Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why Lake Waikaremoana?

That's austroderia, or toi-toi, a native New Zealand grass--not pampas grass.

Why Lake Waikaremoana (why-carry-moh-on-a)? Because it's beautiful! It's also now one of our favorite places in New Zealand.

There are several lakes in the area, which is in a fairly remote part of the North Island of New Zealand. We wanted a spot to relax, where we could hike without a lot of people, and that’s what we got. (The photo above was taken at a holiday camp, and it's the busiest spot on the lake.)

The lake's moods seem to change with the light.

The lake covers an area of 54 square kilometers (nearly 21 square miles ) and is 256 meters (nearly 840 feet) deep.

We stayed in the town of Tuai (two-eye) in a cozy Airbnb cottage with a wonderful view over another little lake. Tuai was once a town for the workers of a nearby power plant and their families. It’s a cute little place of mostly bungalows that the state sold to private parties several years ago.

View from the deck from the apartment we rented in a house at Tuai.

Our host, Patrick, was genial and helpful, advising us about several hikes in the area and even taking us on a walk nearby.  Patrick, a former teacher, is now single.  He tried a dating site, but found he was getting too many inquiries, and he wanted to target creative, imaginative women who would be well suited for his lifestyle. Accordingly, he invented a friend—a sort of Harvey-like rabbit—named Fred.

On a walk with Patrick, Kevin tries on my sunhat.
Patrick never identified Fred as a pookah—like Jimmy Stewart’s friend in the movie Harvey—but he apparently is serving his purpose well. I mentioned that I thought I had seen Fred out the window and asked, “Does he have a black tip on one ear?” Patrick didn’t miss a beat. “Well, no,” he replied. “But he did get the end of one ear bit off in a fight, and I suppose at a distance, it could look black.” (Ladies, don’t worry. Patrick is perfectly sane, and we found him a delightful companion.)

The first walk we took, based on Patrick’s advice, was to a place called “The Green Fairy Pools.” The trail there was quite overgrown and a bit slippery, following a recent rain, but when we caught sight of the blue-green water, we felt the magical name was quite appropriate.

We took several hikes in the vicinity, though not the most famous one, the multi-day Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, a 44 kilometer trek (over 27 miles). We did walk into one pristine lake that has an island with a lake with an island in a lake on it. (That’s no mistake. There really is an island in a lake in an island in a lake.) The water was amazingly clear.

The scene from the viewpoint at the end of the lake. The hiker's hut is across the lake from here.

 I was sorry we were only there on a day hike. In another two hours we could have reached a hiker’s hut where you can stay the night, and we encountered a man who was on his way there. He remarked that he expected to be there on his own—no one else has reserved it that night.

We also took a short hike to two waterfalls. (See what I mean about all the waterfalls in New Zealand? They are everywhere!)

I have no photos of one of our best adventures: we explored a nearby cave at night, hiking up a dark trail on a moonless night, listening to the hush of the wind in the trees and eerie rustlings in the underbrush. We carefully entered the cave, which we had scouted earlier in the daylight, taking care not to trip on rocks or to fall on the uneven surface of the cave floor. Finally, in a large crack leading off the main cavern, we spotted what we had come for—the faint, blue lights of glow worms! 

On a previous trip to New Zealand, we had visited the spectacular glow worm caves of Waitomo. (I heartily recommend taking part in the “blackwater rafting” at Waitomo, where attired in a wetsuit, a miner’s light, and a large innertube, you explore the water-filled caves.) “Our” glow worm cave would be considered­­ a bit pathetic, compared to the caves of Waitomo, like a candle compared to the blazing night-time lights of Las Vegas. But because it was all ours, and we explore it on our own, we enjoyed that excursion almost as much as  the commercial one. (The glow "worms" are actually larvae that have long sticky strings hanging from them to attract insects--but they are so beautiful you soon forget that.)

Tuai and Lake Waikaremoana were among the highlights of this visit to New Zealand, and we were gratified, because before we arrived, several Kiwis in shops and restaurants had asked us why we were going there. We thought it was fantastic and prefer it to much better than the more-touristed areas. However, we did have to send our little rental car through a car wash before we returned to Auckland, because it was coated with mud—a dead giveaway that we had driven it on unpaved roads, a no-no with rental cars.

We had to leave Tuai much too soon. I would soon miss the daytime beauty and the starry, unfamiliar skies.

The skies about us at Tuai, identified by my Star Walk app.

Leaving Tuai also meant we left behind drifting to sleep at night with a warm breeze scented with honeysuckle and the call of the crickets.

However, we had more fun in store before we left.  Kathryn and Glen had invited us to stay at their townhome in Auckland (Ponsonby) before we flew to Australia. Glen welcomed us by flying the American flag* I don’t think anyone has ever flown the flag in our honor before, and I was touched.

Kathryn and Glen have a lovely home, and we enjoyed the way it blurs the line between indoors and outdoors. 

