Finally...I've finished the last installment of our travel journal, for those of you who are still interested in reading it! It will be posted soon on our web site, with photos.
Oct. 23 through Tuesday Nov. 4
The North Island, New Zealand
We had had a wonderful time the night before with our hosts in Wellington (New Zealands capitol), Shirley and Nik. They are in the process of remodeling their house, so large chunks are unusable, but they had carved out a cozy suite for us and were terrifically hospitable, preparing a tasty dinner for us all. We all talked and talked and talked, nonstop it seemed. Emily mostly listened, but seemed interested. Colin and Nikolai, one year his senior, disappeared among the toys and set to playing immediately, and Priscilla, at nearly one year, investigated everyone and did what babies do, stole the scene whenever she could! We finally pried everyone away and into bed, then got up the next morning to begin again until Nikolai (unhappily) had to go to school and Nik to work.
I made some phone calls to book lodging at the next town we were going to, Napier, only to discover that between the Labor Day weekend and some special events in the Hawkes Bay area, there was nothing to be had, either there or in the surrounding towns. On the verge of changing our plans and giving Napier a miss, I decided to call Visitor Information, and they had a family house which had just become available, rather expensive, but they would come down in price if we would feed the cat, which of course we were happy to do.
That settled, we caught the bus to downtown Wellington to visit Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. This was a combination of some high-tech presentations of the past and future of New Zealand, and a variety of interesting and respectful presentations on natural history, Maori life and history, white colonization history, and various other things like the gowns of opera singer Kiri te Kanawa who is from New Zealand. It is a spacious and pleasant museum, and we found plenty to interest us.
Shirley and Priscilla met us for lunch, and we discovered the one drawback of the museum - it is not very near inexpensive eating places, and the places it has within it are 1) a coffee shop, 2) a cheap cafeteria, and 3) a very expensive and fancy place. We succeeded in finding a nice cafe in the nearby library, though, and on the way enjoyed some of the unique art around the city, including a huge silver globe formed of fern fronds which appears to float miraculously above a large plaza. Then we returned to the museum for more, and later had dinner out (we found restaurant row!) since Shirley had a potluck commitment at Nikolais school. The evening was a repeat of the previous one, with nonstop conversation about the differences and similarities between the US and NZ.
Fri. Oct. 24
We departed pretty early after another morning of conversation and play. We followed Shirleys directions to a nearby shoe store, since Colins South African shoes were deteriorating and we didnt think theyd last till we got back to the US. I found a nice pair for Colin, and also some new insoles for my own shoes, which had so little padding left that my feet were hurting every time I put them on. The insoles helped a lot.
The drive to Napier, through medium-high mountains (no snow-covered peaks) and coastal valleys, took somewhat longer than we had anticipated, so aside from one stop at a good Paua factory store, and for lunch, we pretty much went straight there. We stopped at the Visitor Info Center to pick up the key to the house we had rented, which turned out to be a very nice house in a pleasant neighborhood. It was older, but being remodeled (most done already, it looked like), and decorated imaginatively and eclectically, with an eggplant, lime, and tangerine color scheme in the kitchen and bathroom. There was a pool in the backyard, which it was too cold to use, and a gravel pit with trucks, which Colin immediately played with when we arrived. There were obviously several children in the family, so Colin had new books at bedtime, and (carefully) played with some of the boys toys. We were greeted by a pretty, sweet calico cat named Sneaky, who we enjoyed having around during our stay.
The town of Napier was pretty much leveled by earthquake and fire in the 30s, and was rebuilt in the Art Deco style, giving the downtown a very uniform look. This, and recommendations by several people, had made us want to visit. However, cold wet weather kept us from doing a whole lot. We spent Saturday morning staying warm in the nice house, and I worked on booking accommodations for our few remaining stops while Rich and the kids got groceries. In the afternoon I took the kids to the local aquarium while Rich stayed at the house and worked. The aquarium was small but interesting, with a couple of massive and beautiful Hawk Turtles being a highlight. There was also a display of Piranhas from the US, and a moving walkway through a tunnel display, where we watched fish being fed by scuba-geared divers.
