Monthly Archives: November 2014

Wellington, 20/11/14

In Taupo, which is in the centre of the North Island, I took a sailing ship, called “Fearless”, to go out on the lake.

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The night before snow had settled on the mountains on the further shore. This was unusual at this time of year, but it made a brilliant backdrop to our sailing trip.

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There was just enough wind to allow us to sail, but the lake surface was calm. Though there were half-a-dozen other people on the boat, once the engine was off everyone fell quiet and we were lulled by the gentle rocking and the creaking of the ropes.

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Our destination was a Maori rock carving, completed in the 1970’s by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell.

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This great face is that of a High Priest who sailed to Aotearoa, (New Zealand), during the 13th century Maori migration. The facial tattoos depict his genealogy.
On the rocks beside the face are other carvings, two of which are of Taniwha, or guardians. These are in the form of lizards, (though they can be dragons or other creatures), one with one head, protector of the carving, and the other with three heads, protector of the lake.

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In the afternoon I took the walk to the Huka Falls, on Waikato River. Although this is one of the most visited tourist spots in NZ, I managed to do nearly all of the walk without meeting people. There are hot springs along the way -too cold out for me to want to go in. Then the river narrows dramatically.

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It hurtles over a nine metre scarp.

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The pool below is an icy, spearmint toothpaste green.

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My next stop along was Napier, which has fine examples of Art Deco buildings, due to the fact that it had to be rebuilt in the 1930’s following an earthquake. Many of them have been compromised by the addition of modern shop fronts, but nevertheless there is much to appreciate .

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I was staying with another Servas host, a remarkable woman called Winifred. She is approaching ninety and has numerous health problems, but manages a garden with a sizeable vegetable plot, bakes, makes marmalade, organises meetings. . . Up until last year she was still teaching the Suzuki method violin, in spite of arthritis and Raynaud’s disease. With her I met a group of Servas members at a “potluck” lunch and went to another symphony concert.

As a result of the lunch, I spent two days with Trim and Kevin, who live in Havelock North and helped me to get to Hawkes Bay, known for its colony of gannets. There is a walk along the beach, past looming cliffs.

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For a couple of hours I followed the traces of the tractor which you can take as far as the upward path to the birds, as well as a few footprints in the sand. For the last half-kilometre, however, the only way onwards was by scrambling over high rocks and wading thigh deep in the sea, buffeted by strong winds. I had been told that the low tide would last for another hour, but that I should turn back when the tractor left. The driver of the tractor said they would go in five minutes. The wind had kept the water high against the rocks and now the tide was on the turn. I had seen small groups of gannets and terns on the way, and was truly worried that I wouldn’t be able to return along the beach, so paid to sit on the trailer back. Happily, back at the car park, a charming French couple agreed to take me to Havelock North, where I assured them they would find a cafĂ©. So all ended well, even if I didn’t see the bird colony at the top of the cliffs.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Trim and Alex. I had a comfortable suite to myself, ate good food and we discussed all manner of things. I hope they read my blog from time to time. Hard to say goodbye, but I’m looking forward to exploring Wellington.

Rotorua, Tuesday 11/11/14

I was supposed to catch the bus in the morning, to get me to Dharma Gaia, but due to my miscalculation of the arrival time, I saw it come in to the hostel and drive off without me.

So I had to hitch – a relatively safe option in NZ. I walked out of town and stood on the corner of the road shown by google maps to be on the way. After about quarter of an hour, it was just beginning to rain when a car stopped for me. I told the driver where I was going and he told me he thought I was on the wrong road. We talked it over a bit and then he suggested he drive me back to the “iSite” information office in town, to check. Seems google maps was wrong again, (I had several problems with it in SE Asia). By then it was pouring with rain and no more buses were running that day.

Even though he was not going in my direction, this knight of the road offered to take me all the way to the retreat. He was a semi-retired doctor from England, who had lived in NZ for forty years. We had an interesting chat during the 20-30 minutes it took to get to the place I was heading for. He drove me all the way up the hill and away he went.

Then I discovered that Dharma Gaia was at the bottom of the hill, so the woman in Reception at Mana Retreat changed out of her slippers and drove me down. I arrived just in time for lunch.

I was greeted by Benni, her adult son, Rowan and young daughter, Amelie. Over two days I spent time meditating, walking, reading, eating wholesome food, (in silence), getting up early and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. Their practice is inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk now living in France. He teaches walking meditation and espouses world peace and reconciliation. A DVD of one of his lectures was amusing as well as thought provoking.

I also attended a choir assembly with Anton, Benni’s husband. This was held in a remarkable building called The Sanctuary, designed according to the principles of the Golden Mean and with impeccable acoustics.

As there was a man’s retreat at the weekend, I had to leave on Friday. Meanwhile, Thor had offered to put me up for a few days in Thames, so I duly managed to catch the bus at the bottom of the drive and Thor came to meet me as I alighted.

It was good to have a few days away from hostels, able to cook meals in a kitchen that isn’t being used by loads of other people and having a room to myself. Thor is a thoroughly nice person. He thinks deeply about getting things right, from doing the washing to helping out his friends. He seems to get on with everybody. We had some interesting conversations, but he was also quite quiet, spending time in front of his computer while I sat day-dreaming or reading in the garden. I think it was extremely good luck to meet him in such a haphazard way.

Next stop was Hamilton, where I stayed with Belinda, another Servas host. In the morning I wandered round the horticultural gardens. They were quite different from those of other places I’ve visited. There was a sweet smelling rose garden, banks of rhododendrons and Camellias and specialist gardens, such as Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Renaissance.

In the afternoon, Belinda and I went to Zealong Tea Estate, which specialises in pure organic Oolong tea, my favourite.

Finally, that evening we went to a classical music concert. She had been given two free tickets by someone she had helped in a volunteer capacity. The programme consisted of Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Richard Strauss. Together with her home cooking and good company, it was a day of exceptional treats.

Next day I caught the bus to Waitomo, to see the glow worm caves. These are not the same glow worms as in Europe, but the larval form of Arachnocampa luminosa, which spins sticky threads and produces light in order to catch other insect prey. We took a small bus through the surrounding countryside,

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Into the cave,

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and then into a boat to be ferried along the underground river. It was as if a starry night had opened up a couple of metres above our heads. There were thousands of tiny lights, reflected in the water and shimmering on silken threads.

No photos can do it justice, but this gives just an inkling of the overall experience.

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For the last few days I’ve been in Rotorua, known for its geothermal activity. It’s a small town, inevitably with the smell of sulphur about it.

I have been to Whakarewarewa, a Maori village where they still live among the hot springs, boiling mud pools and geysers. They cook in pools and steam traps, bathe in the open-air and keep many of their traditional customs alive. Though it is an obvious tourist attraction, I think it is less contrived than many others.

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The meeting house

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Pools can reach over 100 degrees Celsius at the surface, becoming hotter the deeper you go.

Lastly, I took a tour to Wai-O-Tapu. This was certainly one of the most touristy things I’ve done, but absolutely worth it. It is a place which mixes the hellish with the heavenly. The colours are caused by the presence of different minerals, of course, and are even more striking in real life. I will let some pictures do the talking.

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