Sitting area outside the door and next to the pool on the right. (See sliver in photo.

They also have an iRobot, that I have only seen before in commercials. When it whirred to life, emerging from under the sofa in its R2D2 way, to begin its automatic vacuuming, I could only laugh. But now I want one!

R2D2 and BB-8's cousin.
Our last night in Auckland was quite special, because Kathryn and Glen’s son, Jaimie, and Lynda’s daughter, Karla, whom we had not seen for 11 years, joined us for dinner.  How nice it was to converse with these two intelligent young people. We were only sorry that Jaimie’s wife was unable to join us. What a nice dinner and sendoff!

*Speaking of flags, New Zealand was voting on a possible replacement for its flag while we were there. Emotions ran high, in part because many people felt the flag referendum was a distraction. “Why can’t we vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?,” they asked. The proposed new flag, which one writer ihad compared to a design for a beach towel (which I thought a little harsh) went down to defeat in a March referendum. They will keep the flag that incorporates the Union Jack.

As promised, here are my favorite spots on the North Island of New Zealand for the benefit of my friends who are planning a trip there (in no particular order):

-Kerikeri and the Bay of Islands. Be sure to check out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. 
-Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest, New Zealand's tallest living kauri tree.
-The Kauri Museum, Matakohe, Northland.
-Goat Island (for snorkeling) near Warkworth.
-Tiri tiri Matangi Island bird sanctuary (take a boat from Auckland).
-Murawai Gannet Colony (a short drive from Auckland).
-Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, Auckland.
-Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, Waitomo (especially the Blackwater Rafting).
-Rotorua. (Many attractions and thermal activity.)
-Napier (but if it's not Art Deco Days or you're not into Art Deco, skip it).
-Lake Taupo (pretty with hot springs in this area, too, and it's the sky-diving capital
  of New Zealand, if you are inclined to participate.
-Lake Waikaremoana and vicinity.

I'll list highlights of the South Island when we go there (after Australia.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

On the Road to Rotorua and Beyond

Whangerai Falls is one of many gorgeous waterfalls in New Zealand.

After leaving Kerikeri, we stopped at Whangerai (Fang-er-eye. "Wh" is pronounced like "F" in the Maori language). Whangerai is a pretty little town that offers a waterfall and a nice hike in a forest with kauri trees. It also has caves with glow-worms, but it had been raining heavily, so the caves were flooded. 

The shopping area on the river where we had our coffee.

We had a coffee in the town before we headed to the waterfall and forest. An English man asked us, “Did you come on a yacht?”

“No,“ Kevin replied. “We came in a Hyundai.”

In fact, our little Hyundai, which was rented from a company called Kiwi Direct, offered the best car-rental price in New Zealand. Our friend Glen had offered to let us use one of his cars for touring around, but we had been worried that we would dent or scratch it. So we went with Kiwi Direct, which rents older-model cars. They come with the dents and scratches built-in, so, as the owner put it, “We don’t care bout anything unless it’s major—like a bumper coming off.” 

Then we discovered the car that Glen had offered us was a Porsche! Maybe we could have saved face with the British gentleman if Kevin could have said, “We came in a Porsche,” but no, we were stuck with the Hyundai!  (Really, all for the best, because we didn’t worry about it at all, even though Glen’s offer was exceedingly generous.)

When we visited the falls we were astounded by something you would never see in the U.S.: the walkway to the other side had no railings, and anyone who fell would certainly plunge over the waterfall!

The walkway. If you fall in, it's your own damn fault

The forests of New Zealand are green and lush. 

After another pleasant evening in Langs Beach with Lynda and John, we headed off for our next destination, Rotorua. We have been to Rotorua before, so we didn’t do a lot of exploring there. It is built in a geothermal area with lots of hot pools and mudpots, just like in Yellowstone Park.

Because the entire city is dotted with hot springs and geysers, I keep wondering if a part of it might fall through the crust if they experienced a strong earthquake. (Probably not, but I did consider that as I strolled through the city park with geothermal activity on all sides!)

We didn’t go to the Agrodome on this visit, but I highly recommend it if you’re a first-time visitor to Rotorua. The Agrodome’s sheep show is the best sheep show I’ve ever seen (also the only sheep show I’ve ever seen, but still…). The banter alone is worth the price of admission.  

We took some photos of sheep and noted this giant “hamster-ball” (Zorb) ride in the vicinity.

People ride downhill inside of this ball!

Now I probably wouldn’t mind using a ball like that if I could self-propel it at a leisurely pace around a flat surface. But the Zorb has several tracks, and all of them go downhill! Some are faster than others, but somehow I don’t see the fun in being rolled down a hill in a ball over which you have little control. As we stopped at the attraction, a woman came out muttering, “That’s crazy! It’s just crazy!) I was wondering if she had teenage children about to embark on a ride.

