Kia Orana – May you live long

Kia Orana or island greetings to everyone.

It seems going back in time is not all that difficult. We departed Auckland Sunday afternoon to arrive yesterday (Saturday evening) evening around 9:00 pm.

After weeks of  wearing winter clothing we touched down to warm and humid weather conditions. Though it was late eveing  I was stripping several layers of clothing off pretty fast  while waiting to go through customs. No worries did not get charged with “public nudity”  made sure to stop at the tank top. While doing this stripping in the background I could hear music being played by the airport singer aka Jake Numga Senior. But this was not for my benefit rather for all the arrivals to Rarotonga. Sitting in the corner of the arrivals section wearing a straw hat playing his banjo and singing Polynesian love songs Jake as been welcoming visitors with his music for the past 20 years. Makes waiting in the queque to get  your passport stamped very pleasant even if it is only for a few minutes. Not like in the USA where you queque up for hours, perhaps they should have an “airport singer” maybe singing “Leaving on a jet plane”.

We arrived in the darkness of night to what would be our home for the  next week at Ari Mango an upscale hostel. Luckily a german couple was still up and able to show us around and explain the dos and don’ts  within the hostel. As well as pointing out on a map where the local grocer was and where to catch the bus.The next day  we relived Sunday over again starting off the morning with a lovely breakfast outdoors followed by a tropical storm. I was most happy that storm had passed relatively quick otherwise we would have become soaking wet while waiting to catch the bus to the media workshop for the 43rd annual Pacific Islands Forum.

To say this news assignment literally fell into Steve’s lap is understatement. While trying to book accommodations for us Steve could not understand why everything was booked up. It was not until he spoke with the manager of Ari Mango did he discover that this forum was being held. A forum that promised the appearance of Hilary Clinton herself, no wonder there were no vacancies.

At the workshop we were provided  with the schedule of events for the coming week . Thus seeing clearly there would be no lying on the beach for that week. As it turned out it I would also be on assignment providing photos on the forum for IPS News Agency.

Steve and I were really kept busy going from events, meetings and press releases. Good thing we had the late night starlight walks along the beach after a hectic day of running around. Luckily the media co-ordinator arranged some transportation to some of these things otherwise getting to various places would have been a nightmare. I learned alot, gained alot of respect for Conservation International for their  work with the island leaders and their vision to protection the ocean.  I totally fell in love with the kids who put on a fantastic dance performance for the opening ceremonies. But what stuck with me the most is what the Prime Minister of Rarotonga (Henry Puna) said at the Pacific Oceanscape Leaders’ Dinner. He spoke of living on the island that one always hears the ocean waves day and night. He came to understand that the ocean was talking to the people of the island and it was now time to listen. The Cook Islands Marine Park is a step in the right direction.   More than 1 million square kilometers of ocean and island ecosystems in the Southern Cook Island has been designate as a sanctuary  making it  the world’s largest  marine park. The south pacific island leaders are showing that the oceans do matter and need to be cared for.

Once the conference was over we had about two days to find another place to stay for our last week on the island. After many phone calls I had just about given up. But once again the tourist people came through for us and managed to find us a wonderful place. Funny thing the place they found was one I called the day before and was told they couldn’t take us. But after hanging up the owners Mere and Jean-Marc realized they could but could not get in touch with us. Steve and I were extremely grateful that the tourist office called the  Aito apartments  as we felt  a gem was given to  us. Mere and Jean-Marc were like family and they  made our last week on Rarotonga seem like heavenly bliss.

Rarotonga  is one (also youngest) of  15 Cook islands which are spread over a large area in the South Pacific about the size of western Europe . I am sure you have guessed that the Cook Islands are so named because British explorer Captain James Cook visited the islands during the years 1773-1777. The main islands are Atiu, Mauke, Mangaia and Rarotonga these 4 islands have growing communities whose economy depend on tourism.   Of the other 11 islands there are some that allow tourists, giving visitors the opportunity to experience true Polynesian island life. One interesting  fact is that on Palmerston 50 people inhabit this island and they are descended from William Marsters and his three Polynesian wives. Other islands have caves to explore, while other are breeding sites and sanctuaries for seabirds. Suwarrow island was declared a National Heritage Park in 2002 and is the breeding ground for a rare species of turtle.

