Saturday, December 29, 2007

Holiday Trip to KatiKati and the Coromandel Peninsula

This is a busy time of year for leisure in New Zealand. Everyone but the trapped owners of my local dairy (quicki-mart) are off on holiday. Think of it: xmas, new years, school breaks and good summer weather all combine now! I was invited down to a town called KatiKati on the Bay of Plenty a few hours drive south of Auckland. I decided that would be great, but that I would then come back to Auckland via a short bike tour through the Coromandel Peninsula with a final return to the city via ferry.

On the way we stopped at a lovely cafe that had some rusting bikes for decoration, including this mower-bike.
They also had three friendly ponies and some fantastic pigs.
The way to KatiKati goes through the town of Paeroa - world famous in New Zealand (as noted before). This fizzy drink is no longer bottled in Paeroa with their natural soda spring, but rather in Auckland by CocaCola, darn. There are hot springs of all sorts all around NZ, leading my hosts to start to point them out followed by a smirking "ho-hum." I think that I will have to make a trip to the Edwardian Spa in Te Aroha with A and P. After Paeroa you climb over the Coromandel Range through the beautiful Karangahake Gorge.
I have no idea what this sign means. Anyone? It was near a big hole in the ground-type of tourist attraction in Waihi. You know, mechanics worked on a grand scale and an inverted mountain. Unfortunately for me, growing up in AZ and UT makes one jaded to this sort of thing.

This is the VIEW from the back of the house we stayed at in KatiKati. The place backed up onto a tidal stream and a burgeoning bird paradise caused in part by returning an adjacent pasture to tide-flooded feeding zone. The tree on the left above was the resting place of two white-faced herons who were a joy to watch.The house was fantastic with a few quirky features, mostly having to do with wiring being done by the first owner (and current neighbor) who happened to be an overzealous electrician. This photo above was one wall in the room that I stayed in with, what, 12 electrical outlets of some kind or another? Whoa! My hosts claimed to have spent some time trying to figure out the complex and numerous lighting controls in the den, all to no avail.
One morning, while eating yet another wonderful meal provided by my hosts, a Weta jumped out and spooked M. It's apparently a crime (if not just wrong) to harm these huge insects so it was hassled off into the bushes where I took this picture. This is one of the truly endemic species in NZ so it was a treat to have one introduce itself. It's hard to tell from the photo, but it was about 5cm long and mad.
I walked into KatiKati to see the local art. This is a wood carving of Humphrey, a sea elephant that would visit and was even rumored to have amorously pursued a local cow.
KatiKati remade itself into "mural-town" after the local Kiwi fruit market collapsed some years back. A good number of the buildings along the short main street are painted with murals. Half of these buildings are real estate agencies, attesting to the attraction this place has for retirees or those interested in "lifestyle blocks". For NZ$300,000 to 1,000,000+ you can obtain the kiwi fruit farm or avocado grove of your dreams.

I had yet to see the most significant NZ tree: the kauri. These resemble a mix between a sequoia and a baobab and were revered by the Maori and forested to near obliteration by the Pakeha. Now only a few giant specimens remain. So we went on a short hike in the rain. It apparently always rains in NZ around xmas.

After two wonderful days with D. and M (and spry G.) I got a ride north to Whangamata to start my bike tour. Goodbyes and got a snack from the bakery and I was off into the rain. Then sun. Then rain. In fact it was fantastic riding.
Unfortunately, just after taking this picture of the Teton-like hills outside of Tairua my back spasmed up. When this happens I usually become like an invalid but I found that I could grin and bear it long enough to make it to a (hugely overpriced due to the holidays - I had to pay the two people minimum and a spot big enough for ten tents) motor camp in Hahei. This is near Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve, some fantastic beaches and some possibly snorkeling, but I spent the rest of the day moaning in my tent and scaring the local Kiwi holiday crowd.

The Kiwis have a grand way of camping - they pitch enormous tents at immaculate motor camps in beautiful spots and spend weeks enjoying each other and their families. The next morning I was able to stand and shower and introduce myself enough to stave off their children's nightmares. I decided I'd try to head out that day by making it to Coromandel township by 4PM to catch the ferry.

