Day 8 and 9 – History, Culture and Giant Trees in the Northland

Day 8 was set to be a LONG day of driving, as I ventured from the beautiful Coromandel up through Auckland to the “Winterless North”.

I started by sharing breakfast with my lovely hosts, meeting a friend of theirs who stopped by to say hi (a common Kiwi occurrence), then I set out on my way.

I had a goal of making it through Auckland before 3 to hopefully avoid rush hour. The drive was pretty easy and thanks to some routing of Google Maps around a traffic incident, I made good time, and cleared through to Warkworth without much trouble, I stopped in Warkworth for a little stroll, snack, gas,  and bathroom break, and then I headed on my way. The only “scenic” stop I had planned for today was in Kawakawa – at some famous toilets, in fact.

The Hundertwasser Toilets are quite the famous road side attraction in the Bay of Islands – and the Hundertwasser inspired art style can be found throughout the region as a result.  The  Austrian-born artist found an anonymity and peace in New Zealand when he participated in an art show here in the 90s. He purchased a home outside of Kawakawa, and became involved in the local community. He offered a design to the local council, and the Hundertwasser public toilets were born.  Hundertwasser died unexpectedly in February 2000, and as a result the building is the only Hundertwasser structure in the Southern Hemisphere, and the last major project ever undertaken by the famous artist and designer. I have to say – they are the coolest public toilets I have ever been in! Interestingly, he engaged the local community in the construction, having students at the local secondary school create the clay tiles!

The influence can be seen as you stroll through Kawakawa as well.

I then drove on to my AirBnB – in a lovely peaceful location – and where I found I was renting from 2 lovely nuns. It was very interesting hearing their story and learning about their faith journey and how they ended up in the Northland.

Day 9 was a day for exploring – I started by heading to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where I learned and got to experience more about the history of New Zealand.

Touring the grounds was quite fascinating – as was looking at the differences in the carvings for each Maori tribe.

The weather was sunny and beautiful – I was indeed in the “winterless north”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The cultural performance was great – and we were allowed to video the outside part.

The volunteer definitely had an experience!

After Waitangi, I ventured into Pahia, grabbed lunch, then set out to my next destination, the long drive to Tane Mahuta – the largest living Kauri Tree in New Zealand – but I made a stop on the long drive out to admire the views of the Tasman Sea at the Arai-te-Uru Recreation Reserve.

After my quick stop, I went to Tane Mahuta – located in the Waipoua Kauri Forest Reserve. I entered the path entrance, where you clean your shoes to prevent Kauri Dieback – as these trees are very sensitive.

IMG_8634

I walked down the path, and was in sheer awe of the size of this tree – which almost sneaks up on you!

I had to use the panoramic shot to get the whole tree in the picture!

After walking around a bit more, I headed back to Kohukohu, excited for some new adventures tomorrow.

Advertisements

Day 7 – Exploring the Coromandel

Today I had an exciting day planned – bit I was a bit concerned that the weather would not be on my side. I started my morning by going just down the road to Captain Cook’s Landing site.

Then I headed to Hot Water Beach – this fascinating area where you dig a hot pool – on the beach – but only within about an hour of low tide. I got to the area early – went to the cafe to rent my shovel, then I headed out to the beach.

It was some seriously fantastic (airport and people of  Walmart caliber) people watching, as well as just a cool experience – although – I could have done without the folks who just decided they should strip down on the beach – I don’t get it!

It was a great way to start my day – but it looked as though the weather was not going to be on my side to get to Cathedral Cove – I was worried about walking down and getting caught in the storm, and most of the boat tours were cancelling left and right, and seeing as it was the off season – options were limited.

Realizing that Cathedral Cove might not happen, I moved on and went to check out Shakespeare’s Cliff (because Captain Cook did name everything he saw after something in England you know). This gave me great views of Cooke’s Beach and the scenery around me.

I still had tons of day to kill, so I decided to take the (very short) ferry across to Whitianga.

I walked around a bit, and decided I should probably grab a late lunch, as it was past 2:00. I settled into a little cafe, and ordered a grilled chicken pasta dish – then as I was at the table waiting, my phone rang – it was a tour guide operator, that heard I wanted to get on a tour (this is such a kiwi thing) – and he had a boat that had just left, but if I was interested would come back and get me to join the tour, if I could get there fast – I mean – guys – who does that?

