Friday, 22 October 2010

The Bay of Islands and our cruise on ‘The Rock’

Having written so openly about the challenge of cycling up and down mountains last week, I am now writing about the somewhat less exhausting experience of being part of an exceptional group tour around the Bay of Islands, on New Zealand’s north eastern coast.

We spent 2 nights in Russell at the ‘Top 10 Holiday resort’ before catching a ferry across the pond to Paihia. After checking into the delightful Bay Adventurers backpackers, we set about booking ourselves onto a nice cruise on board ‘The Rock’, a converted car ferry, built 41 years ago in Whangerei and now playing host to the tourists.

I have included a link to the website in the blog page, on the right hand column, if you would like to see further information on the specifics of the boat. Our own experience was fun filled and an ideal way to spend some more of our honeymoon fund – so for those amazing friends and family who have contributed – your funds have not gone to waste!

The Rock provided us with great food, brilliant hospitality, Ben, Johnny, Ali and Adam were all really knowledgeable crew and they looked after us so well. We were made to feel like family for the 24 hours we were on board. The room Mel and I shared was very clean and comfortable, with doors leading out onto the upper deck, through which we saw the most stunning stars as we went to bed last night.

On arrival, we were briefed about safety, offered as much tea and coffee we could ever have wished for and we started our journey. I got stuck into a game of pool and after that, joined in a shooting competition. The objective of which was to hit a rubber duck, named Matilda, with a paint ball gun, from the back of the boat, while Matilda bobbed around at the end of a rope in the surf. I lost. 0/4! Mel also managed the same score. However, not one to be accepting of failure, I decided to do a spot of fishing when given the opportunity, as did 12 others and between us, we caught 2 fish, amassing a total weight of around one half of a bag of sugar. So, not enough cook on the barby, but fun anyway.

After the fishing, it was time for dinner, a lovingly prepared BBQ, before which I was asked to make a speech on behalf of the crew and passengers. Apparently it is a tradition for somebody to do it before the evening meal on each trip, as you could imagine, I was extremely reluctant to stand up in front of an audience, unaccustomed as I am to public speaking!

Dinner was followed by a chance to go night Kayaking and to experience the beauty of the phosphorescence.

We settled down to a nice glass of whiskey in front of a log fire. We toasted a few Marshmallows with new acquaintances and when the generator was finally turned off at midnight, took our leave and slumbered, nestling in together on our bed, with the calm waters of the Pacific all around us and a sky full of stars shining down.

Day 2 on the rock was to be our last full day in the town of Paihia and it began with some lovely breakfast in the lounge, followed by a short kayak trip over to one of the bays’ islands and a trek around to some of the beaches. The island we visited had lots of sheep, many of them were with lambs and we even saw one ewe giving birth right in front of us!
The D.O.C have spent a great deal of time and energy in an attempt to re-create the fragile bio diversity on the islands, killing rats and possums and getting volunteers to help in the efforts to clear up all the rubbish from the beaches. They are doing well, the water is clear and there is very little in the way of plastic bottles and other detrious littering the shore line. Mel and I sat and ate a cereal bar by the water, congratulating ourselves on finding such a perfect way to enjoy a honeymoon trip together.

It was all going so well so something was bound to give, and it did. Mel had already successfully disembarked her kayak and I was trying to make my way aboard the mother vessel when the wind got up and I was forced to ask Adam, one of the crew, to pull me towards the boat using one end of my paddle. Unfortunately the forces of nature and my inability to balance led to me to capsize into the not so warm water, fully clothed and I dropped my sun glasses at the same time. As you can imagine, sympathy abounded from all concerned, personified by a collective laugh by everybody who saw the slow motion event. However, not to be deterred from my immediate priority, I quickly and deftly put on a snorkel and goggles and began to search for the glasses. The water was only 4-5mtetres deep and within 15 minutes, I had found them and rescued them from the sea-bed. I had earned a cup of hot tea!

