"Arctracer" Letters

New Zealand With Hilary, Dec 1998

We've just returned from a wonderful holiday around the central and western parts of the North Island of New Zealand with Hilary. After she arrived in Auckland on the 15th we took her on a long ride around the Coromandel Peninsula. We saw huge Kauri trees that used to be all over the hills here. Very few of them remain now. One that we saw was about 1200 years old, had a girth of 9 meters and had about 70 cubic meters of wood. The largest one they know about had 6 times as much wood in it, but it is now gone. We visited a New Zealander that was harvesting oysters on rods, ate fish and chips, and arrived back at "Arctracer" about 9 p.m. Although Hilary had not had much sleep (over 48 hours) she did seem to enjoy some of the ride. She was, however, exhausted and ready for bed after we had dinner on the boat.

On the 16th we went to a secondhand store and bought a 3-man tent that had never been used. It is great and we think we'll give it to Hilary when we're done as we can't store tents on the boat (the zippers all get rusty). We climbed a hill near here called "The Mount" in Mount Maunganui and had a picnic after collecting lots of shells on a beach walk and eating steak and kidney pies (or maybe they were steak and cheese). We saw lots of Pohutukawa trees with their red flowers which are often called the New Zealand Christmas trees since they bloom around Christmas time. We had a picnic on the walk. Hilary has been using her backpack to carry all of our lunches/water/snacks since she has been here. We don't own a backpack!? I made calzones and salad later that night. We learned that it is difficult to keep up with Hilary on walks, especially the uphill parts.

The 17th found us asking our German friends on their boat "Ronin" (Birgit and Gerd) if they wanted to go to the town of Rotorua to see the thermal activity in the region. We walked all around the public park of Kuirau to see lots of boiling mud and steam. We took an hour hike to Okere Falls where we went in caves and saw marvelous trout pools. Then we drove off into the country to see three lakes and had a picnic using an electrified stove (put in 50-cent coins) to cook the Canadian-type bacon that Birgit and Gerd had bought. This picnic area was at Blue Lake. We then took a scenic ride past two more lakes, which added over an hour to our trip back to "Arctracer." Birgit and Gerd had heard that this was a beautiful ride.

The 18th Hilary and Jerry went to buy steak for a cookout and postcards while I was still waking up. We had invited Birgit and Gerd over for dinner after a get-together at the Marina Office given to foreign cruisers by the staff. We also had time this day to send and receive email.

(view photos of Hilary in Tauranga to Auckland region)

On the 19th we saw a blue penguin swimming here at the marina. We decided to tour the country a little so I told Hilary to pack for about 3 days since we didn't know where we were going. (On the 6th night out she said that she was glad she had packed for 5 days, since we never know what we're doing.) We left the boat about noon. On our ride to go Black Water Rafting we saw Pukeko or swamp hens. Their head, neck and upper parts are shiny, sooty black with touches of green. They have bright blue under parts and a large bright red bill. We've seen them in several places now. We bought some groceries for camping and arrived at Juno Hall, a place for backpackers, about 4pm. We pitched our tent next to their hogs and used their kitchen. There are many places like Juno Hall in New Zealand. They have bunkrooms, family rooms, a TV room with lounging, a kitchen, and a place for tents. There were lots of people there under 30 years old and I met two nice women from Belgium. After eating an early dinner we went on a hike from Aranui Cave to the Glow Worm Caves. This was called the Waitomo Walkway. Then we went on another walk to see the Ruakuri Natural Tunnel. We saw glow worms in a cave on this walk at about dusk. This was an absolutely gorgeous walk along streams and through dense forests with moss growing all over the trees. We saw the tui bird for the first time back at the campsite. They have a very distinguishable white tuft on their neck and are mostly black.