We said goodbye to Rotorua the next morning. We were very lucky, because, unknown to us earlier, the seaside town of Napier, which boasts a downtown section of 1930’s buildings was hosting its Deco Days.  At the last minute, we were able to reserve the only motel in the area, due to a cancellation.

It's a delight to explore the Art Deco architecture in Napier.

Before we arrived there, however, we stopped off for a coffee at the town of Matamata. (I love that name! It rolls off the tongue like Walla Walla! It’s pronounced like it is spelled, mattuh-mattuh).

We had trouble connecting to the wifi at the cafĂ© in Matamata, and the waiter offered to help. “That’s OK,” we said. “We don’t really need to know what Donald Trump has said now.”
“I think he was criticizing the Pope today,” the waiter replied.

So we just relaxed and drank our coffee.

We were so pleased with our stop in Napier. It was great fun walking about the attractive town, while we inspected old cars, marveled at the architecture, and observed the people, many of whom were attired in period costume. It actually made us a feel a little guilty that we were dressed in modern-day shorts and tops.

Aside from Deco Days, Kiwis are usually informal, as this bumpersticker makes clear:

The next day we were on the road again. This time we were headed for a remote area of New Zealand, Lake Waikaremoana. (I think it's pronounced Why-carry-moh-ah-nuh.)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

New Zealand, Part II: Sweet Reunions

View of Kaikohe area. Mike and Vanessa's property is behind the hill.

Note: This is not strictly a chronological account. In some cases I have changed the order of events to discuss them along with others that involve the same people, rather than switching back and forth.

While we were staying outside of Kerikeri, we also visited with our friends Mike and Vanessa. (Mike and Kevin worked together in England in 1989, too.) 

Mike and Vanessa live about a 40-minute drive away from Mark and Allison, so they joined us in Kerikeri for a barbie (barbeque) early in our stay. Although we had not talked about the current American election campaign, they knew we would NEVER be Trump supporters. But Mike and Vanessa, like Mark and Allison, enjoy a bit of teasing, so what do I get greeted with, right off the bat? Several copies of Trump buttons that Vanessa had clipped from a newspaper! Thanks a lot, you sneaky Kiwis!

The X's are a bit cheesy! I don't have a sophisticated photo-editing program.
We all got a big laugh from that “gift.” (Unfortunately, I was having such a good time, I neglected to get any more photographs of that evening.

Later, we visited Mike and Vanessa in Kaikohe (Ki-KOH-hee), where we had lunch and took a tour of the town. It’s a pleasant little town, and about 70 percent of the population is Maori.  Like a lot of small rural communities these days, it is struggling. However, we were impressed with how the locals are working together to build spirit in the town. Throughout the village, young artists have painted portraits of local citizens who have contributed to the town or who have achieved success in the wider world. Let’s hope the murals inspire others to pursue their own dreams.

Some residents of Kaikohe have achieved fame on New Zealand 's famous All Blacks rugby team.

Mike and Vanessa now live an enviably relaxed lifestyle on their organic farm.  Having sold a successful business in Aucklan­­­­d several years ago, they bought a large section of land outside of Kaikohe. They have­­­ cattle, an orchard, and even a hydroponic garden in a greenhouse. What’s more, they have an outdoor pizza oven which they used to bake some of the best pizzas we have ever had! We are still salivating. (Again, sadly, I neglected to get photos of all of us eating pizza, including Mike's and Vanessa's friends, a friendly couple whom we enjoyed meeting.)

Mike is a master of the pizza oven!

Doesn't Kevin look stylish in the hat Vanessa made at a traditional crafts class?
Vanessa with her two little loves, Oscar and Pipi.

Although the best part of traveling in New Zealand is reconnecting with friends, we explored on our own as well. We spent most of one day at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between representatives of British Crown and many Maori chieftains on February 6, 1840.  Waitangi Day is New Zealand's national holiday, and Waitangi is a beautiful place.

We took a guided tour, which showcased the fantastically carved Maori war canoes that were carved in the 20th Century, using traditional methods. The largest is 70 years old and could hold a crew of 80 paddlers and 55 passengers.

The Maori meeting house on the site was only completed in 1940, for the treaty’s centennial. Following a traditional greeting outside, we entered the building for an enthusiastic performance of Maori music and dance.

We concluded our visit to Kerikeri by participating in a quiz night at a local pub with our friends. It was great fun, even though we finished far out of the money. Kevin and I steered our team wrong on one answer that we should have known. The clues included photographs and the statements such as “I am the 44th largest city by population in my country" and something like "founded in the 16th Century." We suspected it was a former Spanish territory, and we thought it was in Florida. We guessed Orlando and St. Augustine (though we really thought St. Augustine was too small, which it is). The answer was Miami. But we thought Miami would rank much higher than 44th! It turns out Seattle is much larger—it’s 20th. See what we learn about our country by traveling?

We had a good time at quiz night, even if we didn't win.

Next: More on the North Island.