On the way back to Paihia dock the most amazing thing happened; a pod of dolphins came straight up to our boat and began to put on the most incredible display for us. Mel was almost in tears as we observed the 12-15 strong pod play in the swell at the front of the boat. It was one of the greatest few minutes of our married life!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Mel's food blog 14th October 2010

I thought I would write a little blog because before I came to New Zealand I didn’t realise how many different foods are really Kiwi.

Those Charlie and I have tried so far are:

Hokey-Pokey Ice Cream – This iconic Kiwi Icecream is mainly vanilla but is stuffed full with Cinder Toffee – the stuff that’s inside a Crunchie bar. It’s really good – not too sweet.

According to Wikipedia: "Hokey pokey" was a slang term for ice cream in general in the 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries in several areas — including New York and parts of the UK — specifically for the ice cream sold by street vendors, or "hokey-pokey" men. The vendors, said to be mostly of Italian descent, supposedly used a sales pitch or song involving the phrase "hokey pokey", for which several origins have been suggested, although no certain etymology is known.

Gingernuts Now, I’m really not sure why these biscuits would be considered to be really Kiwi, but I believe that Kiwi’s eat more gingernuts than any other biscuits. I like a good gingernut as much as the next person so I like that they are so popular here!!

Anzac Biscuits These biscuits are made with coconut, oats, flour, golden syrup, butter, bicarbonate of soda and boiling water. They were apparently made as food to be sent to the ANZAC troops (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) as they were made of ingredients which do not spoil easily and which also would be nutritious and keep the soldiers going.
Anzac Biscuit Ingredients
1 cup plain flour
I cup sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
4 oz butter
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (add a little more water if mixture is too dry)
Anzac Biscuit Directions
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (or approx 375 degrees F).
Grease a biscuit tray or line with baking paper.
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.
In a small saucepan over a medium heat (or in a microwave proof jug or bowl in the microwave), combine the butter and golden syrup until the butter has melted.
In a small bowl, combine the boiling water and bicarbonate of soda.
Add the bicarb and water mixture with the melted butter and golden syrup.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
Mix thoroughly.
Dollop teaspoonfuls of the biscuit mixture onto the greased baking tray.
Don't forget that the biscuits WILL spread during baking, so make sure you leave room for them to spread!
Bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from oven.
Allow the Anzac biscuits to cool on the tray for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Lemon and Paeroa This carbonated lemonade-style drink is totally popular here, it originates in a place called Paeroa in the Coromandel Peninsula. The spring water from here is apparently very special, here’s the story of it’s history from their website:

“The chance discovery of the spring of mineral water in a cow paddock near the confluence of the Ohinemuri and Waihou Rivers, known as the Junction, was followed by frequent visits to the hole in the ground from which palatable water could be obtained for the taking. That was long before anyone thought of commercialising the product."

“The writer and his lady friend struck upon the happy idea of taking a lemon or two in their pockets and adding lemon juice to the mineral water anticipating the future use that delectable refreshing drink “Paeroa and Lemon”.

“Paeroa and Lemon was enjoyed by some of the early residents of Paeroa to quench the thirsty and on occasions to relieve a bilious attack”.

A report compiled by a noted Government balneologist A. S. Wohlman, OBE, MD., BS (London) in 1904 stated:

“The Paeroa spring is a large warm effervescing spring of similar nature to the Te Aroha spring, but containing 73 grains of magnesium bicarbonate to the gallon."

“It is good for dyspepsia and pleasant to drink and in older times had the reputation among the goldminers of the district as a Sunday morning drink after a Saturday night “burst”. It can be beneficial for constipation."

The Paeroa spring water as a mild alkaline water with iron salts and was valuable for medicinal purposes and as a table water. He was not sure anyone would go to the expenses of bottling it, especially with the large amount of tea which was drunk in the colony.

“The Paeroa water analysis was: Temperature 80deg. F.; fair effervescence of CO2; pleasant sweetish taste. Magnesium bicarbonate, 73 grains per gallon; sodium bicarbonate, 39.4; calcium bicarbonate, 35.5; ferrous bicarbonate 1.6; total solids 167.8.”