The 20th found Hilary joining a couple from England and a couple from Sweden with two guides to go Black Water Rafting. I opted out of this adventure because of the abseiling. Hilary had a lesson in abseiling before repelling off rocks to go deep into a chasm. She had to wear all kinds of clothing - full wet suit with other pants over it, a helmet with a light on it, and gumboots. She returned after about 5 hours and had had a wonderful time. While she was on this adventure Jerry and I went to see some angora rabbits and went on a hike/nature walk to learn about some of the trees and bushes in the area. This hike (Opapaka Pa Track) took us to a pasture where there was an old Maori Pa site - a fortification village. We used our New Zealand bird book and identified fantail birds on this walk. They really do have a fantail. After these adventures we decided to drive to the Tasman Sea to some hot sulfur pools. On the way we went to the Waitomo Caves where we saw oyster shell fossils. Hilary had banged herself up quite a bit while on her cave adventure in the morning, so when she saw all the slippery mud inside the cave, she decided to opt out of going very far inside. At one point we had to use a short rope to repel down some slippery rocks to see the oyster shells (nothing compared to what Hilary had done earlier in the day). We got very muddy and dirty. When Hilary saw us upon our return she was glad that she hadn't joined us. We stayed in Kawhia (which rhymes with Mafia because "wh" is pronounced "f") at another backpacker place that evening. We had met the owners, Bill and Brenda, on an earlier adventure and they had shown us the hot water pools at the sea. They have a place that has five bunks, a bathroom with shower, and a kitchenette. They had room for us to stay, so we leisurely went to the ocean and soaked ourselves in hot water for a while. Bill even gave us a shovel to dig pools to sit in. My back felt wonderful after soaking in the hot sulfur pools! (It had been bothering me some after all of our walking. Back at Bill's and Brenda's we had fish (Gurnard and Red Cod) and chips for dinner - cooked by Brenda at their restaurant.

I wanted to do something special on our anniversary on the 21st. Bill asked if we'd ever seen sheep being sheared (they say shorn). After having a huge breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potatoes that Brenda cooked Bill took us to a sheep farm. Peter has managed a sheep and dairy farm for a man in Auckland for almost 13 years. He has about 1200 sheep, which are half-breeds. Their wool is used for carpets rather than for garments. We watched three men shearing sheep. The average sheep shearer can shave a sheep in 90 seconds. One of the three men was much faster than the other two. There were also a man and a woman taking the wool away from the sheep being sheared. They sorted out the good wool from the dirty wool, while another man bagged the wool. It was very interesting to watch. Peter told us that the sheep have their lambs right in the paddocks (pastures) and they are born naturally with no human aid. Occasionally there are problems during birthing, but overall it is better to let things happen naturally. For every problem they tried to "fix," Peter told us, they would create a new one. He told us that the animals are called lambs until 12-14 months. From about 12-24 months they are called hoggets, and then they are ewes or rams.

After this we met another New Zealander, Wally, who had just sailed a junk- rigged sailboat to the harbor in Kawhia. It was nice to meet another sailor. From Kawhia we went to New Plymouth which is on the Tasman sea. We wanted to see Mt. Taranaki (2518 m high) which was called Mt. Egmont until the 1980's and then given back its original Maori name. It was in the clouds when we arrived at a cabin overlooking the Tasman Sea. What a beautiful place to stay! Jerry decided to treat us since it was our anniversary. We went to look at the sailboats in the harbor and then out to eat while Hilary caught up on her journal, relaxed, and watched The Simpsons. We had a buffet with more varieties of food than I'd ever seen before. I relearned that I hate buffets because I always eat way too much. Some of the food was really delicious. On the way to New Plymouth we saw lots of beautiful scenery on the road to Otorohanga. New Zealand is incredibly beautiful!