After that we took a walk up the street to visit a Gypsy crafts fair, but the weather was turning bad again so we didnt stay long. I called Rich to come get us, and while we waited Colin played on an excellent adventure playground (we found a lot of very good playgrounds in New Zealand). This one had several play stations; Colins favorite was a hand-operated conveyor belt for carrying gravel up to a higher level of the play structure, only the gravel slid downwards about as fast as the conveyor could be cranked upwards, so it took quite a bit of teamwork and hard work to get much gravel up!
Sunday the weather was a little better, so we visited the downtown, looked at a lot of the impressive Art Deco buildings, and did a bit of shopping.
Mon. Oct. 27
We said goodbye to Sneaky, and drove off west through low, logged mountains to Lake Tapua where we got lunch. Then we visited nearby Huka Falls, which was actually more of a scenic white water rapids, and our first geothermal area, the Craters of the Moon. This was a very eerie place, full of wafting steam, bubbling mud pools, hissing vents, and several large craters. The ground was hot to the touch in many places, and signs warned not to leave the paths - not that we were tempted to! The plants were low and tough, some able to grow only under similar conditions, others simply flourishing in the warmth. Colin refused to go near the first crater, which was quite impressive with lots of steam vents, but he got braver later on and visited the others. We were glad the sulfur smell was not too strong here.
Then we proceeded into the heart of New Zealands geothermal area, Rotorua. Driving through the town we got a real nose full of sulfur, and were glad we had opted to stay well outside of town! After getting groceries we drove 20 min. south to Lake Tarawera, picked up the keys from the owners, Alison and Clark, and found ourselves with a lovely small, new, nicely-designed vacation home very near the lake. The setting was very tropical, with Tree Ferns all around the house, and forming a major component of the forest-covered hillside rising behind the house. (Here we discovered that the national emblem of NZ, the Silver Fern, is actually the Tree Fern - the older fronds develop a silver-white coating on the underside, very striking). There was a large pond and stream in the front yard, which Clark, a landscape designer, was gradually landscaping and guiding. There was also a canoe, which Emily was eager to take onto the lake.
Unfortunately Tuesday was very rainy, so we didnt get out on the lake that day, or do much else. We spent the morning on schoolwork (me printing out new assignments for Emily, her doing them), ran some errands in town, and took advantage of the nice kitchen to do some extra cooking for the next day or two. In the late afternoon it cleared up a bit, and we took a little walk down to the lake, where we discovered a family of Black Swans, which are quite common in NZ, and their little gray babies. There were also several ducks, lots of coots, and one lone Canada Goose.
Wednesday dawned pleasant and partly sunny, so we hurried off to visit one of the several main geothermal areas, the Wai-o-tapu Geothermal Wonderland. One of its chief claims to fame is the Lady geyser, which naturally erupts every 24-48 hours, but for the sake of visitors is induced to erupt every day promptly at 10:15. This is accomplished by pouring a bit of soap powder down the geysers maw, which breaks the surface tension of the hot water below. The attendant talks for several minutes while the geyser oozes gradually increasing amounts of soap bubbles, then clears out just before the real eruption, about 15 feet high and suitably noisy and impressive. It is not necessarily the best geyser in the area, but it is the only one you can be sure of seeing, and in fact was the only one we did see.
The rest of the area consists of a variety of geothermal attractions, including the primrose terraces, smaller versions of the huge, famed pink and white terraces that were a huge tourist attraction here before the 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera destroyed them, along with several villages. The yellowish sulphur deposits, in this case, are deposited over an area of shallowly-covered rock, and make quite a pretty terraced cliff.
There were bubbling pools with various colored encrustations, and one in which all the water was a vibrant acid-green; hissing steam vents; a large hot lake rimmed by bright orange underwater terraces; rather violently bubbling mud pools; and also peaceful stretches of bush where one could hardly imagine the forces stirring all around and beneath.
