Days 12 – 15 – Journeying from the North to the Center, then to the West

This post is more days than I initially planned for a few reasons. 1 – I was driving  – A LOT – from day 12 – day 15 I drove around 750 miles – on winding, curvy New Zealand roads – including a nasty accident laden rush hour in Auckland – I was in the city well before rush hour – but a nasty wreck caused me about 3 hours of sitting in traffic. 2 – due to some crazy winter weather some of my stops were shorter than planned, or didn’t happen at all – and 3 – with this post I will officially be caught up to today’s travels, which is pretty important because I fly home in a little under 3 1/2 days (but I don’t arrive in Atlanta for almost 5 days – the 19th will last something in excess of 40 hours for me – the thought makes my head hurt!)

Tuesday, July 11

On day 12 – I left Kohukohu, and the hospitality of the nuns – who I truly had an enjoyable time getting to know – they were fantastic hosts – and the location was serene and beautiful.

It had been too wet and rainy to really do laundry and expect it to dry for the next leg of my journey, so I decided to stop at a laundromat in Whangarei, and while I was there see if I could find a quilt shop for my Aunt who had sent me a request for some kiwi quilting supplies. I lucked out and found a laundromat where I could drop off my clothes, and a quilt shop as well.

In the quilt shop I found this cute table runner kit, that will fit in my suitcase, and hopefully will work for what Aunt Linda wants – they did have some really neat Kiwiana fabric – and it was a cool stop – and not one I would have typically made- but I am glad I did!

After the Quilt Shop, and while I was waiting on my laundry, I explored Whangarei a bit, and grabbed a little lunch. I found a Hundertwasser inspired sculpture – which is apparently the beginning of a museum they are working on in the Northland.

With that, I bid adieu to the lovely Northland, picked up my clothes from the Laundromat, and headed south – hoping to hit Auckland by 2:30. I actually hit Auckland by 3:00 – but the traffic was already abysmal – so I jammed out to Pandora on the parking lot that was the road I was travelling on.

Once (finally) clear of Auckland, I headed to my destination – a lovely little holiday park in Te Aroha. I checked in, and was shown to my lovely little cabin – and thankfully arrived in time to take advantage of the nice spa pool in the park – just what I needed after the LONG drive I had. It was a crystal clear night – and I loved just looking at the stars while I relaxed, and was even joined with some fellow American travelers, and we exchanged travel tips and destination ideas. All in all it was a lovely evening – and I could have stayed at the park much longer than the one night – I mean, how cute was my cabin?

Wednesday, July 12

The next day I got up and headed to planned stop 1 – Wairere Falls – I got about 5 minutes down the 2-hour long track when it started sleeting on me – and no matter how great my jacket and rain coat are – I am just not a fan of scrambling over icy rocks on a trail to see a waterfall, so I decided it wasn’t meant to be – and the group that was ahead of me did the same – when I was getting back in my car at the lot a couple came back out of the track and said that we made a good choice – the visibility at the falls was so bad you really couldn’t see anyway, and the rocks at the upper path were already frosty – yuck!

What I should have seen at the falls would have been the North Island’s tallest waterfall – which would have been cool, but I definitely think I made the right call.

My next stop, after several hours of driving was just to stop at a quick overlook – to see the Blue and Green lakes – two lakes beside one another that look different colors due to mineral deposits on their beds (the pictures don’t do the colors justice, by the way).

A few minutes from the 2 lakes, I arrived at my next destination, the Museum and Archeological Excavation site of Te Wairoa – a city that was buried by a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886.

The museum starts by taking you through the horrible events of that night, and then you are able to visit the excavation sites where they are still uncovering parts of the village. The amount of dirt and ash that buried the village is massive. The stroll through the land was beautiful, and it was easy to see why people had chosen to make their home here – in the shadow of Tarawera. They uncovered many interesting things – including a cellar full of some of the rarest and most expensive spirits of the day – as they were preparing for an event in town. Feel free to look through the pictures, but know that there are a few things that may need a trigger warning – the devastation, relics and stories are a startling reminder of the power of mother nature.

