Oamaru: Steampunk HQ

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We visited Oamaru to see the Victorian area of town. This turns out to be two streets of 19th century industrial buildings that are gradually being converted into businesses. There is still a lot of space for potential investors. It isn’t Victorian gingerbread houses, though, more like old bank buildings. Still, Oamaru is changing with the times.

On one corner of the Victorian precinct is something called Steampunk HQ, a place where gearheads with access to lots of old machinery went crazy. It was a fun, intriguing experience to see the dirigible, train climbing into the air, and see an extinct moa made of metal. There are finished areas, as well as a lot of work in progress. With a little suspension of disbelief you can have a great visit.

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The town seems to have gotten on board with the steam punk theme, as the large playground at the other end of the Victorian zone is populated with steampunk versions of the traditional slide, swing, etc. It looked like fun, and I even rode the mini-zipline. There is a hidden picture here, too, for my Chicago friends.

Stores in Oamaru carry steampunk paraphernalia, top hats, goggles, and there’s a creative woman who makes elaborate studded belts with attached suede half skirts that would look great over leather pants or whatever the well-dressed woman of steampunk wears. If you’re serious, the next festival is coming up at the end of May, 2019.

If you’re still be reading to find out what Steampunk is, my take is that it is a reimagining of the world if electronics had never been invented, and steam continued to be the most important power source in the world. Ever more sophisticated systems would run vehicles, industry, dirigibles of course, which rather than dying out, became an important means of transportation. There are lots of other versions, though I suggest reading “The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde, as a starting point that describes that world. Fortunately, it’s the first book in a series.

Should you already know what Steampunk is, and would like to suggest other definitions or important informative works, other than say, Dr. Who, please post a comment with your thoughts.

On the Edge of a Cliff at Shag Point

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Pulling up at our new house on Shag Point there wasn’t much to see. A thick screen of trees and bushes separates the house from the road. Enter the gate and it all changes. The house overlooks the ocean, with lovely small gardens tucked in on either side. Bushes, potted plants and sculpture are combined with short paths and hidden table and chairs to create intriguing spaces for sitting and looking out across the waves. We face northeast with a view up the coast and out over the Pacific, called the Canterbury Bight. Looking over the edge of the cliff, we spotted a spherical boulder eroding out of the shore, part of the deposits extending over 15 km from here to the opposite side of the bay. There the Moeraki Boulders are one of the tourist sites of this region. We have a few in our yard, along with a limestone bathing beauty hiding in the bushes.

Inside, the house is open plan with glass surrounding all the living areas. It makes the most of the sun and doors slide open if it gets too warm. A tiny wood stove builds up enough heat to take the chill off when there’s a drizzle at night or early in the day.

The spectacular view and glass walls brings the outdoors inside. It’s a stunning location. Our only problem may be leaving home to go anywhere. I did find the somewhat hidden path to the shore below us yesterday. I was just getting comfortable walking around on the rocks when a big “Whuff!” scared the wind out of me. A sea lion was resting a few yards away, and wasn’t interested in my company. I gave him/her their space and decided to visit another day when my breathing returns to normal.

North Island Highlights

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This week we moved from the North Island of New Zealand to the South. During the past month we walked on beaches, collected glass, shells, and driftwood, drank coffee at a wonderful local cafe, visited museums and wineries, strolled in parks and botanical gardens, climbed hills, and watched birds. Every day held vivid and memorable scenes. Rather than a list of where we were and what we did, here are some of my impressions.

The forest here is many shades of deep green, and dense. The first people to arrive here, both Maori and then European, must have felt an oppressive challenge. Not enough to arrive on shore, newcomers had to make a dent in that dark wall.

Despite vast changes in the landscape over time, nature remains a watchword to Kiwis (New Zealanders). It’s not all birdwatching.

Nature is a visible presence, even in the large cities. Seagulls complain as boats moored along city sidewalks rise and fall. Yet the people are equally important. We see personal statements, like the pink stump on Te Horo Beach.

