In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


We returned to Wellington late on December 26. The next day, Cici and I took the bus out to the Katherine Mansfield birthplace in Thorndon on the other side of town. It is a well preserved and well presented example of a businessman's house at the end of the nineteenth century. They tie the rooms in nicely with Mansfield's stories, which are quite autobiographical. They also had a lot of information about her life and works in general, including an hour long DVD; she was quite a pioneering author. Afterwards, we walked back through this old section of town and through the Botanical Gardens to home.

Daughter Catharine arrived mid-day on the 28th with only a few delays due to new security measures. The next day we rented a car to drive out to the Wairarapa to the bird sanctuary at Mount Bruce. We caught a number of good ranger talks including one by an aviary containing a kokako female who was raised by humans, so she is more attached to human males than kokako males, some of whom fly around trying to catch her attention. She is beginning to make kokako calls - a lovely melodic ko-ko-ko sound - but she also, like a parrot, makes human speech sounds. They are not exactly words, but do have all the rhythm and intonation of speech. We got fairly good at spotting some kakarikis, a pretty parakeet, in other aviaries, and could watch a pair of takahes (sort of like geese) while eating lunch in the café. We even saw free flying tui and a wood pigeon while walking on the trails. We went to the eel feeding and talk. The eel were at least a meter long. Eventually, when they mature, they head out to sea and a long swim with their compatriots to an area around Tonga where they mate and die. The babies drift back to New Zealand (and Australia) and swim up rivers. I was interested to observe that some brown trout also snuck in for the free food. The kiwis were active in their house. They are nocturnal, so it always takes awhile to find them in their dim interiors. They also have a pair of tuataras, a kind of primitive reptile which are extinct everywhere else. We almost never see them move, but Ron said one moved a good foot when he wasn't looking, so perhaps they are more perceptive then I was giving them credit for. I didn't even notice the second one for a few minutes because it was so still. We ended up with the kaka feeding. Kakas are a large parrot, which have become well established again in the region thanks to the bird sanctuary.

Cici left the next day by train for Auckland. Catharine and I decided to do a day tripper bus tour of the south coast Wellington beaches. We were waiting at the nearby bus stop and started talking to the other people there, who turned out to be a Quaker couple from Palmerston North in for the day. We caught the first bus that came by, which took us to Lyall Bay, which is a large bay near the airport where people surf. When walking around to the end of the bay we discovered a small Easter Island style sculpture facing eastward which had been donated to Wellington a few years ago. Catharine had been hoping to be able to swim, but although it was sunny, it was also cool and windy, so we just walked and enjoyed the sea views, ending up after a few kilometers at Island Bay, which is a nice sheltered beach because of the island guarding its entrance.

January 3, Catharine and I rented a car to take a quick trip up to Rotorua and Napier. We had hoped to have three nights away, but there were no cars available to rent on the 2nd. We got a good view of Mt. Ruapehu, but the other volcanoes were shrouded in cloud. The wind was picking up a lot of dust on the Desert Road, but the driving conditions were ok.

Lake Taupo:
We stopped along the shores of Lake Taupo and picked up some pumice rocks, and then took a nice walk around the park and lake in the town of Taupo.

We got into Rotorua just before 6 pm. Our hotel was right next to one of the geyser parks and our "geyser-view room" really was, with both a geyser and a large mud pool bubbling away. We drove into town to look at the lake and walk around the city park which also has steam vents and hot water and mud pools. After dinner we enjoyed a soak in one of the hotel's natural hot pools.

In the morning we went to Te Puia, the park nearby which contained the geysers we could see from the hotel. In addition to the thermal area, they also had a good Maori cultural show with songs and dances, a haka (a warrior display), and a poi dance by the women. Poi are 2 balls on either end of a long cord which are swung around the body in various ways. I was particularly happy that they did a stick dance. 4 men and 4 women stand in a circle with a stick in each hand creating rhythms by whacking their own sticks together or with the people on either side and then tossing sticks back and forth. It is quite intricate and exciting. There was a pleasant small museum and then two workshops for teaching the arts of wood carving and weaving.


After lunch we went to a different place called Whakarewarewa, which is a small Maori village in a thermal area. It is not a reconstruction like Plymouth or Williamsburg, but just a village where people are living fairly normal lives. We did enjoy eating some corn which was boiled in one of the hot pools. They also have some hangi, traditionally an earth oven, but in their case built over a steam vent. Folks place there dinner in there around lunch time and pull it out cooked in the evening - a natural crock pot. They also had a cultural show, and I thought they had the better poi dance, but my camera's battery wore out, so I didn't get pictures.

Finally, the best part of the day was when we left in the afternoon and went to a hot water creek bating area recommended in Lonely Planet. The place reminded me of Oregon because we drove through a clear cut pine tree plantation to reach the parking area. Hurricane Creek itself had a buffer strip of about 20 meters on either side. A fairly short walk down a trail gets you to a number of swimming holes, including one nice deep one. There were about 30 people there. The stream seemed uniformly hot rather than having areas where you could tell hot springs were bubbling up. It was possible to sit under little waterfalls to get a nice hydrotherapy massage. Quite a magical place. Even with that break, we were able to get to Napier just before 9 pm to check into our hostel.

