Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Great Wet North

We are now on the North Island. We rounded out the Wwoofing experince in Blenheim with an awesome homemade pizza and a ridiculous amount of baking. The idea was to make all this food so that we could take it with us on the road, as well as a cake for Pam who had her birthday the day we left. We packed up the van, and headed off to the ferry early Sunday morning. Unfortunately, we left all of the food we made in the fridge, along with some wine Pam and David gave us, chocolate, and cauliflower. Shit. We were feeling very at home on the farm, and it was hard to leave, but this is a trip, and it would be awfully pathetic if we visited NZ for 5 months and missed the north island. 


The ferry ride to the North Island was nice, but fell short of the “holiday at sea” it was supposed to be. It felt more like a ferry. Cruising out of the sounds was great, and a waterfront view of Wellington was worthwhile. We drove off the boat and went straight to Te Papa, an awesome museum of all that is New Zealand. The marine life exhibits are especially great. I was having a bit of trouble adjusting to city life after the two farms and very rural south. As we were walking around Wellington, I unceremoniously put down an injured and very sick pigeon with a well placed heel to the head. This didn’t go over well with the couple who were coming to “rescue” it. The pigeon didn’t help the situation by flapping around quite a bit despite being dead, nor did the surprising amount of blood that issued from its mangled carotid. Anyway, we walked away quickly, and managed not to get arrested.


That night we stayed with a friend of a friend in Wellington, which was great, and headed off in the morning to the Tararuas, a mountain range just north of Wellington. We did a quick hike up a very steep ridge to Table top mountain, and stayed overnight at a historic hut. We met a very nice Kiwi and Australian, who gave us all sorts of good tips for the north island and made us scared of swimming in the ocean in Australia by telling us about all the deadly things over there. The trip was very wet, and the mountain shrouded in clouds, so the views only consisted of about 20 m in front of us, but it was still great. The steep descent was very quick, and we had enough time in the day to go to Wanganui and find a nice beach to sleep on.


The beach is covered in pumice, which is a good indicator that the volcanoes around are not just for show. The sunset was beautiful and such a nice way to finish off a long day. A few of the local fisherman warned us of rough types that come around in the night. As we were just getting into bed a car full of teenagers pulled up and we chatted to them about New Zealand as they smoked dope and drank. Kelly and I abstained despite their protests. We covered all sort of topics. Did you know that “hot knives” are called “spots”, and dime bags are tinnies? I didn’t. But they were nice… if these are the rough types around, then I don’t think we need to worry.

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The plan was to quickly head into town in the morning, buy some new shoes (our old ones are basically falling apart), and climb up Mt. Taranaki. Unfortunately, gale force winds are being forecast, so we are going to wait a few days and give it a go. This leaves us with lots of time to see the coast in this area, and also to catch up on the blog. Wanaganui is a lovely town, and it is nice just walking around. Our next blog should chronicle our ascent of a real volcano, Taranaki, in a few days… woooo!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Playing it by year [sic] and Razorback

We’ve been at a beautiful farm just outside Blenheim for about two weeks. Its wonderful, but to keep things in chronological order I will give you some background before I elaborate. We headed further up the west coast and hit a few of the big touristy sites: the pancake rocks (they were neat, but better described by pictures), the blowholes (also best described by pictures), and a cave (not well described by pictures or words, as it was dark and we didn’t have the equipment to do much spelunking).



When we hit the ocean at the top of the south island, we headed west to the Abel Tasman. The difference in vegetation and weather between the West Coast and Nelson/Marlborough is astounding.It is far drier and warmer. Its actually quite similar to California, or at least how I would imagine California to be before 30 million people started living there. The flowers are beautiful and fragrant, the vineyards expansive, and you can grow citrus fruit. The ‘big’ highlight of Abel Tasman was Howard's Hole. This is a sinkhole that has the largest vertical shaft of any in NZ. 178 meters straight down. As is often the case here, there are no guardrails, and you can pretty much do what you want. There is just a sign that tells you if you fall in you are, for sure, going to die. We sort of peaked over the edge, but even for someone who is pretty comfortable with heights, it is a scary thing… think bottomless pit. We also hiked to the top of a marble peak, close to the hole, which is covered in razor sharp marble that has been molded by the rain into a very tiny mountain range. Looking at it reminded me of one of those miniature landscapes that were constructed in the second world war to allow pilots to orient themselves on the enemy's turf.


We turned around and headed more or less straight to Blenheim. We got some sound advice before the trip, which was not to plan ahead, and to do what felt right . It hasn’t lead as wrong yet. and it certainly didn’t this time. We spent a night just north of town on the beach and first thing in the morning we went straight to the library. Mum recently booked her plane ticket to Oz, on January 26th. This meant that we have another 2 months to tour around NZ. I guess we both felt that we need a bit of a break from our vacation, and so after a few productive minutes on Google I found a good lead on a farm that took WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). A phone call later we were on our way.