Yet another early recollection about 1906:

“A favourite Sunday walk was to the mineral spring near Junction Wharf. The spring filled a small grassy well, the overflow going into the nearby creek. The usual thing was to have a drink there and take a bottle home. This property was taken over by a Mr Fewell who started bottling the water. This was the beginning of Lemon and Paeroa.”

Lamingtons We actually had these in Australia rather than here in New Zealand (we’re not counting the terrible specimens we had in Whangarei), but these chocolate or raspberry covered spongecakes are great – especially when cream is added to the inside! They are coated in desiccated coconut and are just fabulous. Apparently Aussies and Kiwis fight over who first made the lamington.

NZ Marmite This is very different to the British version of Marmite, it’s somewhere in between Vegemite and Marmite. It’s OK, but my heart will always remain with Mymate Marmite.

KiwiFruit We have had some really amazing, juicy ripe kiwifruit since we have been here – a world away from the solid dark green ones we buy in the UK. These were originally called the Chinese Gooseberry and came (duh) from China. But in a master-piece of marketing, the New Zealand farmers started producing them for export and called them the Kiwifruit as China was out of favour in the west. You have to call them kiwifruit rather than a kiwi – that’s an iconic bird or a person from New Zealand!

Kumara This type of Maori potato is really lovely, we have had kumara chips from the chip shop but you can also have them in the usual sorts of potato dishes.

There are some Kiwi specialties which we haven’t tried yet but are going to try as soon as we can:

Pavlova – meringue with cream and fruit
Chocolate Fish – Marshmallow covered in chocolate, shaped like a fish
Pineapple Lumps – Weird looking sweet – I think it’s choc covered too,
Jaffas – orange coated chocolates popular snacks at the movies.
Afghan Biscuits – Chocolate and cornflake biscuits with walnuts on top.
Whitebait – often eaten in fritters.
Paua – A kind of shellfish, the shells are often used in jewellery.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The morning after the 3 days before…

We have covered a massive amount of distance over the last few days. 120kms: 42km on day 1 (Whangerei – Whananaki), 56km on day 2 (Whananaki – Kawakawa) and 20 on day 3 (Kawakawa to Russel).

View Larger Map

Ask me which of these was the hardest and I would reply that day 3 hurt the most. Steep climb after steep climb on tired limbs smashed through the walls of my positive attitude and began to tear into the ragged cells of my inner motivation. I began to feel like I had made a big mistake. The reality of the task still ahead loomed so very large, even the bike began to creak beneath my weight, almost as if it sensed my apprehension and decided to start giving up its own ghost. Time and again I had to get off, wipe the filth that was caked to my skin with an already drenched t-shirt and drink a small quantity of my precious water, making sure that I saved enough to last the rest of the journey. By the time we were cycling into Russell, the gateway to the bay of islands, I felt like I had lost around 2 stone in weight and an even greater portion of my motivation. I have to tell you; I wanted to go home.

Having booked to stay a couple of nights here at the ‘Top 10 Holiday Resort’ we began to pitch the tent. At one point it became too much for Mel, who I could see was struggling with aching knees and sore fingers, she made here way off to be alone for a few minutes, the thought of another guy rope clearly tipping the balance as the battle to set up our house for the night continued. Somehow, half an hour later, showered and changed, we were ready to head off into the township and find something to eat. The pain in our bones stayed with us, but after wholesome seafood chowder on by the harbour side, it all didn’t hurt quite so much.

It is 10:20am the following day. 20 hours since we arrived here and things are a little better. We ate quite a lot of cookies and a large chilli last night before having an early night. This morning, Mel has chosen to stay in bed, she is reading a new novel she found in the bookshop in the communal kitchen and I am sitting under a tree, sheltering from the strong sunshine on one of the park’s wooden tables. There is a bird in the tree above me making the strangest noises. It's called a Tui, it is black and it has a white sack hanging from its throat, as do all of its friends who are sat around in other trees, not because I see them, but I can hear them.

