Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kiwi Quests 2010 - Old MacDonald's Kiwi farm

Photos: 1) The auther unknowingly about to get splattered by the Pohutu geyser erupting in the background 2) Maori warrior coming out to challenge us during the cultural performance 3) It's very important to respect Papatuanuku 4) Our sheep herding demonstration in action 5) Carbon dating a ewe who is about to be sheared 6) The ostrich who tried to swallow my finger 7) Kiwi fruit growing in the organic orchard.

I can't believe this is my last full day in New Zealand. Where have the last three amazing weeks gone?

It's 0520 and my alarm is ringing to tell me that yep, my throat is still killing me. Must. push. on! I didn't come all the way to the (near) bottom of the world to be sidelined by some exotic germs. Liz kindly offers me a selection of painkillers for breakfast (the aspirin marked "Jakarta 1998" gets chosen out of sheer curiosity) and Uncle Ross even donates his own supply of medicine now that he's feeling much better. I buy myself a tea and some throat lozenges at the bus station and am soon greeted by a very friendly bus driver named Colin who looks eerily like Mr. Bean's twin brother. Colin is much chattier than Mr. Bean is portrayed so I shall tell them apart by their different accents. He's quite pleased to have a Canadian on board for the day, and updates me on the Olympic hockey games I've missed thus far.

Today's journey will take me south of Auckland, but not to the South Island. A nice warm blueberry muffin treat later and we've arrived at our first uber-tourist stop: Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. Normally, I wouldn't be seeking any kind of close-up experience with worms, but these ones are reputed to be super cool so I'll give it a shot. The Waitomo glowworm, Arachnocampa luminosa, is unique to New Zealand. After descending deep into limestone caves, you'll have the opportunity to see thousands of these little worms giving off their luminescent light. You can also see their sticky threads dangling from their perch in the ceiling. These threads are how they catch insects and bugs which fly down into the caves from outside. As you glide silently (unless the people next to you feel compelled to ignore the rules and talk about shopping for some reason) along the stream in the dark, look up overhead to take in the glittering beauty of hundreds of thousands of glow worms. They look like stars twinkling in the sky, but far closer at hand. It's a bit disorienting in a good way - I could swear that they were far away yet close enough to touch, at the same time. It's just incredible and really something that needs to be seen in person.

A quick detour to the gift shop for more postcards, then we're back on the bus with Mr. Kiwi Bean, heading to the Agrodome. There's a reason they call this place, "The Unique NZ Farming Experience". We start with a tractor ride to see the farm - animals and produce alike. They have a lot of different animals here - alpacas, llamas, the ubiquitous sheep, various cattle, pigs, red deer, dogs, emus, ostriches, etc. It's kind of like touring Old MacDonald's farm - if he had a Kiwi accent. I like this place because we get to hop off the "train" (being towed behind the tractor) and get close enough to the animals to touch them. We're warned, however, not to touch the cows because "Big Mac" (his real name, and he's HUGE) is ornery. The pigs are also off limits to hands because the father in the pen has a bad reputation for biting anything and anyone, and the ostriches don't get much patting because they peck. A lot. It's great fun to interact with all the other species, and I have a bunch of them eating out of my hand, literally. By now, I've had an ostrich attempt to swallow my finger, been pecked hard on my palm by an Australian emu, had an alpaca make threatening-to-spit noises at me, and watched a sheep suddenly kick another. At one point as we were back on the "train" and about to leave a paddock, I suddenly felt a warm body attempting to stuff itself between my legs as a stowaway. Looking down, it's a big, brown sheep, and I quickly take a photo before kicking it off the "train". Nice try, little buddy. I too wish you could come home with me.

Our next stop on the "train" tour is the organic orchard where they grow kiwi fruit (Kiwis are New Zealanders whereas kiwi are the national bird), olives and feijoa, a type of fruit that I have yet to try. Much to my surprise, I discover that kiwi fruit grow on vines, up and over in a canopy under which I can duck to get a respite from the merciless sun beating down on my fair Northern Hemisphere skin. Soon we're sampling some kiwi fruit wine (my ignorant palate doesn't wince so it's good) and some kiwi fruit drink with aloe vera in it. I don't like that one as much, but it's probably better for me than too much wine. I wonder if it doubles as a sunburn remedy?

