Friday, January 20, 2012

Taranaki Peninsula to the North!

December 22nd – 28th
After our lovely walk to Taranaki Falls (see previous post for the 1st NZ installment) we wound our way (literally) over hill and dale on the Forgotten World Highway which we are still trying to forget. It looked like the shortest path between where we were and where we wanted to go, but it was a torturously slow, narrow, winding, pasture-filled road with a few good viewpoints.

Looking back on Ruapehu (2797 m) from one of the viewpoints.
Near the middle of this land of sheep and cows is the Republic of Whangamomona. Every place needs its schtich if they are going to get you to drop your coins there, and this one has a doozy.
The story goes that in 1989 the government was shifting boundaries and the small town of Whangamomona (population 105) would been moved to their rival rugby team’s area, so they declared themselves a Republic. For $5 you can get a passport from the Republic, or for just $1 you can get a stamp in your own passport.  Since I like to support the harmless wacko’s in the world, I now have a stamp!

Mindy in Whangamomona
Near the end of the longest 150 km of my life, we got a nice view of Mt. Taranaki.  This gorgeous stratovolcano forms the center of the Taranaki Peninsula on the west side of the North Island.

Mt. Taranaki
Lindsey had friends recommend the beach side campground at Oakura and we got a beautiful site right next to the beach.

Lindsey on the beach at Oakura.

Sunset at Oakura Campground
We took an evening stroll through the New Plymouth botanic garden, decked out in lights for the holidays, and then woke up to sunshine on the beach the next morning. The campground even came with a morning visit from friendly ducks.

Friendly and lame duck at Oakura
The following day took us on a hunt for the “Three Sisters”, rock formations off the coast north of the peninsula.  We finally got close to them, but slippery rocks sent me into the mud and we didn’t complete the low tide walk out to see them. We headed instead to Waitomo Caves where we took a tour that culminated in a silent boat ride to see glowworms. These interesting creatures cling to the cave ceiling and use light to attract prey. From our vantage gliding below, they were constellations of twinkling green.

We had a long drive ahead of us to get to the holiday house we rented for Christmas, so we drove close to Auckland, camped for the night, then got on the road early to the top end of the North Island. We made a potty stop in Kawakawa where there is the grooviest public restroom I’ve ever seen. Created by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, it features bright colors, wavy lines and a roof with wild grasses.  Hundertwasser, who has work in Japan and Europe as well, lived in a remote home here for the last 27 years of his life.

Hundertwasser Public Restroom in Kawakawa
We had booked our holiday house when we were with Rick and Nancy in Prague, becoming nervous that we wouldn’t find a place if we waited too long. The summer holiday in the southern hemisphere is from before Christmas to the end of January, so many New Zealanders are also traveling with their families then and the prime spots, especially along the beaches, fill up fast!

"Our" beach house is in the back left of photo
Most of the time at Cable Beach we looked like the picture below as we helped Lindsey with her hunt for tiny opercula. Opercula are the “trap doors” of snails that close when they tuck their soft parts back in. They are more resistant to weathering than other parts of the snail shell, so you find them midst the sand and other bits of broken shells along the beach. The opercula on Cable Beach were lovely, pearly and round, and we spent some time helping Lindsey with her collection.

Lindsey and Mindy and the great opercula hunt
We had a warm Christmas day walk on Mahinepua Peninsula and then enjoyed a lovely roast chicken dinner. Our first and last use of an oven since we’ve arrived!

Our Holiday Card for 2011!
The next day we drove to 90-mile beach.  The wind was blowing, and the sand was on the move, so we didn’t stay long. Instead we went to the Gumdiggers Museum and walked the winding trail between holes where the kauri gum workers, from the 1870’s to the 1920’s, had dug out the pitch from ancient buried kauri trees to sell for making varnish and linoleum. Kauri, almost as big as  redwoods, used to cover this area for 100,000 years, but is now rare. The Maori used a few for their dugout canoes, but the newer immigrants forested most of it for timber.  There are kauri reintroduction efforts now and we saw some young kauri growing amongst the ancient dead.

Gumdiggers washing kauri gum from

On the way back down the peninsula to Auckland, we visited the Waitangi Treaty grounds, where the most important document in NZ was first written, debated, and signed. The February 6, 1840 treaty established New Zealand as a nation, under British rule of course. It was translated into Maori and many (but not all) Maori leaders from around the country signed it. The treaty was interpreted differently by Maori and Pakeha (European settlers), and resulted in massive land loss by the Maori, some of which is now being returned.  The treaty still dominates national politics; it is a living document.

Traditional canoe (waka) of kauri, built for the centenary of the Waitangi Treaty
Our last adventure before Lindsey had to fly home was in Auckland! This was the adventure of finding a parking place for a 2.7 meter tall van in a big city.  None of the parking garages were tall enough so we wandered a bit before we could find on-street parking.  We went out for tapa’s and Lindsey went to a few of her favorite clothing stores, well-remembered from our Australia days.

Christmas in Auckland!
We stayed in the crummy little Kiwi Motel by the airport as Lindsey had an early flight home the next morning.  It was hard to say goodbye to our girl… We miss her!

No comments:

Post a Comment