So, I quickly found the server, and was just going to tell her I was leaving because something came up – and y’all – she tried to give me a refund – also – who does that? I refused to let her pay me – but she wasn’t going to let me leave without my order, so they packaged it really quick, and I ran across to the wharf to catch the boat – with my to go pasta in hand. It stayed sealed and amazingly enough dry on the seat during the amazing boat tour, and I enjoyed it even more after – as a lunch/dinner.

The boat tour was windy, cold and wet – but spectacular!

We toured the coastal features of Cook’s Bay, Mercury Bay and the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve – which is chock full of amazing coastal formations thanks to the constant movement of the Mighty South Pacific Ocean. We even had a pod of dolphins swim right beside our boat – truly an amazing experience. The captain was entertaining and shared history, amazing stories and humor with us, and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip – frequently forgetting about the cold rain and wind. We even got to go inside a blowhole cavern and a cave!

I took a ton of pictures, and even some video. I compiled the videos into a YouTube video, which you can see here – it includes the blowhole, the dolphins and the cave.

The cave was slightly terrifying getting out, because the sea swell came in pretty rapidly – a good reminder that the ocean, while beautiful, is not to be taken for granted.

The pictures from the boat tour show Cathedral Cove, Champagne Rock, the fish, and the rugged beautiful coastline – and as has been a regular occurrence for me here – a rainbow or two.

I went back home to my Air BnB, where I warmed up by the fire, and enjoyed a movie, laughs and great conversations with my Air BnB hosts!

It was not the day I had planned initially, but it was spectacular!

Matiu / Somes Island

Taking advantage of a sunny day, I finally made it out to Matui/Somes Island – which is the island that sits in the middle of Wellington Harbor. It was one of my Wellington must dos, and I had not made it out, and with my time winding down, knew this might be the last nice day for it, so I paused my writing flow, packed a picnic and set out to catch the ferry to the island.

You can learn more about the island here:

The island has a fascinating history, as it has served as a quarantine station, military outpost, interment camp and now wildlife refuge. The island gives the opportunity to discover nature by traveling along various tracks, and I ended up walking on each track on the island and extending my stay there because it was such a lovely day, and I was enjoying my tramp so much.

When you arrive on the island your first stop is the quarantine station, where you check your bag and shoes for bio-security risks. Once cleared, you are able to start exploring.

As I walked, I was immediatly greeting with stunning views of the harbor, Eastborne and Petone.

My first stop was the cemetery monument.

Between 1918 and 1920, Somes Island was used as a human quarantine station during the influenza pandemic, and many died on the island.

I trekked along from the Monument along Cable Bay to the lookout over Shag Rock. Birds, flowers, skinks and Tuataras were plentiful. I felt like I had the island to myself, as everyone else had headed to the visitors center first.

From the overlook I headed to the lighthouse, stopping to check out the Weta Hotel.

Those are some gargantuan insects!

Then I enjoyed the lighthouse, before beginning my trek to the Southern Lookout – I am pretty certain I took a million pictures – it was so pretty!

Here at the southern lookout, I realized that I was not going to have time to see everything I wanted unless I booked the later ferry back, so I called the company to secure my seat on the later boat, giving me more time to enjoy this peaceful oasis.

My next stop was the old WW2 gun emplacements, so I went up the “steep track”. Along the way I got the opportunity to observe the amazing fantail, which may be one of my favorite NZ birds.

Then, at the gate, I made an interesting observation about the weathering of the gate.

I wonder how many times those pieces of wood have been slammed together?

At the top, I explored the gun casings, and just genuinely enjoyed the views, pulling out my lunch for a stop at the picnic table.

I headed back down to the visitor area, where I explored the animal quarantine station, which felt an awful lot like animal prison – which, I guess, it was, in a way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After that it was down to the visitor center, where I learned about the other uses of the island, particularly its use as an internment camp during WW2 and the attempted escapes.

Next, I wandered back to the wharf, and with time to spare, checked out the old degaussing station, and listened to the stories of Meg Pilcher, (a fascinating lady!)then to the North Wharf before leaving the island and heading home.