Now it's time for another sheep herding demonstration. I haven't seen one since the South Island so I'm looking forward to it. Our demo dog today does a great job of staring those sheep through their paces, outlining to us what skills are required to compete at Sheepdog trials. Our dog is herding 3 sheep because that's the ratio in the trials. The handler fellow uses a series of different whistle blasts and shouted commands to direct the dog while the sheep repeatedly attempt to go AWOL. The dog successfully herds them through a variety of obstacles and finally into a pen where the handler shuts the gate. At the Agrodome, the working dogs (ours is used primarily for tourist demos because he's semi-retired, but would still happily run all day if given the chance) aren't rewarded with food so our dog takes off across the paddock and hops into a big tub of water for a quick bath. This is his reward for an excellent demo job, and it's his favourite thing in the whole world. The sheep blandly resume grazing when they are let out of the pen.

Mr. Kiwi Bean is herding us back on the bus following an exciting shearing demonstration because it's time to head to Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao (abbreviated to "Whaka" by locals), a geothermic area near Rotorua. This was the site of the Maori fortress Te Puia which was first occupied in 1325, and Maori have lived here ever since. First on the agenda is a marvellous Maori cultural performance, truly a very interesting peek at Maori history and not to be missed. It begins with the powhiri (welcoming ceremony). Our audience of many elects a "chief" who is given a quick coaching by our Maori guide. Good thing he has the Coles notes because here comes a very fierce Maori warrior to challenge our group! If our chief does not accept his offering, then we're declaring war. Um, I'd rather not go to war while on vacation, thanks. Our chief elect decides to accept to indicate that we come in peace. Now we're allowed into the wharenui ("far-en-ooh-eee" meeting house) to listen to more drumming and singing, and to get further explanation about Maori, their culture, history and way of life. I seriously recommend this if you have an opportunity.

Following the cultural performance, we put our shoes and hats back on, and troop off to find our next Maori guide who will take us round to see the geysers in action. As we walk around the grounds, she gives us all kinds of information on the history of the area and how the geysers work. We also get a stern warning not to attempt to cross the fences into the mud pools. The mud is between 80-100 degrees C, and you won't last long if you decide you need a beauty treatment. No one will come to your rescue either! The Prince of Whales geyser is erupting as we near it which means the Pohutu geyser is getting restless nearby. These geysers are really cool to see and I don't even notice the smell of rotten eggs after a while. I do recommend keeping your camera under your shirt or some other dry place because when the wind shifts, the steaming sulphurous water being thrown up to 30m in the air will splatter you. If you're like me, you won't care about smelling bad or being damp; you'll just think it's entirely too cool! I half expected this area to look like the moon, all grey and bleak and desolate, considering that it's full of geysers, alkaline pools, and scalding mud, but I'm pleased to see how much greenery abounds between the active areas.

Off now to the kiwi (bird) house where, for the first time in my life, I will finally see a live kiwi!! This is truly a thrill because these nocturnal, shy, flightless birds are very difficult to spot in the wild. My early bedtime also works against me. The kiwi house at Whakarewarewa protects a male/female couple, and we have to be very quiet inside the dim building so as not to disturb them. Luckily for us, the female is out of bed and running around hunting insects. NEAT!! She's a bit hard to spot because the light is very low and her brown feathers camouflage well, but I manage to see her a few times, even with all the other tourists pressing into my personal space. The Maori have a special relation with the kiwi: they believe that the kiwi are under the protection of Tane Mahuta, god of the forest, so they no longer hunt the birds because they consider themselves their guardians. The kiwi feathers are still used in ceremonial cloaks, but the feathers are gathered from kiwi who die naturally or under other circumstances.

Yawn! I can't believe we're already headed back to Auckland. That means I'm leaving tomorrow! A very sad thought indeed although sleeping in one place for more than 3 days at a time is of interest to me. Mr. Kiwi Bean kindly calls his friend to find out the score from the men's Olympic hockey final, and both of the Canadians on the bus let out a hearty roar of approval when word of the gold medal reaches us. I'm glad to see Uncle Ross at the bus station to cheerily greet me at this late hour, and Liz cooks a fantastic dinner for my tired self. Eventually, I stagger down to my room to pack a few last minute things, and set my alarm for "horribly early" again. I'm really going to miss it here.......

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Olympic tsunami!

