Tuesday, 31 January 2012

New Zealand Day Five - Waitangi and Kerikeri

This morning we travelled East to the Bay of Islands, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840.  The treaty was an agreement between the Maori tribes and the British government.
Among the terms of the treaty, it was stated that :
  • Māori would retain possession of their lands and fishing areas.
  • At the same time, Māori would accept the new Colonial government's pre-emptive right to purchase land. All sale of land by either Māori or European would be transacted via the government.
  • Māori would accept the sovereignty of the Queen.
  • Māori would be guaranteed the same rights and privileges as those of all British subjects.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for the Maoris who had been in New Zealand for thousands of years to then experience the settlement of Europeans, whose culture, religion and spiritualism were so different from their own.  I think the lure of muskets and other guns to fight their enemies must have gone a long way to buying their alliance, acceptance and peaceful coexistence.  What did explorers like Captain Cook and other explorers think when they saw the lush green lands never charted before?

Our tour guide was a young Maori descendant and it was interesting to hear his perspective as well as the Maori outlook on spiritualism and an insight into the meaning of some of their rituals and carvings.  It is amazing how in tune with nature they were and how they had the ability to navigate their way from Polynesia to New Zealand, following the stars and migrating birds.  Today we study physics, aerodynamics yet their boats were brilliantly designed by looking at fish and birds and seeing the natural efficiency of scales and wings. I also wonder how they survived such a long journey using catamarans?

It was fascinating also to see reconstructions of a traditional Maori village both at Waitangi and at Rewa’s village in Kerikeri.  Huts were built using a Manuka frame with walls of bulrush and palm fronds.  Across the river we could see the stone store house belonging to the missionaries,  The Maori homes blended into the environment whereas the English homes stood out at odds with the forest.. 

We also visited the nearby Haruru Falls but resisted the temptation to go night kayaking, going instead to an Indian restaurant for a curry..

If ever I'm made redundant, I found the perfect library to work in.  It is set in sn old colonial house in Paihia and the children's library was in the former kitchen and the range is still there.

Monday, 30 January 2012

New Zealand Day Four - Kaitaia and Cape Reinga

Today we let the coach take the strain as we ventured to the very tip of New Zealand’s North Island; the place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea.  There are two ways of reaching it – by road and the route we took, which meant driving along 90km of golden beaches.  It didn’t seem to bother the coach driver that  the tide was coming in and in places our “road” was rather waterlogged.  We then took a right turn following the course of the Te Paki stream which grooved a path through the sand.  It was fun aquaplaning along this stream, racing with a couple of 4-wheel-drives who thought they would follow us.  The driver had fun teasing them. 

We stopped in front of a group of sand-dune hills that reminded me of a scene in one of the Carry On films where he joins the foreign legion. Toboggans were produced from the storage area in the coach and the long arduous climb up the sandy hill began.  The sand was hot under foot and the easiest ascent was by climbing in someone else’s footprints else it was a case of one step forward two steps down again.  From the top, it looked an awfully long way down but I sat inside the toboggan, took a deep breath and was pushed into action.  “You can use your feet as brakes” the driver advised.  Somehow I forgot and went hurtling at great speed, landing in the water at the bottom.  Though I was covered in water and sand, it was great fun and something well worth experiencing once. I didn’t have a second go.

Next stop was lunch, in the white sandy Tapotupoto Bay.  Some brave tourists donned swimming costumes and went for a quick swim in the clear blue waters.  I watched their goose-pimpled entry into the sea,  revlieved it wasn’t me venturing into the cold water.

After lunch we continued to Cape Reinga one of the most significant cultural sites in New Zealand.  As well as where two seas meet, the Maori people believe this is the place where a person’s spirit comes to after death before departing to Hawaiki, its eternal home.

It was really refreshing to see nothing commercial at this spot other than a post box and there is obviously a conscious desire to preserve both nature and the spirituality of the place.

