I did not expect to swim during our stay in Cannon Beach, OR. The water is frigid, colder than the Pacific off Peru, and very nearly as cold as the water in our pond in Montana. Today, though, I was happy to wade, because it is unusually hot here. When my feet lost feeling from the cold, I retreated, feeling cooler.
It’s the third day of unexpected midsummer weather. The average high temperature this time of year is about 70o (21o), so we didn’t worry about not having air conditioning. Oops! Fortunately, our bedroom is on the main floor and stays cool, but we’ve got the doors and windows open, fan on, and it’s still pretty warm until after sunset.
Yesterday, the sky was reddish from the smoke of forest fires that’s blown to the coast, the sun a puny disk of orange. Other places, like a lot of California, are worse, as the forest fires are larger and closer to cities, but the smell of smoke hanging in the air, the film of gray on everything, and the heat are oppressive.
The entire west coast of the US is under a similar cloud this month, and it may get worse. Global warming is getting in our faces, and it’s not going anywhere until life changes or we die out. That’s a grim thought, but anyone who is looking out the window at an orange sky and red sun can understand where my gloom comes from. We keep ignoring the warming climate and now Los Angeles has hit 121o (49o). What will come next?
We succeeded in escaping the smoke by visiting Ft. Stevens State Park in Astoria, OR. The park covers most of the spit of land that extends along the Columbia River into the Pacific Ocean, the northwesternmost point of Oregon. The park has huge beaches, and even though there is an extensive construction project going on in one area, there is plenty of room for walking and birdwatching. We caught a glimpse of a coyote by the construction. I was able to take a photo while the animal reconsidered his route that was blocked by a chain-link fence.
Despite it being Labor Day, we passed only a handful of people. We found a scenario left behind by a previous visitor (below). There was a lot less smoke in the air than we found in Cannon Beach when we got home in the afternoon.
A car comes in handy once you decide to get out of town, as Charleston is surrounded by water, and though the beaches are beautiful, they are not close by. We’ve tried as many beaches as we could. Every one is an endless strip of white sandy beach unfurling as far as the eye can see in either direction. Much of this is illusion, as the beaches end at inlets that reach deep inland. Visiting two adjacent beaches can involve an hour’s drive or even longer. If we get tired of the view at one end of a beach, we make our way to the other end, a mile or two or three down the road.
Folly Beach is the closest beach south of Charleston. More than five miles separates Folly Beach County Park on the south from the far end of the road at the north end of the island. Halfway along is Folly Pier, a long fishing pier with a few shops and restaurants.
On the beach, we were fascinated by the evidence of nesting sea turtles. Most have hatched and wriggled their way into the water by now, but turtles nest all along the coast here. Nests are marked and monitored by the state and dedicated volunteers. This year some nests were damaged by hurricane Dorian, and the few that haven’t hatched yet may be storm casualties. We spoke to a volunteer who said there was a big uptick in the number of eggs and turtle hatchlings this year, just about 30 years after the protection program started. It takes about 30 years for a sea turtle to mature and begin to lay eggs on the beach where it was born. It looks like the efforts to protect sea turtles are just beginning to pay off. We can use some good news on the nature front.
To the south of Folly Beach is Kiawah Island, best known for its very large resort. Beyond that is Seabrook Island, then Edisto Beach.
There were a lot of shells on the beach at Edisto, and a lot of people beachcombing. We chatted with people who hunted for whelk shells after Hurricane Dorian passed through, a woman holding what looked like a wok spoon on a stick who was hunting for shark teeth, and people looking for shells, driftwood, or just looking. We were looking for beach glass, but didn’t find any. Jonathan turned up one piece this entire month. We occasionally found broken glass, but that’s a lot less interesting than nicely rounded glass pebbles. This may be a testament to the clean beaches of the region, but it gave us less to hunt for as we strolled. We decided that Edisto would be as far as we’d go from Charleston, as it took almost an hour and a half to get there. The next beaches to the south are beyond Beaufort.
