Last week Loren and I had the milestone of traveling to our 7th continent and 50th+ country on our Journey. Now we have reached a round number of 200 consecutive weeks being away from our home. Something to recognize…
We were still in Auckland when this week began. One highlight was taking the speedy elevator ride up to the 51st floor of the Sky Tower late one afternoon for sunset, then we stayed to see the city lights come on.
We also had a lovely day with one of our friends who we had met on tour in Morocco. She picked us up with her adorable pug, and we spent the day going North – first to a Farmer’s Market in Matakana for a local fare lunch, then to a winery for a delicious glass of wine, tasting and a beer. The grounds include a beautiful setting for walking along a sculpture trail, somewhat similar to Arte Sella – Art in Nature that we visited near Caldonazzo, Italy. The difference here is there are a few “sound” sculptures, for example a delightful choral piece that felt like they were right there in the woods with us, and, a chorus of frogs near a pond.
Then our friend took us to Murawai – translates to Water’s end, to see the Gannet colony. While she walked her pug on the “wild west coast beach” as dogs are not allowed near these unique birds, Loren and I hiked up to see them.
We rejoined on the vast beach where the tide was out. Later on I had a painful lesson – just how much sunscreen and UV sunglasses really are mandatory. I had put sunscreen on my face and the back of my neck, but none on my arms or chest as has become my habit as we have traveled. That evening I was surprised to find that the skin on my arms and chest was burned, though we were only in the sun for a short time and in the late afternoon. The Ozone layer is actually the thinnest over New Zealand, so Loren and I now lather ourselves thoroughly when we will be in the sun.
The next day Loren and I took a ferry to Motutapu Island – means Sacred Island. We met our group of volunteers to help with some summertime nursery work for the Motutapu Restoration Trust. Loren and I only put in a half day of transplanting root bound flax seedlings, so that we could walk – excuse me, we have also learned that New Zealanders tramp on tracks. This is like the Nepali and the Americans who respectively trek and hike, on trails. Anyway, we tramped, to the summit of neighboring Rangitoto Island – means Lava Island, to see the crater left by the volcano. Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands are connected merely by a tiny bridge. Rangitoto is quite a new island, as the volcano only erupted 600 years ago. Still the crater has fully filled in with vegetation.
Like Nepal, New Zealand has some sub-tropic climate regions. But, unlike most places in the world, New Zealand does not have native critters. To protect their rare bird population, the Kiwi people try hard to eradicate the wild critters that have arrived with foreigners. The native birds used to have a single predator – a very large eagle that sadly is now extinct. The smaller birds’ instinct is to freeze from the eyes of the eagle, but that of course puts them in grave danger from critters. Further, the locals are extremely ecologically protective of their paradise. From immigration enforcing measures on arrival to the country, to shoe washing stations in a variety of places, they aim to protect the endangered Kauri – sounds like the name Cory, tree.
Now, Loren and I have picked up a budget car, a “Commuter Super Saver Toyota Vitz” model in Auckland. Before we left their garage, Loren had to manually manipulate the side mirror as the driver side interior controls did not work. The nice thing for driving on the “proper” side of the road with this scratched up, faded car was that it is an automatic, compared to in Ireland, England and South Africa where the cars were all manual transmission. However, as we entered the Harbour Bridge, said mirror actually fell from its mount! Fortunately, the rental agency has an office just north of the bridge. To our greater fortune, they had only one automatic car available – a shiny, large, Toyota Camry. It was a delight to drive the rest of the way in luxury, at the super saver price…
A word about driving here. New Zealanders are… strict, about their speeds. I am grateful that this second car not only has cruise control but a buzzer reminder should I exceed 100km, to keep within the maximum limit. Here is how it breaks down:
100km/h, which works out to 62.14 mph is the default on the motorway (highway)
50km/h, or 31.06 mph is the default for towns and cities
40km/h, 24.85 mph is for schools at marked times
30km/h, 18.64 through roadworks, and,
20km/h, 12.43 for a stopped school bus.
Another word I want to say is about the Maori language. So many places are called by the native names, but learning to pronounce them is a… challenge. We have mastered Whangarei – said Fan-yah-ray, but so many other names – many of which are even spelled similarly, are difficult for westerners and especially us to pick up.
We drove to Paihia – said pie-hee-ah, north of Auckland on the Bay of Islands. One day in Paihia we took a full day tramp, which included – literally, tramping, through rain forested land, as well as taking two ferry crossings as part of the mapped out visitor route.
While in the rain forest, we were thoroughly enchanted by the calls of the Tui bird, but could not manager to snap any photos of them. We also heard lots of cicada chirping alongside an interesting snapping sound. Fortunately the 50% chance of thunderstorms never materialized.
We have also seen many reminders that the Kiwi bird lives in New Zealand. As of yet we have not spotted any… however, they are nocturnal. Still, there are protective warnings to keep dogs on leads as dogs are often a threat to this unique bird. We have seen several Pukeko, or Australasian Swamp Hen. As our friend said, “They are everywhere!”
Next we are heading off by water taxi to tramp to Cape Brett Lighthouse where we will stay overnight.