Rarotonga literally means down south Raro=down and tonga=south. The island is encircled by their main road where one can catch the bus very easily has there are only two routes Clockwise and Counter Clockwise. So if you miss the bus in one direction you can just walk across the street and get the bus coming in the other direction. The buses usually were on time and if not it meant they were running on island time. Because the interior is mountainous there are no roads crossing the island but there is a foot path across the island. Which Steve and I did not do we were enjoying our beach walks too much.  A lagoon surrounds the island where in some locations it extends more than a hundred metres to the reef. The reef  itself lies in front of the island’s north  shore  where one can watch an amazing display of waves crashing against it. The south eastern part of the island especially around Muri beach where we were stayed for two weeks the lagoon is at its widest and deepest. Here there are four small coral islets not far from shore  and  like Ningaloo Reef the reef is a fringing one. Making it any easy few strokes in the water  to see coral and tropical fish. With such an easy access to the underwater marine life we of course went snorkelling. Seeing beautiful and colourful fish had me once again wishing for a underwater camera. I did manage of few above water shots during our walks along the. These I have included in the slideshow and they give  you some of idea of what we saw. Yet sadly the number of fish our down in the lagoon as a good portion of the coral was dead. For those who are not inclined to go snorkelling, diving etc. enjoying island life by simply relaxing on the tropical island beach can be sublime. One thing though if you go for a walk along the beach here one can expect to be escorted by  one the local dogs. The stray dog population had at one time run a muck.  Through the spay and neuter program along with efforts to find homes for the abandoned dogs the population went down from 6,000 to 1,600. However when walking along the beach it is hard to tell a stray from those that homes as they all wander freely on the island. All the dogs enjoy romping on the beach while waiting for a tourist they can walk with and if you happen to have a treat that’s even better. Steve and I did manage to tear ourselves away from the beach one day and checked out a whale museum privately owned and operated. Everything you ever wanted to know about whales can be found in science researcher Nan Hauser’s small but info/display packed museum.

How the  people here are  able to pay the high food prices let alone gas at $2.30 per liter which is about $1.85 Canadian dollars when minimum wage is $5.00 ($4.03 Cdn.) is really puzzling. One thing that helps is that the majority of the people retain traditional rights to their  lands. These parcels of land are large enough to enable farming of fruits, vegetables and small livestock. Mind you they need to enforce where one can raise their livestock and what materials they have to use to keep them fenced in. As someone had decided to keep mama and baby piglets on the property next to the Aito apartments, being kept in by a piece of sheet metal and mama tied to a stake. By the end of our stay  the piglets had found an escape route and were scampering along the road. The crazy thing the owner lived just across the road on a nice piece land where he could have built a proper pen and kept them safe. Jean-Marc after two more piggy escapes had enough and walked mama and family across the road. As we were leaving that same day not to sure what became of that but I am certain it will be an on going saga for awhile. The piggies did make great composters though threw them all our kitchens scraps and they loved it.

One other sight that is very common here on the island is that practically everyone drives a small motor scooter I am sure due to the cost of gas. Even tourists can rent them and at minimal cost get a drivers license. This makes for some interesting times on the road. Yet the islanders have gotten so accustomed to using the scooters that a 500 meter distance we were told was too far to walk. Sadly for them this lack of exercise and trying to take on an American lifestyle is costing them in health. But I think slowly people are seeing that and  are trying to make changes.

Our only regret we had about our two week stay on the island is that it will probably be our last. As this beautiful island of paradise with its wonderful people is sadly a very long plane flight away.

Well that is the end of our travel adventures for the summer of 2012. What 2013 holds for us in adventure will  be another story.

Kia Orana and thanks for joining me in our great adventures.


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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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