On other days we drove north out of the city. Just over the bridge is the Mt. Pleasant Pier and Memorial Waterfront Park, tucked in under the dramatic harp-like spans of the Ravenel bridge. It’s a gorgeous setting with a view over Charleston. There’s fishing for those interested and a cafe and gift shop for everyone else. Paths wind through the gardens.
Beyond the park complex is Patriot’s Point, where you can visit a retired aircraft carrier. Nearby is Shem Creek park. We discovered the park accidentally, on our way somewhere else. There is a long boardwalk over fields of spartina grass, with egrets and herons. Boats are moored nearby and navigate the channel out to the ocean.
We continued on to Sullivan’s Island, another beach that extends about halfway down the length of the island, Sullivan’s Island in turn becomes Isle of Palms, with it’s own county park.
One difference we noticed between South Carolina and other places we’ve visited is that there is a lot of private beachfront. I don’t know what the law is, but gated resorts block access to large stretches of beach. You may be able to access these beaches on foot, but the walk would be a mile or more each way. Between mid-May and mid-September, the temperature can be over 80 (F.) and the humidity is often high. A long walk on the beach is not on my to-do list under those circumstances. We stuck to walks that started and ended in the county or local parks and never ran out of beach.
The next stop up the coast was Bull Island, part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. It takes a bit more effort to visit because you take a 30 minute ferry ride to get to the island. The boat captains are also naturalists and spend the trip out describing the island habitats and species. They have a collection of materials from the island, alligator skulls, dolphin bones, shells, even pottery from long-abandoned settlements.
Since the site is a federal property, the refuge status is taken seriously and there are no amenities after you pass restrooms not far from the ferry landing. It takes nearly an hour to walk across to the beach. It was a very hot day when we were out there, 90+, and humid, while the shady path to the beach was swarming with mosquitos. By the time you get to the beach, you have only a half hour until it is time to hike back to the ferry landing, or another four hours until the later ferry. If visitors want to walk to Boneyard Beach, it’s five miles each way. On the beach there are no picnic tables, trash cans, shade, and no rest rooms. Though we brought lots of food and water, we didn’t realize there wouldn’t be places to sit and no shade at all. It would have been a better visit on a cloudier or cooler day.
There is another way to visit Bull Island that we didn’t try. Go with a group. Once or twice a month, there are events specifically designed to get people out to the area of drowned trees called Boneyard Beach at sunrise. It’s a photographer’s delight, and a chance to see the beach early in the day. The ferry leaves the landing about and hour and a half before sunrise (five am these days). At the island, a truck with bench seats takes visitors the six miles or so to Boneyard Beach, arriving in time for sunrise. Since no trip is ever perfect, visitors are back on the mainland by 8 am, having little time to enjoy the beach beyond Boneyard once the sun is up, but there’s a lot less walking than the regular visit. The dawn photo here is by a new friend, Linda Miller, photographer and fellow birder. She liked the early visit a lot and got some wonderful photos.
The beaches of South Carolina take some time to get to, and require some preparation if you plan to stay more than an hour. Sunshade or umbrella, chairs, sunscreen, bug spray, swimming gear, picnic, and lots of water. Some beaches have changing rooms and outdoor showers, but others do not. The water is not clear, but it is as warm as the Caribbean. I loved being able to walk right into the ocean and stay in as long as I wanted. Since our visit was after Labor Day and the start of the school year, none of the beaches were crowded, but there were always people out enjoying the sun, sand, and waves.
Visiting the beach in South Carolina:
Take Sunscreen, Water, and Mosquito Repellent. If you forget, you will suffer.
Leave time to get to the beach and back. Roads are single lane, there is little opportunity to pass. Relax, what’s the rush?
Charleston has extremely heavy traffic at rush hour both morning and evening. It helps if you are going against traffic. You may need an extra half hour to get anywhere if you are going the same direction as commuters.
