Magical and Mystical

It seems early birds do not always catch the worm. On our second morning in Picton we rose early in order to catch the 10:30 am ferry (remember sea bearing legs)  to Wellington capital of New Zealand (North Island) also know as windy Welly. We were told to be at the docks by 9:30 am for boarding. Wouldn’t you know it one of the few times we are out the door before 10:00 am we are stuck waiting 45 minutes before we can drive the car onto the ferry. For me it was a mystical Ferry ride when I saw the Fjords, the cold weather was the only thing stopping me from staying on deck throughout the whole trip. Wellington upon arrival struck us as a very welcoming city. Perhaps do in part that there are no skyscrapers looming over you. To ensure less damage against earthquakes buildings are only allowed between 10-12 floors . This  in my opinion provides for a much more open atmosphere on the waterfront and in the city center. Unlike many other cities when looking skywards or to the water front all you see is one tower after another.

Our stay in Windy Welly was only for a few hours as Katrina was meeting up with someone she had met in the east coast . While she caught up with her friend the three of us went to the Te Papa (mother earth) Museum. What a surprise we had upon passing through the doors of the museum, the entry was free. We learned of New Zealand’s history concerning the Maori and the first European settlers who arrived on Jan. 22 1840. A history that keeps repeating itself, of lands being taken, treaties not being honoured or still to be fulfilled such as the treaty of Waitangi. Very little land belongs to the Maori people now most of it taken by the settlers for the purposes of pastures to be grazed upon by sheep . One can easily see how the clearing of the land for pasture and sale of lumber totally reshaped the landscape and is still doing so. Many landslides occurred then and are still, in fact one can see ripples on the grassy hillsides  that one day will become a wave of mud.

One bit of information that astounded both Steve and I was that during the years of settlement Europeans tried introducing 25thousand differents species that there is any native wildlife, trees or plants is amazing. Another point of interest is that New Zealand never had any mammals ones that are seen now were introduced had have caused the death of many of their birds. After walking through the museum I felt how lucky the children and the people of New Zealand are to have such a great museum where many can experience and learn interesting things without the burden of expensive entrance fees.

With another few hours of driving behind us the following day from Wellington we hoped to put dark clouds behind us once in New Plymouth our hopes were dashed they were now rain clouds. The plan was to spend a day or two to see the volcano Mt. Taranaki and walk on one of the trails in the surrounding National park. Mt. Taranaki last showed its might 250 years ago for now it is a sleeping giant that one day will wake. Keeping a watchful eye are 5 seismic monitors that will measure even the slightest stirrings in Mt. Taranaki ensuring that people can be safely evacuated from the area. We waited patiently for two days for the weather to clear but it was not to be which meant it was time to enter into the darkness of caves. Our drive to the Waitomo Caves was through what seemed like never ending pasture lands and hills dotted with cattle and sheep. We arrived at the Waitomo Caves with an hour to spare before taking a tour in the Glow Worm Cave.

We were surprised to learn that there are about 200 hundred caves in the Waitomo area allowing for all types of cave tours and adventures. Ours was a tame tour of seeing the illuminations from glow worms in the hundreds. Which are in fact not worms but larvae of a fungus gnat which looks similar to a mosquito but without the blood sucking part. The luminescence of the larvae produces a soft greenish light that attracts insects which then become trapped in the numerous sticky strings that have been woven by the larvae. After six-nine months of life the larvae spins a cocoon. The adult gnat lives for only 3 days just long enough to have sex and then lay 40-50 eggs keeping things glowing among the Stalactites.

In case you are wondering we have been travelling for 56 days and on day 57 we planned to be in Piha to visit with a friend of Steve’s for a couple of days. Cindy had told Steve she had a lovely view of the ocean from where her house sat on the hill. What she failed to tell us we would once again be driving up, down and around mountains (okay small ones) with me praying that we would not tumble over the edge or be greeting the front end of a car going around the bend. True to her word the view from her house was great. Yet it was not until we walked onto the beach the next morning did I see that it was iron sand this meant we were walking on a black sandy beach. This area is very popular with the surfers but dangerous at the same time because of the wild surf and heavy currents. Would you believe a popular reality TV  show came to be as a result of the numerous recuses that have happened here in Piha. Oddly enough the show is called Piha Rescue and the best way to be in the show is to ignore the flags showing you where it’s safe to swim. Lions Rock which is the eroded core of an ancient volcano sits in the centre of the beach and has a small walking trail. Unfortunately there have been lethal accidents from this rock as people insist on going off the trail or wear the wrong type of shoes. Which did happen two days after we left Piha for Auckland. But before we left we walked one of the trails in the area which led to a beautiful waterfall it was quiet stunning.