On our way back through Rotorua, we visited another oddity of a different sort - a Redwood grove! Yes, Coast Redwoods, from California, were planted here about 100 years ago, and have grown three times faster than normal. The growth rings on a 6 diameter, 96-year old specimen on display were extraordinarily widely spaced. Of course, that means much weaker wood, too. The walk through the grove was refreshingly normal and familiar, except for the exotic (to us) Tree Ferns which formed the understory of the forest.
At the end of the day we did what Emily had been eagerly awaiting, took the canoe that came with the house out on the lake. Colin didnt want to go at first, but gamely changed his mind, so we all piled in, with Emily and Rich rowing, and Colin and I in the center. The boat seemed very tippy to me, seated on the bottom, and Emily got tired very quickly, so soon we pulled into a shallow spot and switched places, after which things were a bit smoother. We had a nice trip around a small island, through reeds, and past flocks of various water birds, and Im happy to say my arms and shoulders didnt hurt from the unaccustomed exertion.
We spent a little time feeding the family of Black Swans and their adorable little chicks, then called it a day.
Thursday was another cloudy day. We went nearby to the Buried Village, a museum of one of the villages buried in the 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera. Some of the buildings have been excavated to their original foundations and hearths, and the original structures re-created over them. That part wasnt too interesting to Colin, but he did enjoy feeding the chickens which roamed about, one of which was so eager to be fed that it kept leaping up to waist height (on him) trying to get more food. There were also some lovely rainbow trout, which churned up the water quite excitingly when food was tossed in.
After viewing the museum, which contained excavated memorabilia, first-hand accounts and photos of the event, and local history, and touring the buildings, we took a side trail to a very fine waterfall; the stairs were very steep, but it was worth it.
It rained in the afternoon, so that was pretty much all of interest that we did.
Friday Oct. 31 (Halloween!) was another lovely bright day (they seemed to be alternating with the wet ones), but it was time for us to leave Rotorua. We took one last walk down to the lake and fed the swans (one baby which had been limping so badly it couldnt walk the night before seemed better now), then headed north for the Coromandel Peninsula, our last stop before Auckland and our departure from NZ. On the way we spied a castle perched on a hill in a small town, and since we were hungry we stopped to visit, and got a snack in the cafe. It was really a fake castle, built primarily to house a huge toy collection (which we didnt visit, having seen similar things before), but was impressive nonetheless, and Colin used his little camera to snap a picture of it, and a knight standing in the entry.
Later we visited a gold mine in Thames, having decided we didnt have time to drive out of our way to visit a huge open pit mine that promised to be very impressive, especially to 4-year old boys! The gold mine tour was very interesting, though, run now by dedicated volunteers who still hope for one more strike. We were the only ones there, and wandered around looking at interesting old equipment, then saw a demonstration of the battery stamper, an array of heavy pistons which crushes the gold-bearing rock to powder so the gold can be extracted by chemical means. They have gradually collected enough bits of gold that they are considering melting in all down into an ingot. Then we were led into one of the mine shafts, damp and drippy, and with model miners at work. The hill is riddled with old shafts, some going down incredible depths. Rediscovering them is like discovering natural caves, and about as dangerous. We also saw some small Cave Weta, a cricket-like insect endemic to New Zealand which can grow to enormous proportions, about 6 long.
Then we drove for about an hour up the coast, thick with bays, islands, mountains, and valleys, to the town of Coromandel. Our rental house this time was the best yet - three levels, wonderful views over the bay, gardens, good furniture, lots of space, all for about what we would pay for a standard hotel room in the US. New Zealanders really know how to do vacation houses!
