We left Picton on the ferry Awatere to enjoy another experience of gliding through the Marlborough Sounds. Its a journey one could repeat often, especially when the water is as quiet as it was for us.
The sea breathed gently as we approached Wellington. Again we were spared a traditional kiwi experience on the Cook Strait ferry crossing, based on pictures we have seen of high winds and rough swells, and stories we have been told. Graci said it was very calm and comforting to have been able to be on a ship and not be so afraid that she denied herself the chance to experience it.
Dear Christina and Bernard took us in again on absolutely no notice. Their warm hospitality and loving care was so very much valued. Graci feels a solid part of the fabric of Ant's family there. We cooked a bit while there, repaying their kindness the only way we could - with FOOD! And a standing invitation to Vermont, of course.
One day soon there will be the sound of Kiwi accents heard around the Northeast Kingdom, as nearly everyone we met were encouraged to come and be our guests in Vermont.
Falls in the Ureweras
Birdsong and rushing bubbling water, with a little sunlight reflecting off the rapids onto thick green foliage. The middle of nowhere.
We have had such a great time here that it would be so lovely to return the hospitality shown to us here in NZ.
After Wellington, the route took us north over the Rimutaka Range, then through the Wairarapa Plains. A highlight of this route was a visit to the National Wildlife Center at Mt Bruce. This Widlife Center and reserve contains rare and endangered birds, and some very old NZ native forest trees. One of these we marveled at was a Rimu that must have been over 500 years old.
Paua and Graci finally had their much awaited authentic KIWI experience. Graci fell in LOVE with the flightless feathery kiwis; they are much larger and more extraordinary than she had imagined. The kiwis were fossicking busily, their long beaks poking through the first few inches of soil in search of bugs and grubs. We also saw Kaka (large reddish parrots) enclosed in a big aviary, peering from us from above.
We were in time for eel feeding. The chocolate-velvet colour of these large eels is gorgeous. There are about thirty of the eels who hang around the bridge where food is dropped each day. “Nemo”, marked
by her missing pectoral fin, was a particularly lovely specimen.
Next was a breeze past Napier and Hastings, place of many orchards and earthquake memories, then Wairoa - where we had a fish-and-chips picnic by the river’s edge on our way into the Ureweras.
The Ureweras is a mountainous forested area, a National Park, and largest area of virgin bush in the North Island. This is the way the Maori experienced the bush, the way the first European settlers found it. It is a special, remote area, with a winding narrow dirt road for access.
We reached Lake Waikaremoana after dark, so the girls were left waiting until morning to see the peace of this lovely place. We woke with the sound of bird calls, and walked along the lake's edge to see it in the dawn, and experience the fog of early morning on the lake.
The entire experience was lovely, star studded at night and hushed and peaceful in the morning mist. Well, there was a little noise, in the form of territorial marshaling by a pair of Paradise Shelducks the next morning, attacking and chasing off other would-be homesteaders with squeals and honks
- fortunately they totally ignored the sightseeing bipeds passing by.
Anthony was very happy to have been able to share this memory with Graci and Paua and the girls marveled at yet another beautiful part of New Zealand. We left the campsite and continued for what seemed like ages through beautiful bush covered hills, seeing the lake from time to time, sometimes dark sea-green, sometimes quite blue.
On the way down from the 2000' high Lake Waikaremoana, we saw horse droppings for miles along the stony narrow road. At first, we thought that someone's animals escaped their paddock, but we soon came to the conclusion that these were feral horses, using the road to get from grassy spot to grassy spot, few of which seemed level enough for them to stand on.
We managed to get close enough to a filly, traveling with her mum, another female and a stallion, to feed her what was probably his first taste of apple. The adult horses were much more timid and wouldn't come close enough to the car to be fed, shying away when we tossed them an apple quarter.
Finally there was yet another twist in the
'highway', and that was the end of the bush. We were out onto plains and sealed roads, and the old native bush changed to farmland and exotic timber pine plantations.
Rotorua was our next stop, a place of much Maori Culture, and the smell of sulphur from the active thermal fields in this area. Hot steam rises from the roadside through vents from somewhere deep in the earth, and geysers can be seen in many places.
We went to OrakeiKorako, a place of varied activity that we had to reach via a jet-boat ride. Hot mud bubbled and steamed, and colourful silica terraces gave many opportunities for a picture. Ant had visited there as a child over 40 years before.
That night we all went on a Maori cultural experience, to a model village, to experience some of the traditional Maori customs and greetings, and to sample some of their food. Our driver 'Cheera' was a witty extrovert who kept us entertained from beginning to end. There was pretend paddling of our 'waka', and the election of a 'chief' to receive the greeting on behalf of us all. A waka is a Maori canoe, but of course
our waka was really a bus.
After the fun of “paddling”, we were greeting in formal style by nearly naked warriors, tongues out, spears flashing. We had a chance to see some crafts and some recreated village life, before it was time for the entertainment. We were treated to the haka, some poi dances and singing, and general good natured fun from these young people who were getting the chance to experience the practices of their ancestors. Both Graci and Paua enjoyed the hangi cooked food, which is prepared in an earth oven.
We had a chance to meet one of the founders of this Maori experience, Doug, and spent some time talking with him about what he had achieved. Paua had a special time as well, being continually mistaken for one of the native Maori people herself, as her appearance does so match theirs - until she speaks in good ole 'merican!
And then it was time to be returned to the city. Our driver encouraged us to sing, and some of us did, after a fashion. When inspiration failed her passengers, Cheera took up the challenge, and showed some of the fun that is so
much a part of the Maori people when she drove us ten times around the same roundabout while lustily singing 'Coming-Round-The-Mountain', much to the dismay of others waiting to pass that intersection while she filled it with our bus.
Next day it was time to return to Auckland, but we detoured somewhat to meet up with Yvonne, a friend of Ant's from his community-living days. We also stopped to peer down into the vast Waihi gold mine, and take a picture of what is really one huge hole! When this mine is so deep that further extraction of gold-bearing rock is impossible, it will be allowed to flood, and will eventually become a recreational lake for the people of Waihi.
A few more miles, and increasing numbers of cars and houses brought home the fact that we were back in the populated end of New Zealand - Auckland. We hadn't long left in this lovely country.
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