At about 9am (early for me) on the 22nd we left the cabin to head for a hike on Mt. Taranaki. On the way we saw "Panel Beaters" on huge signs. We found that this means "auto body shop." We also saw signs near cliffs on the road that said "Slips." In New Zealand "Slips" are "Landslides." Sometimes we think they speak a different language here!? On this day we found that we could not simply go to a mom and pop store (dairy store here) to buy coffee. We had to find a coffee shop. Since Jerry and I really like our coffee in the morning we spent the time to find one. The coffee shop that we found had pies, so Hilary and I had steak pies for breakfast. Jerry had already had his granola so he only bought a muffin. After this we found our way to a visitor center near Mt. Taranaki and bought a trail map. We hiked up Translator Road (gravel - they call it a metal road) almost to a relay tower and then walked down a ridge to Maketawa Hut. Their huts are not as primitive as our lean-tos. They have mattresses and windows. This particular hut could accommodate 18 people. On this hike we saw some birds that we hadn't seen before. They are called Tomtits and they have amazingly large heads for their small bodies. After the climb we decided to head toward the center of the island again to a town called Taumarunui. Jerry found a very windy road with lots of "saddles" and the ride was spectacular, but the roads were being worked on a lot. There had been a lot of landslides and washouts from the river that it followed. On this road we saw Paradise Ducks for the first time. The males are quite handsome, as are the male species in most birds and ducks. We also took a side road and saw the beautiful New Zealand pigeons, both male and female. When we arrived in Taumarunui we found no campground, so we looked at a few places to stay and found a wonderful place with two room and it even had a bathtub and shower. We were going to get a less expensive room - one room and only a shower, but Hilary treated us (since we are so frugal with our money) and paid the difference for the luxury accommodations. Hilary and I had food that we had in the car since this place had its own kitchenette, while Jerry ordered a pizza.

This place was fantastic and the people who owned it were the typical New Zealanders who go out of their way to help. The people here are unbelievable, like the scenery! Hilary was interested in horse trekking, so I decided I could try a 4-hour trip. I thought a day trip would be too hard on my bad back. The owners of the motel organized a trip for us with a Maori man named John while we went to the beautiful snow-covered Mt. Ruapehu on the 23rd. At 10:30 we took a chairlift up 2000 meters and had tomato-cilantro soup at New Zealand's highest cafe called the Knoll Ridge Cafe. We walked a little more toward the top to the snow, but I decided that I didn't like walking over volcanic boulders. I encouraged Hilary and Jerry to continue, but they decided to do a different hike with me instead. We took the chair lift back to the car and found a trail to Taranaki Falls. We walked on nice trails from 3:30 until 6pm. The falls were beautiful and Jerry and I saw another bird that was new to us. We saw both the male and female chaffinches. Hilary walked much faster than we did (we were birdwatching - or was it an excuse for getting older?) and she got back to the car before we did. A couple of backpackers asked if they could have a ride to National Park, so when we got back we offered them a ride. Since they had so much gear, only one of them chose to ride with us. Norm was from Israel and on a few months of holiday in New Zealand. Back at the motel for a second night Hilary started teaching me to make fried rice. We discovered that it was quite different with Basmati rice (i.e. Hilary did. I knew nothing about making fried rice). With the fried rice we had fresh asparagus and hogget leg steaks (a first for us). Hilary didn't care for them and Jerry didn't think they were too great. I personally am not sure if it was the steaks or the way I cooked them. I may try them again on the grill some time.

On the 24th we were all packed up about 9:30 and headed for our horse- trekking adventure with Maree and Errol's gumboots. Maree decided that my Tevas were not a good shoe to wear. Their "Tattles Motel" would always be remembered. Before heading out of town to Owhanga, Jerry and Hilary decided to try to find an ATM machine. After not seeing one at the Bank of New Zealand, they asked one of the tellers if they had one. Yes, they did and it was two blocks away. We finally found the horse float (have you heard this term before? We hadn't. It's one of those trailers people use to cart horses in) that Maree had told us about the clue to finding John and his horses. John had a Maori friend, Mike, who also joined us on the trip. They were busy shoeing the horses and putting the saddles on for about a half-hour after we arrived. They took us along a metal road to a path beside the Whakapapa River and watched our behavior to see which track they would take us on. Apparently they felt we were doing quite well, because they took us across a river (after saying a prayer in the Maori language for those that had been there before), then through wonderful swamps and bush. John even lost the track a few times and had to use his machete to clear the bush. Two times during the trip I thought I would fall off my horse, Tui as she went between trees in spaces that seemed too narrow for her and my legs to fit. Of course it was mostly my fault, since I wasn't handling the reins properly, but... she was a wonderful horse, had a mind all her own.