I'll be going back to this stretch of land. Above is a beach that I glimpsed; there is also a beach nearby that has hot water springs (ho-hum) on it such that during low tide you can dig your own hot tub and lay in it while the waves crash over you.

This is the ferry from near Cook's Beach to Whitianga. The fellows in the foreground helped my load my bike while I hunched my way in. Lunch in Whitianga (I'm addicted to NZ bakeries) and then headed out to Coromandel township over the Range via the "309 road" - a part-gravel road that follows a beautiful stream. On the way up a very chatty Austrian riding his MTB for the day settled in and kept me enthralled with stories of his athletic prowess. He even wanted to switch bikes at one point. I was able to beg him off by claiming (truthfully) that any attempt to dismount would lead to me being doubled over on the side of the road. On to Coromandel!
Here is another place I will have to take P. - the Waiau Waterworks. Neato. Finally, made it to Coromandel and called the ferry operator and was able to change my reservation. So I doubled over for an hour in the park and listened to Japanese drummers. With about an hour to go I realized that I had no idea where the ferry landing was. Turns out it was 15kms out of town! Aaaaarh!
Well, anyway, I made it in time and caught the ferry. They made my take my super-heavy bike to the upper deck which finished me off and I just laid on the deck and winced while another (different) supper chatty Austrian yakked away happily. What is with these Austrians? Can they sense a captive audience?

Two hours back to Auckland, a short ride up to my apartment and a day of lying about reading have largely cured my back. So it was a mixed trip - wonderful food and company in KatiKati, then amazing scenery mixed with pain through the Peninsula. I can't wait to go back and explore it properly.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays!

It's been a rather busy month at work as everyone prepared for the big summer/holiday shutdown. So the posts have slowed not because I've given up on showing what a great place Auckland/NZ is but because there hasn't been much adventure as of late. This should change after a short while 'cause I'm about to take a trip to the Bay of Plenty and then a bike tour up the Coromandel Peninsula. So check back soon and happy holidays in the meantime!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Racing in the Harbour - No DNF's for the Proud Crew

The race this Wednesday brought the prospect of a better result owing to the 15-20 knot winds and our very impressive handicap. "Money in the bank" is used to caution one against sailing too close to a mark given the tricky vector-addition involved with leeway and tidal currents but in our case it might refer to our handicap being so low after some light wind in previous races. In this "fresh breeze" we anticipated the boat handling better and the possibility of finishing in the mix.
There were over 100 boats lined up for the various starts. The starts are staggered by 5 minutes but still the "start box" is usually a cauldron of boats maneuvering for position. The pic above doesn't do it justice.
And we're off, a bit behind but close enough to see the competition heeling on a close haul as "puffs" brought accelerations. There was also a big jellyfish spotted by Geoff. After the penguin sighting two weeks ago the other crew members are keen to point out anything living to me (and I'm happy to hear it) but it seems to me that there were a few phantom penguins last night ;).
A motor-boat.
B. tending the sheets.
G. tending a beer. (He was "rail meat" for the night - next time I think it's my turn.) We were in close contention for 2nd to last (and hopes were high for overtaking a boat on the reaching course ahead) when we rounded a buoy and, wham, the sail ripped in half during a gybe! Note: Normally you would not be able to see J.'s upper body in the above photo ;).
We secured the boom, pulled in the torn sheet and settled in for a nice long sail in on our genoa alone. Due to the high winds we still made good time and even J. consulted the "drinks management officer" (photos on request).
We passed the finish line a good half hour before the end and even made it to the awards ceremony where the RYC Commodore (to the left above) gave out awards and prizes (boat cleaner, lots of booze, and a pile of meat, no kidding). We left prizeless, but I agree with the Hot Prospect captain and crew - avoiding a DNF is priceless.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Kelvin's NZ Trip Photos

A friend of mine just completed a two week campervan tour of NZ's north and south islands. Hi photos can be found here and here. If you needed any incentive to visit there it is ;)

He also has a great set of pictures from our bike tour of the San Juans in Colorado.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Auckland (War Memorial) Museum

I visited the Auckland Museum today. This is housed in a huge, standalone white building set atop a grassy field on one of the local volcanoes. It's a very impressive setting. It caters to huge amounts of tourists and has a large amount of bus parking nearby but so far as I could tell, not a single bike rack (gripe gripe). This museum is marked on all maps as "The Auckland Museum" but I find that is was originally intended as a war memorial, more specifically for the "great war" - WWI. It does have a large memorial and war artifact collection, but it also houses an impressive cultural and natural history collection as well as the neatest kids areas in a museum that I have ever seen.

