Monday, January 31, 2011

Heading South

Up early this morning for the flight to Christchurch, easy and uneventful. Our hotel borders Hagley Park, an enormous greensward in the middle of the city, filled with trees much less exotic to our eye than those in Auckland. Oddly (to us), there are no squirrels among the trees, but lots of cicadas, at least this time of year. Can you hear them?

Here's one on the ground that paddled its legs feebly when I tried to pose it for its glamour shot.

We walked into the center of town and came upon the Christchurch Museum, where a very personable guide persuaded us that just about every exhibit was well worth our time. The Paua House was a highlight, a recreation of a simple suburban house where a man collected and polished paua shells and installed them on the walls, while his wife’s job was to dust them. Over thirty-some years they welcomed thousands of people to their house, which they opened eight hours a day, seven days a week for this purpose. If they had not been so charming and sweet, it would have made you jump out of your skin - but as it was, it was a little peek into kiwi life…

The Antarctic exhibit was quite extensive, since this is the jumping-off point for expeditions to Antarctica. I loved the films of Scott’s and Shackleton’s journeys. Shackleton never fails to amaze me.

Strolling on down into the town, we passed by the boathouse and observed people punting (or being punted) along the river Avon.
Next up was Christchurch Cathedral, completing the feeling of an English town circa 1850 or so. Here is the Lord's Prayer in English and Maori, quite beautiful.

The Fyflot cross pictured here in tile is associated with the cathedral and is enough to inspire any quilter.
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We gradually realized that the many construction projects and empty lots were the result of last September's earthquake. Here's a stark reminder

and here is a typically kiwi apology for having experienced a natural disaster.
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Christchurch is called the City of Gardens, and all the gardens we saw, while very attractive, tended to the Victorian bedding-out style. Altogether, attractive but nowhere near as interesting as Auckland.

After some delays, we met up with Ellen and had a happy reunion. Dinner at the only Bangladeshi restaurant in all of NZ, very much to our tongues like Indian food, but less spicy and more subtle. Happy birthday to me! And tomorrow, the adventure begins…

Auckland, Day Two


Our itinerary told us that today we were “at leisure in Auckland,” so we followed that directive. The highlight of the day was meeting with EAP’s former student Claire, now a midwife in private practice in Auckland. She picked us up at the hotel mid-morning and whisked us off to One Tree Hill. Like many hills in Auckland, this was a long-dead volcanic cone that pokes up dramatically from the landscape. From time immemorial, it was topped with one lone tree and had significance to the Maori community. Sadly, the tree was toppled by vandals several years ago, but the monolith atop the hill remains.

Cornwall Park surrounds the hill, and on this Sunday afternoon the park was filled with people picnicking among the enormous trees and pastures filled with sheep or cattle. I was strongly reminded of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, another volcanic cone in a big city. The views from the top show Auckland set among two harbours, ringed by other volcanic cones and surrounded on all sides by water. The City of Sails, indeed.

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Claire took us to the birthing center where she works, and there was much talk between the two midwives about birthing practices in the two countries, how they are credentialed and what they do about breech babies and other challenges. (“I know that that is, ” I said brightly when asked, “the baby is upside down and you don’t want that to happen. ” They agreed.)

We wound through town past Mission Bay and had lunch in a beach-front coffee
shop/restaurant that served free-range eggs and prawn salad. Our view was of the
sailboats on the bay, with a peninsula (or island?) behind it. People were out strolling, having picnics, walking dogs, and having brunch, a very leisurely and civilized way to live. Claire told us that people in Auckland do tend to go outside and do things on the
weekends, and with country and weather like this, I can see why.

Claire dropped us off at the place I was obsessed with visiting. Kelly Tarleton was a noted NZ explorer who had a vision 25 years ago of re- creating his explorations for the world to see. His Antarctic World, shark tank and penguin environment make up the World, a popular destination for families. A bit hokey, yes, but I loved the penguins.

The shark tank, designed in a column that bridged the walkway below, included sand tiger sharks but lots of other fish and rays as well. A highlight was watching as a scuba diver fed the fish, resulting in what else but a feeding frenzy. Of course, a fish’s expression never changes, but they certainly darted towards his outstretched hands with vigor.

Here, a shark and a beautiful crab.

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The best part was boarding a little red Arctic Cat that traversed the penguin environment.
Two kinds of penguins are kept here in highly planned environments that include various kinds of weather, diverse kinds of food, and unexpected playthings (soccer balls) to keep the penguins interested.

The trip through the penguin environment partakes of the car wash. Your Arctic Cat
glides or jerks along the way your car does in the brushless wash, complete with the
rubber strips that cover your windshield. But when your car breaks through them, you
see not the nozzles of the car wash but the snow, ice and frigid water the penguins live in. So yes, it was hokey, but I loved it.
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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Longest Day, part two

Then back up the twisty road and on to Piha Beach. These spectacular rock formations rise up out of the black sand, with waves crashing against them and throwing up sprays of foam. The larger one is called Lion Rock, and the eye of faith can just make out a lion’s head facing out to the Tasman Sea. We walked there and back again, admiring the rescue people practicing their craft. The rip tide here is famously ferocious and will kill you as soon as look at you, so we dabbled no more than our toes in the water.


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Above the beach is a variety of houses, all seeming to fit into the hillside in their different styles. This is a typical “bach,” a NZ tradition of small owner-built houses, most using whatever materials are to hand. This one featured a cast iron bath tub on the little deck, which Warren surmised was used for sitting in with a glass of wine while watching the sun set over the beach.


