato). So I now present to you, "Kumara in four stages":


Matt carves the chicken and Stefan mashes the kumara while Pepper hopes for someone to drop some scraps.

Thanksgiving table with palms and sunshine!

 From left to right: Matt, Noam, Cole, Big Al, Dougie, Megan, Nigel, Nick, Abby, and Baby Wills. Stefan is hiding behind Megan, I'm behind the camera, and Graham joined us a little later. 

Wills tasted his first chicken...

And last, but certainly not least, pie! Speaking of which, I think it's time to go have a lunch of chicken soup and apple pie :)

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you all!