From the serenity of Piha we wound our way back down the hillside to the bustling city life of Auckland. Dad had two more days before he would fly home and rest up for few days then fly to Vienna (he’s 78 and not slowing down). This time around we found a nice backpacker hostel to stay in which was fun for me as I watched the younger crowd looking a little puzzled when my dad came walking into the communal kitchen. Our whole family vacation together surprised quite a few people there but the icing on the cake was always when they heard my dad had come along as well. Their looks went from surprise, to puzzlement and wow that’s great! The hostel was not too far from the many volcanos in the Auckland area. One could say Auckland is a city of volcanos we walked to Mt. Eden which has been quiet for a very long time. Mt. Eden is known as the food bowl of Mataaho (the god of things hidden in the ground). It is the highest cone in Auckland the crater is 50 meters deep.  Mt. Eden is highly sacred you can still see remnants of terraces and storage pits. We spent our last evening with dad drinking wine and going over all the wonderful things we had seen and done.
For Dad it was a trip of a lifetime and his most memorable and favourite moments were the two days he went snorkelling near Ningaloo Reef.

With dad having an evening flight we decided to check out the Auckland museum which happens to sit on the very extinct volcano Pukekaroa. We did our last picnic lunch with him beside and on a huge fallen tree and then took in the romantic beauty of  orchids in the Winter garden  (greenhouse). We had not seen so many different types of orchids before, they took your breath away. Time stood still for awhile in the lovely botanical gardens but as they say “all good things must come to end”. Thus it was time to say good-bye to Opa/Papa it was especially hard for both Katrina and dad as they would not see each other for a year.

Our last two days with Katrina were relatively low key as we knew our time to say good-bye was fast approaching. What would be our last evening together was spent dinning out and enjoying a favourite pass time of the Kiwis here. Watching the All Blacks trounce the Australian rugby team, which must happen a fair number of times considering there was no victory celebrations on the street.

The best part of the game for me is when the All Blacks do their haka. The best way I can describe the haka is that the team performs a chant which is both physical and facial in appearance with the purpose of instilling fear in their opponents. This dates back to when the Maori tribes would battle one another.  However before doing so each tribe would do their haka. Now depending a how well a haka was performed the battle could be won by the tribe whose haka had instilled enough fear into the opposing tribe thereby making them concede best part no bloodshed. Wonder if we could have that incorporated on the Hill (Ottawa) since most of our politicians do more chest beating than anything else.

On the day of our departure we chatted about plans for the future over coffee. Which was at times difficult to do as both Steve and I were living in the present of knowing that this was the day we were to say good-bye to our Katrina. As we said our good-byes I knew the three us felt grateful that we were off onto new adventures to help ease the emptiness that would follow. Katrina through WWOOF would be learning/working on a Permaculture farm far north of Auckland and Steve and I would be off to Cook Islands. Where as it turns out we would have work to do and what better place to do it than in the South Pacific.

Until next time which will be the last posting for this travel adventure.


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Courage, warm springs and ocean beauty

We arrived in the land of the All Blacks (New Zealand’s rugby team) without a hitch. Not to say that before we left Australia I was worried there’d be a tap on my shoulder and the words “come with me”. Arriving in Christchurch in the late afternoon towards evening time meant that we wanted to eat right away and find a grocery store followed by a fairly good night sleep. One of the disadvantages of travelling to many places is that you are always adjusting to your new living space. And just when you start to get comfortable you are on the move once more making a good night sleep not always possible.

Having slept relatively well and nourished by a hearty breakfast we headed towards the city centre to see first hand the damaged that was laid upon Christchurch by the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the South Island  on  September 4th 2010. The aftershocks continue to this day (we felt two of them :+o ) the biggest occurring on February 22, 2011 with a 6.3 magnitude (another earthquake) this one was very close to Christchurch. As the second quake was nearer to Christchurch it was far more destructive and sadly 185 people were killed. The damage was extensive especially in the central city and eastern suburbs. Many people and business have packed up their bags and left due to bureaucratic red tape with insurance companies while others could not endure any longer the fear they felt with each aftershock. The businesses  who have stuck it out after their place of business was destroyed or not structural sound have become part of what New Zealanders call the pop mall/city. The retailers and cafes have used shipping containers for their popup stores. It looks very unique and in some ways I hope a few stay after the city has been rebuilt. The biggest subject of debate in Christchurch is what to do with the Christchurch Cathedral. The Anglican church diocese wants to tear it down and build new whereas the city of Christchurch wants to repair it for its historical significance. The debate has become heated on both sides it could be sometime before any decision is made.

After a couple days and some great tasting coffee (New Zealand is out doing Australia in this area) we rented a car one more time to continue on with our travels. One thing I was grateful for is that we would be driving shorter distances. As the gas prices here would make your eyes pop out $2.15 – $2.22 per liter. In Australia it was between $1.50 – $1.80 I am looking forward to our low gas prices.