A year ago we visited Giant’s Causeway, a fantastic natural formation of basalt pillars in Northern Ireland. The rock’s regular shape is very intriguing, unique in all the world–except it isn’t unique. There is another formation of columnar basalt just like Giant’s Causeway at Fingal Head, near Tweed Heads, NSW. Once we heard about the rocks at Fingal Head, we had to visit.
The formations are identical in geological terms, formed by cooling volcanic rock. At Fingal Head the columns are larger and coarser, which makes them too heavy to be quarried and used for building. Columns at Giant’s Causeway were cut into blocks and used to build nearby Dunluce Castle.
This patch of distinctive basalt pillars is not as large as the version in Northern Ireland, but it had far fewer visitors on the day we were there.
When we visited Giant’s Causeway people were spread over the site like ants at a picnic.
There is a low spot separating Fingal Head from the shore. It was just past low tide, and as I considered crossing onto the heap of rock, a wave crashed into the low spot from both directions at the same time!
We spent quite a while looking at the sun on the rock formation, and doing some whale watching. There was a lot of spouting but not much jumping on this gorgeous sunny day.
We strolled the beach north of Fingal Head, where small boulders cover much of the beach and show that pieces of the rock columns break off and get rolled in the surf before piling up on land. In among the rocks we began to find beach glass, more than anywhere else we’ve been on the east coast of Australia. We picked our way along the water for quite a while, then had a picnic lunch overlooking the shore, where a dozen different kinds of birds swooped down to see whether we’d like to feed them some crumbs. We didn’t feed them, but got a good last look at interesting Australian birds, just about our last before we leave for New Zealand and home in a couple of days.
One week is barely long enough to get an introduction to a place like Adelaide. We did our best, visiting Hahndorf, walking around historic Port Adelaide, tasting wine in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, and visiting beaches, despite a bit of rain. The drought in South Australia is so bad that we can’t begrudge farmers what they need.
Our Airbnb in Sellicks Beach was a good outpost for exploration. We watched sunset from the second floor deck and listened to the flock of cockatoos twittering in the nearby pines.
We knew there was a lot of wine produced near Adelaide, but we had no idea how many wine regions are crammed into this relatively small area. We were very close to McLaren Vale, where we tasted wine at a couple of different places. We did the same in the Adelaide Hills, and of course, the Barossa Valley, perhaps the best-known of all. Some marvelous wine came to light. The more places we visited, the more suggestions we received about other wineries. So much wine, so little time!
We had some surprising wildlife encounters along the way. After looking for kangaroos and seeing a very few, we passed a field of them.
Even closer to home we passed a field of at least 1,000 Little Corella cockatoos. The birds were playing, fighting over sticks, all flocking together, waiting for the sunset (?).
We spent an afternoon in Hahndorf, a small town with many well-preserved stone houses. The area was started as a German Lutheran outpost and today is a lively tourist destination, full of shops and cafes. It makes a nice visit.
Historic Port Adelaide has a self-guided walking tour map that takes you past local stores and many large murals. I stopped to chat with a woman putting the finishing touches on hers. The community hosts muralists every two years and has just added another dozen in 2019. This area, so close to the downtown of Adelaide, makes me think of Fremantle. Port Adelaide may be the next hip community in South Australia. It looks up and coming, with lots of new housing and businesses opening.
On Saturday morning, we stopped at the Willunga Farmer’s Market, one of our favorites in all of Australia. The market had really lovely local produce. It’s not all food stalls and perfumed soap. When I commented to a woman about how much we enjoyed and appreciated the range of products, she told us the secret. Vendors are carefully vetted and get a stall based on a point system that rates whether all their products are local, whether their ingredients are local, foods made and cooked locally, with an effort to have everything that is sold there come from a maximum of 100 km away. The more local a product, the more likely the vendor is to get a space.
