Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Travelling the North Island – from Windy Wellington to Paihia

New Zealand 's North Island is a bit more tropical and a lot more populated than where we had come from, but in many ways it still has so many similarities to Alberta.  We arrived on the North Island January 15 to explore some places we had been before and added one new neighbourhood as well – the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park – before leaving Auckland February 6 for the northern hemisphere.  With accommodations booked at hostels but no particular plans, the idea was to slow down and do whatever seemed to be a good idea when we got somewhere.  After 9 months on the road, it was nice to be a bit more relaxed.

S 41.17.35 E 174.47.03 Wellington

We spent four days in Wellington.  Although we spent one day doing typical city things, including visiting Te Papa and then finding Minerva (New Zealand Quilter), we also got quite creative in exploring the outdoorsy bits of Wellington.
Some bits of wisdom from Te Papa (the national museum)
I have to say that the Christchurch Museum is still my favorite.

My journal quilt square which has a New Zealand Quilter
connection - check here for the story
We discovered that the bus would get us close to one of the southern beaches for a hike and explore while truly experiencing what “windy Wellington” is all about.  The city prides itself on having 170 days per year with winds of 50 kpm/hr (that’s gale force) which I suspect means that the rest of the days are almost that windy.  After being pelted with sand particles on the beach while we collected interesting seashells and such, we headed back to the nearest pub for a bite to eat.

It was a lovely walk through the green belt up to Mt. Victoria lookout even though there were a dozen big tourist buses bringing their folks up the easy way.  Exploring on the way down, we even had a chance to watch bikers practice for a race the next day AND check out one of the sites for scenes from the Hobbit.
From Mt. Victoria lookout.  I am still amazed at how well my little
point and shoot Canon can capture details.  If you look at the tall
yellowish building in the middle, that's the fire hall across the street
from our hostel which is the lower yellowish building
to the left.

You can find cool quilty designs anywhere
(on the steps going to the lookout)

 As Wellington is built on a series of extinct volcanoes and on the edge of the two continental plates, everywhere you turn there are hills with houses climbing up the edges... or there is a bit of green space to explore just around the corner from the busy city streets.
Another bus took us up and around a corner to a patch of native bush and a path through a paddock of cows who preferred the path to the impossibly vertical grass field.
Catching the train from Wellington to National Park Village
(the trains are electric, btw)

S 39.10.28 E 175.24.03 Tongariro National Park

When you take the train from Wellington to Auckland, you see scenery that you can’t see from the main highway and half way there you arrive at National Park Village.  We spent a week based in this small town where the most exciting retail therapy is the small store where you can buy milk and cereal for breakfast.  The view from the hostel included the three major volcanoes – Ruapehu (the tallest and where the ski resorts are), Ngauruhoe (which last erupted in 1975) and Tongariro which is the shortest of the three and last erupted in 2012.  With the help of the hostel who did a great job of shuttling us to the start of tracks, we did a self managed multiday hike to check out the local waterfalls, crater lakes and also the Tongariro Crossing itself.  Add in a day of mountain biking where I gained a number of bumps and bruises and lost my clip on sunnies during an over the handlebars fall, and we did about 65 km of hiking/biking over five days.

This huge kiwi sculpture was on the corner near our hostel.
Apparently, the artist has made these wood and metal
sculptures and placed them all over the North Island

And the kiwi still had his Christmas lights

 So, here's the wheelbarrow story.  As we started up the path to the falls, there was a sign asking hikers to help with maintenance of the path (it isn't in the national park but just a forest reserve, so I guess there is less funding) and to carry one or two buckets of gravel from the first depot to the next.  We walked right past - 5 gallon bucket of gravel, uphill, rough terrain.

But as we got closer to the lookout, we saw this rusty wheelbarrow with the sign asking to help get it back down to the start of the path.  Then some of those big canvas bags that drop supplies from helicopters into difficult spots.  Then a lovely bit of gravelled path.