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My next stop was a quick one, just to check out some cool thermal activity on my way to Lake Taupo. At Waiotapu I saw natural hot springs, that people just pull off of the side of the road to take a dip in – I passed on the dipping myself – 1) because the water was kinda gross looking, and sulpher-y – and I didn’t want to smell like that for the rest of my drive (and the warning signs do little to help with the gross factor, btw), and 2 – there was a bus full of school children from some sort of school holiday camp in the stream – which certainly didn’t scream relaxation to me.

But, what was cool, was my next stop, the bubbling mud pools – they were fascinating!

When it starting spitting rain I decided to continue on – and head to my next stop, Huka Falls. Huka Falls was amazing – but it really didn’t fit my definition of “falls”, however it was a CRAZY fast moving river – one which generates a fair amount of hydroelectric power. In the summer they run a jet up the water – talk about a rush!

Then I journeyed on to Lake Taupo and checked into my Air BnB for the next 2 nights, explored Taupo and had dinner.

The cold had certainly arrived, and there was sleet and snow (at higher elevations) for most of the night, which meant that most everything was shut down the next day (including roads leading to the East, where the weather is just not pretty – I am so thankful that my next stop is West!).

Thursday – July 13

The weather also meant that my boat trip the Maori Rock Carvings on the Lake was cancelled, so I ended up with really nothing to do for the day. The only places really open in town were, oh darn, the Mineral Spas – so I looked online and scored a cheapo day pass for one of the spas and went for a nice soak. Not a bad plan B, if I do say so myself. The other thing this unexpected weather allowed me to do was get caught up on my blog, and finish my reapplication to continue as a part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts group – so I went ahead and knocked that out as well (which I needed to do, as it is, in fact, due this week!).

Friday – July 14th 

This morning my first stop was the wharf to see if the boat trip I was supposed to go on yesterday was a go for today, before I headed out of town. My expectations were low, because the weather wasn’t great – better than the previous day mind you, but still questionable. I also knew that unless others were booked they would not take out the boat just for me – not that I could blame them there.

It wasn’t looking great, but then a group of 5 called, and wanted to go out. That pushed us over the minimum and the captain said, let’s roll. Now – the weather cleared quite nicely on the boat, but there were some pretty crazy waves. Fortunately, I did not get sea sick, but the poor family of 5 was not as lucky – and I felt pretty bad for them.

The rock carvings were neat, though and I was glad I got to see them. Mind you these carvings are not ancient (but they are older than I am!) LOL!.

We also got to feed ducks off of the back of the boat – which was cool – even if they didn’t always just bite the cookie – I had one give me a nice beak-ing on my finger!

You can learn more about the history of the rock carvings here: http://www.greatlaketaupo.com/things-to-do/must-do/maorirockcarvings/history/

This video shows the boat movement during some of the worst motion – and I aimed high to spare you all from the vomiting people – but, I take no responsibility for your sea sickness if you choose to watch it. 😉

As soon as I was back on terra firma I set out for my next destination, New Plymouth. The drive was pretty easy, but unfortunately I was reminded of why you take out car rental insurance when a rock was kicked up at my windshield and gave me a nice crack. I am sure it will be fun dealing with the rental car company and the insurance process across the Pacific, since I return the rental car the day before I leave the country. Oh well – life goes on.

I stopped at the 3 sisters trail – unfortunately, the tide was too high to safely make it out to the rocks.

I made it to the West Coast in time to catch the sunset – so it was a great way to end the day.

My Air BnB for the night was quite cozy, and I watched a movie with my hosts before heading to bed.

Saturday July 15th

I slept in a little this morning, because I had a relatively short drive planned, and two little walks I wanted to do, but I was in no rush for the day.