Willunga contrasted sharply with the other farmers market we visited. The Torrens Island market is a farmers market in an older sense of the word to my way of thinking. It’s a place where produce is sold at the end of the week (Saturday) and it consists of what is left over from wholesalers. We didn’t buy much, but the prices were about half what you’d pay at the grocery store, and much less than most farmers markets, as most have gotten very upscale in their pricing. Torrens Island is the opposite of boutique. It’s held on a scrap of raw land in an industrial zone that makes you happy to see other cars parked in the lot. Booths are stacks of crates, truck beds, and an occasional canopy. You can buy a coffee, but there are none of the food stalls that crowd out the merchandise at other markets. It’s a bare bones operation in a bare setting. Jonathan asked the people parked beside us what they planned to do with the crate of tiny potates they were loading into the trunk of their car. The man said, “We’ll eat some, give some away, and toss the rest. I couldn’t pass them up, they were only two dollars!”
Like all our other stops in Australia, there were gorgeous beaches. Sellicks Beach was our local, but we had a great visit to Port Elliot and to the beaches beyond on the barrier island at the mouth of the Murray River. We even saw a stubby lizard on the dunes.
With all our stops and strolls, I still feel there was a lot more to see and do in this area.
Chatting with the man next to me at last week’s concert, I heard about the Surf Capital of Australia–Torquay. We were told about the wonderful beaches and gorgeous coastal drive. Much as we enjoy Melbourne’s gigantic bay, we had wanted to get out to the ocean, and were convinced. My new friend admitted he was not unbiased, having grown up in Torquay. He lobbied for us to drive at least the portion of the Great Ocean Road from Torquay to Lorne. So we did.
What beautiful scenery, beaches, rocks, surfers! Torquay beach was full of surfers and surfing students, even on an overcast day. Shops focus on surf and swimming gear, surfboards and paddleboards are piled up on the sidewalk, strapped to the roof of cars and stuck into the sand.
After Torquay, we stopped at Bell’s Beach, famous for the climax scene in the film Point Break, despite the scene being filmed elsewhere. It’s a series of coves with waves of different sizes at different times depending on wind and weather. We asked a guy with a surfboard whether waves were larger on incoming or outgoing tide and it took him ten minutes to say, “It depends.” (With greater detail.)
None of our stops beyond Bell’s Beach were in the guidebook, despite being glorious beaches with shelving rock and sandy shores. Roadknight Point has eroded rock that looks like ancient ruins, another version of the Library at Ephesus. Or perhaps a pair of giant twins.
For sustenance, we stopped at the well-publicized Chocolaterie for ice cream. They have many unusual flavors and a parking lot big enough for thirty tour buses. We were happy to be there on a quiet afternoon. We stopped for the night in Lorne, a beach town with it’s own surf school. At dinner, the young Frenchman who waited on us is at the end of his two-year stay in Australia. He told us of his travels around Australia and recommended the Koala Cafe, “just a little further down the road.” The koalas and parrots in the trees there were irresistible to us. The next morning we agreed that we’d get to the Koala Cafe and then turn back. We did see one koala “in the wild” that was every bit as interesting as the caged koalas we’ve seen–asleep with its back to us. The parrots were a different story. Despite all the signs forbidding visitors to feed them, tour guides pulled out containers of bird seed and filled the hands of all their charges. We benefited from seeing King parrots and rosellas up close.
It would be easy to spend the next two weeks making our way along the remaining 350 kilometers of the Great Ocean Road.
More than fifty fires are burning in Tasmania. With the forecast for temperatures in the mid-90s on Friday, we decided to go to the east coast. It was a sunny morning, but when we opened the door of our house to load the car, we were shocked to find the breeze was already hot as midday in Tucson. The fire danger is high in our region north of Hobart though there were no fires burning near us. As we drove north and east, a red-edged smoky cloud filled our rearview mirror. We outran the cloud somewhere northeast of Campbelltown.
We made it to Binalong Beach, the southern end of the Bay of Fires, named after rocks that can appear flame-red in the setting sun–no burning involved. The beach is postcard perfect blue-green water. Waves crash against soft white sand. The outdoor temperature was over 100° at that point. Our sunglasses weren’t enough to keep us from squinting. We retreated to eat lunch indoors at Lichen, a very good restaurant overlooking the beach. We took our time in the heat but eventually had to leave and decided to go for a swim.