On the way back we took Highway One (nothing like the M1) that had been cut through the bush.  No photograph can truly capture the beauty of the land, the different shades of green and mauve that seem to vary with the changing light. Some of the bushes looked like dry bones picked clean of all flesh.  It amazed me how low down the growth is and how much of the mountains it covered and so different to anything I have seen before.

The sea too had a depth and intensity of colour that is hard to capture - neither blue nor green but crystal clear with layers to the colour that only the eye can capture.

There were just two more stops on the way home; the first for ice-cream and the second to the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, where we looked around the shop and had a drink while the coach was cleaned of sand and salt water.

Back home we finished the day with a relaxing soak in the spa pool and I sneaked in a bottle of lager (shhh, don’t tell anyone.)

Sunday, 29 January 2012

New Zealand Day Three - Waipoua Forest, Ngawha Springs and Kaitaia

Today was a chance to see the Kauri trees in all their splendour, growing in its natural habitat.  We left the lakes and drove to Waipoua forest to see the four sisters – not mine but four Kauri trees growing from one root base, each with a thick tall trunk towering over all the other trees and ferns in the forest.  It surprised me that for the height and width of these majestic trees, the root base is very shallow and easily damaged so most of the area has been boardwalked to protect the ancient trees from human curiosity. New Zealand forests are very different to anything at home.It's easy to see why some topple over but is also sad to see ad disease is killing some Kauris.  Apart from the Kauri trees, there are lots of tall growing ferns and thin tall trees and because it rains a lot, streams flow throughout. Dappled light cutting through the foliage provides both warmth and coolness.  Hidden animals, birds and insects give the forest its unseen music. The ground beyond man-made paths is carpeted with fallen leaves that smells of damp, rotting vegetation.

After lunch we went to the Ngawha hot springs, tucked away beyond the tourist trail.  No frills and so much cheaper than the better known areas and just as good.  The smell of sulphur wafts over the whole area and several different hot springs are on offer, depending on the temperature required.  We avoided bulldog at a heat of 52 degrees; too much even for me.  I settled on the one that was 38 degrees and carefully walked down the wooden steps into the blackish hot water.  It was so relaxing lying in the silty, muddy water straight from the ground, like having a hot bath without the cleaning element.  The minerals apparently have healing properties and are particularly good for arthritis and skin complaints if you use them every day. I really enjoyed the experience.

From there we headed to a motel in Kaitaia, ready for the  tour that's booked for tomorrow. 

Saturday, 28 January 2012

New Zealand Day Two - Kauri Museum and Kai Iwi Lakes

An early start this morning (no problem as I’d been awake for hours) to drive north to the Kauri museum, which highlighted not only the vast size of the Kauri tree but also showed the life of pioneers and settlers in New Zealand in the late 1800s. I thought I packed a lot of gadgets, clothes and toiletries but peering into reconstructed Victorian rooms, it surprised me just how much the pioneers must have brought from England when they settled in New Zealand so they would feel at home in a new country. The worked and polished Kauri wood gave a very warm, rich brown feel and texture to the furniture homes and wood panelling but part of me thought it a shame such ancient and vast forests that had been there for centuries were cut down to satisfy our needs.

After a picnic lunch we drove to the Kai Iwi lakes where we had booked a self-catering lodge for the night.  The clouds dissipated and the sun was lovely and warm as we walked around lake Taharoa; a hike that took us over two hours through Manuka trees, silver ferns and many other plants that edged the lake in varying shades of green and silver.  It was very enjoyable walking to the background music of fantails, minor birds and the click, click of cicadas.

Dinner was followed by a relaxing evening in the spa pool that overlooked a small lake on the complex.  Warm needle-jets of water un-knotted all those hard-worked muscles; a perfect end to the day.

Friday, 27 January 2012

New Zealand Day One - Auckland

After an uneventful and sleepless eleven hour flight, watching a couple of movies and reading, I landed in Auckland at lunch time on a Friday afternoon.  Compared to the bustle and crowds of both Heathrow and Hong Kong, Auckland airport was like an oasis of calm.  No queues for passport control as ours was the only plane landing at that time.  One of the security people did turn rather pale when he asked one guy how many people there were in his party and was told fifty.  No wonder the plane was so crowded.

