Oakura, New Zealand
As of yesterday, we've been in Taranaki for exactly one month, and as of today, we have been residents of the Wavehaven for a month! It's been a pretty great month, so I figured I would mark the occasion by noting a few more bits of the distinctive Kiwi culture we are surrounded by here, and some more details of the ins and outs of our daily life here as surf bums.
We've been truly lucky in that the weather has been phenomenal for us (as previously mentioned, not so great for the farmers, but awesome for those of us who spend most of our time at or in the sea), which is apparently unusual for this area this time of year. We've only had a handful of gray or rainy days since we arrived in Taranaki, and over the last few days, the sun has been ridiculously strong, meaning even deeper tans for us, and more freckles for me! We spend at least half our lives here at the beach, and I basically live in my uniform of togs, jandals, and sunnies (Kiwiese for bathing suit, flip-flops, and sunglasses). Shades are essential for dealing with the strong sun here, and now that it has really picked up, we are doing the good old surfers' trick of smearing our noses and cheeks with opaquely white zinc oxide before going in the water, as we are exposed to the extra threat of reflection from the sea. When out of the water, most often you'll find Matt in board shorts and me in a bikini and/or singlet (tank top) and my quick-dry hiking skirt, which has more than proved its worth.
I've also re-discovered the havoc that surfing can wreak on ponytail holders/hairbands. The combination of the washing-machine action of being out in the waves for a few hours, combined with the abrasive nature of saltwater, is absolute hell on elastic hairbands. Every other time I take my hair out of its knot after surfing, my elastic breaks. I have quite a few now that have been tied back into a band. Very stylish.
Me and my Superfish
Today we surfed morning and afternoon, a perfect Taranaki day. It being Saturday and the waves being very good, the waters quickly got crowded this morning at Ahu Ahu, and when I got out, I counted 15 people in the water. I'm getting better quickly, but I'm still not confident enough in my surfing to steer around that many people, or to fight for waves with some of the hot-shot surfers we see around here. After fish & chips for lunch in the village, we surfed for an hour or so on the fun, mellow waves at Oakura Beach, and I actually managed to truly carve for the first time on my new board, albeit in about 8 inches of wave. With all the paddling, my biceps are getting pretty stout, and my body feels awesomely fit and happy with the work and fun of catching waves. Matt is getting pretty amazing out there, I think he's improved exponentially in his surfing just in the last few days, getting some absolutely amazing rides and pulling a few cool tricks along the way.
I've been meaning to mention the New Zealand Ice Cream Phenomenon. This is a part of Kiwi culture that I can definitely get behind, and is just so perfectly New Zealand that it almost defines the meaning of Kiwi. Here, convenience stores are called Dairies, and for good reason. Almost every little quickstop and corner store has fresh scooped ice cream! Most of them carry Tip Top brand ice cream, and I'm telling you, this stuff is delicious. I've never tasted better French Vanilla, and the passionfruit ice cream (with the pips in, of course) is to die for. And ice cream here is not just a kids' thing or a special occasion thing; stand outside a dairy for 10 minutes at the end of the work day, and you will see business men in suits, postmen, shaggy surfers with no shoes, families with young children, retired couples, and big burly truck drivers go in and come out licking an ice cream cone. I love it! It's just a bit of daily life here, to go for an ice cream after work or after school, and everyone does it- it's not limited to one section of society, but seems to be one of the cultural things that absolutely everyone participates in. Ice cream as a symbol of unity- how awesome is that?
On the other end of the awesome spectrum are sandflies. Tiny black midges/no-see-ums, sandflies are evil, evil little creatures. They really love the porches at the Wavehaven, and you'll find them in hordes on most beaches (luckily not the ones we prefer) and in river bottoms, damp areas, etc. Until we invested in some insect repellent, we couldn't eat breakfast out on the deck without getting several bites every minute. You feel a major pinprick when you get bitten, and then the bites stick around and itch for a couple months afterwards- far longer than mosquito bites. They like to go for ankles and other areas with lots of veins. This is a little gross and the perspective makes my ankle look fat, but take a look at this:
Last time I counted, there were 23 bites on the inside of my left ankle. And none on my right ankle, for some reason. But seriously, I've seen worse- some people have hundreds. After enough bites, your body does build up a tolerance to them, and after that they rarely itch. Here's hoping I build up that tolerance soon.
Traffic at the Wavehaven has picked up in the last week and a half, with a steady flow of newcomers trickling through. It's a bit of an adjustment to get used to having guests who stay just a few days, as opposed to all the longtermers we've gotten to know. A couple members of the longterm family, Stefan and Doug, are taking off tomorrow, and we will definitely miss them. I am glad to know that Megan and Nigel, who we have gotten to be pretty good friends with, will be sticking around at least as long as we are; Megan just landed a job as events coordinator for the Festival of Lights that happens in Pukekura Park over the holidays and through January, so we know we'll get lots more fun times with them. Unlike your average backpackers, the Haven doesn't have a reception area and is not staffed, so in many ways we've become the informal staff here; we know the room prices, availability, where everything is stored, etc. and are usually around, so tend to be the ones to welcome in new guests and show them the ropes. I kind of like it :)
That's enough for tonight, so here's wishing you all a lovely December, and I'll leave you with a photo of one of my recent cooking triumphs: pan-fried prawns with green curry vegetables on rice noodles (it was delicious, but maybe a tad too spicy- my face was pouring sweat!).