The ground floor was loaded with Maori artifacts including complete boats and houses. There was also a lot of weaponry that brought a description I recently read of the first, confrontatious meeting between Europeans and the Maori to life.
There were a lot of intricate wood carvings, including adornment with Paua.
A whalebone chair!
Here is what Pascal will have to wear if she wants to join the NZ equivalent of the Girl Scouts (that is, if she joined 50 years ago). I can't wait to see one of these birds alive and flying above the sea foam. This is an albatross, "a great seabird," that I first learned of in the famous Coleridge poem. It is indeed an enormous bird if you expected to see instead, for instance, something the size of a seagull. A large albatross is as big as a turkey but specially designed for long-distance flight at sea.As far as big birds go, you can't shake a stick at the moa. That is due to the fact that they were hunted to extinction about 500 years ago.

I paid a bit extra and got to watch a presentation of Maori songs and dances, including a haka:

The Maori are the indigenous people of NZ (foreigners are "pakeha"). Unlike in the US, where the treaties between the US government and the indigenous tribes are now worthless or serve to separate the cultures, the Treaty of Waitangi is now considered the founding document of NZ and a modern revival of Maori culture seems to be underway. It's amazing that there is not more strife between the pakeha and the Maori given the intensity of their battling throughout a period of war in the 1800's although I read that there is a modern Maori revival that parallels the US civil rights movement and American Indian activism. The truth is, I have yet to see much of the Maori culture or people due to my residence and employment in the center of Auckland, which is a land peopled from England and Asia.

A Parade

There was a large parade down Queen Street last weekend. I thought P might like to see the pictures:
Fish playing music.
Los Alamos Mining Company? New Mexicans? Must be something I am missing, as usual...
In case you were wondering, yes, there are McDonalds here and as you can see, we're all loving it. Also Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, and Subway. I was curious about something called the "McCafe" and was surprised to find this to be some kind of McD/Starbucks combination inside the restaurant! ST had warned me of this trend from his time in Moscow. Oh yes, there are also Starbucks here selling Coffee American-o from every available retail space.
Pigs, horses, guy with a fiddle.
And PIRATES! Yes! PIRATES! Right on!

I did not wait around for Santa (this was an Xmas parade) but I imagine he was wearing a pair of shorts and winking. In my short experience I have found that winking is very popular in NZ. My dad wondered about the "bell ringers" that are ubiquitous around American shopping centers in Nov/Dec. Yes, those are here as well.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Racing in the Harbour: Penguin!

So tonight we, the racing crew of the racing yacht "Hot Prospect", raced our way into another enviable finish - this time we were in 1min15sec before the race is called. I suggested to the captain that he rechristian the boat "8:59" for our precision and fortunately, he laughed.

The real revelation of the night was when we finally rounded the damned buoy at Devonport and then the insidious buoy at Westwall we were crossing the harbour to the malevolent buoy at ???(I forget) I looked down (it was dark) and there was a small bird cruising along in the tide current toward the city. It was obviously not a duck and so I figured it might be a penguin! Hey, why not? I'm in New Zealand, right?

It turns out it was indeed a penguin - what the Kiwis call a "Little Blue Penguin". I did not get any pictures tonight by this one from wikipedia gives a good idea of what it was:

A penguin!

The crew was more interested in the improving wind conditions. When I started exclaiming about seeing a penguin they all basically said, "That's right, a little penguin." and went back to trimming sails and pontificating about the seriously evil current working in our favor.

A penguin!