After a three hour leisurely drive and plenty of gas left in the tank we arrived in Hanmer Springs. It is a small town surrounded by mountains and is built around a hot spring that was discovered in the late 19th century. We fell in love with the place right away and decided to stay over night. Luck was on our side, just a half hour before we arrived at the Visitor Centre a accommodation with vacancies had dropped their price — fate was on our side. Having unloaded our things we did a small hike and then relaxed in the thermal pools of which there are 15. The pools so relaxed me that by the time I finished my evening snack and glass of wine I barely was able to keep my eyes open. Probably the earliest I ever went to bed but I am sure for the last 125 years others have gone to bed alot earlier than expected.

After a good nights rest I was ready the next day for a more strenuous walk on one of their steeper trails to a waterfall. Alas we did not see the waterfall after walking almost halfway as the pathway had a small river flowing over it. But the walk was well worth it for the scenic lookouts and being able to walk among the giants of the woodlands. Since our walk was cut short it left us plenty of time to swim in the pools once more before leaving for Kaikoura. It was a good thing we did the pools before our drive in the dark, up, down, around and through mountains to Kaikoura.  It was a heart stopping and edge of your seat ride but thanks to the pools I stayed on my seat and my heart kept beating.

The next morning we found that the sunshine had left us and we would be seeing gray clouds for awhile. Hoping we would not get too wet over the next few days in Kaikoura while looking for seals and perhaps some whale watching. There are many spots along the Kaikoura coast where you can sight a seal colony. In 1894 hunting was banned as the seal population was nearly wiped out. They are still  under protection (New Zealand Department of Conservation) which has enabled a steady comeback of the seals but the populations is still only 10%-20% of what it once was. One of  the best places to see a fur seal colony is at Ohau Point as the adult seals return here and between the months of November and December the females give birth.  Travelling in the area during the month of July meant that the pups would be around 6 months old  when they are more independent and are out looking for some fun. Their favourite spot to play is at a waterfall near Ohau Point. We walked along a pathway beside a stream which the pups work their way up a few hundred metres to reach the waterfall. It was a lovely sight to see as the water tumbled down into a small rocky pool with seal pups happily diving and leaping about in the water.

After two days of rain on and off along with high ocean waves crashing against the seashore two certain ladies were losing hope.  Katrina and I had been keeping our fingers crossed that our third and last day in Kaikoura favourable winds would blow our way. I guess we did a good job of keeping them crossed as we woke up to sunshine and a calmer ocean, this meant Katrina and I could go whale watching.  In Kaikoura you have a better chance (98%) of seeing a whale partly due to the continental shelf conditions.  The sea bed slopes away from the land to a depth 90m then plunges to 800m. If you were to drain the water it would look like a huge crater. Because of this depth the Sperm whale stays permanently in Kairkoura. We saw four sperm whales at different times. To be beside these huge creatures and then watch them dive down to the ocean depths without any fear of us brought joy to my heart. I do hope that one day that all countries with ban hunting whales along with the deep sea fishing nets with their blades that dig through the ocean floor. For I fear whales swimming in the ocean and all the beauty the ocean holds will one day only be seen through the looking glass of aquariums and story books.   Along with the whales we also saw Dusky dolphins, seals, a small blue penguin and lots of Cormorants relaxing on a huge rock. Both Katrina and I came off the boat with smiles on our faces.

Mother nature held the rain off during our 4 hour whale watching adventure and for our drive to Picton after a late lunch. Even though it was a late lunch we did manage to have part of our drive by daylight. Allowing us to see the well known wine region of Marlborough, with sheep grazing in amongst the grapevines keeping everything nice and trim.  We did however arrive in Picton by dark of the night and with no place to stay. We split up into two groups and walked up down the streets looking for accommodations. Katrina’s Lonely Planet guide book did its job once again, she and I found a lovely studio unit at Harbour View Motel. Yes as the name suggests we did have a view of the harbour. It was quite the sight first thing in the morning but we were not to impressed by the dark gray clouds that had settled in for the day. Bundled up in our rain gear we did manage to walk one the trails along the Queen Charlotte’s Track. The rain geared worked as it did not start to rain until we arrived back at the car park. As always when walking through beautiful terrain there are no thoughts of food but once you have finished your hike the stomach starts talking. Luckily for us we were not too far away from a small town of 400 people named Havelock where we able to quieten our stomachs with meals of hot soups, fish and pasta.

I will leave you here on the south island as it seems only fitting to write a part two on our travels through New Zealand. Plus the fact I had a hard time choosing just 25 pictures out of the hundreds I took.

Our next adventure starts pretty early in the morning and requires sea bearing legs, till then.


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Published in: on September 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm  Leave a Comment