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Sunday, 3 October 2010

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.

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