Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Subtropical North

I think what confuses me most about this hemisphere is that July is winter, Christmas falls in mid-Summer, and when you drive north the weather gets warmer. (And no, the toilet water doesn't swirl in the opposite direction, though that's at least partly because it doesn't swirl at all, it just kind of roils a bit and goes straight down.) This weekend was my last in New Zealand, and I spent it driving north, though not quite all the way north.

Daisy drove up from Auckland on Friday, about 9 hours door to door. Mallory flew in that evening, and we picked Noel up from the airport just before midnight. Three extra people is a lot for my little apartment, but nobody got stepped on overnight. We hit the road early Saturday morning. First stop was a market in Matakana, almost an hour out of Auckland. I got my usual apricot pastry at Pukeko Bakery (yup, they're here too), an arancini from the Sicilian stand, and a Thai sausage and pork satay for lunch in the forest later, and we split a sourdough and a kumara loaf (from Pukeko), a bag of apples, some brie, and a bottle of Lothlorian Vineyards sparkling feijoa wine for later. Kumara is a local sweet potato, and the bread was fantastic, baked with pumpkin seeds and a little manuka honey. Feijoa is a little green fruit that's popular around here and tastes kind of like guava. Then Noel and I took way too long buying carved bone earrings from another stall.

Tane Matua Ngahere
Continuing on from Matakana, we wound between forested hills covered in tree ferns and tall grasses. I love the tree ferns - they look prehistoric, so you almost expect a velociraptor to dart out from behind one. The goal was the Waipoua kauri forest, home to 2000-year-old kauri trees as big as redwoods. On the way we stopped at the Kauri Museum in Matakohe. The sign said it was "an excellent choice"; I would beg to differ. Unless of course you're into hundred-year-old power tools and creepy manaquins, in which case go to. But the cross-sections of the giant trunks were pretty impressive and they had a good collection of kauri amber in the basement. Another hour north, the trees themselves were legitimately huge. It's hard to tell from the pictures - it just doesn't capture the perspective - but they're gigantic, both in height and girth. The widest, called Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest), is 54 feet around, or about 8 1/2 feet across. Tane Mahuta, a few km diwn the road, is 170 feet tall. So yeah, really something.

Add that to my CV.
From there it was over to the east coast to Kerikeri Farm Hostel, an orange grove with a few rooms for rent in the farmhouse. It's the off-season, so all four bunks in the dorm were empty, and we took it over. The feijoa wine, leftover bread, and some avocados and cold cuts from the supermarket made dinner. In the morning we had fresh farm oranges and yellow kiwis for breakfast.

And then I got to play archaeologist for a day. Ten minutes' drive from the hostel is the Kororipo pa, a Maori earthworks on a hilltop. As part of her project Mallory had to take some measurements and gps readings around the pa, so the four of us were climbing in and out of muddy ditches with tape measures and string. Luckily it didn't start raining again until we were done.

My favorite marae carving.
After lunch we stopped by a chocolate factory, which was really more of a chocolate shop with some samples, and then started driving south again. An 20 minutes past Kerikeri is Waitangi, where they signed the treaty that established New Zealand as a country. I'm not sure it was worth the $25 entry fee, but the marae (Maori meeting house) had some fantastic carvings, and the views out over the Bay of Islands were great, despite the rain. This is another place I'd like to come back to in the summer - there's dolphins, orcas, and whales in the bay, and the diving's supposed to be great.

Another hour southwest we stopped by Whangerei, where the guidebook said there were some good glowworm caves and rock formations. So we hiked through the rain, downhill, past and then through some sheep pastures and into a forest. We found the caves (I think?), but by then is was nearly dusk and it looked like you'd need some serious equipment to get through there in one piece, so we headed into the rock forest instead. The rocks were indeed pretty cool, big boulders with all sorts of rivulets and things carved into them, ostensibly by aeons of water running over them. The whole scene looked like a collection of modern art sculptures scattered through the forest and covered in lichen. Bit of a slip 'n' slide walking around though, and by the time we made it out we were all wet to the knees and covered in mud. The car rental company must hate us for the tracks I'm sure we left. We stopped by a pub in downtown Whangerei for a cup of tea and some cheddar-bacon potato wedges and then hit the road for the two hours back to Auckland.

Also I'm watching the Olympics right now. We only get one of the channels that broadcasts it, and the picture quality's not quite what one might hope for, but nonetheless. The kiwis are rocking it in the rowing, and apparently this weekend they beat the US at field hockey. Go New Zealand!

Photos here.

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