The days are getting shorter and shorter here in New Zealand, but none of the native trees are turning colour. In fact, things are getting greener as autumn brings the winter rain.
Tauranga has been experiencing some of its typical population turnover lately so I’ve attended far too many good-bye parties. As part of Kiwi culture, young people graduate from university, work for a few years to gain experience, then go overseas to make money and see the world. They call this an “OE”, which stands for overseas experience. Everyone thought I was on my OE when I moved here last year and didn't think making the trip was nearly as brave as I did.
Mount Maunganui-Tauranga happens to be a popular place to come between university and the OE. It’s a fun, stunning spot with lots of other young people and an amazing beach. Unfortunately, this means that it also lends itself to farewells. Thankfully, we were soon distracted from any sadness by more visiting Canadians.
Jack and I picked Sara and Andy up from the airport one sunny Auckland day and immediately proceeded Northward to Leigh. Over the next two days, we snorkelled at Ti Point and Goat Island where we were inundated with snapper, blue maomao, goatfish, parore, silver drummer and kelpfish. We hired gear from a great little aquatic museum/café nearby. Wetsuits are not becoming for anyone, but Sara and Andy take the prize for most walrus-like (cute walruses) in their bright blue ones.
As we drove down the nearly deserted road to Pikiri beach, we began to notice Mini Coopers. First one, then two, then a whole gaggle. As we closed in on the main beach area, we were stopped by Hollywood security. Caution: Film crew. As we walked toward the ocean, we encountered a beach that had been completely made over. NZ beaches are typically rather empty due to the high beach to person ratio. A small section of this beach looked more like the picture of a tropical resort, all dressed up with thatched roof umbrellas, bronze bodied sunbathers, and posing surfers. We scooted down to the non-filming section of the beach and splashed in the waves, hopefully out of the view of the cameras.
En route to Cape Reinga, we stayed at Aroha Island Bird Sanctuary where we learned about saving the Kiwi bird. We think we heard Kiwi birds when tramping on the South Island over Christmas, but we’re still holding out for a spotting. The nocturnal Kiwis seem to do a pretty good job hiding since a sighting eluded again, even at their own sanctuary.
After visiting the gusty, most northern tip of NZ at Cape Reinga, we headed south again to Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes. We stopped off at Bushman Pete’s to pick up sand boards and get an introduction to sand surfing. There were sand dunes of various sizes spread out in all directions. The variety of heights allowed us to choose the level of difficulty, so we started with the bunny dune then made our way up to black diamond. On the smaller slopes, we surfed down, but as the slopes got steeper we changed our form and tackled the slopes face-first on our bellies, skeleton style. Some other unfortunate tourists did not benefit from the wisdom of Bushman Pete and found themselves tumbling down the hills like Wesley from the Princess Bride.
Though it is technically one of NZ’s Great Walks, the Wanganui River journey is unique because it does not involve any walking at all; just paddling. Sara and Andy made the journey in a Canadian canoe, which the Kiwis simply call a Canadian. Some of my friends here call me ‘the Canadian’, so I felt as though people were talking to me or about me the whole trip. Jack and I, and the rest of our party, took kayaks down the river. The Wanganui River is a fast moving river allowing us to easily cover 87 kilometres over three days. The water level on the river was low, which meant that we paddled through the middle of a valley between the towering cliffs above. The low water level exposed class 1 and 2 rapids, enough to cause many of the kayakers to spill. It turns out being in a Canadian was the safest option if you were looking to avoid a swim in the stinky river!
On the journey, we had the opportunity to sleep on a marae. A marae is a sacred Māori meeting place. No Māori were at the marae when we arrived, though maraes are routinely used for weddings, christenings, reunions and funerals. We took a reprieve from paddling to walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. The NZ government was being very proactive in 1917 and built the bridge so they could connect roads to it one day. Ninety-one years later, the bridge remains in the middle of the bush without any roads in sight.
Tongariro crossing was so amazing the first time, we thought we’d do it again with Sara, Andy and Katy-Belle. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. Instead, we explored the Taupō area. Mount Tauhara is a mountain surrounded by hills arranged in such a way that it look like the silhouette of a lady lying down on the horizon. Summiting the 1088m Mount Tauhara was quite a bit easier than our intended mission, though we were humbled by the men who ran past us and reached the top in half of our time as part of their training for the Taupō Ironman.
Craters of the Moon is a volcanic thermal area with boiling mud pools, steaming vents and craters. It’s always such a creepy feeling to be so close to the changeable portions of earth. To sooth our minds and our muscles, we ventured to the aptly named Spa Road, where we soaked in the natural hot springs that joined the cool Waikato River.
We were foiled again in a second unsuccessful try at Tongariro Crossing due to gale force winds and limited visibility. Instead, we tramped in the valley between Mount Ngauruahoe and Mount Ruapahu. Both giant mountains, measuring up at 2291m and 2797m, were completely occluded by the dense cloud. We tramped below and above Taranaki falls, then onto Lower and Upper Tama Lakes. Upper Tama Lakes had an intriguing rock shelter for lunching.
Other than that, we’ve been busy with swimming, biking, running, yoga and volleyball. My volleyball team bikes to the games together, biking by everyone's house until we've all been collected, forming an intimidating posse of beach volleyball-biker girls.
Work highlight of the month: One of my 84-year-old patient competed with the whole city to win the title of Rest Home Idol! Her family is very proud!