Waiheke Island…

Today was a rest day — I got to sleep in until 8:30, which was heavenly. We got up and walked along the beach at the base of the hill below the Friends’ Meetinghouse, and then met Quakers for lunch. Here’s the beach at the base of the hill:

We had another lovely potluck with members and attenders of Waiheke Friends Meeting, and talked some about New Zealand and US politics before settling in for worship. There was a gentleman from Wales also joining us, so it was a multi-national gathering!

Then we came back to the Friends Meetinghouse and snoozed in the afternoon warmth for a couple of hours, reading and napping before going to Charley Farley’s for dinner. We had the salt and pepper squid with a zucchini-halloumi appetizer, which didn’t really taste of halloumi, but that’s OK. After that we went around the northeastern part of the island on an unimproved road and saw some lovely things just before sunset.



Tomorrow we rise early for the ferry before heading north, to the North Cape and Cape Reinga.


Coromandel Peninsula and Waiheke Island…

Yesterday we drove up from Lake Taupo to the Coromandel Penisnula, and then around to Half Moon Bay to catch the ferry to Waiheke Island. 

Here’s a shot of the tidal flats on the Coromandel.  

 We’re staying at the Waiheke Friends house, a lovely facility with a spacious meeting room, nice kitchen, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms, one done up as a bunk room and the other with a queen-sized bed. Here’s the view from the front deck.  

You can hear the ocean and cicadas quite clearly, and the ocean is within easy walking distance, although we haven’t walked down there yet.

Last night we stretched out on the deck and listened to the surf and the cicadas and watched the stars come out.

The sky is different here, but not as different as I’d imagined. For example, you can see Orion, but it’s high in the sky and upside down in comparison with at home. The Southern Cross is very obvious, even more obvious, I think, than the Big Dipper at home. Looking to the south, you see a lot of unfamiliar things (to me, anyway), of course. I had hoped to look for the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, but the moon is nearly full, and I don’t know where to look. I was told by one of our hosts that on a new moon in a dark sky you can see them quite clearly with the naked eye. Imagine that. 

Today is a rest day; we’re going to go down and walk on the beach soon, and at lunch we’re having lunch with the Quakers that own the meetinghouse.

The other thing I need to do today is think: Packt has asked me for a book proposal. I had sort of decided to give up the technical writing after the fifteenth book, but Packt actually pays pretty well, and seems to have pretty good distribution, and it’s a topic I want to stay proficient in. So I need to decide if I’m willing to do the work or not.

Whakarewarewa and Taupo…

Today we drove from where we’re staying on Lake Taupo to Rotorua, where we went to Whakarewarwa, the Living Village. We hoped to see some Maori culture and volcanic activity, and assumed they were separate. We were wrong! The Maori have a village on the hot springs! We got there just in time for a little cultural performance with some singing and traditional Maori games and poi dancing. Then we went on a walking tour of the village, which was excellent — she told us about the history of the village, and how the Maori use the hot springs for cooking (bag or basket or wrap your food and bury it in a box right on top of a thermal vent!), baths, and so forth.

After the walking tour, we had lunch,  a traditional Maori hangi, which is chicken and fish and vegetables boiled in the hot springs. Here’s a hangi box preparing what may have been the pudding we had for dessert:

The hangi was very good — as you might imagine, the food is all very moist. The chicken just fell off the bone; the beef was moist with very little fat, and the vegetables — cabbage, two kinds of potatoes, corn, and carrots — were done without being overdone. Apparently the Maori that live in the village — and many still do — actually use the same hangi in the evenings to cook their dinner. The small houses in the village all have the usual amenities of stoves, microwaves, and so forth, but many prefer to cook using the hangi in the traditional way.

We drove back a different route around Lake Taupo, and stopped at Cafe Ninety-Nine for an espresso on the way back. It’s worth observing that there appear to be two kinds of coffee in New Zealand — excellent, and instant. We’ve had very good espresso every cafe we’ve stopped at (including the airport on the first day!). Most pulls are double shots, and served with hot water so you can make an americano if you prefer. However, when you stay with people, most people have electric tea kettles, so if they offer you coffee, it’s instant from frozen crystals. That’s not nearly as good, of course, but in the morning it’s strong and hot and caffeinated, which is enough to get you going.

Wanganui to Lake Taupo via Ruakuri Cave…

This morning after meeting for worship at the Quaker Settlement, we headed north on Route 3 along the Wanganui River to the Waitomo cave region. It took about three and a half hours to get there. The road was good, and we only encountered a few cars along the way, but there were a lot of twists and turns and construction — apparently there were a series of slides and washouts this last winter along the route, and the road is still being worked on in places. There were lots of one-way stretches, including a scary one where the signal was out and we had to reverse out of the way of oncoming traffic.

We arrived at the main visitor center for the cave complexes at about 2:30, but the next tour we could book wasn’t available until four, so we had an espresso and settled down on the lawn outside to wait. They had a number of tours going to different caves, including a rafting excursion. We picked the walking one, which was about 900m underground, and the only one where you could bring cameras. 

