Thursday, November 4, 2010

Journey to New Plymouth

Written and Posted 2 PM, Friday, November 5th, 2010
Oakura, Taranaki

We've made it to Taranaki as planned, and are feeling pretty at home here, but more on that later- I  have some cool photos from our trip down!

We spent the night of November 1st in Raglan, New Zealand's most famous surf town, and our first encounter with the Tasman Sea- we've hit the left coast of NZ! The lefthanded break at Raglan is one of the longest and most renowned in the world- but it was dead flat while we were there :) After two weeks of sleeping in the van, we decided it was time for a change, and splurged on a night at Solscape, an awesome BBH hostel and eco-retreat. Our accomodations were a converted caboose, and the whole place sat right on top of a hill overlooking the sea, and the buildings were all old railcars and neat eco-friendly kitchens and bathrooms. Here's some views of it:

We felt much refreshed after real showers, a good night's rest in a bed with more than eighteen inches of headroom above it, and a dinner cooked on more than one burner! We got a lot of inspiration from the setup of the retreat area and took loads and loads of photos for our inspiration file.

On the way out of Raglan, we took a small detour to visit Bridal Veil Falls, and see how it compared to the falls of the same name near Portland. These ones were pretty cool, a short hike back into the woods, and with a really well done trail system and viewing platforms.

We had a lot of ground to cover, so we headed through Hamilton, where we stopped briefly to run some errands, but did not fancy the city at all. After life in small towns for so long, Hamilton was just too big and bustling, and did not have a very good vibe for us. But we were soon out of town, driving southwest across the Waikato, which is relatively flat, and very green and pastoral. In the afternoon, we passed out of the Waikato and into the Waitomo region, which is home to some of the world's more spectacular cave systems, and looks like this aboveground:

In short, it's very rugged and rocky, and we saw some awesomely steep hills! After crossing the Waitomo, we entered Taranaki --Highway 3 hit the coast at the very north end of the Taranaki Bight, and the view that greeted us was this:
Pretty nice, huh? New Plymouth is basically at the very righthand edge of this photo, just where the Bight starts to turn south. There are a whole bunch of white cliffs and pinnacles along the coastline here, you can see some of them at the lefthand side of the photo. Three of the pinnacles you can't see from the highway are named The Three Sisters, which was another fun Oregon reference. In the same day, we also drove through a town that called itself the City of Roses, same as Portland- and the climate in Taranaki is very similar to western Oregon's, except with slightly more sun. Very nice.

After about four hours of driving, we came into New Plymouth, which is a town of 49,000- just the right size, and already it feels like home. Sitting right on the Tasman Sea, there are about 50 surf breaks within a 30 minute drive, including the famous Fitzroy Beach, where New Zealand's first surf competition was held. Mt. Taranaki is less than an hour away, sitting right in the center of the Bight. It is in Egmont National Park, which is perfectly circular (look at it on a map- it's awesome) and is reminiscent of Mt. Fuji (The Last Samurai was filmed here) and also of Mt. Hood back home.

I will write some more later about where we are staying currently, but here's the long and short of it: on a tip from a local outdoors store, we found accommodation in exchange for work at The Wavehaven, a groovy, comfortable surfers' pad of a hostel a few kms south of Oakura, and about a ten minute drive from New Plymouth. After asking at all the hostels in town and finding out that none of them would accept work for accomodation, we came out here, where we found the place empty but with the front door open, and a sign that read "Welcome to the Wavehaven. Please make yourself at home. If we're not around, we won't be far away. Either hang out, come find Jono at the surf shop in Oakura, or call him at this number..." We called, and the conversation went like this:

Me: "Hi, we just pulled up at the Wavehaven and there's no one here."
Jono: "Yeah, that's often the case."
Me: "Anyway, we were wondering about the possibility of working for accomodation."
Jono: "Yep."
Me: "Ok then."

And that was that. Matt and I work an hour and a half here each day in exchange for our room, and it feels great. It's nice to contribute to the space where we are living, and we're trusted to see what needs doing and do it, and do our work on our own schedule. I think Jono was actually a little relieved to have people come and clean- only a couple long-termers stayed here this winter, so the housekeeping had fallen a bit behind. But only a few hours of work makes a huge dent. So far Matt has cleaned all the windows and bathrooms, and I've vacuumed the whole house, cleaned the kitchen, and made up beds in some of the empty rooms. It's a pretty cool deal, and it feels nice to invest in where we're staying.

The place is great, convenient, and already feels like home. We have a private room, free wireless internet, a huge kitchen and living space at our disposal, and are a five minute drive from the sea, which we can see from the front porch. There's just a couple other guys here right now, staying for quite a while, and everyone is really chill and the place stays friendly but quiet.

We've been looking for paid work since we arrived, and after a day of job hunting, we both got a 5-day gig later this month with Kathmandu, a big chain outdoors store, which is moving shop and needs grunt laborers to help out during that time. It's not awesome work, but minimum wage here is $12.10 and we'll be paid $13.50, so it's something. We're continuing to look for something more permanent, and hoping we can stay on here at the Wavehaven after our couple weeks' of work exchange, maybe as long-termers paying discounted rent- we'll see.

On the surfing front, everyone is excited because the swell is arriving today, so hopefully we'll get out on the water soon. Unfortunately, the surfboard we bought a month ago has been massively damaged. We asked around regarding the best place here to take it for repairs, and is currently being worked on, but it will be an expensive fix- basically it was exposed to direct (harsh, New Zealand) sunlight while in the van, which overheated the epoxy coating, which then bubbled up from the foam interior and created a giant blister 18 inches long. It's ugly, and we had no idea it could happen- we've never had an epoxy board before, and compared to New Zealand, we don't even have sun in Oregon. Here's what it looked like before repairs:

After shopping around every board shop in New Plymouth, yesterday we bought a second board, a 7'2" Superfish, the biggest and floatiest board we could find in our price range, that can still fit in the van (we're both longboarders but will be challenged here because we can't transport a board longer than 7'6"- but it will be good for us). We bought this board secondhand from Bill Clark, an American expat with a shop and shaping room in Fitzroy. The board needed a couple small patch jobs, and he was so happy to meet fellow Americans that he threw in a bunch of the repair supplies for free! Matt's been showing me how to do the repairs, and we should have board in working order soon.

In summary: we have a nice place to live for free, a great town just 10 minutes away with everything we need, a lovely view and within a couple days, we'll have two functional surfboards- I think we're set!

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