In Te Horo Beach, the Bus Stop Cafe is the community center and general landmark, open Friday through Sunday. Kirstie’s famous jam and cream donuts seem to get a lot of neighbors out of bed on the weekend. Kirstie also sells hand made goods by local artisans. When I was at the eye doctor in Wellington, chatting about our stay in New Zealand and mentioned Te Horo, Dr. Long said, “Be sure and stop by the Bus Stop Cafe and say hello to Kirstie for me.” Turns out, Dr. Long spins and dyes wool that Kirstie carries. (And yes, she’s also an opthalmologist and retina specialist.) It’s a small country and everyone multitasks.

On a visit to Scorching Beach, Wellington, we saw a cafe with all-out abalone decoration.

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We admired the range of beaches. Some bloomed with flowers, others were covered with driftwood. Some were ready for surfers, and others were on estuaries that became vast tide flats during low tide. We found intriguing patterns and textures. Some beach finds  became part of the decor around our house.

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We found many things to like in the cities. Museums, botanical gardens, street life, and good restaurants. For us, the appeal of the coast and the bush far outweighs the allure of city life.

We gravitated to parks like Zealandia, or the Wellington Botanical Garden, where there were flowers and sculpture at every turn.

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We have enjoyed every minute on the North Island. Off to the South!

Kapiti Island

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We almost didn’t get there. I put off our reservation because the weather forecast was all rain–then the sun shone every day. We were finally scheduled to visit the island nature reserve two days before leaving the area–and our trip was cancelled to make some repairs to the boat. We rescheduled for the next day, before we were to fly to the South Island, and got on the last boat of the day (10 am) to Kapiti Island, one of the largest island reserves in New Zealand open to the public. On this island there are no mammals, all the invasive rats, possums, sheep, goats, and horses were removed between 1897, when it first became a park, and 1998, when the last possums were finally eradicated.

We boarded the boat after it was towed up onto the beach with a tractor. All loaded on land, the tractor towed us back into the water and we floated away. A new experience.

The absence of land mammals is crucial to survival of native New Zealand species like the little spotted kiwi that was moved to Kapiti and now is found nowhere else, and myriad bird species, along with reptiles. The native species only know how to hide by holding still and blending in, to hide from owls and hawks. Many build nests in holes in the ground or bushes. They are easy prey for any land animal that can sniff them out.

Birdsong was all around us when we got to Kapiti. After an orientation by a guide very knowledgeable about the range of birds, we were set loose. The sounds were unfamiliar and delightful, and we saw unusual birds before the orientation even ended when a weka wandered across the deck and peeked into the meeting room.

A feeder for the hihi, or stitchbird, one of New Zealand’s rarest birds, was described as one-third of the way up the trail to the top of the island, and we decided to try it. We had no intention of hiking to the top of the island (just over 1500 ft), as we were told most of the birds live in the lower levels. When the switchbacks started on the path, we should have known enough to turn back, but we kept thinking it would be just a little farther. When we asked people coming down, they’d say, “Not too far…”

By the time we staggered into the tiny clearing with the two nectar feeders, we were about to collapse. Imagining the return trip made it even worse. We’d climbed most of the 1500 feet. The latter two-thirds of the trip to the top appears to be walking the relatively level upper spine of the island. We’d inadvertently done just what we had planned not to!

We sat at the picnic table, eating lunch and watching the bird feeders, when a male stitchbird snuck into the feeder and then shot back out again. There was barely time to get a peek, but we managed. Another came by shortly afterward, ducking into the feeder through a small hole intended to keep other birds out, sipping some nectar and shooting out again. All that climbing, but at least we did see this rare  bird. Eventually, we set out down the hill, spotting other birds on the way, including parrots, parakeets, and a North Island robin rummaging in the undergrowth. (Robins are not red in New Zealand.)

Arriving at sea level with about an hour left before our return trip, we strolled the paths through wetlands and along the shore. We heard a slight noise behind us and turned around to find one of the other rare birds, the takahe, a giant red-nosed chicken. Not a chicken at all, it is a flightless bird native to New Zealand that looks like an overgrown version of a purple gallinule. Takahe are rare, and we thought we would not see one, yet there it was. It bobbed in and out of the trees beside the trail, a happy surprise.