Sat. Nov. 1
I am sitting in the upstairs lounge of the house we renting, just after sunrise. Picture windows on two sides look out into the tops of tree ferns, giant Impatiens shrubs, and other subtropical greenery. The third large picture window opens south, past the lush Passionflower vine which would like to grow right in, downhill over a similar vista of tree ferns, palms, gnarled conifers, and red flowering Coral tree, then across the bay which begins maybe 100 meters away, to the islands and hills beyond. The bay is pale silvery gray, still but not glassy, dotted with boats. The gently rolling hills and islands are darker gray, with the gray-green of grazed fields alternating with the near-black of shrubby areas, fading ridge after ridge into the misty purple of distance. A ridge of clouds creeps along their tops, with clear, pale blue-white sky above, portending a fine day. To the left, where the sun is rising, the cloud tops are beginning to glow with white and pink highlights as the sun touches them. There is no sound but birdcalls, mynahs, tui, sparrows, and others I dont know. The still bay has no sound of waves. It is a scene of total tranquility.
I want to live here, or somewhere like it, when we are able to buy property again! I hope it will be possible.
New Zealand is so rich in natural beauty, there are houses everywhere purpose-built to take advantage of it. We have been renting houses mostly at the lower end of the price spectrum, and they have still been terrific. We could barely rent a Motel 6 room in the US for what these houses cost. It is a wonderful way to travel with a family, and has been our primary mode of accommodation in all the countries we have visited. Unfortunately in the US, vacation houses are mostly very expensive, geared to people with lots of money, rather than the common family vacation option.
Later in the day, we had some of the best fun weve had on the whole trip. The day was sunny and warm, and after picking up some groceries in the town, we headed off to the Waiau Waterworks, a large rural property scattered with all sorts of whimsical and delightful contraptions, powered by water, human power, or both. The designer used mostly cast-off junk in building everything ranging from a huge water-powered clock, to a pair of bicycles mounted on a rotating ring so that each one in turn flew up into the air (Emily looked like the Wicked Witch of the West, furiously pedaling away on a flying bike), to Flying Foxes, which are horizontal rappel lines that wham the assembly youre seated in into a spring and tire contraption to absorb the energy. Needless to say the kids loved it, and Rich and I had a very good time too. The place was so full of clever ideas that it was very interesting and educational as well. There were also a number of large-scale ceramic sculptures, since the creator is a potter as well.
After a picnic lunch and some play time by and in the river that runs through the property and provides the power source, we drove up the road a ways to visit a lovely waterfall. By this time it was getting cloudy, and after wandering around Coromandel for a bit, we retired to our house for the afternoon. It began raining after the kids went to bed.
Sun. Nov. 2
Sunday morning it was mostly cloudy, but dry, so we headed off to another fun place, the Driving Creek Railway. This is another labor of love, built by another excessively-creative potter, a narrow-gauge railway that climbs by a series of switchbacks, tunnels, and trestles to the peak of a hill on the owners 60 acre property. The views from the top across the hills and water are glorious. The track is decorated along the way with glass-bottle retaining walls, or conversely, retaining walls built with bricks fashioned from clay mined on the property, and lots clay statues, tiles, and mosaics, many of them made by other potters who visit to work and learn.
The train was originally built to carry wood and clay down the mountain, and is now in a trust to continue after the owners death. There is a newly-built visitor center up at the top, which will soon serve sandwiches and tea (made fresh every Monday as the train guide informed us). This was the best train ride of the several we had on the entire trip!
Then since the weather was still good we visited a nearby garden, owned by a floristry teacher, now retired. It was a wonderful large, hilly garden, with many unusual plants, including a number of Australian Kangaroo Paws, and Sarracenia (Pitcher Plant) in bloom, which I had never seen before, though it is native to the southern US. The flowers are large and very unusual, outshining the foliage pitchers which are the usual highlight of the plants.
The garden and surrounding property are soon to be subdivided and sold off, and the gardener will move to another part of it to make a new, smaller garden.