I am no longer feeling like we have made a mistake, that was a symptom of massive fatigue rather than a true reflection of how things really are. I am considering buying a car though, or maybe a campervan. Mel and I keep looking at the vans we see pass us on the roads and our immediate thought is always how nice it would be to be touring in one of those. The bed could stay made; it wouldn’t leak like our tent does in the rain etc. Then, after consideration we decide that we have made the right decision and that cycling is the most gratifying way to observe the country, it’s just tough going at times. You learn much more about yourself by travelling this way and you see more of the subtle parts of the landscape that you would otherwise be oblivious to with your engine running and radio blasting.

When I was at school I always felt sorry for the kids who never bothered to break away from the status quo. I’m talking about when I became a teenager, maybe 14 onwards. Most people would have their own group of mates and their own fixed perspective of what was cool and what was uncool; anybody who attempted to do things differently was mocked and bullied accordingly. Some of the adults I have met are still this way (mentioning no names as we all know the type). Teachers always bore the brunt of this animosity. During this period I had a teacher who was decidedly orange in every way. His hair, skin and teeth were different shades of ‘Tango’ and as a consequence much of the class decided that he was an object to be abused and ridiculed. He was different, it didn’t matter that he had a great knowledge of Physics and could teach it very well, he had dared to not look and sound as we all did and he wore shirts that may have been cut from fabric which may at one time have been hospital curtains.

I wouldn’t say that I was never in the centre of this teacher abuse, or other student abuse for that matter, but I was never actually afraid to accept something or someone a little different, to meet new people and visit new places. It is this willingness to allow new discoveries into my life that has brought me to New Zealand to cycle round the islands. Mel and I are the same in that regard, which is lucky I suppose. For us, it beats the stress and strain that mundane Monday always brings to the office worker who goes to Majorca every year in the same month, with the same people, to drink and eat at the same places, that’s for certain.

We started telling each other 3 interesting things we have seen each trip – it’s amazing how we both see and experience different things. The last 3 day’s interesting things included:

• Many dead Possums and 2 separate dead cats on the verge
• A vehicle ferry trip from Opua to Okiato where we were counted as vehicles with our bikes and trailer
• A stoat running up to the road, seeing Mel and belting away again at full speed
• The colour of the earth – so red it was almost like the Australia red centre
• A dog riding on the back of a motorbike
• Mel being chased by 2 terriers
• Mel being followed by a group of cows in a field
• A field full of bemused llamas
• A dead tree that was a beautiful silver colour in the sun
• The beautiful colonial architecture when we arrived in Russel
• The $8 amazing meal deal we had in a hotel we stayed in at Kawakawa
• The architectural wonder that is the Huterwasser toilets in Kawakawa – being photographed by several different tour buses full of people!

There are naturally things that I miss, like family, having our own bathroom, Norwich City FC, brewing my own beer, my students, Glastonbury Festival and other stuff, but it will all be there when we get our own home again. Pain or no pain; I wouldn’t swap this adventure for anything. Bring on tomorrow!!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

October 3rd 2010 Back in the YHA Whangerei

It’s early evening here in New Zealand, Mel and I are sitting on a small 2 seater sofa which has been placed at the foot of our bed in our double bed here at the YHA in Whangerei. This is the first time we have been able to get good internet connectivity for the last 2 weeks, hence the lack of activity on the blog. It has been good to see how many hits there have been on the page though – more than 350 – this suggests that all those following our experiences have continued to do so in our absence, for which I am extremely humbled.

As you will be aware; Mel and I have been working out at Tania’s place for the duration of those 2 weeks, a wonderful and inspiring period in our travels so far. I am now physically drained, sitting in clothes that I really should put through the wash as they are covered in grime from more than a couple of days out in the paddocks building a the chook house, chopping logs and today tramping around in a stream in an effort to discover if there is enough water pressure on Tania’s land to get a ram pump to supply the land with fresh water. I have not been able to get a shower yet today as I am waiting to Skype my family and I don’t want to miss this opportunity as it may not be so easy to find internet the further north we travel.