When we first saw a purple gallinule in Europe, we were amazed. So purple! So red-beaked! In New Zealand, purple gallinules roam farm fields like stray poultry. We even saw one crossing the road with two fuzzy black chicks. We are having a lot of fun with birds, and good fortune, too. Part of this is because we are here during nesting season. We’ve seen brown-speckled blue eggs in the nests of black-backed gulls, and watched a pair of chicks of the endangered New Zealand dotterel follow their mother along the shore. Dotterell nests on public beaches are carefully fenced off and very clearly visible. Seeing the chicks was a bonus.

We ended up bobbing up and down on the water for a half hour waiting for the final two passengers to turn up. Though the guide says that this is rare, it seems unsurprising that twenty or more people let loose on the island and told to return at a specific time would always result in a couple of latecomers. With no pressing duties, we chatted with a Dutch woman who had also enjoyed the birds, and a young man and his mother who spotted the super-elusive kokako and heard its mournful call. The lost couple turned up and we sailed away. We can see Kapiti Island from our backyard in Te Horo beach, making our final night’s sunset more memorable than ever.NB: Only two of the bird photos are pictures I took (takahe and weka). The others are courtesy of people who post bird photos on the internet. Thank you to all of them!

Australian Tourist Visas

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Australia offers same-day, on-line free visas for stays up to 90 days. We wanted to stay for six months, and found the 600 visa, for stays up to a year. This takes longer and costs a minimum of $140. We decided to go for it. The complication seemed minor, your passport must be valid for six months after the end of your planned stay.  Jonathan’s passport was set to expire in February 2019, so he needed a new one before we could begin the visa application process, but he did not arrive in the US until Oct. 1.

On Oct. 2, he ordered a new passport with expedited delivery. I waited to file our visa paperwork until the new passport arrived on the 13th. I needed his new passport number. Since each application asks about your traveling companions, it seemed impractical to apply before we were both ready. Here’s what we did for the first step.

Quick Summary

A 600 visa allows you to visit Australia for 6 to 12 months continuously. You may not work at all, or study for more than three months on this visa.

What you need:

You must get a (free to set up) Australian ImmiAccount https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/visa/immi

You can only apply for the Australian visa valid for six to twelve months from the ImmiAccount site.

Your US passport must be valid for at least six months after you plan to leave Australia, and you need a digital copy of your passport.

You must show income sufficient to support yourself.

You may not be planning a hospital stay or medical treatment.

A list of all countries outside your home base where you have spent more than three months continuously during the past five years.

There are other questions about whether you have applied for or hold a visa for Australia.

The on-line form is long but not difficult, and the questions are basic. How is your health, what are your finances, when do you plan to arrive and leave? It took a us a few minutes to fill in the page that asks you to name countries where you have spent more than three consecutive months annually going back five years, because we have traveled a lot, but the only place we’ve stayed more than three months continuously is Peru. I had to upload a photo of each of our passports. It was relatively painless apart from the $140 per person, though the fee can be higher. The immigration web page suggest that 80% of applications for this visa are processed within 20 days. I submitted the forms on Oct. 15 and late on Oct. 19, we each received a note requiring us to have a physical exam and chest xray because we have spent more than three months a year in Peru, a country with high risk of tuberculosis.

Really? The odds of either of us getting TB in Peru is around zero, as we don’t live in a rural area, or around animals, or where it is damp, or where our neighbors have TB. This was a bit of a setback because of the fine print. The exam must be done by a doctor that is empaneled by the Australian authority, a group called Emed. There are three offices in California, and a call to LA got us appointments at 11 am on Oct. 23. After the exam, the office uploads the results directly to the Australian immigration authority. We thought that would do it. The physical exam was cursory in the extreme and the chest xray was unnecessary. I’d asked the price and was told $125 a person. We got to the end of the process and were charged $325 each. The receptionist apologized for the “confusion,” and couldn’t think why we were misquoted the cost.