The white sand of Binalong Beach doesn’t get scorching hot the way darker sand does, and we scuffed through the sand in the blinding sun and superheated air until we had to get wet or shrivel up and blow away. The water was cool and refreshing, though the return walk to the car dried us thoroughly. Jonathan had double-checked to make sure we had an air-conditioned motel room, and it was a good thing, as initially we seem to have booked a room with broken AC. That being fixed in advance, we had a smooth arrival at Blue Seas Holiday Villas in Scamander. A week ago, we thought we’d go to Launceston for the weekend and found there were no rooms. It was MONA-FOMA, a massive art and music festival. We postponed our trip and opted for the east coast this weekend, not realizing that THIS weekend includes Australia Day, a major holiday, but we prevailed. The hotel was fine and the manager gave us good advice on where to eat, Fearless Freddie’s Cafe.
It was a good day to be on the road, at the beach, in air conditioned restaurants, and air conditioned motel rooms. The air was hot, the breeze was hot, everything we touched was hot. We have been in weather as hot as this in the US southwest, when the temperature edged up over 100 while we were doing archaeological field work. It’s still a pretty rare condition for us, though it sounds like we may experience more days like this during our coming month in Melbourne. Tasmania isn’t usually like this. It’s where mainlanders come to escape the heat–usually.
As peculiar as any aspect of our day in the fiery furnace was how quickly it ended. On islands the weather can change rapidly, but I’ve never felt the changes like Tasmania. With temperatures over 100 on Friday afternoon, the wind picked up, a front blew through, and Saturday was completely changed, with temperatures in the high 70s-lower 80s. I was the casualty of this change, with a bad headache most of the morning from the change in pressure. We spent the cooler day visiting spots along the shore between Scamander and Swansea, including a visit onto the Freycinet peninsula.
Sat. 6 pm. 65°
We didn’t make the walk to Wineglass Bay, 90 minutes each way up and down between the hills in this photo. “Everyone” goes to see Wineglass Bay, but there are many gorgeous beaches that don’t require such a hike. Even on one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year, beaches were uncrowded.
Late Saturday afternoon we arrived in Swansea. The day had cooled even further, the wind was up, and I was back in my hoodie and rain jacket to stay warm enough to take a walk along the shore. The cool spell was as brief as other weather phenomena and Sunday dawned bright and beautiful.
On on way back to Tea Tree on Sunday we stopped at Bolton’s Beach for a last dip, where we had only a couple of surfers for company. There are houses and a campground nearby, and it was glorious weather, yet we were the only people on the beach. We went home happy.
We landed in Hobart around 9 pm, after delays leaving Christchurch and Melbourne. Straight to the hotel and sleep, we woke up to a heat wave! Expecting cool weather similar to New Zealand, it was a bit of a shock when the temperature hit 90° (F.) by mid afternoon when we were settling in to our house in the middle of a vineyard. I was missing the coast already.
The next morning the forecast was for hot, hot weather and we headed for Seven-Mile Beach, just north of Hobart. Arriving midday, the sand was too hot to go barefoot, so we scuttled down to the tide line and took a long walk splashing in the shallows. Lots of people were on the beach under small tents or umbrellas and we strolled toward the end of the line. Not having a tent, we perched our bags on the edge of the sand and went for a dip. It was perfect, cool water and flat seas, barely a tiny wave to ride in on. We got out planning to find shade for a picnic, when a cloud covered the sun for a moment. We looked up and a long line of clouds were reaching across the sky. It would be overcast soon. A puff of wind came up as I dried myself, steadily increasing in speed. By the time I picked up my capris, the wind was blowing them sideways. We looked out at the water and it was covered in whitecaps. The temperature was already dropping. We were standing on the beach while a front passed through. We trudged back to the car against the now-strong wind and by the time we got there, the temperature dropped from 94° to 78° (F.).Now in a house where the TV works easily, we watched the news about the forest fires elsewhere in Tasmania, which explains the reddish tinge to the clouds. In the morning, the air was faintly misty and smelled of smoke. In another swerve, the following morning both the mist and scent of fire were gone because the wind changed direction. Welcome to Tasmania, land of changes.