My little Olympus Pen has a pretty slow sensor, and I prefer shooting with no flash, but I still got some OK pictures of the caves:


The highlight of the caves wasn’t the formations, though, but the glow worms. Glow worms really aren’t worms, they’re fly larva, but as the tour guide pointed out, “glow maggot”just doesn’t have the same marketing appeal. I took some pictures of them, too, although they look more like sensor noise than glowing worms!

The glow worms were quite impressive in person, especially once you let your eyes adjust to the darkness. There was one part of the cave where we were all asked to turn off our cameras so it would get really dark, and they popped out like stars in a planetarium.

After the cave we retraced our steps most of the way and then headed out to Lake Taupo, where the AirBnB we’re staying at for the next two nights is. We were met by Linda, our host, and her dog Jacky, a little Jack Russell terrier. We had a lovely cup of tea and some fresh-baked lemon bread and a nice conversation. 

Tomorrow we head off to Rotorua and to some of the local Maori sites.

Wellington to Wanganui…

This morning we slept late — I had night terrors and snored, which woke Meg up, who woke me up and chewed me out and asked me to stay awake, which I couldn’t do — followed by breakfast with the other guest, Alan, at George Fox House.

We then went next door to the Quaker Meetinghouse, built in the 1930’s, and had a lovely meeting for worship with twenty-five members and attenders from around Wellington. Meeting was completely silent, but otherwise the structure was what you’d expect, except that at the rise of meeting, before announcements (which they call “notices” there was a call for “almost ministry”, an opportunity for anyone to speak who had ministry forming but hadn’t had it crystallize yet. I’m not sure how I feel about the practice — I know that Santa Cruz meeting has experimented with something similar, which they called “Afterthoughts” when we were there.

After the rise of meeting, we partook in a lovely prepared lunch potluck — just what they were doing, nothing special for us — and had lively conversation with a number of the Friends there before loading up and heading out.

We stopped about two and a half hours later in Palmerston North, where we had homemade cake with Liz, the sister of Janet, who’s watching our dog and is a regular attended at our meeting. Liz was a very gracious host, and we had a lovely conversation about a lot of things, including New Zealand politics and places to see on the North Island.

Then we headed to The Quaker Settlement, an intentional community of Quakers where we were going to spend the night. We got here around 6:30, just in time for a shared meal we didn’t know about, so we didn’t even have to go out to find food — we sat down and talked with a number of students on retreat here from Earlham School of Religion over dinner and chocolate zucchini cake.

After dinner, we got a tour of the twenty acres — a lot of it is being recovered, having originally been a Quaker school and operating farm until 1975. The folks living here are working to recover the land, which is mostly sandy soil dunes, with a combination of existing (mostly invasive) species and native species. They take a hybrid approach to the project, creating micro habitats for animals where there were none before. It’s really an excellent example of stewardship and recovering the land for future generations.

Tomorrow morning we’ll have breakfast and then join them in their morning worship before continuing on our way.

Golden Bay to Wellington…

Yesterday we drove from Golden Bay across the Takaka pass through Nelson to Picton, to take the ferry to Wellington. It was about a four hour drive, so not the marathon run we had the day before. The Takaka pass is quite something; it reminds me of the road up Mount Hamilton to Lick Observatory— switchback after switchback climbing at a 7% or 8% grade. Every kilometer or so there’s a “slow vehicle bay”, or a “stopping vehicle bay”, and it seems that everyone knows what they’re for, which worked really well — you can actually get in and out at quite a clip. The road is signed at 100 kph, but I doubt I did more than 60 kph on any part of it because it was so windy. And as with the Otago Peninsula, there were very few guardrails — it would have been very easy to drive off the road if you’re not careful.

We got to Picton over an hour before we had to board the ferry, which was a bit of a relief, because I misread a road sign and spent much of the last hour of that drive biting my nails thinking we were on the wrong road and we were going to miss our ferry, even though the GPS kept reassuring us that we were going the right way. There are two roads into Picton, the narrow windy one we took, and route 1, which is the main road up from Christchurch.

The ferry continues the highway to Wellington; the ferry boats take cars, vans, buses, the works. I think it seats about 1300, although I’m not sure. Embarkation was orderly but slow; Meg splurged for us and got seats in the VIP lounge, which had couches instead of airline-style seats, and free food throughout the three and a half hour crossing — so we had lunch and high tea after a fashion, along with a glass of wine to start and an espresso to finish. I spent most of the trip reading back issues of CACM, which will lighten my bag significantly now that I’ve had a chance to recycle them. There wasn’t a lot to see off the boat — the countryside in the sound is mountainous with forest leading down to the water, but of course the channel is through the middle of the sound, so you don’t get very close to the shore. 

We had to drop our car in Picton, and get a new car in Wellington — the car company doesn’t want cars crossing between islands, because it raises Cain with their inventory control. Because we didn’t check bags, we were off the ferry and in our new rental car in what must have been record time — I’d guess no more than ten minutes total. After that was a series of wrong turns and then a drive through Wellington center to Wellington Friends Meeting, where we were staying in the Goeorge Fox house, a guest house run by the meeting. We were met by Ralph, who is filling in for the caretaker, who showed us our room and chatted with us over a nice cup of tea before we walked down into town to get dinner.