Still reeling a bit from sticker shock, we hoped that the process would move quickly, and sure enough, I received my visa four days later, via email. Jonathan did not. We waited over the weekend, and he finally received an email the following Monday, but the news was terrible! His chest xray showed some streaks of abnormality and he was required to see a specialist to have his xray assessed. Now we had two dilemmas, one worse than the next. Did Jonathan have a previously undiagnosed lung ailment? He does cough and has asthma. Next was the fact that we might not get visas to visit Australia. At this point it was Oct. 29, we were due to leave for New Zealand in two days, and it was impossible to get an appointment with a lung specialist before leaving the US. We decided to go ahead with our visit to New Zealand, find a doctor there, and connect with the Australian immigration system electronically. If we had to return to the US after two months, we would.

When we arrived in Auckland, Jonathan had to find a doctor affiliated with the Australian immigration system. Then he found that his xray couldn’t be transferred from Los Angeles, he’d need another. We went into Auckland where the doctor at the Emed clinic was very nice, but not qualified to write the needed opinion. He called around Auckland to try and get Jonathan an appointment with a lung specialist, but he couldn’t find anyone who would see him while we were there. We tried not to panic, and Jonathan began calling clinics in Wellington, to see whether he could get an appointment during the end of November. He did finally get an appointment for the day after we arrived in Wellington, and we waited for that day.

Jonathan went in for his new chest xray and then saw the specialist in Wellington. This took a bit more than an hour, and after all the tension of waiting for the appointment and getting to it, waiting, etc. and the additional cost, the results were truly surprising. The doctor couldn’t understand why the xray had been flagged. He described the “abnormalities” in the first report as trivial, and sat down and wrote a letter to that effect. He gave Jonathan a copy of his xray on his jump drive and promised to convey the xray and his results to the Emed office in Auckland that is our official contact point for the visa process.

Following up by phone on the Monday that followed, all the information was uploaded to the Australian visa system as promised. By Wednesday, Jonathan had his visa. Our six month visas shouldn’t have been such an irritation, and the extra exams and xrays ended up costing about $1000. It did all work out in the end.

Here we come Australia!

Rather than take the time to get a six-month visa, we could have flown to New Zealand and spent a month, then spent three months in Australia, another month in New Zealand and three more months in Australia. We could have done this for less than $1,000 (not flying business class).

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on Australian 600 visas, and I cannot guarantee the absolute accuracy of my description of the visa process for everyone. I am sharing my personal experience as a US citizen, presently located outside Australia. lf you plan to apply for a visa, double check everything at  https://www.australia.gov.au/information-and-services/immigration-and-visas

 

Wonders in Wellington

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Wellington is not a large city and though it is hilly, the downtown is along the water and easy to walk. Even driving on the left it wasn’t too difficult to navigate. We’ve always been able to find parking and figure out how to pay for it. There are about three coffee shops on each block and not a Starbucks among them (There are only two or three in all of New Zealand). Coffee is served strong, no need to ask for extra shots!

We’ve now been to Wellington twice–both great days. We had to begin with a day of doctor visits. Fortunately, the morning visit was shorter than expected (!) and we had time to visit the Zealandia nature park. It’s a green fold in the land just above Wellington center. I don’t know why it wasn’t developed, as there are suburbs all around. It’s about the size of Central Park in Manhattan and a section of the park is walled and fenced to keep out non-native species. In New Zealand, there are no native mammals, so everything from cats and dogs to opossums and stoats are predators. Native New Zealand animals, including kiwis, never learned to hide from ground predators. There’s even a ground-dwelling parrot in New Zealand. They’re all endangered. We saw tuataras sitting at mouth of their burrows. They look ordinary but are the only surviving descendant of an ancient line of reptiles. For an animal-centric view of this country, read “Notes from New Zealand: A Book of Travel and Natural History,” by Ed Kanze.

There are bird feeders at Zealandia, where we saw Kaka, one of the native parrots. These clever birds have to operate a handle to open their food dish, both to keep them engaged and to keep the other birds from stealing their food pellets.

The walk was lovely and not difficult. One area was closed off to protect the nest of a Takahe, an oversized purple gallinule that is only found in New Zealand (endemic). I overheard a staff member excitedly chatting with a visitor–the egg is due to hatch in a week! We get so excited about the little things.

Our second trip to Wellington was entirely by choice, focusing on the Maori collection at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, called Te Papa. The Maori exhibit was fascinating. The sculpture is highly detailed, it is a shame that photos aren’t permitted beyond the entrance. There were some massive canoes, all highly decorated, along with sculpture, clubs, and tools.

