Sunday, March 6, 2016

New Zealand, Part I: Sweet Reunions

Note: This was our third visit to New Zealand, and we have already done a lot of the "tourist stuff," so our focus on this trip was mainly reconnecting with friends and relaxation. For those considering a trip to New Zealand, I've listed some favorite places at the conclusion of my North Island entries.

New Zealand offers so many beautiful sights that I don't think you can go wrong visiting almost any area of the country. Between the sub-tropical region north of Auckland to Mt. Cook and Milford Sound on the South Island, you'll find a place to suit almost anyone.

For us, the best part of this visit was reconnecting with friends, most of whom we haven't seen for eleven years. After a brief overnight stay in Auckland, we headed to Langs Beach, Northland, where our friends Lynda and John live. They had recently built a beautiful new house that looks out over the sea. 

The view will soon be even better, because the utilities are schedule to be undergrounded.

Did you notice the tractor? That's what residents use to launch their boats at Lang's Beach. The sand is hard enough that they simply drive the tractors into the waves.  Below, Lynda's son Tim and daughter-in-law Jo introduce young Robbie to the tractor.

I'm sorry I didn't get more of Jo's face, especially because she's attractive. Here she is with Robbie, although it's still not the best photo of her.

We loved seeing the next generation of our friend's families, though I'm afraid we missed getting photos of them all. (I don't know how I missed the opportunity to take photos at the dinners when we were together, but somehow I did.)

Above is Nicholas, Lynda's other son, with the lovely Mandy, but I missed getting pics of daughter Karla, her cousin Jaimie, and John's son, Liam. (Hey, guys, send me some photos, and I'll add them! Read more on our dinner with Karla and Jaimie in a later post.)

Lang's Beach is not only Lynda and John's home, but it has long been the family gathering spot. Lynda's sister, Kathryn, and her husband, Glen, own the house next door.  We have some beautiful memories of times spent there in the past, and this year we added some more. (A shout out to Lauren, Kathryn and Glen's daughter, who is now married and living in Australia.)

Left to right: Kevin, Lynda, Rachel, Kathryn, Glen, and John toast our reunion. Don't they look like a fun bunch?

Fortunately, some things never change with good friends, even if you don't see them often. The jokes and laughter continue. For example, Kathryn teased us about going skinny-dipping, but it was too cool for me!

Later, Lynda and John took us to The Kauri Museum, which was absolutely fascinating. Kauri trees are native to New Zealand. Some grow to enormous sizes and are more than a thousand years old. (The one below is not one of the bigger ones. We visited larger trees on previous visits, but they are magnificent trees.)

The Maoris used kauri trees for its wood and other purposes before the Europeans arrived. Kauri gum, the fossilized resin of the tree was a huge industry for New Zealand in the 19th Century. By 1890, 70 percent of all the oil varnishes made in England contained kauri gum. Until the time of synthenic alternatives, it was a major export.

The museum showcased the industry and had remarkable displays of the tools and implements used in the mining of the gum, as well as intricately carved objects from the amber-like gum.

What surprised me was that a number of the miners, or gum-diggers, as they were called, who came from Dalmatia. I'm not certain why there were so many from that region.

Today, a disease threatens the kauri trees. Walkers must rinse off their shoes before and after entering a forest that contains kauris in an attempt to prevent its spread.

After a few days at Lang's Beach, we moved further north. On our way, we passed the only town I know of that is famous for its toilets, Kawakawa (pronounced like it is spelled, kawa-kawa.) 

Designed by Fredensreich Hundertwasser, an expatriate Austrian artist, the toilets won the community an award and are now a tourist attraction. Sometimes it is hard to get in, when all the tour buses disgorge their passengers there, for both cultural and functional reasons.

The famous toilets have a sod roof.

Detail of one of the pillars.

Our next stop was just outside of Kerikeri (pronounced carry-carry), where we settled into a cottage in an organic orange orchard. The Swedish owner calls his accommodations Relax-a-Lodge. The cabin was simple, but cheerful, and the pool looked nice, though we never used it.

Once again, it was time to reconnect with friends. When Kevin worked in England in 1989-1990, one of his colleagues was Mark.

Mark now lives in Kerikeri with his partner, Allison. They have
a physiotherapy clinic, and their dog, Nelson (a real sweetie!) sometimes accompanies them to the office.

Mark and Allison live in an area known as the Bay of Islands. They took us out on their boat into some magical places, and Allison and I went snorkeling. The water felt delightful, but we only saw some small black fish. 

We had lunch with their friends Ruth and Simon, who live in a home with a view over a bay. They built the house themselves. Reachable only by boat, and completely off the grid, with solar power and innovative technology, it is the kind of place that most people only dream of. The lunch, which included fresh mussels, was fabulous too!

Left to right: Ruth, Simon, Allison, Mark, and Kevin relax on the sunny deck.
We have much more to recount of our North Island explorations and our times with friends--the best part of our trip--but for now, I'll leave you with some photos of the area.

Additional notes that don't fit anywhere: 
Do you know who owns most of the forests of New Zealand? Insurance companies. John, who works in forestry, is employed by John Hancock. I found that quite surprising.

Also, I was fascinated that so many primary school children go barefoot to school. Why not? New Zealand doesn't have any poisonous insects. Many of those who were not barefoot were wearing flip-flops.

One of the more interesting Maori traditions were learned about was that of adult children who give their first-born to the grandparents to raise. (I don't know if the child is given to the maternal or fraternal grandparents.) Today that tradition is not always observed, although child-rearing is commonly shared among relatives. For example, a child will go off with an auntie for awhile.

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