My first walk for the day was the Potaema Walk to the swamp, which promised great views of Mt. Taranaki. I got to the trail head, and wasn’t even a few minutes down the trail when I reached a massive downed tree – the diameter of the tree was almost as tall as me (no short jokes needed, btw), and totally covered the path, with no safe way to go around, so I turned around, and when I got back to my car called the Department of Conservation to report the blocked trail. (and yes, that is snow. . . )

Moving on, I headed to my next stop in Egmont, the Dawson Falls Center, where there is a great track that not only gives stunning views of the Taranaki region, but also takes you through a Goblin Forest. However, that was also not to be, as I got to the road leading the last 6 KM to the trail head only to see the dreaded “Chains Required” sign. Since my rental car does not have chains (and honestly – this Southern Girl has no business driving on those roads chains or no chains) – I had to put this in the loss column. . .

But hey – check out this cool camper I saw on my way:

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At this point I was going to be several hours earlier than I had told my host for the night, so I sent her a message asking what the earliest I could check in would be – and she said she would be ready for me at 4:00 – so I headed on – taking a nice long coffee stop along the way – and then going ahead and knocking one of my plans for tomorrow off my list, this crazy underground elevator – built in 1919 as a commuter option for folks from Durie Hill to reach the City Center.

The elevator itself is accessed via a long underground tunnel.

Stepping on the elevator is a step back in time:

 

And it is a bumpy, shaky ride that shows the age of the elevator.

At the top, you can climb the spiral staircase and get some pretty amazing views:

After this, I was able to check into the Rose Cottage – what a great place to spend the next 2 nights, and I just love my host, Kay.

I will probably share more about Rose Cottage in tomorrow’s post.

And that my friends is all – I am caught up, and there are probably only a few (at most 3, probably 2?) more blog updates live for you from New Zealand – then I am back in the US!

I guess I need to start planning my next adventure! 🙂

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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”

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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.

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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.

Day 6 – Eastland to the Cormandel

I woke up this morning, and enjoyed the sights from my lodging – I mean, it might be basic, and have the “slippery stairs of death” but – check out these views:

It was a great way to start my morning.

I began my journey to the Cormandel with a little backtracking, because it was dark last night, I missed this church, which is apparently the most photographed church in New Zealand, and I think you can see why – such a gorgeous ocean front location. Also, Penguins nest under the church for protection – there is a pretty fantastic sermon illustration there for someone – Lisa? Elizabeth?

After touring the church, I hit the road – and stopped because these signs caught my eyes.

As you can see – the drive is scenic at every turn – just a beautiful landscape.

I stumbled upon an unexpected stop in the Nukuhou Salt Marsh. Prior to New Zealand I never would have considered myself a birder – but the bird life here is just amazing – and they fascinate me – It was a lovely walk – and peaceful respite from driving.

My next stop was a little bush tramp – and apparently I did not take many pictures – but I took a few at the gate.

It was a peaceful little spot – and you could just wander in the bush and get lose track of time.

After this, I drove through Mount Monganui –  and did get a glimpse of the mountain before carrying on.

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The rest of the drive was quite a bit more eventful than I would like, with an incident involving a semi, which caused a bit of a delay while things got situated – but I am quite thankful – no one was hurt, and the other driver was very apologetic – and everything was handled quickly and efficiently so that I could be on my way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit shaken, but I took a few minutes to regroup and then headed on my way to Cooke’s Beach – where I was greeted by some spectacular Air BnB hosts – and their dogs – who thought I was pretty cool, I must say. The highlight was the lovely clawfoot soaker tub – which was a stunning way to unwind after my tense drive and experience.

 

 

My Last Few Weeks in Wellington

So, my last few weeks in Wellington were quite exciting, but I was also super busy wrapping up my official Fulbright work. I spent so much time writing I just couldn’t bring myself to blog – so I am behind – but I have lots of fun stuff to share with you all – so this post will be pretty long. (and has lots of “different” stuff in it!)

Matariki Celebrations: 

I know I mentioned Matariki in my last post, as I was making the stars as a part of that celebration, and the festivities continued.

I went to a lovely event hosted by Te Papa focused on Matariki. It was the first time they had done this event, but they were laying down the tradition for years to come. You can see more here: https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/learn/matariki-maori-new-year/matariki-ritual

I really encourage you to watch the video – such a cool celebration of a new year and renewal.

