Saturday, 25 September 2010

Day Two: Orewa to Whangarei

When I woke up, my parents had already left the camper. I made myself a cup of tea, and headed to the beach, where I knew I'd find them, and we had a nice walk along the shore. The water was perfectly calm, the sun just starting to burn off the morning haze in an otherwise blue sky. It was going to be a beautiful day.

My parents turned back first, and when I caught up with them, Dad was suggesting they start the process of applying for residency when that option becomes available to them next year. Just to keep their options open. On the road less that twenty four hours, and I know what Dad was thinking: Living like this, driving around the country, wouldn't be a bad thing to do full time. Hole up in a Northern beach town such as this in the Winter, make their way down to Wellington to visit their daughter in the Spring. A leisurely tour across the South Island in the height of Summer, perhaps? It wouldn't be the first time my parents had lived out of a camper van.

We set our sights on Whangarei that morning, figuring it was probably all the farther we'd go North before needing to head back to Auckland to pick up Loren on Sunday (day four). We wanted to set a leisurely pace.

This was our first 'real' day on the road, and I was determined to take spur of the moment detours whenever I felt like. The first was The Honey Centre in Warkworth. (Incindentally, Mom and I found the name of this town to be so silly-sounding, that we couldn't help exclaiming "WARK-worth!" like some kind of anthropomorphic duck every time it came up.) The Honey Centre had hexagonal windows, doors, and rooms, and a working bee hive behind glass took up most of one wall of the gift shop. The whole place reminded me of the "Betty's Bees" set from the show Pushing Daisies:


We made good use of the honey-tasting counter. I bought some lemon-honey for toast, and my parents bought sever small jars for gifts. Sadly the mead shop was closed, on account of the guy with the liquor license having the day off.

A little down the road stopped for a hand-painted sign advertising free-range eggs. The sign led us to a lady's house. She opened the sliding-glass door of her living room to sell us half a dozen eggs, and asked us where we were from. We had a conversation that would be repeated several times while during our visit in Northland.

Us: "The weather is so nice and warm here!"
Lady: "This is awful weather. I'm sorry you're having to put up with it on your holiday."
Us: "Well its a heck of a lot better than Wellington!"

We waved good-bye to the free-ranging chickens in her side garden and went on our way.

Our next stop was Cafe Eutopia:


This crazy art sculpture of a building was hard to miss and even harder to resist checking out. The food was good and unsurprisingly featured a lot of veggie/vegan/gluten free/organic fare. But the real draw was this crazy artsy building and decor inside and out, right down to the bathrooms which used water piped from a nearby stream. Needless to say Mom and I had a lot of fun photographing this place. A few of the results below:

Eutopia 2

Eutopia 3

Eutopia 6

By the time we arrived at Whangarei, it was nearly evening. We chose the one holiday park that was located right in town. It was not particularly flash, but it had all we needed (most importantly hot showers) and the owners were nice. When we asked them for a restaurant recommendation, they readily admitted that they'd eaten out all of once in the several years they'd lived there. Mom wasn't feeling well, so she stayed in the camper while Dad and I set out to try our luck in town.

That's how we ended up standing outside of a flower shop which our Lonely Planet guide strongly indicated was supposed to be a Cuban restaurant. Two ladies at the flower shop were just closing up, and asked if they could help us find something. We explained ourselves, and they happily recommended a couple of tasty and inexpensive restaurants, one of which they were headed to that very night. We aimed for an Israeli restaurant called the Camel-something-or-other and were pleased to discover it was exactly what we were looking for: tasty, healthy, and reasonably priced. We made a pleasant evening of it, and brought Mom back plenty of left-overs.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Road Trip Day One: Auckland Airport to Orewa

Mom, Dad, and I flew up to Auckland, arriving late in the morning. Getting our camper van, finding a grocery store, and stocking up of food and other supplies took quite some time. Our route north took us straight through the centre of Auckland and a big tangle of motorways. Our goal for the first day was simply to get out of Auckland and find a nice holiday park for the night. We landed at Orewa Top Ten Holiday Park, a nice enough place flanked by a lovely beach along Whangaparaoa Bay.

That first day, we did little more than check out our camper van and walk along the coast and into Orewa's small shopping area for dinner. The holiday park had an unusually high concentration of 'motorhomes' that looked like they hadn't moved in over a decade. That is, a lot of long-termers, with flower beds out front and kayaks pulled up under the eaves.

Despite the winter chill in the air, the place had the feel of a beach town, such as can be found scattered along the coast of California. We could imagine it would be a bustling little tourist destination come summer.

first campsite

Mom and me consulting the Lonely Planet guide as we discuss our plans for the next day

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Blogs from Wellington

I am completely charmed by my friend's new-ish fiction blog It's A Wellington Life. It's characters live in the same Wellington as the rest of us, and are subject to the same weather conditions, current events, and general goings-on. In fact, this blog captures the Wellington experience better than anything I've ever read.

Another blog I am really into lately is Bat Bean Beam. It is written by a Wellintonian who is originally from Italy. His post often wander across a wide range of topics, but are always insightful and leave you with plenty to think about.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Kiwi Survey - Part II

(Written 17th July 2010)

I left us frozen in the dark, our ears prickling with the strain of trying to hear kiwi footsteps in the dark. No luck. We moved on to a new area, and got into position again. The recorded call rang out several times before we heard a genuine response. I thought then that it was a mating call, that we were trying to lure an amorous kiwi into our trap. Later I learned it is a territorial call, prompting the kiwi to show up and defend his territory.

After what felt like a long time of stillness and dark, and cocking my head at every tiny susurrus of leaf against leaf, I heard the distinct sound of footsteps. A kiwi is not a small bird. It is a heavy bird, and when it walks through the forest, it is not very stealthy. And step by step, the thing was getting closer to me! I could feel my heart start to pound, and hear my pulse thudding in my ears. Friends, it is my sad duty to report, that for a moment, I froze. Then I remembered what I was supposed to do. Whistle. When The Scientist gave us this instruction, I failed to admit even to myself that I am terrible at whistling. I finally got a pitiful shrill sound out between dry lips. But the bird sounded so close now. Was I meant to turn on my head lamp and go after it? I paused, hand on my headlamp, uncertain. In truth, we hadn't been given much instruction. But we had been given nets.

Eventually the Scientist turned on his headlamp, so I turned on mine and indicated the location of the most recent footsteps. The were headed away from the trap at this point. The Scientist spotted/heard the bird, and gave chase, but it was too late. Once they get ahead of you, he said, its hard to catch up. They may not be quiet but the can be fast. That's why the basic plan is to lure it into the circle of kiwi-catchers such that it is surrounded.

We didn't catch a single Kiwi that night. We laid a couple more traps, and even chased a kiwi the Scientist spotted along the trail as we headed back. That's when I got my first actual glimpse of the elusive bird. A very brief glimpse, composed more of moving branches than of feathers.

I don't need to tell you that I was disappointed. I even felt a bit disappointed in myself for not giving chase to the one kiwi who came so close to me. After that episode, the Scientist told us that in that situation - the bird headed AWAY from us, outside of the circle of us, that it was okay to chase it ourselves. I felt this information was given a little too late. And looking back on it now, I don't think any of us were really given any idea of what we were doing or what was expected of us.

On the final trail out of the Sanctuary, we met up with the two dog teams - teams that had gone out with a kiwi-tracking dog. We soon discovered that they had each caught a kiwi or two. As we all walked out together, one of the volunteers from our team asked one of the dog team volunteers, "So what do their feathers feel like? Are they soft, or..?"

That's the secret, I thought. We hardly had a chance without a dog.