The next morning we ended up on an Art Deco tour all by ourselves with a guide, which was quite nice. Even though I had done the tour before, I managed to shut up and let the guide do all the talking! We did a little walking around on our own afterwards, but left for the long drive back to Wellington right after lunch. We did stop on the way to pick up some apricots, avocados and corn from a farm truck. The next day Catharine flew down for five days in Dunedin and Queenstown, busing back through the South Island and taking the ferry back. She met up with an internet friend from Invercargill who came up to meet her in Queenstown.

Meanwhile, my sister Chartis and her husband Ned arrived for a two day visit while touring NZ. Besides walking about with them through town and along the waterfronts, we mostly let them explore Wellington on their own. We also went to the old and new St. Paul's Cathedral, and, of course, some of Wellington's nice restaurants. Then they were off on the ferry for their tour of the South Island.

Catharine returned on the ferry the same afternoon Chartis and Ned left. With one full day left together, we went to an exhibit at the newly reopened City Gallery for the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama called Mirrored Years. (check out Kusama particularly likes room sized installations full of large soft form sculptures where everything is covered in large polka dots. They also decorated the outside of the building with dots. There was a room full of mirrored steel balls, and a hallway lined with convex mirrors. Two of the neatest installations were two small mirror-paneled rooms filled with little lights, so everything is seen in infinite regressions. I liked it all more than I expected. It was fun, but also left room for contemplation. The next day Catharine flew up to Auckland for a couple of days before heading back to the States. I promptly came down with a sore throat and cough and stayed in bed for the next week.

Since about January 20, we have actually begun to have mostly summer weather instead of just the occasional day or two. Summer here means the temperature may get into the mid 70s with only a light breeze. So, one of the first days when I was well enough to get out and about, we took the bus over to Petone (pronounced pe-to-ne since it comes from Maori), which is on the north side of Wellington Harbour. The main street is about 3 blocks in from the beach and lined with a nice variety of older buildings. After lunch we walked down to the pier, which juts far into the bay because the shore is very shallow. A pleasant walk around the bay brought us to the small Settlers Museum. Petone was actually the first area settled, since it looked like a good, rich river valley. Unfortunately, they discovered after a few months that the river had a strong disposition towards flooding, so the settlement moved around to the hills of present day Wellington. The small museum had some models of the early settlement, which had a cooperative relationship with the local Maoris, and also some interesting information on the industrial history of the area. New Zealand used to manufacture a lot of its own goods, including automobiles, that now it imports. Petone also had a very large meat packing plant, which gave the whole area a distinctive odor.

January 25 was a local holiday in honor of Wellington's founding, so we went to the Colonial Cottage Museum, thereby getting in all our local history in one week. This small (4 downstairs rooms) house was built in 1858, and what with fires and earthquakes, it is the oldest original cottage still standing. Its furnishing are also mostly original or from the family, and we had a nice docent tour, as well as time to wander through the house and garden by ourselves. It actually reminded us of the log cabin in which we lived in Ashton ten years ago.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Top of the South Island

My twin sister Cici was supposed to arrive from Portland, Oregon on December 20, but instead she went just about everywhere else. Her Virgin Australia flight left Los Angeles late and was diverted to Honolulu because of a sick crewmember. She was able to call her husband from there, and he called us, so we could track her flights after that. Since the crew had now worked past their limit, the plane had to divert to Fiji to pick up a new crew. Of course, there was no opportunity to enjoy either of those locales. Finally, Cici got to Sydney, but it was too late for the connection to Auckland, so they flew her to Christchurch instead. She at least got a little rest in a motel. In the morning, she was able to change her Air New Zealand flight so she came straight to Wellington a little before noon, only 15 hours late. We took her for a walking tour around Wellington, dinner at a Turkish restaurant, and some Irish music afterwards.

The next day, Tuesday December 22, we got on the ferry for four days on the South Island. The weather was good, so we sat outside most of the trip. I do not remember this trip well from 20 years ago, but the passage through the Tory Strait in Marlborough Sound to Picton is quite spectacular. It is a surprisingly narrow channel. In Picton we picked up a rental car and proceeded over hills and along different bays to Nelson on the Tasman Bay. Since Ron had stayed there a couple of months ago, he took us on a walking tour, and we stocked up on groceries for Christmas. Our motel was in Motueka, a smaller town closer to Abel Tasman National Park.

The next day was our big day for a boat tour around the Park. The boat leaves from a small marina and travels along the coast, dropping off and picking up people from various designated beaches. Rather than getting on the boat right away, we parked at the entrance of the park and walked about 45 minutes to the first pick up point. We did this in order not to feel too limited by a timetable of pickups. The boat was quite full when we got on, but gradually emptied as we went along. The bay is wide, the coast is lovely, the weather was great. We cruised by one island that is a seal nursery. As usual, it took awhile to see the seals because they look like brown rocks when they are sleeping. I learnt that the females stay around all year, because they are pregnant for about 11 months and taking care of new pups, and the males only show up for about 3 months during the mating season. We went all the way to the top of the run and then most of the return trip, and got off at the second-to-last stop, Anchorage Bay.