Photos: 1) Dining nook at the Postmaster's Lodgings in Rawene, a 150-year old Kauri house 2) The wharf at Opononi 3) Ross & Liz take in the view of the wild Tasman Sea 4) Tane Mahuta, the oldest living Kauri tree in New Zealand 5) Uncle Ross dramatically introduces me to a tree that I've forgotten the name of.... it was great entertainment.

Well, today is a bit of a mash-up. While Uncle Ross is finally starting to feel better, by the end of today I will have come down with a sore throat.

The day started innocuously enough. While Ross and Liz enjoyed some leisurely morning reading, I amused myself by watching a bit of Olympic action on the telly. Being away from home during the entire Vancouver Olympics has been a bit difficult for someone who loves to watch them as much as I do, so whenever I have the chance (they are few and far between!), I am transfixed by the moving picture box. All was well and good until my Olympic fix was rudely interrupted by a tsunami warning for the east coast of New Zealand, triggered by the recent earthquake in Chile. I find myself somewhat disappointed that we're now on the west side of the country.

After a delicious breakfast out on the deck in the sunshine with my new feline friend (I hereby name you Achoo! because that is what you do to me) and a view for miles, it's time to pile back in the car to continue our journey back to Auckland. Our first stop is in Opononi on the Hokianga harbour, naturally just down the road from Omapere. According to Wikipedia, their combined population was 477 on the 2006 Census. Perhaps you've also heard of Opo, the orphaned wild bottlenose dolphin who became famous in New Zealand in the summer (our winter) of 1955-56 when she would play with the children of Opononi. Sadly, she was found dead on 9 March 1956, and was buried with full Maori honours in a special plot next to the town hall.

This part of the Hokianga harbour is magnificent! Liz and I walk out to the end of the Opononi wharf to watch some Maori kids jumping off, and I read a big sign back at the beach which warns mariners all about the real dangers of the (sand) bars at the mouth of the harbour. They're really quite serious about these bars. There are 8 things you must do prior to crossing, while number 9 on the list says to stay away if you're in doubt. Looking toward the mouth of Hokianga harbour (twelve thousand years ago this was a river valley), I can see massive - and I mean massive by Ontario standards, my only frame of reference - sand dunes which help to explain the bars underwater there. Those dunes are so beautiful. I wish I could dash across the water to surf down them!

Instead, we're headed out to Arai te Uru Recreation Reserve, a little way down the road from Opononi, where we'll get great views of the whole harbour and the wild Tasman Sea outside these sheltered waters. The rocks out here are quite neat with swirls of orange-brown colours in them. Lots of cream and orange and brown and green, with sandy gravel paths underfoot. If I step nearly to the edge of the cliffs we're on, it's a l-o-n-g way down to some lovely sandy beaches by the crystal clear water. I take a few photos of the plunge to freak my mom out later.

I'm exploring the Waipoua Kauri forest with Ross & Liz now after we feel obliged to pay the guy sitting in a truck to keep an eye on the car. Feels like a bit of a scam, but whatever. We're here to see, in part, Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest. Coincidently, he's also the oldest living Kauri tree in New Zealand, about 2,000 years old. To give you an idea of just how massive he is - because photos really don't do him justice - his trunk height is 17.7 meters (about 58 feet), his total height is 51.5 meters (about 169 feet), and his trunk girth is 13.8 meters (about 45 feet). He's a big, B-I-G boy. Like me, you will get a kink in your neck gazing up at his absolute splendor. That's why these brilliant DOC (Department of Conservation) people have built a second viewing area a little further from him where you can get a better idea of his enourmous self. From this second viewing platform, the people at his base are so teeny tiny! No wonder he is the son of Ranginui (the Sky Father) and Papatuaunuku (the Earth Mother).

The Four Sisters are another important part of this Kauri forest. They are four Kauri trees which grow in very close proximity to one another in the Waipoua Kauri forest. They reach gracefully to the sky as we circle the viewing platform in wonder below them, straining our eyes upward while listening to the calls and cries of birds nearby. A quick stop a bit later gives me a chance to climb up the Forest Lookout - a former fire lookout that offers spectacular views of the endless forest beneath me. I can't get enough of all this greenery!

Stopping in Dargaville for a bite to eat, Liz and I linger at the Blah Blah Blah Cafe while Ross explores the local museum. The wooden carving of a kauri gumdigger in the foyer pays tribute to the people of Dalmation descent who came over in the 19th century when kauri logging and gum digging were popular. I amuse myself in the bathroom by spotting a clever map of the world on the wall - the traditional map is inverted so that New Zealand is no longer at the bottom, or no longer Down Under.