Just to make me feel at home, it was pouring with rain when I arrived.  Luckily my sister had parked not too far away so I didn’t get too wet.  We went the scenic route to her place as she took me on a tour of the area.  Houses are mostly detached and more American in style than English with lots of wood, balconies and decking.  I of course was most tempted by the expensive ones on the shore, especially in Devonport.

By the evening the rain had stopped and I happily abandoned my coat, hardly believing I was warm enough walking around with only a couple of layers. After dinner we drove into the centre of Auckland for a walk around the harbour and main shopping street, which still retains its old colonial feel if you look beyond eye level to the facades of the buildings above the usual brand-name shops.

A lot of money has been spent recently improving the harbour area when New Zealand hosted the Americas Cup recently.  Boats do rule on the water around here.  We saw so many yachts moored as we wandered around the marina as well as a cruise ship that had docked in the harbour.

Then, feeling I’d lost a day somewhere in airspace, it was time to get some sleep and hope for hot sunny weather for our trip North.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Hong Kong Day Four

My last day in Hong Kong and as my flight wasn’t till 8.30pm I had the whole morning and some of the afternoon available for sightseeing.  What to do?  Not a hard decision, there was only one thing to do – shopping.  I started off by heading to the Jade Hawkers market, which had been shut the other day.  Lots of eager stall holders keen for me to buy and very persistent.  I did buy one mauve jade bracelet and I even bartered, which I didn’t think I could do as the thought scared me.

Then I walked through the vegetable market to the posh area in Canton Road where there is a vast shopping mall of exclusive shops.  You can walk almost the length of the road without venturing out into the cold.  I found Hong Kong to be a place of dramatic contrasts in a tiny space.  Massive wealth next to poverty but the tiny markets were far more vibrant and colourful than the sterile exclusive stores and never the twain shall meet for the malls are tucked inside behind glass and concrete.  I did wonder how they all make enough profit to survive since there are so many shops.

The airport was just as bad, lots of shops and restaurants but few places to sit and wait.  It got points though for fee wifi, which I made use of.

Next stop Auckland.  Not sure what my brain will think to another time difference. It still hasn’t accepted eight hours ahead and now I’m asking it to jump forward another five.  Well who needs sleep when there’s a whole new country to explore.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Hong Kong Day Three

Today was a chance to experience the Hong Kong bus system.  Buses seem to be very frequent, either that or I was lucky.  Having found my way to Central station, it was quite easy to find the express bus to Victoria Peak.  The journey was very scenic journey as we ascended into the lush green mountainous countryside of Hong Kong island.  What surprised me was no matter how high we went, we still couldn’t out-climb the tower blocks that jutted from the mountainside like tall lego creations poking through the trees..  I know space is at a premium but it felt like an intrusion into nature.  The same is true for the massive shopping plaza at the terminus nearly at the top of the Peak, though I was glad of its warmth and shelter as it was only about 7 degrees outside and raining.

The hour-long walk around the Peak was invigorating in the chilly morning air the view was very impressive even though a bit misty.  There was a lot of unusual flora and all along the way were  explanations as to what they were.  Quite a few of the plants were in flower, many had drops of rain dripping from their leaves.  My favourite, however, was the vast Indian Rubber tree that bent and shaded the path.  .

After a noodle lunch at the Peak, I caught the bus back to Central then took another  to Stanley, which is on the other side of Hong Kong Island.  It has a great covered market – lots of narrow streets with stalls that stretch back grouped around tiny streets, selling everything from trinkets, jewellery to silks, leather and clothes.  I was good and resisted the temptation to buy fat Buddahs and colourful dragons. I also had fun clambering over the golden coloured rocks - and no, I didn't slip.

On the way back I thought I’d see what the tram was like.  Definitely a step back in time to wooden seats and rickety wooden carriages – clanking and uncomfortable but worth experiencing once.  I even managed to get off at the right stop for my hotel.