The weather has settled a bit and resembles what I had expected, cool at night, warm at midday. The land is much drier than I expected, looking more like Italy or California than New Zealand. After our shocking intro, though, it’s just fine. Below is the view out our window.
My mental map of Christchurch is a triangle. The city center is near the top. The lower right corner is the Banks Peninsula, an ancient volcano that on the map looks like a huge pinwheel. The lower left corner is Lake Ellesmere, a very large, shallow lagoon that is barely connected to the sea through a gap in the dunes. The Pacific Ocean borders two sides of the triangle with one side (left) firmly part of the mainland.
My favorite place in central Christchurch was the Canterbury Museum. It has skeletons of extinct moas, and lots of maori artifacts. The museum is located on the corner of the Botanical Gardens, too, making it possible to visit to both places in one day.
Just outside the city center, right at the airport, is the International Antarctic Centre. I wasn’t sure it would be worth the price of admission, yet we had a great time and were there for at least two hours. There are excellent exhibits on what its like to spend a research season in Antarctica, the clothing, the housing, even an Arctic storm room that simulates a whiteout. The snow and ice covered room not really as cold as the Antarctic, but it’s very cold. You wear an extra expedition jacket over what you are already wearing, and boot covers. Later, we went for a ride in the tank-like vehicles they drive on the snow in Antarctica, including demonstrations of going up and down steep hills and leaning way over to one side. There are penguins, too, blue penguins swimming in a pool with an underwater window. It was a great visit, and I really liked seeing the US National Science Foundation Antarctic Center right across the street, even if there wasn’t an exhibit there. Christchurch is the departure point for all US researchers going to the US Antarctic base at McMurdo Sound, including some of my colleagues from Northern Illinois University. What an adventure that must be!
Out on the Banks Peninsula, Akaroa is a small town known for its brief reign as the French outpost in New Zealand. From Christchurch the drive is at least an hour and a half across two old volcanoes. You see the edge of the crater as you go over the hills to Little River, then across the crater to Akaroa. The town offers beaches, lunch, and shopping, an excellent vacation stop. We were there on a day with a cruise ship visit (!), which has the benefit that all the stores and restaurants are open, but the disadvantage that they are all full. We left town to look for a place to have a picnic, and ended up in a cove across from the moored cruise ship, watching tenders carry passengers back and forth, while people paddleboarded, jet skied, and kayaked around the bay. The water is cloudy in other parts of New Zealand from glacial dust and runoff that gives it a bright turquoise color. Akaroa is nowhere near the glaciers but the water has the same slightly cloudy bright blue color.
We explored the north edge of the Banks Peninsula in a separate trip around Governors Bay where the only person we met was a young woman at a family reunion nearby. She told us the name of this mountain in Maori.
Our visits to the third corner, Lake Ellesmere began coincidentally when we turned off the highway to look at shore birds. We ended up at Birdling’s Flat, a long pebbly stretch of beach. On our way out we stopped at a quirky rock shop and museum and found that many of the pebbles at Birdling’s Flat are agates. Once polished, there are all colors, and the shop/museum displayed thousands of polished stones.
On our final trip to Lake Ellesmere to look at birds, we ended up laughing and taking a selfie while slogging around in a muddy tidal flat. The promised birds…..they were all black swans, hundreds of them. (We’d already seen hundreds of black swans.)
The weather has been unusually rainy and cool, we hear, though since we didn’t know any better, we went out almost every day to visit a beach, or a winery. You could spend a lot of time touring the Marlborough wine region north of Christchurch, but we decided to leave that for another time. We had delicious wine at the wineries we did visit. In New Zealand, a tasting room is a “cellar door.”
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.
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.
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.
We have enjoyed every minute on the North Island. Off to the South!
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.
Church made from a single tree’s lumber
Looking through a hollow log.
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.