We ate lunch in the shade of a small cliff at the end of the beach. Carved separately into the cliff were the names of two of our nieces, Iris and Zoe, which we thought was a neat coincidence. The Iris name included the dates 1897 – 1983, so it might have been there 25 years. Wading around the cliff, I found that there was a darling little cove with a big rock with a split arch in it. It reminded me of the Cathedral Coast area up in the Coromandel. It was a nice day for wading, but not warm enough to feel like swimming. After lunch, we started our hike out of the Park, more than 7 miles, or about 4 hours. The first bit was uphill to get around the headland, but after that the trail was quite moderate, and we had good views. The forest was mostly coastal scrub rather than tall trees, rather like the California or Oregon coasts. When we finally got out, we were glad for some Thai take-out and a soak in the motel spa.

The next day, Christmas Eve, we drove over some high hills, picking up cherries and kiwi fruit at a farm stand on the way. We had spectacular views of Tasman Bay and then Golden Bay. In the picture from the overlook, you can just see that most of the orchards in the valley are covered with bird netting. The rock formations up there are a type of karst or marble that weathers easily forming sinkholes, caves and interesting surface formations. The Maoris have a legend that a great monster was destroyed up there and these are his scales. Which is interesting because the largest land animal was the moa, which they quickly hunted to extinction, but they would have been familiar with whales and other large sea creatures.

We had a very nice motel unit in a Holiday Park campground. The beach stretches for a long way with the campground near the eastern end, so there were interesting rocks and coves to explore. Cici went swimming right away, and we discovered that the beach is shallow and gently sloping, so it takes a long time to get out to waist level. It was very calm. As the afternoon progressed, the tide went out, leaving a vast stretch of wet sand, and we got to explore past the rocks that had earlier been a barrier. People enjoy using the wet sand as a medium for writing messages as well as constructing sandcastles and pools, so there were a number of Merry Christmas wishes. That evening we discovered we had excellent TV reception, so we watched a Nativity movie starring NZ actress Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary; it was an ok interpretation. We checked its literary accuracy against the Gideon Bible provided.

Christmas Day we headed out early to explore Golden Bay. First we went east to an Abel Tasman memorial. He was the first European explorer (Dutch East Indies Company) to reach New Zealand in 1642. When the local Maoris saw his ship they gathered on the shore, blowing their conch shells as a challenge. Thinking this was just a greeting, the Dutch blew their horns back. So the next day when the ship launched some small boats, the Maori attacked in their canoes and killed four of the crew. The ship fired its cannon, got the rest of their crew back, and left. No other Europeans showed up for over a century, until Captain Cook showed up in 1769, and fared much better with the North Island Maoris. It probably was very helpful to have the extra hundred years without colonial pressure.

On the way, we stopped at the harbor jetty for a look at the two Tata islands (Tata was what we always called one of my grandmothers, and in Maori it appears to mean “close by”). We had a wonderful chance to watch a seal swimming around right at our feet, looking for fish and shellfish, although we never saw it find anything, so it seemed like it was just performing for our viewing pleasure.

Then we were off for an hour’s drive to the far side of the Bay and the base of Farewell Spit. The spit itself stretches for 35 km across nearly the whole top of the Bay, but there is no vehicular access, except by a tour bus, which was not operating on Christmas Day. Instead, we walked about a half an hour through sheep and cattle paddocks to the west coast ocean side of the hills, reaching a really spectacular and deserted wide beach at what is called Fossil Point, although we did not see any fossils. As we walked around, we almost tripped over seals sleeping soundly on the beach. Some of them looked like they had climbed out at high tide and were now 30 meters from the sea, and beginning to get covered with drifting sand. Others had climbed up under the cliffs to find shady nooks. I was really glad we had decided to take this drive rather than laze around on the beach all day. As it was we still got back for a late lunch, and I was able to sun bathe and take my anticipated Christmas Day swim. There was much more wind and so it was also possible to play in the waves. That night we also went out to look at the moon and the stars. All and all, a great Christmas.

We weren’t sure how long it would take to get back to Picton, so we left fairly early the next morning. We retraced our steps to Motueka and then took a road going south. On the map it looked like it went through a wide level valley, but in fact it wound along a stream between hills with only very scattered farms and a surprising number of eucalyptus stands. A lot of distances on NZ maps are like 50 kilometers, and one thinks that won’t take very long, but often the best average speed a person can do is 50 K per hour, so it takes as long as many 50 mile roads in the US. Eventually, we got to our goal of Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park for lunch. The lake is long and narrow between high hills, almost alpine looking. There were ducks to feed, and a black swan, and even eels hanging out at the dock. Cici and Ron saw a kea, or South Island parrot, on a walk in the forest. After driving through some of the Marlborough wine country, we got to the ferry with plenty of time to spare.

I will post soon about our activities on the North Island with Cici and later our daughter Catharine.