Dinner was at a hole-in-the-wall Lebanese place having won “Best of Wellington” awards for the last three years, an award from Lonely Planet, and an award from TripAdvisor. It was excellent! I had some sausage wrap thing, which was spicy but not uncomfortably so; Meg had a combination plate of lamb, salad, and rice. 

A bit on driving…

I have not actually described the driving much around here. Getting used to driving on the left hand side of the road was easier than I thought it would be, although every morning I wake up anxious about the day’s driving ahead, and am relieved when we get to where we’re going. Most drivers have been very polite, although there have been a few bad ones — who may well be tourists like us, this is the height of the tourist season and there are a lot of tourists.

The semiotics of the road signs are very similar to the US — the main exception is that the “Yield” sign says “Give Way”, and there are no turns at red lights anywhere on the islands. The top speed is 100km/h on highways, and most highways are two-lane, single-carriage way, with passing lanes and/or “slow vehicle bays” every few kilometers on the straight stretches. You stay left except to pass at one of those places, although much of the rest of the road is marked to permit passing, including in places where it would be utterly crazy to do so. Most roads are clearly signed.

There aren’t a lot of advertising billboards, and the few that are are usually road safety signs warning about things like speeding or road fatigue. My favorites so far have been “Don’t count sheep while driving” and “Expect motorcycles. All the time.” The last gives me an image of motorcycle drivers raining from the heavens.

Off to Wellington!

Overland from Christchurch to Golden Bay in Pohara…

Yesterday was our longest drive, and unfortunately it was not a day to stop and take pictures. We drove over Lewis Pass from Christchurch to Pohara, and had to be in Pohara at 6:15 to meet our hosts for the potluck we were going to. We left late enough that we really didn’t have time to stop, so we didn’t. It was a seven-hour drive, with two five minute stops for gas.

The countryside looks a lot like the Sierras, although there’s less granite and more limestone. Most of the timber is farmed, however, giving the trees a rather combed look — they’re all the same height and planted in rows. The road into Motueka, off the pass, comes down this narrow river valley that’s farmed. It’s a lot like the river valleys in Monterey or Half Moon Bay, coming off the hill, just longer. Montueka is a small beach town, and definitely has the coastal beach feel.

We had a lovely time at the pot luck attended by about ten other Quakers held in our honor last night. We spent time talking about Pacific Yearly Meeting, the Quarter and its corporations, and the work that our meeting does, as well as some of the challenges our meeting faces. Golden Bay Meeting has been around for about thirty years, and is clearly a close-knit group. They have about thirty members, and meeting for worship each week ranges between ten and fifteen folks.

Today we retrace our steps before curving out to Picton to catch the inter island ferry to Wellington. We’ll return the rental car in Picton, and get a new car in Wellington — the rental company doesn’t let the cars go on the ferry; it’s too hard for logistics keeping the right number of cars on each island.

Dunedin to Christchurch…

This morning we got up early and did the drive to Christchurch from Dunedin, getting in at about noon. We’ve been doubly blessed by Quaker hospitality today; we’re staying at a home of some Friends in Christchurch who are traveling at the moment, and have a lovely view of the city from their living room. We got here, met them, learned about the house and chatted for a bit, and then they were off for their long weekend getaway. We spent some time catching up on emails from the people we’re staying with later in the trip, and then met up with Michael Winter, another Friend with Christchurch meeting.

We had coffee at Zeros, a little cafe down by the hospital just a few short minutes from where we’re staying. Michael’s vocation is education, and his avocation is beekeeping, so we learned what it takes to start a new queen in a hive of bees — it’s a lot more complicated than I thought! After coffee — quite good, but all of the coffee we’ve had in New Zealand has been very good — he was kind enough to take us on a driving tour of downtown Christchurch.

This turned out to be even more valuable than it sounds, because there are a lot of roads still closed with construction from the earthquake recovery. Not the one they had this weekend, but the big one from a few years ago. There are piles of rubble where buildings should be, new buildings being constructed, and in some places there are stacks of shipping containers along the side of building facades that they’re trying to save. It’s very sobering — it reminds me a little of after Loma Prieta in Santa Cruz, but the scope is much bigger than just the downtown Santa Cruz area. 

I didn’t bring my camera with me for the drive; it would have been too difficult to shoot out of the car, and somehow it didn’t seem right to be photographing buildings in the process of being torn down or built up. 

We had dinner at Zaffrons, which our hosts told us about, a Vietnamese-Thai fusion restaurant that was really good. They’re not on Yelp, though, which was frustrating, because we didn’t bring the address with us, and ended up finding it by accident after choosing another restaurant that was coincidentally on the same corner. 

After dinner while getting ready to drive back, I was programming Meg’s phone (she has a Nokia 1520, so we’ve cached offline Here maps), and there was a small earthquake.

Tomorrow we drive overland to Golden Bay, and tomorrow night is a Quaker potluck. It’s a long drive tomorrow, and we’ll probably drive it in shifts. So far I’ve done all the driving. I’m finally getting pretty used to it, although it’s still anxiety-provoking making right turns.