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig. We're toiling down the east coast road, enjoying the scenery rolling past such as the flourescent pink sheep (a live one running around in a paddock by the road) at Sheep World, but are detoured at one point by a reputed accident which has closed part of our route. This means we don't get home until after 7pm and I am wiped. I'm sick and tired, but never sick and tired of New Zealand, if you know what I mean. I slowly repack all of my belongings because I'm on a long day trip tomorrow, and an early flight the following day, so this is my last chance to get organized. I stare at the heap of clothes, souvenirs, and chocolate covering the floor and bed, and I wonder if I will ever sleep tonight...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Ocean vs. Sea @ Cape Reinga

Photos: 1) Planting my native species at Te Rerenga Wairu 2) Battleground of the Tasman Sea (left) and the Pacific Ocean (right) 3) The massive Te Paki Dunes down which I sandboarded - my new favourite sport! 4) The author dips her feet into the cold, wild Tasman Sea 5) A Maori headstone in the graveyard at Te Waimate Mission.

It's an early day here in Bay of Islands. I'm on a bus trip to Cape Reinga today, going to check out the (almost) northernmost part of the North Island. I figured it would be a fun thing to do since I've already been to the (almost) most southern point of the South Island in the same trip. There's a bit of tour bus confusion among the gazillions of us waiting out at the street in front of our hotels. I finally find myself on the correct bus although the driver warned me that I'd be travelling with the "older" crowd unless I wanted to wait for the next bus. Heck, I'm used to being a younger one already so why not again today? I bid Liz and Ross a great day of R&R in Russell and climb aboard. The sun is coming up beautifully behind some clouds out over the bay as we head north along the coast.

Passing through Kerikeri (say like "keh-ree-keh-ree), I admire the extensive groves of citrus trees and the massive walls of bamboo growing along the road. The first time I encountered such towering bamboo was in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001, then again in the Windward & Leeward Islands in 2006/2007, but I still find myself floored by how tall they grow and how pretty the stretch of greenery looks. This is the first time I've been in such bamboo groves when it hasn't been a gazillion degrees of dripping humidity.

We're in Puketi (say "puh-keh-tee") Forest now for a chance to stretch our legs and crane our necks while checking out massively towering kauri trees in this subtropical rainforest. The fourth largest living kauri, Te Tangi o te Puketi, with a height of 50.9m (167 feet) dwells here. This area of delicious greenery is 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of beauty, and along with the Omahuta Forest, it forms one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland:

After passing through gorgeous Coopers Beach (a little bias here) in Doubtless Bay, so named after Captain James Cook sailed past the entrance to the area in 1769 and recorded "doubtless a bay" in his journal, it's time for a BBQ lunch at Houhora Big Game & Sports Fishing Club, perched at the edge of the water in Houhora. No doubt my cousin Teddy would enjoy a day out with these guys - it's all about fishing here! According to their website, you haven't lived until you've fished Houhora. Regardless, the seafood-free lunch is delicious and I stuff myself accordingly. After 11 days of tramping in the bush, I haven't yet kicked the new habit of filling myself at each opportunity due to uncertainty of when the next meal will arrive. A few minutes to myself in the hot sun after lunch, then we're herded back onto the air-conditioned coach for more time to admire the gorgeous passing scenery.

At last we've arrived at Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga)! We don't have much time here so I take a quick side trip to plant a native tree as part of the restoration project taking place here. It's an ecologically sensitive area, home to many rare and endangered plants and animals, along with being one of New Zealand's most visited sites, drawing over 120,000 visitors a year. Te Rerenga Wairua is also very important to all Maori as the departure place for spirits on their final journey to the homeland of Hawaiiki (distinctly different from Hawaii, for the record). The Maori name, Te Rerenga Wairua, means leaping-off place of spirits. The cape is the point where spirits of the dead enter the underworld.

Another fascinating thing about Cape Reinga is that it is the point where the Tasman Sea to the west meets the Pacific Ocean to the east. You can see a distinct area of turbulence where the two waters collide which is pretty darn cool! If you look closely, you can spot whirlpools and swirls, not to mention differences in shades of blue. I hike out to the lighthouse which shone for the first time in May of 1941, and was automated in 1987. If I cross my eyes and squint hard, I think I can see Sydney! I wish I could see some's another sunny, sweltering day of summer here.

