Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Oma Comes to New Zealand

I, dubbed The Oma with a capital “T” which is Dutch for grandmother, ventured to New Zealand to be with Ruth, Tim, Maya and Kai. I wanted to share my whirlwind of a journey. I'm sorry it's a bit long, but come along ...

It’s Saturday, April 16, and Kamaya is back in the water after a visit to the boatyard. We’re getting ready for a 15 day trip down to the South Island which means cleaning up the boat, packing the car with 5 sleeping bags, 5 back packs with clothes for both hot and cold weather, food in a yellow chili bag, lots of books to read, 39 stuffed animals, deck of cards and like a bushy tail on the car, 4 mountain bikes on a bike rack. We leave not at 11 am as planned, but at 4 pm bulging to the brim and excited for our exploratory voyage.

We had 31 hours to drive the 398 miles to Wellington for the Monday ferry to Picton and anticipated putting good mileage behind us, but curvy roads, stormy weather, rambunctious children and a very tired driver deterred us from getting too far.

We spent the first night in Tirau, home of the corrugated sheep building, a good bakery shop where we breakfasted and a Bendon outlet store which Tim enjoyed more for the name (that’s what the kids call him) than for their line of intimate undergarments.

Next stop -the roaring Huka Falls in Taupo which supplies natural hydro power of more than 220,000 liters of water per second and thus supplies electricity for 20% of the North Island and is a scenic area for photographs and bike riding. The Falls drain into the Waikato River, the longest river on the North Island (for you Jeopardy followers) and drains into Lake Taupo (the largest lake in New Zealand).

Further en route is a touristy Huka Prawn Farm where Kai and Maya fished, yes, only in New Zealand, for tiny little prawns.

After many patient hours, Maya caught one prawn which we boiled and savored – small bite for each one of us - a most appreciated and expensive gustatory experience.

Just in case you want to come a little closer, here's a good look at her catch.

We spent the night near Mt. Ruepeha, known to the Lord of the Rings fans as Mt. Doom, and continued onward to Wellington for the 1:00 ferry – weather rainy and windy as we soldiered on to hear that the ferry had been postponed until 4:00 pm – no worries – we went to the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, in Wellington, about ½ mile from the ferry terminal, along the spruced up Wellington waterfront. At Te Papa, home of the colossal quid, we took a break from the exhibits and feasted on our comfort food - a carton of Collengie Gold chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Back to the ferry terminal where we learned that the strong southeasterly made the crossing iffy and the captains were holding a meeting to determine whether or not to cross the Cook Strait.

The ferry ride was memorable - cars drove right onto the lower deck and passengers made their way up to the 7th floor. We boarded the boat at 6:00 pm and left at 9:00 pm for a very wild ride with waves crashing up to the 7th floor windows. The Captain assured us that although it may be a "bit rough out there, the boat will be safe." And we were, though a number of passengers experienced mal de mere.

Arriving at Picton at 1:00 am, we stayed at a Holiday Park, breakfasted deliciously at the Dutch Bakkereij before heading for the famous Queen Charlotte Area to start our first tramping adventure. The drive from Picton to Mistletoe Bay is windy and magnificent with stunning views of Marlborough Sound around every bend.

We stayed at Mistletoe Bay Eco Village, lovely area with complete community kitchen.
The managers had a classic wooden launch boat called "Winsome" and took us 8 km to Portage Bay where the Kamaya kids biked and The Oma became a "walking machine." There were foot trails and bike trails and Kai and Maya - way ahead of us - took the very difficult James Vogel Trail back to our cabin.

Next day we biked and hiked 13 km to Anakiwa. This was the longest hike for me, but I did it and enjoyed walking amidst the towering silver ferns and lush forest. I look a little exhausted here, and I was, but hey I'm the walking machine.

It is now April 22 and the weather, which has cooperated until now, becomes not only rainy, but stormy. We decide to hole up Nelson and find a little apartment on the outskirts of town, near the beach, facing a soccer field, with a full kitchen, two bedrooms, real bathroom with a bath. We nestle in happily for three days.

Nelson (named in honor of Admiral Nelson who defeated the French and the Spanish fleets in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805) lies on the Tasman Sea and has a bicycle path around their coast line. The Saturday market -rain or shine- features products from local farmers, wool growers, specialty products, and, of course, lots of good things to eat like the ever present NZ savory pies which Kai loves.

One of the highlights of our journey to the South Island was Harwood's Hole, a 50 meters round, 183 meters deep sinkhole in the limestone rock. To get there Ruth and Tim biked the steep rough pebbly road, Maya and Kai biked part of the way and I was the sag wagon. Of course, there were sheep frolicking the hills.

The 3 km hike to the hole lead through magnificent forest regions which were used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings. We may have seen Gollum lurking in the trees.

On to Marahau, where we stayed at the Marahua Camping Facilities (still clean from our Nelson bathtub) and enjoyed tasty hamburgers from the only restaurant in town. Marahau is the gateway to the Abel Tasman Park, our next hiking adventure. For the jeopardy crowd, Abel Tasman was a Dutch explorer who en route to the Dutch East Indies came across New Zealand. Legend has it that his carpenter swam ashore, planted the Dutch flag on the land and claimed NZ for Holland.

Our trip in the water taxi to a section of the Abel Tasman was almost as rough as the crossing of the Cook Strait. We started out on land, climbed into a good-size motor boat, donned yellow life jackets and put our backpacks in the front of the boat. The boat is then hooked onto a huge tractor and instead of going to the fields, we were pulled through the surf until the water is deep enough for the motorboat to float.