The last days of our WWOOFing adventure at Tania’s were brilliant. The chicken house and their run were, in the end, a real triumph and the chickens arrived in their new home 2 nights before we departed. That was still enough time for them to all escape through an unseen gap in the chicken wire, be rounded up in an easy to imagine comedy style – on hands and knees creeping through the dense foliage of Totora trees and shrubs, and also time for them to lay 6 eggs! Two of the chooks have been named after us, an accolade we are very proud to have received. When asked by Peggy, Tania’s wonderful mother, what I would name the chicken house, I responded with the name ‘Fowl Hall’, although Mel preferred ‘Chook Mansion’. Tania thought that ‘Eggywood’ was a more apt title for what has to be the most impressive chicken house ever constructed in the world. I know you probably feel that this is an overstatement, but check out the video (one of three new videos updated today) and see just how brilliant it really is. It is positioned in such a good location, overlooking a valley, partially covered by a giant tree, which protects the little hens from the weather, but with enough of a run our in the open that they can enjoy the sun over NZ’s long summer which starts soon!! It also has many different nesting boxes and perches in the house and even a sculpture which we built in the run onto which they can sit and eat fruit which is impaled on the extremities. A new landscaped path around the enclosure for ease of access to the gate and nesting box hatch complete the project nicely.

On Friday evening Peggy invited us to dinner at her charming cottage which is slightly higher up the hill from Tania’s place. Naturally we made our way up to the cottage with eager anticipation and we were not disappointed. Peggy had created a lovely 3 course meal of Prawn cocktail then Chicken Provencial (chicken wrapped in bacon seasoned with Thyme and baked in a casserole dish with rice and tomatoes). This was followed by a fantastic fruit trifle and all washed down with stimulating conversation and a little red wine.

On Saturday evening we were invited over to Dave and Chrissie’s place, also on the 20 acre plot which houses Tania and Peggy’s premises for yet another fantastic meal. Dave came out to NZ in 1959, another POM, this time from Leicester. He has been married to Chris for 42 years and they live together in the house that they built, overlooking the same hills as our chickens. Dave is a builder by trade and he has built an outside fireplace opposite the entrance to their house. It can house an enormous amount of fire and we all sat round eating and drinking whilst listening to Faithless recorded live in Newcastle until none of us had any strength left to go on. Mel and I stumbled back to Tania’s past Peggy’s place and via the chicken house. It was a beautiful night sky, I saw a shooting star and the entire galaxy was clearly visible from the top of the hill. We eventually collapsed into bed in the wee small hours of this morning.

Today, we said farewell to our host and agreed that we must meet again some day. Tania, I hope you and Peggy, Dave, Chrissie and all the hens have a great year – thank you for everything, we drink to thee!!

Space to think 30th September 2010

I’m sitting in Tania’s living room at the moment, on a sofa all to myself, Bilbo the retriever at my feet, sprawled on the patterned carpet which lies under a coffee table on which are the salt and pepper shakers and a dish cloth which we used to carry through the hot plates from the wood stove half an hour ago. A couple of candles of the night light variety are behind that as I look at them and behind the edge of the table in the corner of the room is Tania’s music collection. Mel has just put another Ti tree log on the fire, she’s reading another book, this time a Polish novel in between long episodes of gazing into the mesmeric flames of the red brick hearth. Tania is reading the free adverts on another sofa, her legs tucked up onto the cushions like a teenager might do when their mother is trying to do the vacuuming. The walls of this most bohemian room are decorated with Saris, paintings and book shelves and behind Tania’s sofa are 2 sets of bongo’s left here for safe keeping by her son Emmanuel. There are other candles dotted around, a tambourine, maracas and another drum. The light on the ceiling is the type you would find in most Moroccan cafes and it casts out many alluring shadows onto the walls and the surrounding ceiling. I wonder if we shall ever return to this place when we leave on Sunday.