At the lookout, we visited briefly with a younger couple about the places we had hiked and were planning to hike.  They headed back before us and when we got to the place where the wheelbarrow had been it was gone.... The couple had gone to the effort to get it back uphill over the roughest worst bit of the trail.  Of course, Cal decided he could do his bit as well.  Especially as the rest of the job was downhill and fairly smooth.

Two days later, we were biking past the trailhead and the wheelbarrow was gone.

Loved the signs. Note the difference between volcanoes and
ordinary mountains.

Two crater lakes.  We actually did one day of the four day
"Northern Circuit" and the Tongariro crossing was another
part of the same Great Walk

Standing, these looked like tiny purple dots.  Get closer
and you realize they are orchids.

New Zealand has a thing about putting steps wherever there
is a steepish up or down.  And of course, everywhere is
steepish up or down.

We were making great time

Almost half way on the Tongariro crossing in two and a half hours
I'm still waiting for the bad bits...

Straight down from the Red Crater in loose scree.
Notice the people below.
I didn't run down, but I also didn't do the "down on my butt"
approach either.

Watching the thermal activity while having lunch.This is where the
2012 eruption was.

Having rushed through the first bit to leave enough time for the
tough bit that wasn't very tough, we then found lots of
excuses to dawdle so that we weren't sitting in the parking
lot waiting for the bus.  this was a lovely shadowed
water fall.

S 35.17.10 E 174.05.40 Paihia (Bay of Islands)

Fishing, hiking, beachcombing and some slow lazy mornings describes our time in the Bay of Islands.  This part of the North Island is very humid and we quickly learned to go with the local way of things – don’t worry about an umbrella or a rain coat because you are already sort of damp and sweaty and what’s a bit of soft rain added to the mix.  We didn’t get back to Cape Rienga because the only way was to take the full (expensive) long day tour that stopped every where between Paihia and the cape leaving little time to explore.  Ah well, you can’t do everything.

This guy became bait.  They were iridescent in the water and would
suddenly all come to the surface when a bigger fish below
was looking for food (them)


Gorgeous fish.  Nickname "granddad" and a type of
Groper - lovely eating if he'd been a wee bit bigger.

These birds followed us and actually became pests as they would
dive for the bait...  This batch actually  has one bird that was
caught by the hook and had to be reeled in and then released.

Misty weather makes great photos.  Hiking on Urupukapuka
Island, where Zane Gray actually had a fishing lodge
in the 1920s.

I love sheep

Beachcombing at Paradise Bay.  First time I've seen scallops and
the rest of the shells are fantastically weathered.  Yup,
some will be finding a home on a quilt.

Day in Russell (Kororareka)

Finally saw a cicada - we've been hearing these fellows for months
but have never seen them.

Quail (he was out with the family) on our way to the Waitangi
Treaty Grounds.

This fellow was up in a tree and figured nobody would notice
him.  But our path was high on the hill...

Washing machine token.  Almost cute enough to keep as
a souvenir.

Another quilty idea.
 S 36.50.52 E 174.46.16 Auckland

We did a quick overnight in Auckland on the way up to Paihia – the hostel I had booked was not a place that we wanted to return to for our last four days in Auckland, so thanks (once again) to Nicole with Goway Travel, a quick change of plans and we have found ourselves on the 14th floor of an apartment hotel sort of overlooking the harbour.  Auckland is a huge sprawling city that has almost half the population of New Zealand.  We did the touristy things including two great museums (I have become quite a museum groupie) and a day hiking on Rangitoto Island which also got us a cruise in the harbour. A bit of retail therapy and one last parcel mail completed our time.

Maritime museum.  Traditional Maori screen - thin pieces of
wood (or sometimes harakeke, flax) that are stitched together
with decorative colours of plant fiber.

Hey, if you are a maritime museum, it makes sense to use
knots traditional material to hold walls or shelves together

Display on immigrants - this doll could be a
relative of my Ruthie.