Mon. Nov. 3
This was a rainy, dreary day for our farewell to the Coromandel Peninsula. As we headed south along the coast the clouds lifted for a bit, and we made a brief beach stop at some great tidepools, filled with shells, many baby crabs, starfish, tubeworms, Hermit crabs, etc. For indoor activities we visited a Butterfly house (the third one on the trip; we like them!), which was filled with the usual assortment of lovely tropical butterflies, as well as orchids, and some cute little quail-like birds. We also stopped at a huge warehouse full of mineral and stone displays, with fascinating rocks, crystals, and black-light displays. (A fair number of the rocks were from the Pacific Northwest). Colin got a little geode with crystals inside, and Rich got a blue marble-shaped rock as his one souvenir of New Zealand.
Then we headed on into the Aukland suburbs, to spend our one night there at a basic motel. That evening Rich got an e-mail offer of job in Corvallis, from a company he had been corresponding with!
Tues. Nov. 4
We could have tried to visit a museum or something in Aukland, but both Rich and Emily needed to do some clothing shopping - Rich for shirts for a job interview the next Monday in Corvallis, and Emily for school clothes, since she has virtually no winter clothes that will fit her. So we went to a nearby mall - the largest in New Zealand, about the size of Valley River Center in Eugene! I got Colins disposable camera film developed - he did a surprisingly good job for his first try at taking pictures. Rich found shirts and a belt, Emily found nothing, so we had lunch and killed time until it was time to go to the airport. The Aukland airport turned out to be very nice, with a huge childrens play area and lots of shopping. Emily found one shirt there, on which I used up the last of my NZ cash.
The flight to Fiji was 3 hours long, and uneventful except for seeing the sun set over the wide ocean. When we arrived at Nadi airport, the weather was tropically warm and humid, quite a change from New Zealands temperate climate. Since we were only going to be here for two nights, we had chosen a hotel right across the street from the very small airport we could have walked if we had wanted to (though no one did with our heavy backpacks. This proved to be a good choice the room was nicer than the resort room in Mauritius, and much cheaper.
Wed. Nov. 5
After perusing some flyers I picked up at the airport and hotel, we decided to go on a boat tour of a nearby small island. The kids spent awhile swimming in the freeform pool, then we caught a shuttle bus to the marina. The weather had started cloudy, but was getting sunny and quite hot (and humid) - we hoped we would actually be able to enjoy the trip!
The boat was fitted out with a nice set of sails, but seemed to use them only for some balance, if that, as the engine ran the whole 1-hour-plus trip out to the island. We had a nice view of the coast of Fiji and the highlands beyond, all softened and partly shrouded in clouds. Colin fell asleep partway there - he hadnt gotten near enough sleep the night before. The island, as we approached it, was, as many others, a beach-ringed tree covered islet, perhaps 600-800 feet long. The surrounding shallows didnt permit the boat to approach closely, so we disembarked into two smaller boats, and waded the last few feet from them - the water, of tropical warmness, was no shock at all to step into.
Available activities included swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and going out in a glass bottom boat to view the coral reef. And for Colin, just playing in the sand, which is mostly what he did, finding a good clamshell and a hollow fruit shell to be all the toys he needed. Emily and I swam, (we would have snorkeled, but they ran out of gear, and we decided not to later), Rich and Emily kayaked, and we all went on the glass bottom boat tour after lunch. The coral was much more varied and lovely than the Mauritian reef we had seen, but there were actually fewer fish. A gardener could do worse than copy a coral reef such as this in designing a garden; the variety of shapes, textures, and colors was wonderful, and this wasnt even a particularly special reef!
The weather had changed to mostly cloudy, which was good as it kept it from being too hot.
We were also entertained by Banded Rails - birds rather like small herons, which approached us quite closely when we were sitting still, apparently hoping for hand outs. As many as a dozen approached us at a time, the boldest coming within 2 feet. They were quite pretty, with speckled chests and chestnut eyestripes, and fun to watch.