There are some slight down sides to life out here, but not many. There is not Broadband connection and the insects feed greedily on our fresh skin. Mel’s poor feet have taken a real battering, swollen mounds of bites, worse than any she has had before are keeping her awake at night, scratching. They flared up last night after she had been paddling on Baylys beach in the dirty surf which pounds the West coast of this island. The beach itself is fairly sparse, except for a handful of cars and bikes which cruise up and down on the hard sand. The sea is always ruff on that side of the country, as it travels for thousands of kms before battering the coastline 8 kms east of Dargaville. We enjoyed some excellent fish & chips in Dargaville township last night on our way home from the forest walk, deep sea cod and chips with Mayo – nice!

Mel and I have been able to spend some quality time dreaming of the things we would both like from our next home, wherever that may end up being. We are not sure if we can afford to buy the perfect home, but it may be possible to build a house, especially if we were to make to jump over the earth and settle permanently in NZ. At this stage, we think we will go back to the UK, maybe to Scotland and set up a life there. We have time on our hands to make the right choice for us. We are only 3 weeks into our 1 year visa to be here after all. We spent some time last night, propped up in bed discussing the pros and cons of keeping chickens and a goat, a sheep and a milking cow. If we could figure out a way to generate our own electricity though wind or water, we could be ‘off the grid’ ourselves, in much the same way as many of the folk down here are. These things are all possible at home too. My mother lives in a house with enough land around her to be almost self sufficient I would think. It just costs so much more at home and so would take us so much longer to realise that ambition. Wouldn’t it be nice not to be answerable to the gas and electric people and to grow lots of our own crops and get free range eggs and home made butter everyday. All possible. We would be free from the many trappings of contemporary life. The only thing we would have to pay for coming into our home would be internet and perhaps a TV licence if we wanted to watch it. Our friend Ella has recently procured a bee hive from which 32lbs of honey can be gleamed every 3-4 weeks in the summer, not to mention all the bees wax, that is something we will also have to look into when we eventually settle again.

I think we have pretty much made up our minds which direction we are heading when we leave Tania’s on Sunday. Our intention is to travel up the old Russell road which hugs the east coast of North Land, before heading back through to Auckland. We intend to make our way down to Dunedin in the South island sooner rather than later. We expect we shall like it sown there and we can maybe find jobs for the summer which runs for around 6 months here, rather than the 2-3 months at home. There’s still so much that we haven’t seen though, so we have to make sure that we make time for places like Lake Taupo, some of the natural hot springs and at some point I want to catch some of the great trout that abound in the many lakes and river systems of the country. The trout are one of the few good things that the British brought to the islands and they thrive on the fresh, unpolluted water of this new world. 