Everywhere iin New Zealand you will find the silver fern
motif.  This one is on the hull of Black Magic, the New Zealand
winner of the Americas Cup

A very well used carry on suitcase.  Mine is not quite
so well loved.

The next chapter in the "how to get a decent cup of coffee".
Bought this at Bivouac from a fellow from Quebec.  Lots of the retail people
here are on working visas.

View of the harbour from our balcony.  Sky is
not too shabby at all.

Hiking on Rangitoto island - New Zealand's newest volcano
and right in the Auckland harbour.  It was raining all day -
possibly the only day in the last ten months where weather
dampened our enjoyment of the outdoors.

Outside one of the baches on the island.  What I found fascinating
is how great ideas travel the world - creating a mosaic of broken
crockery has been happening for centuries and we
saw examples through out Asia.

Auckland Museum - any place that has a working
treehouse in the gallery on toys has got to be
fantastic.  It was.

Another sewing machine for my collection

Bark cloth from one of the Pacific Islands.  Patterns that
would have been familiar to 19th century quilters, but these
are drawn on whole cloth.

Tivaevae from the Cook Islands.  Missionaries
taught the designs but the islanders used local material (woven fibers)
and skills of hand embroidery.  And, unlike quilts, no lining because
who needs to keep warm.

Special exhibition hall had more WOW costumes.
These are going on international display and if I hear that it is
coming to Alberta, I'll be trying to get there.

I love the artist's statement

Inkling.  Each item was individually made as a foam "tattoo"
then attached to the costume.  Picture does not do

A famous painting from WW2, commemorating an
Australian medic.

And the New Zealand note that the model was actually a Kiwi.

Things I will remember about New Zealand

When we came into New Zealand, we were quite excited that our electronic chip in our passports allowed us to use “Smartgate” but sadly, that means I have no entry stamp to prove I’ve been here.  We just might decide to take the long way out of the country to at least have proof we left.
With a couple of exceptions, we have stayed at YHA hostels.  New Zealand has been operating hostels since the early days and they have it figured out.  We did a bit upscale in that we chose to pay for private ensuite rather than dorm rooms (hey, we are old travellers).  It was a great way to people watch and get to learn about other places.  YHA has, of course, a lot of young single travellers, but also folks who are settling in the area to work as well as former young single travellers (people our age who were hitchhiking around the world in the 1960’s and continue to see hostels as the way to travel) and even families (usually European, but sometimes Chinese or Japanese). I’ve gotten to depend on having a well designed commercial kitchen and fridge so that I can make meals if I wish and hostels also seem to be a great source of information and help. Will I stay in hostels again – absolutely – even though it is a bit more challenging in Canada.
I’ve found it fascinating to observe how New Zealand’s Maori are integrated into society as it compares to Canada and also Australia.  It’s Waitangi day tomorrow (February 6) which is expected to be one of those opportunities for demonstrations as well as celebrations.  New Zealand is a bilingual country (even the pakahe, whites, take Maori in school) and Maori take an active role in all aspects of society.
New Zealand TV (when we’ve been able to access it) has been an eye opener.  There is no New Zealand News channel – Al Jazeera seems to be common and CNN provides the Asia feed to New Zealand.  Last time we were here, we had access to Sky News (Australia) and to BBC.  It certainly helps to increase your awareness of bias in reporting.
I haven’t taken a lot of photos in New Zealand, not because it has been uninteresting, but rather because New Zealand has felt to so familiar to where we live in Canada.  The weather is similar, you hike in forests that smell of pine (because most forests are tree farms planted with radiate pine), and issues of the day seem so similar.  Yes, New Zealand has very little flat land and everything is either uphill or down, but it is also a former British colony established about the same time as white settlement in Alberta.  For these reasons, it has been a lovely comfortable visit for the last seven weeks and there is lots left to explore, but I need to do more exploring of my own home country now.

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