Another really interesting cultural event I attended was Te Oro o ngā Whetū: The Echo of the Stars – a performance sponsored by the Chamber Orchestra of New Zealand, and featuring New Zealand String Quartet, ngātaonga puoro artist Alistair Fraser, Te Reo Māori performer and composer Ariana Tikao, and students from Virtuoso Strings Orchestra.

The music was hauntingly beautiful, and thanks to the use of taonga puoro (Traditional Maori Musical practices) was just a fascinating experience.

Here is a small snippet of what I was able to experience:

They also had some really neat Maori culture as TePapa played host to the Kaumātua Kapa Haka – an event featuring over 500 Maori Elders. It was beautiful – and if you want to really be moved, check it out – the diversity of the performers and the passion they have for this beautiful art is a experience to be had!

https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/learn/matariki-maori-new-year/matariki-festival-2017/matariki-festival-2017-highlights/watch

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Fulbright Work and Celebrations

As I mentioned, I have done lots of writing the past few weeks, and my Fulbright work is complete, with just a few logistics before I can share it on a broader scale, which is super exciting.

I did my final presentation on June 16th at Victoria University, and we had a Fulbright NZ Awards ceremony at Parliament on June 19th. It was a great celebration!

You can see more pictures here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/fulbrightnz/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10155657128310982 

General Wellington Fun

I did lots of exploring Wellington as well – nice breaks to clear my head and walk around were much needed! Some of these are quite random pictures, but they all tell the story of my Wellington experience, so check out the captions for more info!

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Gallipoli Exhibit

I have made several trips to TePapa, and love the museum, but had not been in the right place to do the Gallipoli exhibit justice on previous visits, so on a rainy afternoon I went across the street to experience this powerful exhibition, which was done by the team at Weta, and is called the “Scale of our War”. The exhibit features larger than life images of the war – made with stunning accuracy and detail. My pictures do not do the exhibit justice, fortunately they do have great images on their website. You can also learn more about the creation of the exhibit and the stories behind those rendered.

Images are below, but please be warned they are a bit graphic.

I also visited the “Quake Breaker” exhibit – which was fascinating to see how they stabilize a huge building like TePapa in an earthquake prone area.

There will be another blog post dedicated to Matui/Somes Island – I just couldn’t bring myself to crowd this one anymore.

 

Stars and a Stone

Sometimes you just end up where you need to be, which is what happened to me tonight.

It is the time of Matariki here in New Zealand, and as a result there are special events happening all over. (Matariki is the Maori name for the Pleiades. Marariki means “eyes of God” and when the cluster of stars twinkle low in the sky before dawn it is the time of Matariki, or the Maori New Year. If you want to know more about this fascinating celebration, I encourage you to check out more here) Ambitiously, I had placed a ton of events on my calendar of things I wanted to see, do and experience during this special time, but I did not factor in the fact that I was going to be firmly in final project compilation and writing mode during this time. Today was one of those days. I have my final project presentation for Fulbright New Zealand tomorrow afternoon, and was in quite the writing flow when my alarm went off reminding me that I wanted to go to the Star Weave Jam organized by the Maori Women’s Refuge. This event is a part of the One Million Stars to End Violence Project, which aims to weave one million stars by July 2017 to be used in an installation at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

I thought it sounded like a cool event, and weaving the stars would be a nice creative outlet.

However, when my alarm went off, I questioned it. I was in a writing flow, and was warm and cozy inside – and the Wellington wind was whipping away – not exactly an invitation to venture outside.

But there was something – a nudge, if you will – to go – so I laced up my shoes, grabbed my jacket and gloves, and set out on the nice quick stroll from my apartment to the Wellington Museum where the event was going to be held.

I settled in, watch the “how to make a star” video, and got some help from the volunteers, then made stars and chatted with the ladies that happened to be at my table – we had a positively delightful time – and even were treated to some fantastic storytelling by Tīramarama, a Maori storytelling duo. It was just a lovely way to spend the evening.