Pam and David, our tremendous hosts, have two small vineyards, a large forestry, about fifty sheep, a few cows, one pig, and enough chickens to keep us well egged. Pam also grows just about all the veggies we need. Kel and I are kept busy tending the vines, dealing with sheep, and working in the forestry. We’ve also had a chance to pull some more tricks out of the bag, Kelly making some tasty food and me fixing things, as per the usual.


The food here is especially great. Pam is a fantastic cook, and the ingredients make it that much better. A few days ago, we went out diving for scallops in the sounds. Seeing David haul a bag of 200 scallops onto the boat made me drool with anticipation (I tried to free dive, but it was a bit deep for it; David used a SCUBA).  I also realize that the reason that only the muscle is eaten in North America is because the fisherman must keep the delicious roe for themselves. A whole raw scallop on the boat is truly amazing, and blows oyster out of the water. Mussels can be picked from the rocks, and Crayfish (equivalent to our lobster) is easy to catch. Kelly had a go at spearfishing on the Kakura coast, but the visibility was just too low. Apparently butterfish are very tasty. We are going to go back for another go when the visibility improves. While we were on the coast we visited a seal colony and watched the little ones play in a waterfall inland.Vegetables all come from the garden, as do fruits. The cherries and apricots are not fruiting yet, but we are circling the trees waiting. The olive oil is pressed from olives which come off the trees in the orchard. Even the honey comes from the property!


The work we have been doing in the vines mostly revolves around putting up high tension wire that supports the shoots in the high winds that can sweep through the valley. The grapes are usually sold to another winery, but they have produced some nice sauvignon blanc, called Razorback. The pinot gris grapes are newer, and have yet to fruit. We also prune and debud the stems. It is a bit monotonous, but the lovely part about being here is that we really only work for about 4-6 hours a day, and then can explore; this is self imposed, Pam and David are so cool about the whole thing. The forestry is mostly my territory, thinning trees, and cutting a bit of firewood (don’t worry mom, fully safetied out.. I even have chaps). Kel helps with moving cut wood and slash, and although she can’t use the chainsaw, she can swing an axe with the best of ‘em. She has also been doing some work around the gardens, cleaning up and weeding (which includes picking strawberries!).


Other than the scallop expedition, we went on a few nice tours on the motorbike around the back forty of the property, and also took a drive towards Christchurch. We saw the salt evaporation pools that apparently supply salt to all of NZ. They are pink and purple, and you can taste the salt as you drive by. We took a day off to do a bicycle wine tour, which resulted in two very sore bums. Despite ridiculous quantities of wine, we were doing enough exercise that it seems we breathed out the alcohol and thus were fairly sober. We took one roadside nap, which in hindsight probably means we were drunk at one point, at least. On a less intoxicated occasion Pam and David took us fishing at the mouth of the Waiau river, we weren’t successful with the fish, but it was a gorgeous sunset. We visited the most expansive farmers market I have every been to, and walked away with two soft serve cones,nice!


It’s a very lovely place to stay, and it will be hard to leave. For both of us it has been the first place in NZ that we could really see living in, although not just yet. Pam and David's house is a converted three bay shed. David did most of the work, and the result is a beautifully simple place that wouldn't look out of place in Architectural Digest. It is small, and very open, and the floor is polished concrete that stays warm all night because of the warmth of the day. Most of the furniture was made by Pam's dad. The walls are plywood that has been sanded to a satin finish and whitewashed. The windows are large, and the roof is corrugated tin. The shower is in the bathroom, but the bath tub is located outside the back door in the garden. Marvelous. It is not at all elaborate, or expensive, but it just works so well. If I build a cottage, or even a house, this is what I will strive floor… but I will heat the floor if it is Canada!


As we are not really pressed for time, we are just going to play it by ear, and move on when it feels right. I am tired after a good days work, drinking tea, looking waves of grass move up a hill, and listening to Ray Charles greatest hits. Kel is reading a book by the wood stove, the dog is lying at her feet, and the cat (who sleeps under our covers at night) is sitting in her lap.  We don’t really feel the need to move on just yet.

One more thing. I am putting this on the Blog so that I remember, and so that anybody who reads this can heckle me if I don’t go through with it: We are going to get some cello and clarinet duets. I am going to pull out my clarinet and start practicing. Kel is going to get a cello, and she is (I’m sure) going to flawlessly play the harmony over and over again while I try to hack my way through the melody, until we get somewhere. That is all.