From the museum, we crossed the Sea to City Bridge, an art piece on its own, and window-shopped on Cuba St. This is a lively neighborhood of restaurants and shops. Around the corner, we bought a loaf of multi-grain sourdough bread at Leeds St. Bakery just before it closed, and finished with lunch at Florinda’s where Jonathan’s tuatua pasta (pasta with clams) was so delicious that we decided to go clamming the next day.

Our final stop on both trips was Evans Beach. I found a web site that shares places around the world where you can look for beach glass, and I looked up Wellington. Our beach in Te Horo has lots of driftwood but not much glass. Evans Beach in Wellington was said to have beach glass, so we made our way there. We didn’t find a beach, just a few rocky stretches connected by cement walls holding up the highway. We found a less-developed stretch where we could pull over, but most of the shore was rock. The tide was low, so I went down to look at a gravelly spot–and there I found a great spread of beach glass! Jonathan was surprised that I found anything. It was such a surprise that we made a return trip the second time we were in Wellington to return the larger pieces and pick up smaller ones that I can use in my jewelry-making. Wellington is truly a something-for-everyone place.

The Wellington waterfront from Te Papa.

Northland, New Zealand

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We wanted to see the far north of New Zealand. We didn’t get to Cape Reinga, the tip of a long finger of land that points north from the rest of the island, but we got to the knuckles, around Doubtless Bay. One long sandy bay after another stretches along the north end of New Zealand’s north island. We left our spot on the beach near the town of Mangonui to see Tokerau Bay farther along. When we got there, it was the same gorgeous sand beach stretching for miles.

Beachcombing turned up lot of interesting shells, though only a couple of pieces of beach glass. Fragments of mussels and pen shells have iridescent interiors that reflect the sun in stripes of blue, green, and purple. Jonathan found the live oysters growing on the rocks irresistible.

We stayed at the Old Oak hotel, built in 1861 as the Mangonui hotel, renovated many times, and lovely. The small downtown area of Mangonui has photos showing buildings that have been in place since the 1890s. The only difference between then and now is that the buggies have changed to cars.

One of our goals in Northland was to see Ninety-Mile Beach. It spans the entire west side of that northern finger of New Zealand. Vehicles can drive the length of the beach at low tide and it’s a popular tour. We didn’t really want to drive for two hours up and then back, so we went for a look, and saw marks of the wheelies on the sand–at the end of the tour? Jonathan found people clamming along the shore and wanted a bucket so he could take home his own clams, but we’re not going to be home to the stove for two days and that might not be good for either the clams or for us after eating them, so we watched enviously while they worked. I admired the work of the woman who was clamming with a bucket in one hand and her cane in the other. That’s spirit for you.

Our chief souvenir from 90 mile beach was a flat tire. We changed the tire in record time and when we stopped at a wood carving shop just down the road, a woman directed us a few hundred yards to Awanui Tires. According to the young man fixing tires (tyres), the Monday morning rush had just ended and we chatted while he fixed the hole. He held up a strange piece of metal, neither bolt nor screw, that made the hole. We shook our heads and thanked the two men. The entire process from flat to fix had cost us less than an hour. We understood most of what they said…..New Zealanders can speak their own language when they want to and tourists–we’re on our own.

Last stop in the north was Whangarei (Fhan-gar-ey) the only city north of Auckland. Highlights included the Town Basin area where there is a sculpture walk along the water and shops and galleries selling beautiful local crafts. Polished and carved wood and resin from the kauri tree, distinctive and now rare, was one of the highlights.

Among the sculptures in the downtown area of Whangarei is an unusual small building covered with colored tiles and mirror. This turns out to be a prototype of materials and forms to be used in the Hundertwasser Museum. Hundertwasser was an Austrian artist and architect who was captivated by New Zealand and moved here in 1975 and spent the rest of his life near Kawakawa, outside Whangarei. I became aware of Hundertwasser’s imaginative paintings when I was in college. He drew floating cities with forests for roofs, presaging green roofs by quite a few years. He turned to fanciful architecture, building structures in Europe that resemble the work of Antoni Gaudi. He designed public toilets for the town of Kawakawa, a project that proved to be his last. Now, after years of public debate and fundraising, the Hundertwasser museum is under construction in Whangarei, to open in 2020.