John had told us he would provide a lunch. When we arrived at a well stocked (not food, but other essentials) cabin they didn't bring out the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We had mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwiches! We had to carve the mutton roast off the bones. It was delicious. We had a wonderful time hearing about the Maori culture. They also asked us some questions and thought it would be wonderful to horse trekking in Kentucky, the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains. These are only places they've heard about, but Mike says he will go to at least one of those places some day. We discovered that they were both sheep shearers and Mike said he did it for 67 days in a row once. After watching the sheep shearing a few days earlier, we knew that he had to have been in great physical shape! This is a tough job and the guys sweat a lot. However, Mike continued to tell us that he then ended up in a hospital for 4 days because he had allowed himself to get dehydrated. Jerry and I had a wonderful time and we are really glad that this is something that Hilary wanted to do. We would never have experienced it by ourselves! We ended up taking a 7-hour trip and thoroughly enjoying it! However, I took Tylenol and was concerned about my back AND we all had sore thigh muscles. We talked for a few minutes after the trek and then headed back to Maree and Errol's to return the gumboots. On the way we decided that 7pm was perhaps too late to find another place to stay. We discovered that we could have our same accommodation back, so took VERY hot baths that night, hoping we would be able to walk the next day. If I was able to walk I had already decided that I would like to do an overnight horse-trekking trip with John to go trout fishing. Guess what? I could walk - now I have to convince Jerry that it will be and experience of a lifetime. John told us that they can catch 2' trout. I can't wait! After getting the room again we went to the grocery store to find something for dinner and for a Christmas picnic the following day. I bought a different kind of rice and Hilary fixed fried rice again. I forgot to mention that when we stopped to get petrol on the way back to the motel the young attendant asked Jerry if he knew Michael Jordan. Jerry said, "no, there are 260 million people in the U.S." Then this young person asked, "What famous people do you know?" The young man was not too impressed when Jerry said he didn't think he knew anyone famous in the U.S.

Maree had told us that we didn't need to worry about the 10am checkout time on Christmas day and that we should have a sleep-in after our strenuous horseback riding. We took her up on this, took more hot baths, and were finally packed up by noon. We made fried rice to go with our salad and stuffed cooked chicken before leaving, in hopes to find a unique place to have our Christmas dinner. Before leaving Maree gave us her parents' address and phone number in Tauranga (where "Arctracer" is). Her dad has volunteered to show us a dairy farm (quite different than those in New England since they do not need barns for milking their cows - it rarely snows in Tauranga). He also volunteered to show us a kiwifruit plantation and take us golfing if we want. We drove through more beautiful country on our way back to Tauranga. We stopped at Waituki Lookout at noon and saw both Mt. Taranaki and Mt. Ruapehu with it snow-covered top. We saw a few long-tailed sheep, elk in paddocks with tall fences, Huka Falls, 2 black swans with their 6 signets, and then visited Craters of the Moon which is a thermal valley with lots of boiling mud and steam. We found the perfect picnic table with a fantastic view of the area and Mt. Ruapehu in the background. We enjoyed our Christmas dinner, bought some postcards of the area, and thought about how all of you were spending your Christmas Eve. We then got back into the car to continue back to the boat. We went past a geothermal power station and got back to the boat about 6:30 after a very memorable 6 nights out. We read lots of street signs during our trip and Jerry remarked that one would need a legal-sized envelope to write to people here in New Zealand. Many of the Maori names are quite long. One name that comes to mind is Whakarewarewawatangaoteopetauaawahiao (often referred to simply as Whakarewarewa). Of course this is the longest one we know of, but there are many long Maori words with lots of vowels.

(view photos of Hilary's North Island Road Trip)