Thursday, March 21, 2019

Auckland to Muriwai Beach

Muriwai Beach is situated at the southern end of a 50-mile stretch of black-sand beach.
The black sand is caused by the iron content derived from the ancient volcanoes in the area, including the large "Kaipara Volcano" which was situated offshore from the Kaipara Heads, and erupted 23-16 million years ago.[4] The black sand is moved up the west coast of the North Island by longshore drift.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Travel Stars Align

Have you ever anticipated a travel day that already felt exhausting when you awoke at 6:45? Happily, today was the opposite of that. First we said goodbye to Great Barrier Island (and Dean and Kylie--it's a tiny, one-room airport) before 9 am.

Landed in Auckland at 10:30 in time for flat whites from the Airstream cafe.

 Rolled out our backpack breakfast, hard boiled eggs and peppers.

Had a most capable taxi driver to Selwyn's, where the Rover awaited us (he was away on work).

Pause to consider the bloom of a bee-infested pohutukawa, aka NZ's Christmas tree

We drove directly to Stag 4x4, randomly arriving precisely at noon as arranged. They would make sure everything was in top form and then get the warrant of fitness (WOF) folks over to give us our decal. 

Meantime, just a couple blocks away, our two other principal objectives lay side by side. Re-upping our AA (in the US AAA) membership and, at right, straightening out some online bank challenges at Bank of NZ.

Which this woman helped us with brilliantly. We also sent Kina Campers a deposit for the caravan we'll be traveling in starting March 28.

Back at Stagg, it was all good news. The Rover's running fine and we passed the WOF inspection. In 2017 we needed a part and spent a couple of lovely weeks in Auckland awaiting it. This time we gassed up and drove one-half kilometer to a hotel we'd scoped out, crashed out with cheese and figs, and made a coffee.

Art just said to me: I can't believe we got everything done today. We hope your day was as productive.

Happiness illustrated: origami animals made by a nice guy in a cafe on GBI

Monday, March 18, 2019

Windy Canyon, Harataonga + New Roadside Friends

Art invites you to walk with him, and like so many NZ tracks it's all smiles and innocence at the start.

Then the verticality comes into play. To reach the Windy Canyon lookout you climb many steps pretty much straight up and through the rock faces of Windy Canyon.


It's challenging to take in just how closely the cliffs hug the staircase.

But once you arrive at the top there are views like these. Overcast day (happily for us, not so happily for that nighttime star tour), so my pictures aren't sparkling, but it was breathtaking.

The loop walk at Harataonga Bay promised to be a bit more bucolic, but ended at the top of an extreme rise with us on all fours, struggling to move upward. You might be thinking: why do they do it? Occasionally we wonder too.

Kanuka trees create a sky puzzle.

We ended back where we started with a nice picnic under a welcoming giant.

Recognizing this map won't mean much, but to illustrate there are only a few roads on Aotea, many of them gravel, and thus we build in much time to get places, enjoy our visit, and then drive back. As a result, we've done quite a bit more transporting ourselves than expected.

Last night returning to Whangaparapara on gravel we came upon a rental car that had gone off the side of the road and was tilted nearly 45 degrees into the bush (luckily into the bush and not over a cliff). These metal roads often have deep deep ditches on their edges. The occupants were were fine, happily, if annoyed at having been pretty much run off the road by a truck coming fast toward them.

No cell service where we all were, so they loaded into our car and we drove to our little hamlet, where Kylie found a couple of generous kiwis with a tow strap on their truck to pull them out. 

We said goodbye, but then ran into Dean and Kylie a couple hours later at the lodge having dinner. Nicer San Diego-ans I doubt you could find.

Completing our table were the lovely Juliet and husband, from Hamilton, NZ. She regaled us with improbable but true stories of growing up with a father who liked to sail even though he had little experience doing it.