Time for a quick loo stop in the eco-toilets, then our bus is lumbering down a streambed (with water in it) to the MASSIVE Te Paki Dunes on our way to 90 Mile Beach. These dunes are ri-di-cu-lous-ly tall! As you can probably tell, I've never been to a "real" desert where dunes of this magnitude are probably commonplace. Even better, we're going sandboarding down the dunes!!! I've just hit the entertainment jackpot. After a quick demo and safety advisory by our bus driver, I find myself hiking up the side of the dune in slow-motion. It's slo-mo for two reasons: there are a lot of people in line ahead of me as there are numerous buses stopped to disgorge their tourists, and stepping uphill in the sand means that your foot slides back nearly to the point of departure so it's really more like 3 steps forward, 2 steps back which makes for a different kind of hiking. Finally, it's my turn and I'm so excited! I lie belly-down on my boogie board, upper body propped up by my arms which are bent at the elbow, hands pulling up on the front of the board to avoid jamming it into the sand by accident. No high-speed sandy face plants today. My legs trail behind me off the back of the board as my feet will be the brakes. Ha! Brakes are for wimps, I say! My guide gives me a good shove, I close my mouth while applauding myself for keeping my sunglasses on to protect my eyes, and whoosh!! I'm flying down a giant hill of sand, headed straight for Te Paki Stream below, and I'm having so much fun!! I trail my feet in the sand for about 2 seconds of braking, then abandon all attempts to slow myself and am eventually launched across the streambed for quite a distance, sending up a giant spray of warm water all around me, and having the time of my life. I finally slide to a giddy stop to applause from my fellow bus people, and discover that I'm not even wet, just kind of sandy. Oh, if only we could stay here for hours....!

Sitting behind the bus driver does have certain advantages as we plow down 90 Mile Beach. I get to pepper him with questions and learn things like the fact that 90 Mile Beach isn't actually 90 miles long. It got named way back when people travelled this area with horses, and it took 3 days to cover the length of the beach. With an estimated average 30 miles/day of travel x 3 days, it was assumed that the beach was 90 miles long. Technically, the beach is only 55 miles long (88 kilometres), but since Australia has an 80 Mile Beach and what Kiwi wants to be outdone by the Aussies?, the original name stuck. The travel of 90 Mile Beach by coach has to be timed carefully - they have that tidal thing here, and the tour buses can only drive the beach at low tide. We stop about halfway along to plunge our feet in the cold Tasman Sea and check out pretty shells, then all too soon we're back on the bus and having our afternoon tea stop at Ancient Kauri Kingdom, a most excellent place to do a little shopping too:

Reuniting with Ross and Liz back in Bay of Islands, we swap stories about our fun days as we head across Northland to our eventual overnight destination on the west coast. On the way there, we stop to stretch our legs and check out Haruru Falls where I spot some gulls having a bath in a pool above the waterfalls. We also wander around the grounds of Waitangi House, a rich spot for local history as this is the location where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Another stop for history buffs is at Te Waimate Mission House, the second oldest building in New Zealand. We don't technically go in the house, but I enjoy wandering around the graveyard with Liz, checking out some beautiful graves and interesting markers. To some it sounds morbid to say I like graveyards, but I wander them around the world in order to appreciate how unique each one is, and to learn about local customs. I found some really pretty graveyards by accident once in Verona, Italy, when I was looking for Juliet's tomb. They're usually fairly quiet too, making them a nice spot for a picnic on a road trip as my mom can attest to from her childhood.

A stop for some pizza and views of a gorgeous sunset while watching children play hide-and-seek in a yard with virtually nowhere to hide, then we're finally at the Post Master's Lodgings in Rawene. Their logo has an uber creepy-looking fellow on it, but I'll forgive them because this fabulous kauri house is made entirely of kauri wood and is about 150 years old. We have a great room for ourselves with an ensuite bathroom, and I'm the perfect height for my little bed tucked in one corner. Sometimes, being the short one in the family pays off....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - I heart NZ ice cream!

Hooray! Uncle Ross has been pronounced fit enough for travel.