I am so glad I had this beautiful weather to enjoy this amazing sanctuary!

Stewart Island

 

 

In an trip filled with amazing experiences, this is one journey that Fulbright has given me that is just spectacular and will be a standout of my trip. Stewart Island is a location that many Native New Zealanders have never visited (and it has a population of less than 400 people).  As part of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, you have access to funds for professional development. Initially my PD grant was applied for to attend the Energise 2017 Conference in Queenstown – which was a wonderful conference and opportunity. After I applied for the grant, I received word that I was invited to visit the school on Stewart Island, which I thought was an incredibly cool school – and really would give me that last missing piece of understanding New Zealand school structure, diversity and remoteness. Because of it’s remoteness, accessing Stewart Island is difficult (and rather expensive), so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it happen. I had some funds granted to me by my lovely Gamma Eta DKG sisters, which I was thinking would use to make this visit possible, then I realized that if I maximized my budget by staying in more affordable lodging (hostels and cheap AirBnBs), I could use those funds and amend my PD grant proposal and make both work, and visit all the remaining schools on my South Island potential visit list – so  I amended my Fulbright grant, and set to work piecing together this 3 week journey, which led me to the lovely, remote, and wild Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura . (Rakiura means “glowing skies” – possibly a Maori reference to the Aurora Australis, which is visible sometimes at this southerly location, although others say it is a reference to the spectacular sunrises and sunsets). The history and establishment of Stewart Island is really cool, and if you are interested, you can read more here.

There are 2 ways to access Stewart Island commercially. You must cross the often treacherous Foveaux Strait to get to the island. The two options are the Ferry from Bluff and Flight from Invercargill. I hoped to do the ferry one way and the flight the other, but wasn’t sure how cooperative the weather might be. I decided to take my chances, and book the Ferry over, and the Flight back, and just hoped for the best.

Monday morning I got up and walked over to the meeting point to catch my shuttle to the ferry.

I thought this was a pretty gorgeous view on my way through Invercargill.

The hotel where I met the driver had this cool picture, which I thought appropriate as I embarked on my journey to this beautiful place.

IMG_6455

The ferry ride was gorgeous and sunny and the seas were calm – I am so glad I took the ferry today!

Once we arrived in Oban, I met my lovely AirBnB host Raylene, and I cannot express how much I lucked up with her! We drove up to the house, dropped off my bags and then Raylene drove me back to the center of town so I could make my appointment with Dave at Raikura Jade. I had struggled with what my “souvenir” from my Fulbright experience would be – I am not one for cheesy touristy things, but I felt like I needed something to have as a memento from this experience – and had thought that a Pounamu, or Greenstone pendant might be a cool thing to get, however, I discovered that according to Maori tradition, you should not buy one for yourself – in fact, many backpackers and solo travelers will buy them for each other to get around this. By carving my own Pounamu gifted to me by Dave (he gives the stone for free for those that pay for the workshop), I was able to get this “taonga” or treasure as my memento of this amazing Fulbright experience.

The shape I carved was a toki, which is said to represent strength. You can learn more about the toki by listening here.

I started by picking my stone from the bowl of stone.

Once I picked my stone, Dave started teaching me how to begin to carve the Toki shape. I used lots of tools, and he was so patient with me – Dave was a wonderful teacher. (additional note, Dave worked on the Lord of the Rings, as a part of the team that created Faragorn Forest, and he later worked at Weta for other Jackson films).

After the basic bones of the toki shape were done it was time to smooth out the stone – I used 4 different grits of sandpaper, and then I had a lovely pendant shape. Dave instructed me to rub it in my skin, so that my own oil polished the stone, and the shine was amazing – it really brought out the colors in the stone. Next Dave helped me braid my lanyard for the necklace – we used a 4 strand braid – I was not very coordinated with it, but Dave was crazy patient with me, and he even let me film him doing the 4 handed braid on his own as he finished the strand – just look at how cool!

Then we took the pendant back, made the notch and the hole for the lanyard, tied the knots to make it adjustable, and voila – my beautiful, finished toki.

IMG_6463

What a great thing to do!

My pendant complete, I headed across the town of Oban to Golden Bay where I enjoyed the view, the sunset and the peacefulness. I even had a lovely chat with a lady from the Department of Conservation who was waiting on some researchers to arrive on the ferry.

