There is always so much to tell after a month gone by. I'll start with a series of unfortunate events. Well, three. New Zealand does not seem to have a lot of crime, with one exception being car theft. Unfortunately, Leanna's car is an example of this exception. The thieves became vandals when they couldn't get the car out of the driveway and doused it with so much ceiling paint, even in the ignition, that it was declared unsalvagable and written off. Car insurance is optional in NZ. As Canadians, this seems quite ludicrous and we both (thankfully) opted for car insurance allowing Leanna's car to be more easily replaced. This did change our travel plans for April somewhat, though. Events 2 and 3 involved flatmate changes. Leanna moved out of her OCD flatmate situation into a much hipper flat and Tallulah and I found a replacement for fun, but not fund, Tamati. The new flatmate, Brian, is still in the probation period.
The extra days of Easter weekend afforded us the opportunity to drive to the top of New Zealand. First, we headed up to the Bay of Islands. This is a group of 144 islands off the coast of Northeastern NZ. Leanna and I took a boat tour of the area. We zipped through the Hole in the Rock, an island with a giant tunnel through the middle carved out by the wind and water. A pod of 165 dolphins played in the wake of our boat as we whipped along. The presence of newborn baby dolphins meant we weren't able to jump out of the boat to swim with them.
The novelty of the day was boom netting. This involves hanging a giant net on the side of the boat which sits like a hammock with the middle in the water and the ends attached to outstretched limbs of the boat. Keen boom netters jump off the boat into the water and hold on to the boom net for dear life as the boat picks up speed. I tried various strategies: climbing towards the front and up the net caused rope burn but seemed to be the safest place. In the middle, my fingers and toes cramped up from holding on too tight and when the person in front of me lost her grip, her limps swung backwards and took me out. While I managed to hang on for one of the trips, my togs were not so fortunate. The back of the hammock is a doomed destination for both togs, grip, and getting taking out by others. We’re such tourists!
The next day we made it up to Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet in an awkward crashing of opposing waves. In the Māori tradition, the grounds are a sacred connection to the spirit world. Next stop, 90 Mile Beach, which is actually about 104km or 60 miles long. The hard packed sand can be used as road at low tide, however, even insured cars are not covered to drive on it. Many cars do get stuck as the tide comes in and suffer a salty demise as they get swallowed up by the surf. Even when we visited at low tide, we witnessed one car being towed out of trouble, though other vehicles were whizzing by.
Lots of trips to and through Auckland this month. June's surprise 30th birthday party was a smashing success, followed by another 2.8km ocean swim called King of the Bays. We earned our towels and swim caps and I'm pretty sure that Rosie the dog came in just a few minutes after we did.
As part of my work training, I spent two days this month learning about the Treaty of Waitangi. This document was signed by Māori chiefs in 1840 and essentially made New Zealand a British Colony. Unfortunately, the Māori version and the English version don't say and don't mean the same thing. This discrepancy and inconsistent implementation of the treaty continues to cause significant difficulty in all realms of life. Particularly in the North Island and in relation to property, but there are implications for health care delivery, too. There are some parallels with the plight of Native Canadians, though I was impressed by the NZ government's efforts to educate everyone about the significance of the treaty. Interestingly, NZ is considered "bi-cultural" to differentiate between the Māori and the Pākehā, which can make culturally sensitive decisions difficult as NZ is actually a very multi-cultural place with many immigrants and visitors from all parts of the world who have different cultural needs from Māori or Pākehā of European descent.
My lovely coworkers turned friends, Eleanor and Dee took me back to the Coromandel for a stunning tramp to the Pinnacles. Pinnacles form when magma fills the neck of the volcano and solidifies; they become visible once the volcano around the pinnacle erodes. The area had been heavily trafficked for logging Kauri trees and mining so the tramp was actually set up for horses. Canals were dug to send the giant logs (up to 5m in diameter) down the mountains and suspension bridges were in place for crossing the canals. Towards the top, the tramp changes from horizontal to vertical and trampers must use the ladders and do some bouldering to take in the climatic views. Unfortunately, clumsy Meg was out in full force. My feet stayed dry, but my camera took a dip in one of the canals. No pictures of this beautiful day or anything afterwards!
April 25 was ANZAC day. This stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corp and is similar to Remembrance day with a Kiwi-Aussie twist. There is a dawn ceremony and a morning ceremony, specifically marking the date the troops landed at Gallipoli, Turkey during World War I. The ceremonies took place on the beach in Mount Maunganui. Afterwards, those in uniform and civilians head to the pubs where the day is celebrated. Tallulah served in the Australian air force for a couple of years and has great stories of ANZAC days at home and in Iraq.
At the end of the month, Leanna and I rented a bach in Rotorua and did a stinky, wet 10K race. Rotorua reeks of sulphur and you never really get used to it because the smell seems to come in waves. After the run, we visited Hell's Gate, which was aptly named by George Bernard Shaw to describe a weirdly desolate, lonely, and eerie geothermal area with steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pools. Devil's cauldron was the mesmerising highlight, with a 'blub-blub' soundtrack to match the lava lamp like slow bubbling mud.
At Mitai, we partook in a hangi and learned about Māori traditions. A hangi is sort of like an underground BBQ where food is buried in the ground with hot rocks. Tamati used the word hangi to describe any BBQ or grill cooking he did at our flat. Traditionally (and sometimes presently), Māori men are seen with a fully tattooed face called Moko. Different parts of the tattoos were earned as skills are acquired in life. The tattoos are made by actually carving into the face then applying pigment into the incisions. We were spellbound by the Māori women playing the poi. These are tennis-ball sized balls on strings that were twirled around and made to hit one another rhythmically, as a simultaneous percussion instrument and dance. The result is visual awe and auditory intrigue, like a double or quadruple musical yo-yo. We rounded out the evening with glow worms and the clearest body of water I have ever seen - so clear, you couldn't see the water at all and wouldn't believed it was there save for the fish. It's amazing what 40 years of volcanic filtering can do.
While in Rotorua, Leanna I explored the Redwood Forest and Blue and Green Lakes, though both of the later two were actually blue. The smell of the trees and the views from the forest into the lakes caused my first real waves of homesickness. It felt so much like Ontario, except the palm trees interspersed in the pine trees.
Vegetarian fare: I've found veggie burgers to be few and far between. Vegetarian sausages are plentiful and come in all sorts of different flavours, but if you call them veggie dogs much confusion ensues. Did I mention "veggie" is spelled "vege"? In Northland, I tried a vegetarian burger at a dairy. Dairy = depanneur, variety store, etc. It was composed of a patty made solely of batter and topped with a pineapple ring, spicy mayonnaise, a beet, lettuce and tomato. Unusual and hopefully not repeated!
Other culinary differences: Girl guide cookies here stink. They're the plainest cookies ever - no vanilla/chocolate wars and no peppermint chocolate. Kiwi girl guides use the cookies for fundraising, but also to put around roasted mallows (read: marshmallows) and chocolate. Kiwis don't use the word s'mores, but they do think it's very funny!
SPEECH THERAPY UPDATE: Joint ENT-SLT clinic. The ENT described one patients ear as being "goopy as". Following the procedure, he beamed and said the ear was now "clean as." I'm still struggling with this phrasing.