On our way out of town we visited the Quarry Arts Center where a number of artists have studios in a delightful tiny neighborhood filled with sculptures of all kinds..

We ended up at Kiwi North, SW of Whangarei, to see the kiwi. They live in a controlled environment that leads them to believe day is night so they will come out to eat. What funny birds! They look like the back half of a cat with a long beak in the front that they use to snuffle about in fallen leaves. When startled, they zip back into their cave-like nest. We watched them in the dark until a keeper brought out food. That drew them out into what little light there was. After eating, the pair scuttled back into their burrow and we went on.

Kiwi North is a central place for culture in Northland, including historic structures moved from elsewhere, a small museum, rotating exhibits, the kiwi, and a series of regional museum/clubs including medical equipment, old cars, rocks and minerals, and others. These are not open on any particular schedule, but the campus-style setting provides a place for aficionados of different things to have a clubhouse/museum. It looks like a good arrangement for all.

By this time, we had to make our way back to Piha. We packed a lot of looking around into a few days in Northland. There’s lots more to see–we missed the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa! That will have to wait for another time.

 

Auckland 2018

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We landed at the Auckland airport, picked up our rental car and made our way out of town as fast as we could. Having just gotten off a 12-hour flight, navigating to a new place, and driving on the left, I don’t remember much of the trip. My first real view of the city was also a shock. A few days after we arrived, we stopped at the Arataki Visitors Center in the center of the park that lies between us and Auckland. Terraces around the center provide spectacular views over the forest, a large reservoir, and in the distance, downtown Auckland! It was strange to be surrounded by dense forest and see skyscrapers of the central business district through my binoculars. It’s barely ten miles away.

We drove into the center of the city for a walk along the seafront and a visit to Victoria Park Market (much described by guidebooks), as well as stopping in to a clinic in our ongoing quest to get Jonathan’s visa to Australia (more on that another time). The waterfront is lined with boats of all kinds, sailboats from small to ocean-going, traditional to Americas Cup sleek, and motor craft from cigarette boats to trawlers. There are ferries across the bay and tour boats that circle the area for sightseers. Boating is popular for many reasons including the long coastline, huge bays, and the distance of the islands from anywhere else.

Downtown Auckland is growing fast, with construction cranes all across the skyline. New apartments are being built along the waterfront, as is a huge Hyatt hotel.

Away from the waterfront, Queen’s Street was the busiest area for shopping. We admired New Zealand jade, Maori wood carving, merino wool sweaters and every imaginable item painted with kiwi birds or sheep. We’ve been in New Zealand barely a week and we’re holding off making purchases other than postcards. In addition to the usual range of tourists, I did see some very fashionably dressed women. One wore an unusually cut jacket, the other a boldly patterned skirt, and both had interesting very-high-heeled shoes. Perhaps they were influenced by the windows at Chanel.

Since we arrived, the multicultural face of New Zealand has made itself clear. We were asked whether we were about to board a cruise ship, and met a couple from Minnesota who were about to do so. In the forest park, we chatted with a pair of young people from New Zealand and Australia who had Indian ancestors. They warned us about the strength of the sun and the need to stay hydrated. On the same trail, we met two young women from Auckland of European ancestry who had never been to the park before, despite it’s being within an hour of the city. The Thai restaurant where we ate lunch was staffed with Thai-New Zealanders. At a copy center, we chatted with a young New Zealander of Indian ancestry whose brothers and cousins live in Ohio and California. Even the grocery store showed multiculturalism, though it turns out that New Zealand Breakfast tea is earl gray with a different label.

Our only strike-out of the day was the Victoria Park Market. A series of restored structures on the edge of the park is intended to be a boutique covered market and restaurant zone, and perhaps it was, a few years ago. It is mentioned in guidebooks, but there is almost nothing there. For some reason, this development appears to be a flop.

The market was just a blip on our day. Auckland was bustling and colorful, with great people-watching on every block. It’s easy to think about living here, so close to the surf and the forest, yet in a lively city.