Photos: 1) A Maori carving to greet your entry to Ruapekapeka Pa 2) A view of the remaining ditch and bank defenses 3) Exterior view of the most famous toilets in New Zealand 4)The gate to the ladies loo 5) Sunset in Paihia (Bay of Islands)

Well, although I suspect he doesn't feel fit enough for travel, the doctor has give carte blanche for Liz and I to drag my poor uncle to the Northland part of the North Island for the weekend. Hopefully, the beautiful scenery will help him mend quickly!

Our first, and arguably our most important, stop of the day is in Waipu (say "why-poo") for ice cream. This isn't just any ice cream; this is very critical and very delicious ice cream! It's another hot day of summer here so ice cream plays a terribly important role in helping our bodies stay cool in the sun while we drive. Liberal application of sun cream on my Northern Hemisphere pale body is also on the list, but ice cream is first. This time, I opt for two scoops: coconut marshmallow (a rather alarmingly unnatural shade of pink) and cookies n' cream. I did have my eye on my favourite down here (Goody Goody Gum Drops), but I'm trying to keep expanding my culinary horizons away from home. Besides, I can't go back to Canada and sing the praises of delicious NZ ice cream if I've only ever tried one flavour.

Liz and I slowly amble down the main street in Waipu, carefully ingesting our medicinal ice cream and passing a prostrate Ross in the car. Poor guy. We find a little park and sink down onto some great benches in the shade of a big tree. Boy, it's hot here! I may not be the world's slowest eater (I have a friend who could compete for that record), but I am a pretty slow consumer of cold treats and Cadbury cream eggs, so eventually we start back to the car while I try to keep up with the pink trail of ice cream heading down my arm.

Our next stop a little further north is in Whangarei (say "fen-gah-ray") where it's time for a spot of tea at a little roadside coffee shop. We haven't had much for lunch yet (ice cream doesn't count because it was for medicinal purposes) so Ross and I share a piece of pear & blue cheese quiche. Oh dear. This is really going to test my taste bud limits! You see, my dad is quite fond of cheeses that smell like dead animals or hockey equipment that hasn't been washed in months, but I'm quite picky about cheese and tend to stick with bland ones that I know well like mozzarella, marble, and cheddar. I've already tried edam and goat cheeses on this trip, so I feel that I should try this gnarly-looking blue cheese. I put 3 rice-sized pieces on my fork, stab a giant piece of pear, and chew frantically. Maybe if I swallow fast enough I won't notice the cheese flavour? Nope, my mouth tastes mouldy..... {gag}. Well, at least my dad will probably be proud of me for trying.

Our next stop in this beautiful country is near Kawakawa to see the Ruapekapeka Pa, a Maori warrior stockade left over from their battle against the British in January, 1846. You can still make out the ditch and bank defenses, and luckily they've put a fence around the well because it sure looks like a long way down. The great thing about this Pa besides the interesting history is the view! It only makes sense that a defensive position should have long sight lines, and now the visitors get to drink in the beauty of the surrounding forests. There are lots of signs around to inform and teach all that you want to know about Ruapekapeka Pa, or you can also look here:

Since Mother Nature is a part of daily life, we now find ourselves in Kawakawa, home to the most famous toilets in the whole country: the ones designed by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived in the area from 1975 until his death in 2000. I first encountered his fabulous bright and cheery style when I was in Austria and Germany in 1992. Being a lover of colour myself, I was drawn to his plentiful use of it, along with the simple lines and recycling of materials long before the three "R"s became so popular. I was a bit sad when I discovered he would no longer be creating such fun and entertaining art pieces, but I did have fun exploring the toilets in Kawakawa, made even more special after I learned that they were his last project, and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. You can learn more about the artist and his work here:

What ho! At last we are in Paihia in Bay of Islands, a beautiful place to rest our heads for the night. Although they have a Swiss Chalet Lodge, we've chosen other arrangements, and once we get Ross settled for the night, Liz and I strike out to find some dinner and take in the lovely surroundings. After noshing on some delicious cream of leek with bacon soup, salad, hot chocolate, and key lime pie (I should eat dessert more often if it's always this good), we took ourselves on a tour of this tourist town, including a stop down at the ferry terminal for photos of the sun setting, as well as up into the hills to check out the fancy houses and fantastic views. Tomorrow, I'm on a solo bus trip for the day to Cape Reinga while Ross & Liz take a break across the water in Russell, but in the meantime, here's a piece of New Zealand historical knowledge for you to mull over: Te Tiritiri o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) was signed here in the Bay of Islands on February 6, 1840.