Tania's Magic 26 September 2010

Some days are tinged with a little bit of magic. The day you learned to ride a bike without stabilisers, the day you pass you driving test, the day you receive a standing ovation from a packed house. Today has been one of those days. 
Mel and I are staying at Tania’s house, which lies somewhere in the centre of the north island of New Zealand. The house is a 2 story, wooden built farmstead that is nestled neatly into the upper reaches of a rolling hill and has views of native bush and mountain peaks stretching as far as the eye can see. The house is home to Tania and her two golden retrievers; Sophie and Bilbo and has all the hallmarks of a perfect wood built country residence with classic timber frame windows, a large brick built fire place and French doors leading out from many of the rooms including our own bedroom. It reminds me of properties one might come across on the outskirts of some southern French village, fringed with giant oaks, except that here the giant oaks are replaced by giant Totara trees. 
We arrived here almost a week ago, having successfully ridden 26.5kms from Whangerei through some impressive avocado groves and mature forests. The landscape is as green as England, though with far less traffic on the roads, the main obstacles are the log trucks which pass from time to time. We came across naturalised groups of turkeys, similar to those my Nanna used to have at the back of her house in Norfolk. Big, strong looking birds with comical features, though I never found them very funny as a child, they were taller than I was back then. 
Tania has a long driveway which sets her home well back from the Otuhi road, an unsealed track off which a handful of other quiet and unassuming farm properties can be found. She has one of three inhabited dwellings on a 20 acre site, one other of which houses her own mother; Peggy. The family originate from Ipswich of all places and moved out here in 1964 when Tania was just a teenager. She recalls the ship leaving England and her heart breaking gently as the sight of her beloved home country slowly slipped away, taking her into the unknown. She probably spent the first few days of the voyage which took her ship through the Suez Canal resenting her parents greatly for ripping her away to a life she couldn’t predict. Lets just say; she hasn’t done at all badly for herself. Her 2 sons; Emmanuel and Josh, have grown up and moved out. Josh runs a building firm in Auckland while Emmanuel is an international jetsetting DJ. 
Since arriving we have been hard at work helping to build a chicken house and a lean-to. Various other duties such as doing the washing up and sweeping the floors have kept us busy. In exchange, we have received some of the finest hospitality we have enjoyed since first we set foot on our travels almost 7 years ago. Home made pies, soups and baked goods lovingly prepared on a wood fuelled stove and more than one evening spent enjoying red wine and cheese with homemade hummus and crackers. Our bed is also brand new, with lovely white linen and electric blankets for the cold nights.
 The clocks go forward here on the 25th of September which marks the official change from winter to spring. With the alteration in time has come a shift in the weather. Recently we had experienced a great deal of wind and rain, but today has heralded a new dawn. Mel and I were up early to go for a run. We saw the sun burning through the overnight cloud which still covered many of the green hills and mountainsides with their overnight duvets. After sun rise, the warm spring sun has stayed with us and given the entire day a comforting colour and texture that seems to lap softly onto the areas of your inner self that really needed soothing. We spent the rest of the morning doing some light weeding before moving onto the chicken house which we are completing under one of the giant Totara (pronounced Toe-tra) trees on a hillside which catches the afternoon sunshine. Working with wood in a team of people and seeing the structure taking shape around us, it became one of those days tinged with a little bit of magic. It’s the first time I have ever built a solid structure in the style of a house and a tremendous sense of achievement as well as a bit of smug pride were etched on all our faces as we made our way back to the ranch for a well earned shower and a glass of good Australian Red! All in all; rather good for the soul.
 So, onto another day and some more new and interesting experiences. Having spent 7 days grafting without a break, Tania offered to drive us to an area of the country which has been set aside as DOC. That essentially has been done in order to stop people and animals from destroying the native forest. The area we went to see is all native forest and has some of the largest trees in the world and is also home to NZ’s adorable bird, the Kiwi. From reading the signs at the entrance to the forest we could see that it has not all just been a case of cordoning off an area and telling people not to cut down trees. In 3 years they have trapped all sorts of alien animals which are  a danger to the natives including cats, possums, shrews and hedgehogs, all of which have been brought in by the good old ‘white man’. 
As you enter the woodland it begins to get darker and cooler, there is plant life all around you, the like of which you would anticipate, such as tree ferns and the odd palm tree. But as you enter deeper into the forest larger shadows begin to appear in the middle distance. These shadows appear to be far too large to be any tree. On closer inspection though, that’s just what they are. If you have seen the movie ‘Avatar’ you will be familiar with the scale of these monsters, thousands of years old and some more than 10 metres in diameter, the Kauri tree stands head and shoulders above all the other trees and inevitably makes one wonder at how many night skies each has stood under, sheltering the now extinct birds and animals which used to rein free and fearlessly before any man walked on this island. How many Maori wars took place in the vicinity of these monoliths.
 To be there in amongst them reminded me of the day Mel and I visited Uluru in the red centre of Australia. It was a hot day; back in 2004, 50 degrees C in the shade. We walked up to the giant rock, said to be the pregnant belly of the world by the aboriginals and I placed my entire body against the warm, iron coloured surface to feel the energy of the rock all over my body. I know that there will be those of you out there who doubt the spiritual nature of such things and I have heard your argument many times, but I cannot agree with you. For me, the vibration of the earth bestowed a deep and peaceful sensation right through my body. I have felt similar sensations at Stone Henge, Glastonbury Tor and now in the Kauri forest of New Zealand. It works for me, that’s for sure.