(I should note that the buoy adjectives are chosen simply for entertainment. I'm really enjoying sailing and racing and would gladly sail right through the gates of hell if the boat was obtaining 7.4 knots at the time. One tends to let the mind wander when coasting in the lee of the NZ navy boats while fighting an incoming tidal current.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quick! A Quiz for P!

Alright P., what kind of rocks make up the cliffs near Piha, NZ? Send me an email and earn a prize!

Sailor Bob II

Bob explaining his finger woes:

Sailor Bob's New Freak Feature

An old friend of mine is sailing around the world. His boat is spending the cyclone season in Fiji but Bob and his girlfriend Suzi jumped on a chance to come to NZ as crew on a larger yacht. Here's part of the reason he came:

He messed up his hand along the way and it healed with a distinctive twist. He's planning to get it worked on while he's here.

The next post will be a longer video of Bob talking about his new freaky feature (anyone remember the old Bob freaky feature? This one beats his funky nose crinkle hands down...).

You can follow his substantial adventures on this blog or this (never updated) blog and on the escape artist website. or you can listen to the Swedish Pop star NiklasG sing about the man.

A Short Tour to Piha

I decided to get out of town again this weekend. Even though the locals warned me against it, I was set on an overnight bike tour to Piha. So Saturday by around noon I was packed and on the road. Getting out of Auckland is a mess of cars and streets I don't know, but this time I actually checked a map before heading out the door. Soon I was lunching at Titirangi, a nice set of shops and stores west of Auckland.

Piha is on the other side of a set of hills called the Wiatakere Ranges; they provide a frame for your photos at the visitor center:

A short climb later I turned from Scenic Drive to Piha Road and climbed some more. Eventually the road turned steeply downhill and Piha came into view:

Fantastic! Piha is a small beach community regularly run over by crowds from Auckland. They have managed to keep most big-time development away, hence, not all accomodation is as fancy as the built-in campers at the motorlodge where I set up a tent:

It's the early season so the campground was not crowded. I went and flew a kite, watched some local lawn bowlers (not everyone was wearing white this time, whew), hiked a bit, and then watched the sun set:
Beautiful! Dinner was a burger (the "Blair" burger - complete with a fried egg and some kind of strange condiment, mmmm) and chips (plus tomato sauce, at NZ$2 for a tin!). Have I mentioned it yet? Burgers are a real deal in NZ - it's NZ$8-10 for a kebab but only NZ$3-5 for a burger. Just bring your own ketchup.

The next morning I got up, hiked around the beach, found a nice track up the hill and got a picture of Te Piha, also called "Lion's Back" for obvious reasons once you get to the right angle:

Here is photo of me reflecting on anenomes:
All in all it was a great trip. Even the punk-in-a-car that buzzed me and sprayed me with water (I hope) on the climb back out of Piha couldn't take away from a wonderful quick getaway. The locals also seemed to be enjoying themselves. If this is an undesirable beach I can't wait to visit the good ones.

Here's a bikely map of the ride:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bike Racks

Here are some pics of the bike racks at the UofAuckland. The first is the norm - nice, simple, stable. The second is the "bike cage" that you need a special card for. I got one, but now that I am living next to the Uni I don't use it as much. It's great except for two things - there is no roof, and with a simple tool one could completely disassemble the cage in minutes. Alas. It does present a pretty formidable facade.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out Amy!

(Perhaps I should look at labeling more closely before buying - some of those black currants are a little too happy!)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mexican Food Sourced

Just in case I need to get my fix on, I checked out a source of Mexican food near the old ferry building:

Their street sign proclaims "Best Mexican" - but their menu is rather disappointing. This is not encouraging.

Kind of a Kiwi version of a Rubio's. And the prices are near absurd for someone from the southwest US. I passed although the "seasoned mince filling" sounds exotic.

Earlier in the week I asked some people where to find good Mexican food. They laughed back, "like Taco Bell?" Not funny. I sense a business opportunity...

UPDATE: I've now found two more places for mex food in Auckland - another Mexicali and a nice place in Parnell that serves good margaritas, although I did not sample the food. I did go get some Mexicali and was pleased, good "fresh mex" from a couple that spent some time in California. Now, anyone here spend time in Mexico City?