The rain forest was next on the agenda. To my great delight, we traveled the Hillary Trail through the forest, the very track the mountaineer trod! Not as strenuous as Everest, but still… (His wife’s family had a bach here and he spent lots of time trekking through Waitakere in training for his Everest climb. There‘s now a four-day trail you can backpack if you‘re so inclined.) Silver ferns, NZ‘s national symbol; rata trees that start out as vines, strangle their hosts and become trees that live for centuries; and of course, kauri trees.


The equivalent of our redwoods, kauri are trees that can live for 1500 years or more. They grow beautifully straight and tall and can be 12 meters around and 30 meters high - in other words, absolutely enormous. Of course, the Europeans saw them as a great source of timber and cut most of them down in the 19th century. (It’s said that Nelson’s ship at Trafalgar had a mast higher than any other because it came from a kauri tree.) The rain forest we were walking through did have kauri, but they were young and small in this second-growth woods. The kauri here had been long since been cut down and floated down the stream for shipping to Europe.

But by the side of the road on our way back, just a few steps down, we came upon a viewing platform and could gasp in amazement at a mature kauri. This photo barely gives you a glimpse. The wind was blowing hard, and other trees were swaying, but the kauri stood still, silent and tall.
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The Longest Day

Even though our day began around 3:30, when the airplane woke up for breakfast, and didn’t end until 9:30, when we toddled off to bed, it was a great day without too much jet lag. We were able to check into the hotel right away, so we could shower and unpack and look around.
Beautiful palms along Queen Street

Enormous tree (what kind?) in Albert Park

Strange flower fungi under a tree in Albert Park
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The view from our hotel room featuring a huge cruise ship, which tooted its horn, turned around and left while we were dozing in the late afternoon

But the best thing was the Bush and Beach Tour arranged by our travel agent, who assured me that we would not be too jetlagged to handle it. Amazingly, she was right.

There were about eight of us in a minibus driven by Warren, our guide. He took us through the suburbs of Auckland to an area west of the city, the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, that, as promised, included a black sand beach, a waterfall, spectacular views, twisty roads, rainforest, and on and on. Warren was filled with just the right amount of information on a wide range of topics: Maori creation myths, the early industrial history of Auckland, the ecology of the piripiri tree (maybe?) and the moth that kills it over many decades, and much more.

Our first stop at the Arataki Visitor Center featured such a spectacular view that the park people built a big frame for it. This overlooks Manukau Harbour (I think) in the distance. This was our first glimpse of the mostly evergreen forest that clothes the hills in a tapestry of color and texture.

Alert: many clich├ęs ahead; there are only so many ways to describe this spectacular scenery.

My favorite spot in the world so far is this pillowed platform in front of a huge picture window in the visitor center. I would sit here forever, looking up occasionally from my book to drink in the view…


From here Warren drove the twisty, steep downhill road to Karekare. As we drove through the tiny village, he pointed out the house where Dorothy Butler lives. I was the only one who was excited about this, so he kindly pointed it out again on our way out, but my only picture was a blur of foliage.

There’s so little land suitable for building or available to locals now that the park is in place, that houses tend to grow like Topsy, like this one.

Just beyond the village we stopped by the side of the road to see a waterfall splashing down a steep hill. The scenery reminded me of Glencoe, it was so steep and rugged (though with more palm trees). We walked down a gravel path to a pool where local kids were splashing and carrying on. The waterfall sparkled above them, cascading down the rocks and making the trees at the top glisten in the sunlight.

The beach nearby was used for the opening scenes of “The Piano,” which Warren told us provided an interesting look at the results of the Industrial Revolution in England and the resulting emigration to places like this. Note to self: watch again.

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To be continued...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Auckland Arrival

All you have to do is get on a plane, wait a while, and get off the plane. Presto! You’re in a whole new world.

After a surprisingly smooth ride to the airport (despite the dozens and dozens and dozens of cars veered off on the shoulders, abandoned by their owners during the fast-moving storm on Wednesday night), our flights went smoothly. Even the 12-hour flight to Auckland seemed not so long. They started us off with the safety video, but their version was very funny and featured their rugby team, the All Blacks, so everyone paid attention. Our much-vaunted Ambien was not quite as miraculous as we’d hoped, but we both got some sleep. The only bad part was that a passenger several rows up was taken ill. The crew administered oxygen and then chest compressions, but word among the passengers afterwards was that the poor man didn’t make it. Sad start to the day, but our spirits were lifted by the fact that we were in NEW ZEALAND!

Shuttle in the darkness to our hotel, which has a slightly funky bathroom but a coffeemaker, hairdryer and a great harbor view. We were able to check in way early, and after restorative showers are headed into the city to scope it out. The overnight tropical storm is gone, clouds are lifting, the sun is starting to peek out, and anything is possible.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snowing in summer

Well, it's snowing like crazy here, but with any luck it will end at midnight. We have a car booked for 8:00 a.m. to take us to Dulles. If we get off on time, all will be well.

We've spent the last few hours downloading Skype (find me at staffordkin), reviewing our gear, watching The Two Towers (focus on the landscape, not the story), and cooking dinner. We are both totally distracted but we seem to complement each other's distraction, so with any luck we will be on our way tomorrow!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The bones of the garden

The second day of the New Year is mild and drizzly. Leaf cleanup reveals the newish beds in the back yard, the good, the bad and the ugly. But despite the obvious flaws, I'm really pleased with the expanding shrub borders. For the coming year: more shrubs and better edging (I still have all that stone to pick up at Roxbury Mills!).

On the left, the oakleaf hydrangea, hosta, kirengeshoma, kerria garden. On the right, the three viburnums.

Closeup of the corner garden.

A closeup of the viburnums.

The oak tree garden with the Japanese roof iris foliage lying spent and ghostly along the ground, with the bones of the hammock nearby.
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The shrub border along the back of the house. The leaf drop allows the hose and rain barrel to shine...or not.
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