We rode over a big wave, kaboom, and were floating. Like the Captain of our ferry boat, the captain of this boat assured us that because of a southeasterly wind, the ride would be bumpy, but not to worry, a classic Kiwi understatement. First stop, Anchorage Hut where Tim and Ruth jumped off the bow of the boat, into the surf and started their 18 km hike to the Awaroa Hut, our next home and the site where our backpacks would be dumped off.

The water taxi usually made six stops - one at each hut/campground along the trail - but this time we went into some anchorages and back out again because it was too windy and the waves too high to safely let passengers off. Maya, Kai and The Oma should have gotten off the boat at Onetahuti Beach and hiked the 6 kilometers to the Awaroa Hut, but the waves were high and the wind too strong, so we continued to the Awaroa landing - which means beaching the boat backwards - and we took our shoes off, rolled up our trousers, jumped off with the proper wave and our Captain took the backpacks off and there we were - on the beach with five backpacks - two kids and an Oma with no sense of direction. Fortunately, there was only one path up to a lodge where we staged the backpacks - several trips up - treated ourselves to goodies in the heavy yellow chili food bag and discussed next plan of action. Gallant Tim had given instructions that he and Ruth would pick up the backpacks en route from their Anchorage stop and take them to the Awaroa Hut.

Now this might sound easy, but the Awaroa Hut was some 3 km from the beach staging area so we did have a good hike - Kai put on the huge backpack - which looked overwhelmingly heavy , but contained sleeping bags. Maya transported the stuffed animals in the pink backpack, and the water bottles and The Oma had the green backpack with the wine.

Off to the Awaroa Hut, through meadows, good paths - and then a lot of beach with tidal pools to cross. We found our way by following little red signs to the Hut and settled in to our own private quarters. The Awaroa Hut also has a big room with a wood stove. One of the guys at the hut informed us that the estuary was very tidal and we reached it at low tide, but since the tide was rising, we should get the balance of stuff.

So - we dumped the contents of the backpacks on our bunks and started back the 3km to the beach - watching the tide come up - lovely scenery, but we were in a bit of a hurry with visions of being stranded on the beach and the parents being stranded somewhere on the high dunes. This trip should have taken 1/2 hour - but we doubled that time because of the packs and the tide - transferred the heavy chili bag food to various backpacks (we dumped Tim's heavy ice cube in the bushes) - picked up everything and started back. Route now familiar, we could enjoy the tide, the bay, the climate and being in the Abel Tasman Park without fear of being lost. Back at the hut, we began worrying as the tide rose, that the parents were nowhere in sight - but, as Kai so aptly put, "They took the day off" And - as dusk settled and the tide almost reached the hut, two tired but jolly parents arrived - and Tim had somehow found the block of ice that we ditched in the bushes.

Next day we brought all backpacks to be picked up by water taxi in Awaroa, visited the comfortable, 4 star Awaroa Lodge and tramped on to Bark Bay 11 km to catch our water taxi back to Marahau. The tramp up and down a variety of hills and beaches with views of Tasman Bay, songs by a variety of birds, like the Variable Oystercatcher,

funny red mushrooms,

and towering silver ferns gives one a feeling of the beauty of this landscape.

On one of the windy beaches we crossed paths with a fellow sailor, Heather from the boat Ceol Mor, who now lives in Wellington and was tramping with her two sons.

Next adventure, another hiking and biking journey, but this one is more for the locals. We have a late start and follow the Roding River near the town of Richmond to an isolated and sparse DOC cabin called the Hackett Hut. The 5.7 kilometer hike is rocky, a bit scary and ends with a huge steam that we have to cross. The tiny Hackett Hut has a small wood fireplace. It was cold, so we crawled into our sleeping bags, chatted and sang ourselves to sleep. This was Tim’s favorite place; I prefer a little more comfort.

Friday, April 29, we biked and hiked out, and checked into a hotel in Nelson so we could have access to a television and watch The Wedding" with the rest of the world. That evening, Kim, Pierre, Patrick and Thomas from the boat, Victoria, joined us. They had sold their boat in Australia and were visiting New Zealand before heading home to Georgia.

We spent time together in Nelson with a hike in the picturesque Matai Valley, wild rides on go-carts bicycle challenges on the BMX track, fish and chip meals and plans for returning to Picton for 8:00 am ferry ride back to the North Island.

This time, the ferry ride was smooth so, together with the cows on board (look closely at the photo), we enjoyed views of Marlborough Sound and the Cook Strait.

We spent the day touring Wellington and having tea at the home of Heather and her family who live across from the Ferry in a converted sheep shearing barn.

Now I'm skipping to May 3 - the route to Napier, via Rivendell Park, another Lord of the Rings classic, is a 4 hour drive so to pass the time, Ruth drove while Kai, Maya, Tim and I played bridge. I found it a bit hard to concentrate on cards while magnificent countryside rolls by.

Last stop - Rotorua where we shared a bach with "Victoria." We eased our tired bones in the hot springs,

biked and hiked in the Redwoods, a big park, of towering Redwood trees imported more than 100 years ago from California,

ate ice cream at Lady Jane's famous ice cream store on Lake Rotorua, and visited the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park both in the daytime and returned in the evening to see the Kiwi birds foraging for food.

Here we left the "Victorians" and continued on to Auckland, but not before stopping at "Jesters" for savory pies, at the Bendon Outlet Store in Tirau, and at the Hamilton Gardens.

Saturday, May 7 – a busy day cleaning up the car and the bikes and listing them for sale on "Trademe.” Ruth and I went to the local Fish Market and visited the Voyager Museum, one of the best sailing museums in the world.

Sunday, Mothers' Day was lovely - Tim brought flowers, Maya made breakfast, and we went to the Motat Museum and learned how to drink tea with fine gloves. In the late afternoon we biked about 3 miles to Mission Bay with a reward of Genelli's ice cream.

What a fantastic journey!

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