Tuesday was my first day in the school, and I had a lovely time getting to know the students and the school. After school, I walked back up to Raylene’s home, named Glendaruel and spent some time exploring her gardens. They are just lovely, and he backyard is full of the amazing bird life in New Zealand.

Tonight was the night of my Kiwi spotting tour, and the weather seemed to be cooperative. The kiwis however, were quite stubborn. But finally, after several walks around the area of Big Glory Bay- we spotted a lovely kiwi enjoying his dinner of grubs on the beach. I know the pictures are pretty horrible, but, hey – it is what it is. (and an added note – these are some big birds!)

 

Here is a video of the kiwi, and a video of the grubs that he was munching on.

Wednesday was another school day. Check out my commute for this week:

 

After school, I was still feeling a bit under the weather, I decided to stay in, and Raylene so graciously made some soup for me – have I mentioned how above and beyond she went (she also cooked us a lovely dinner of fish one night and we had a lovely chat about schools around the world)?

Check out the morning breakfast spread:

IMG_6519

The rest of the week was filled with school visits and enjoying Oban – I even got to teach the students programming – so it was a great school visit.

IMG_6522

One of the students even said I was their favorite visitor since Prince Harry stopped by the school – so I will take that as a complement!

Saturday morning I flew out on the very small plane – and now I am off to my next weekend adventure – Te Anau – to the Glowworm Caves and the one and only Milford Sound.

Dunedin and Taieri Gorge Railway

For Merry’s South Island Adventure Take 3, I started my adventure again in Dunedin.

I realized I had time after my flight to catch the Taieri Gorge Railway before I went to dinner with NZ Fulbrighter Simon and his family, so I booked the journey and headed to the Railway station – it is a gorgeous old building.

The journey through the Taieri Gorge was beautiful – It was a sunny, perfect day, and the ever changing landscape of the Otago region was highlighted in an amazing fashion along the gorge.

I got off the train at Wingatui, where I was met by Simon, and went to have a lovely dinner with he and his wife Sylvia, and their lovely girls. It was such an enjoyable evening.

The next day I went with Philipa and enjoyed hanging with her students and getting to experiment in her lab.

That evening, Philipa and Rachel and I had a lovely dinner at Emerson’s, then they gave me a tour of Dunedin by night – check out these views:

Friday, I spent the day with Rachel at school – it was so neat to spend the day with her (and I have no comment on the fire alarm) 🙂 – and her very awesome students.

After school, Rachel took me to pick up my rental car, which is the beginning of my next adventure, driving on the left and exploring the Catlins.

Last Day Exploring in Australia

So today (Saturday) was my last full day in Australia – and it was a full day, as I ventured outside of Cairns to Kuranda.

I had a fun day, and it was action packed!

But first, I will share with you my adventure on Friday – Friday I had no plans, the weather was gross – so I took the opportunity to do laundry (as dull as that is) and some paperwork I needed to knock out, as I have about a 24 hour turn around when I arrive back to Wellington before I leave for Dunedin and my road trip with the awesome Rachel to the Energise Conference in Queenstown. However, in teh late afternoon the showers had cleared a little bit, so I spent some time at the pool, then decided that I wanted to try something new for dinner, so I headed to the Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant to give it a try. I settled on the be sampi mebase bali (braised beef in coconut milk) – and it came with rice, pickled veggies and some sort of sprouts side dish that was spicy and good. It was delicious – and the portion was huge – I only finished about half before I was stuffed.

But anyway – back to today. I caught my shuttle at 7:30 and headed to the Railway Station to take the Scenic Railway to Kuranda.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so I spent some time exploring the railway station, museum and old cottage before boarding the train.

The construction of the railway was treacherous, and was completed with hand tools. . . Crazy!

The ride up was gorgeous.

The train stopped briefly at Barron Falls Station – with great overlooks:

Then we finished the journey and arrived in Kuranda.

Kuranda is small and super touristy – but I decided to hit up the 3 wildlife parks – starting with the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then, my next stop was the Bird Sanctuary – these birds were amazing – and very mischievous – you can see my friend (A Macaw) who decided to hang out and try and open the zippers on my backpack!