By 3:30 we were back in the boat, ready to leave. We hadnt gone far, enjoying the warm breeze, when it began to rain, as it had done lightly already. Soon it was pouring buckets, and the crew quickly pulled down tarps around the central part of the boat, which kept most of the rain out. Rich had a great time standing out on the front of the boat getting soaked. The trip back seemed to take a long time, and the visibility got so poor that some of the crew went ahead in the small boats to make sure we didnt run into any reefs. By the time we got back to the hotel we were almost chilled, and hot showers and fresh clothes before dinner felt terrific.
The next day we were positively lethargic. The kids swam some, we took a bus into town, looked around (a nice enough town, but too many people trying to lure us into their stores), then went back to the hotel for lunch, then swam again, then napped. The day was cloudy, so it didnt get too hot. We had the room till 6, by which time we had showered and packed up. We checked out, had a very leisurely dinner at the restaurant, then headed over to the airport to check in for our 10:30 pm flight to LA. The flight was not fully booked, so the kind desk attendant blocked out a total of 10 seats for us - enough for everyone to stretch out and get at least a little sleep. The flight was uneventful, though sometime in the night we crossed both the equator and the International Date Line, thus traveling back in time a day and arriving in LA before we left Fiji
Postscript: March 5, 2004
We have been back in Oregon almost as long as we spent on our entire trip. I knew if I didnt finish this journal immediately upon returning, it would be a long time before I got back to it, and indeed that is what happened. So, briefly, I will fill you in on what has been happening.
We were actually able to move into our new house in time for my mother to come directly there from the hospital. Our realtor and the title company expedited every aspect of the closing, which occurred less than two weeks after our offer was accepted (amazingly fast!) I spent the intervening time helping my mother sort her household, and packing as much as possible, as well as re-packing our stuff (in retrospect, we would have been better off financially if we had rented a furnished house, but how were we to know?) We moved in on Friday, Dec. 19, and brought my mother back from the hospital the next day to a basically functional apartment, though we still needed to finish the doors between the two sections, install a stovetop, and some other things like that. We celebrated Christmas in our new house, and even had a tree, which the kids decorated (it would not have gotten done otherwise). A few days later, there was an unusually vigorous winter storm, with snow, ice, trees breaking up all over town (not here, fortunately), power outages, school closed for three days, the works. We were very thankful we had my mother here instead of in Sweet Home, which would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to get to.
The whirl of activity unpacking everything, fixing up various little things, shopping for needed furniture and other stuff, starting a vegetable garden outside on sunny days; and removing the remainder of the stuff from my mothers house, cleaning it, doing repairs, and getting it ready for sale is only now slowing down to the point where I have time to return to this journal and finish it. We are mostly settled in there is still a long to-do list, but it is less-urgent stuff, and mostly much less major than the sort of things we had to do at our last house to improve it the way we wanted it. I am beginning to think about how I will landscape and garden on this new ground; with nothing but a few old and stately Walnut trees, some fruit trees, a handful of conifers, and a few traditional shrubs (lilacs, forsythia, etc), and lots and lots of mowed lawn (or weeds), it is virtually a blank slate. Im thinking Low-maintenance, Natives, and Permaculture, mostly.
I wont say everything is perfect. It is a bit anticlimactic, after all our preparations to, if necessary, leave the Northwest entirely, to have returned so quickly and easily to something closely resembling our former lives. But it is not the same, of course. I miss my old garden, and we all, I think, miss our old neighborhood, with all its familiar faces and places. We are rather remote from Colins and Emilys friends, requiring much more planning and driving for play dates, and I hardly see my own friends at all. The area we are living in is not really a neighborhood, but several very different groupings of houses close to each other, with not too much likelihood of real community. But, all in all, we certainly have nothing to complain of. We had a wonderful trip, Rich is content in his job, my mother had recovered well from her surgery and is happy with her apartment, the house suits us well, and eventually we will have a beautiful garden here, too. This time, I think, life has handed us a bouquet of roses rather than lemons, and considering what we made out of the lemons of the previous year, what might we accomplish here?
Postscript: June 6, 2004 (Rich)
I have been dragging my heels in posting the final pages on the website. I guess I dont want to admit the trip is over.