One of my table mates, Sonia,  and I particularly hit it off – we talked as we worked: about our travels, my Fulbright project and experience, my adjustment to New Zealand, her family and children, her new job and relocation to Wellington – really just a little bit of everything. She shared with me some stories from her Iwi (Maori Tribe) and Matariki. Before we knew it, it was time for the Museum to close, and we walked out together. As we were about to depart, she said “wait – I have something I want to give you”, and she placed a hard round stone in my hand. As she gave it to me she explained that it was an Aroha stone (Aroha means unconditional love in Maori). She shared with me that the Aroha stone is sacred to the Maori people (as are many stones) and that it is a special stone because it turns the energy around it into love, which is transmitted through the person it is gifted to. It is one of the few sacred stones that does not require special cleansing, because it is a cleansing stone on its own. She shared that she had been carrying it around for a few days – trying to figure out who to give it to, and that she was certain that the stone was seeking its home with me.   It was a special and very touching moment. We hugged one another goodbye, with plans to hopefully see each other at events this week, and I strolled home, the stone in my pocket.

When I got home I got the opportunity to look at the stone – what a gorgeous, colorful piece it is (and this picture doesn’t really do it justice). The pink and white colors are just striking.

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What a nice reminder to stop, be present, and savor the opportunity I have been given to be here in this amazing country, surrounded by lovely people and a beautiful culture, even as my time here is rapidly coming to a close.

Tuesday at TePapa

So, I knew I felt icky when I did the Parking Day adventure, but I tried to blame it on being tired from the bus. On Saturday, when I woke up with a fever, I couldn’t blame it on the bus anymore (well, maybe I caught it on the bus, but you know what I mean).

Looking out the window at the gross rainy Wellington day, it was not hard to determine what I would be doing for the day – I stayed in my PJs and pulled up Netflix – which thankfully worked in New Zealand – I wasn’t certain it was going to, and was so thankful when it pulled right up. I watched The Crown, which I had seen a few episodes of before I left the States, and really just spent the day relaxing, drinking hot tea and water and napping. I had a very sore throat, but nothing else – so I was pretty sure it was just a virus. Sunday I got up and while I had no fever, I still felt a bit icky – and the weather was still gross, so I decided that another day of relaxing was probably a good choice.

By Sunday night I was feeling much better, although I had lost my voice a bit.

Monday I worked at the Uni – emailing professors, teachers and other folks I wanted to make it out to visit, as well as doing some research in the library. It was a good, productive day after a lazy weekend.

Tuesday morning I spoke to my Reinhardt Session 2 class for the first time – I am excited about working with them this session. After my RU class I headed to the Wellington Library to meet with a secondary school design teacher who I am so excited to visit at her college in a few weeks.

After an exhilarating meeting and sharing of ideas, I headed over to Te Papa so that iI could see the Whiti Te Rā! The story of Ngāti Toa Rangatira exhibit before it closed on Friday. This exhibit told all about the history of Ngāti Toa Rangatira, the local iwi (tribe) in the Wellington region and the top of the South Island – it was fascinating. No pictures are allowed, but you can read more about it here on Te Papa’s website.

Most interestingly was the part talking about the Kapa Haka and the development of this, which has become a popular symbol of Maori culture, made famous by the NZ Rugby team, the All Blacks. Ka Mate is the traditional Haka, and recently the All Blacks have written their own. You can hear and see them both here, and read a little about the change here.

After I finished exploring the history of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira iwi, I ventured to teh very cool Te Papa Meeting house – Te Hono ki Hawaiki, called a modern Marae – it was stunning, artsy and beautiful. Check out the link above to learn more about the process.

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I still had about an hour before Te Papa closed, and decided that I would do the Bug Lab exhibit, which is one of the paid special exhibits. As luck would have it, I picked the perfect time to go, because after 5:00 in March they are offering $5 off of admission. I explored the world of bugs, checked out the handiwork of Weta Workshop and played a bit. Totally fun!

One of my favorite parts was this interactive exhibit that showed a pūtōrino and talked about how the different voices (child, male and female) are created depending on how it is played. It was fascinating. The picture of the pūtōrino is below, and below that, is a video of me pushing each button for you to hear the sound.

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If you are still interested in more, check out http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/interactive/42157/playing-the-putorino.

TePapa is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in Wellington.

Tomorrow I head to a primary school for what promises to be a fun and exciting day.