Monday, January 4, 2010

Cows, caves and carvings in the Northland

When our Chicago friends had to leave, Jake and I wanted to take advantage of the six days of vacation we still had left, so we hopped on a flight to Auckland to explore the northern part of the North Island.

I hear the entire U.S. is covered in a giant cold front, which really makes me appreciate our warm sunshine right now.

Jake and I had a chance to kayak to Haruru Falls near Paihia and Waitangi. The trip took us almost three hours since we didn't research the tide schedules before leaving. My arms were so exhausted, but it was worth it to paddle right up to this waterfall.

We also had a chance to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. If you're unfamiliar with the Waitangi Treaty, it's among the most important documents in NZ history. Signed in 1840 between the British and 500 Maori tribal chiefs, it gave the Maori the same rights as British subjects and recognised Maori ownership of their land. The interpretation was controversial though, as the British version sites the word "govern" where the Maori version says "sovereign."

Overall though, it seems both Maori and non-Maori people respect the treaty, especially since we get a day off in February every year to celebrate it. The Maori carvings are amazing to see in person. Apparently Maori wasn't a written language, so they communicated and upheld their history through carving and weaving. We were told the faces stick their tongues out because of the spoken nature of the language, and the man at the top is holding a paddle because the sea is so important to the Maori culture. Paua, a type of abalone shell found here in NZ, is used as an accent in most of the carvings' eyes.

The New Zealand flag flies above the British Union Jack on the right, and the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand on the left at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. On our drive from Paihia to our next camping destination, we came across a site that reminded us of Kansas. A bunch of cows in the road, and some lady on a four-wheeler yelling at them.

Check out our brand new tent in action at a campsite near Whangaroa. Pay no attention to the fact that it is stretched to the seams in order to fit our double-tall, queen-size pillow-top air mattress. You didn't think we were roughing it, did you?

We were looking for a tent that would be big enough to fit our giant air mattress when we go car-camping, but also small and light enough that we (and by we, I mean Jake) can fit/carry it in a backpack for multi-day treks. In case you're wondering Brett, this tent weighs about two kilos of peanut butter. (Readers: remind me to tell you the peanut butter story some time.)

Glow worm caves are a big tourist draw here. The next night we stayed at a little backpacker lodge that let us check out the cave next door unguided and for free. Of course my photos of the little critters didn't turn out, but that's okay. I don't want to ruin their mystique anyway.

This cow obviously didn't recognise my rural and agricultural roots.

We had plenty of beach time on this trip as well. I love these gorgeous beaches that never seem crowded. Not sure if we've just been avoiding the most popular places, but we can always walk a little ways or crawl over some rocks to find a little spot all to ourselves. I lived in Southern California when I was little, and it always seems like our blanket was touching other people's blankets. The weather here may not be as consistently nice as there, but I do love having some space. And when a New Zealander walks by, they say "Hi, how are you?" or "How you going?" I should be used to it by now, but I continue to be surprised and impressed by the friendliness.

Here you go, everyone. This here is the largest sea cave in the southern hemisphere. Jake and I took a cruise out to the Poor Knights Islands (apparently Jacques Cousteau rated this place among the top 10 best dive spots in the world). We did a bit of snorkeling in the chilly waters and kayaked into this amazing cave. What a beautiful place.

And after nearly two and a half weeks of blissfully amazing vacation, it's time to go back to work.


Yer Mum said...

The pictures are as great as I thought they would be, maybe the best yet. I like the one of you Jamie, with outstretched hand, trying to feed the cow. I can tell you're New Zealandized when you spell "recognise." Glad you guys posted these great pics.

Brett said...

only 2 kgs of peanut butter, sounds like a good tent. Awesome pics too, I look forward to discussing the places you visites so I can plan to tackle them this year. Happy New Year and Christmas Swearingen's!