The Queen of Flat Whites regrets her less-than-scintillating recent blog posts. We've been tending to a lot of business for the next leg of our trip. Tomorrow we return to Auckland and pick up the Rover at Selwyn's. From there we'll have a quick check by the guys who worked on it last time and then it will have its WOF (warrant of fitness) inspection, essential before we hit the road north.

We deeply enjoyed our time here on off-the-grid Aotea, only sorry to have missed the night sky tour  due to a waxing moon and overcast skies. But we'll forever remember our first night gazing at the black velvet sky, filled with pulsing stars that looked like backlit diamonds.

NZ Herald Front Page March 18, 2019

Saturday, March 16, 2019

(Someone Else's) Dinner At Great Barrier Lodge

So much tromping around today I have no energy for reporting. Last night we walked a couple blocks to Great Barrier Lodge, where last week I tried to book a room, but sadly they were full. Still, it's a fine spot for a meal, sitting on their veranda overlooking Whangaparapara Harbor.

Maori lesson for today: "whanga" (pronounced FANGa) means bay, cove, or estuary.

I was wholly distracted when the server brought these guys their food--an enormous platter of fish prepared by the lodge kitchen. Naturally I asked if they'd caught it (yes) and what kind of fish it was (snapper). And being the generous-of-spirit kiwis they are, they offered me a piece, which was just as delectable as you might imagine.

Look at all that fish!

(Then, and not only because USians need to be on their best behavior these days, I bought them a round.)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Things You Hear At The Wharf

Yesterday we drove a few kilometers of metal (gravel) roads to the Okupu wharf before moving on to Whangaparapara and our new lodgings.

Perfect quiet at the wharf and a handful of friendly people.

"Can you explain to me how that man can be president?" one of them asked.

Wearing this t-shirt in NZ accomplishes several things. It gives permission to people who hear our USian accents to ask (unanswerable) questions. It tells them immediately where we stand politically. And it makes quite a few people laugh.

These two have been friends for 60+ years. They acted like longtime sisters, snarking at each other and laughing. The obvious question, though, wasn't about my shirt. It was truly: how about that accordion?
And like every other NZ story this one had a satisfying theme. The accordion woman and her husband, who live in the Channel Islands, were in NZ visiting her longtime friend and also their son, who had partly grown up here and recently returned to Great Barrier Island to build a small place on a parcel his parents had purchased many years ago. 

"He's lived with this dream for a long time," his mother the accordion woman said. And it was going well, the son and his girlfriend working on the house and he teaching at the wee school here in Okupu.

Did you travel with your accordion?, we inquired. Turns out no, but she'd got in touch with the Great Barrier Island social media page and asked if anyone had one to loan during her visit. And someone did (!). At 2 pm yesterday she was giving a concert via the island FM station. "Probably just one old guy and his dog will listen," said she.

There was nothing to do but ask for our own concert. On a sunny, breezy day that would end in devastating tragedy, the music was all the sweeter. (If you can't play video click here.)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called yesterday "one of New Zealand's darkest days...We were chosen for the very fact that we...represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not, and cannot, be shaken by this attack."

The Southern Poverty Law Center had this to say.  
The atrocity in New Zealand shows us, once again, that we’re dealing with an international terrorist movement linked by a dangerous white supremacist ideology that’s metastasizing in the echo chambers of internet chat rooms and on social media networks. This hatred is even being amplified by our own president, who speaks of an “invasion of our country.”

Cone of shame
Before moving on we waved to this man, ferrying out to his larger boat. His dog seemed happy. The man explained that the cone was intended to resolve an eye-ear-nose infection and that this had been accomplished. 

"He should view it as the cone of shame," said the man, "but when I put the cone in the cupboard he sits there and whines until I put it back on. I think it makes him feel larger."

We're so happy to be here, each story a shard of gold.

Kindness from our host, directing us to the ripe figs on the tree behind our lodgings.

We found them. Peaches too...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Unspeakable Violence in Christchurch

Our adopted country mourns tonight. In tribute, here's a 2015 photo from the extraordinarily beautiful Christchurch Botanic Gardens.