 

The Tasman Sea

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I never thought I’d look out at the ocean and think, “Wow, this is the Tasman Sea.” But here we are, looking at the Tasman Sea, the part of the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand, Australia, and Tasmania. This part of the ocean, along with Tasmania and other landmarks, are named after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who sailed by Tasmania, New Zealand, and Fiji in 1642-43, the first European to do so. Tasman saw the coast but he barely got off his ship due to rough seas.

Surf lifesaving season began on New Zealand Labour Day, Oct. 24, 2018 and continues until Easter.

Our week began with some of this same weather. The water is very shallow along Piha beach, and waves crash over and over as they come in. There is a constant roar of the surf, not the rhythmic boom-pause-boom-pause I am more accustomed to hearing.

On Sunday, we took a long walk down the beach. The sun was out, and there were people everywhere despite a stiff wind. We passed surf life-saving crews practicing zooming up and down the shore between waves, snatching pretend victims from the sea. There were nearly 100 kids in surf school, running in and out of the water, flopping in the shallows, and following their leader. By the time we got home I was chilled to the bone despite my sweatshirt, yet all those other people were frolicking in the water.

Less than a week in New Zealand and I am already eating the words of earlier pronouncements. Piha Beach, our home for two weeks, is a popular vacation spot, with RVs rolling in and out of the campground, weekend visitors, residents, everyone. There is a  Surf Lifesaving Club and a surf club. There are zones for dogs to roam, dogs on leashes, and dogs prohibited. With all these people, there is almost no trash.

I haven’t seen or heard about beach clean-up. Maybe New Zealand is just far enough from the rest of the world that most of the plastic doesn’t get here. So far, I’m pretty impressed. The beach is long and sandy and there is only a small amount of litter visible as you stroll along. How did that happen?

The coast is dramatic and beautiful. Our good luck was sealed by Jonathan’s finding a piece of beach glass on our first walk. It was late in the day and the sun turned everything silvery. The sun sets much later than we are used to, around 8 pm, and it’s getting later every day. We will visit as many beaches in this area as we can, but we will only scratch the surface of the many rocky headlands and coves.

Welcome to Piha, New Zealand

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Piha beach looking south.

Piha Beach looking north.

Strategizing about how to see as much of New Zealand as possible in two months resulted in our decision to move more frequently than usual. We’re spending two weeks in each of four places, starting with Piha beach outside Auckland and moving south to the Wellington area. In December, we’ll be outside Christchurch and then near Dunedin as we try to see a bit of both islands.

Our travel to Auckland was vastly improved by flying business class. We left Los Angeles an hour late because the trip was going to be too fast! New Zealand officials are as particular about aviation as everything else. Planes have a 30 minute window to arrive, 15 min either side of their scheduled time. Apparently the airlines are fined for non-compliance, and we were scheduled to fly for only 12 hours, not the usual 13.

Business class was worth the cost because we were able to eat something and then sleep–that being a euphemism for lying down with one’s eyes shut, earplugs in, and blanket pulled up, hoping for oblivion that doesn’t actually arrive. I watched Mamma Mia 2 (terrible but fun), then made myself sleep until 6 am Auckland time. Jonathan did something similar (different movies).

We arrived in pretty good shape, got our car and found our house in Piha. To get there we crossed the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. New Zealand’s cool, rainy weather produces incredibly dense, dark green vegetation that ranges from palm trees to pines and includes cycads. These look like a fern sitting on top of a palm trunk and they are the living descendants of plants that existed in the time of the dinosaurs, 200 million years ago.

Once across the hills, Piha is a beach community that consists of a strip of houses backed against the steep hillside, facing the ocean. Some are summer cottages, others dramatic contemporary homes. We have rented a beach cottage with broad glass windows facing the shore. It is a family home–lots of board games, puzzles and decks of cards.

Piha beach has a dramatic formation, Lion Rock, and a broad sandy beach that is popular for surfing. Between the two, the area appears in ads, TV shows and movies (The Piano was filmed nearby). Announcements of filming are circulated to residents and posted in the Piha Store, the only local business apart from the campground and surf school. I saw one that mentioned a one day ad shoot with a “small” crew of around 20 people. I hope they film something while we are here.