Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Another Beautiful Day in Paradise", Christmas in Tuateawa

After a few days of hostel life, we were picked up by Bexie's friend Jon, a conservationist who has a spot of land that he's been working on, planting native trees and creating a home for volunteers to come and work on it.

There's a shanty and some storage containers on the land, and Jon was still waiting for approval of his house to come through, so the first night we camped out. It's a beautiful place, right next to the river, surrounded by native bush.

The next day the deal came through, and he got the keys to this place. It's a cool house, an upstairs (the girls floor) for Bexie and I, and an open kitchen and communal space. Bexie and I were instantly excited to be able to "move in" somewhere. This will be the house the volunteers will be living at, when Jon's program starts in early January, and goes through the summer.

Our first dinner in the house--the quirkiness of this picture is fitting, as everything was still jumbled and packed, but we managed to cook anyway.

After working that day, we drove over the hill to Coromandel to pick up Aron the next evening. So good to see a familiar face in New Zealand--the first time since leaving in August! We were all smiles as we drove back, and captured this photo..
It didn't take us long to make ourselves at home, and to madly decorate for Christmas. Jon even went out and cut down a little pine tree (they're an invasive species here, and everyone hates them, so there's no grief about cutting them down. I still like them, but I'm not a native Kiwi..)

Here's our day trip into Thames, before Christmas. We spend a lot of time in the library there, because there was free internet, but we also managed to get a lot of grocery and Christmas shopping done too.Guys, this is a golden kiwi. I don't even know if you can get them in the U.S., because I had never heard of them before I got here. But they are waay good.

Bexie spoiled me again, and baked me a birthday-cake, and we had a combined house-warming/birthday/Aron's arrival celebration. And I got to blow out more candles :)This cake is so good, chock-full of seeds and fruit, it's a total treasure hunt to find everything in it.

Another lovely evening, I was popping popcorn to string on garlands, as we watched Star Wars and ate brownies.
Christmas day! Jon woke me up early in the morning, because I had volunteered to help him collect the fish from his net. I hung out on the beach for an hour as he paddled out and back, and then, before breakfast or festivities, we had to filet it. Goo and blood and bones later, I learned how to do it.I mean, who doesn't want to filet fish on Christmas morning?

Then we gathered around our Charlie Brown tree and opened the gifts. The package from my mom was packed with warm gear, lovely bits, and candies. Aron gave us each affirmation bracelets, and Bexie knitted me a headband, and Jon gave me socks and chocolate! Apparently, the goal of Christmas is how many things you can adorn yourself with. We played charades and drank champagne and had a lot of fun.

Bexie in the socks I knitted for her from the end-bits of the other socks:
On Boxing day the weather was fine, so Jon decided to take us all out for a paddle. It was beautiful, we hugged the coastline of cliffs and crumbly rock formations. The rocks were volcanic, and we called the "chocolate chip rocks", because they were made up of lots of light and dark little pieces.

We stopped in the middle at a little rocky cove to swim and sit in the sun and snack, then checked out a mussel farm, where Jon collected the ones growing on the edges, before we paddled back--and some penguins swam up to say hello! It turned out we were gone for 4 1/2 hours, but it didn't feel like that long!

In between working and adventures, there's been a lot of reading and knitting and playing games. There's been a few evenings of Settlers of Catan, a game of trading and building empires-those games can get pretty intense.

Spending a lot of time going to beaches too, to swim or just sit. This rocky beach at sunset had some great creatures in the tide pools.

These are called something like "cat-eye snails":Not a bad place to spend Christmas, not at all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sittin' underneath the putukawa tree...

It was holiday time. I met Barney and Susie in Wellington, and we took this little jet to this little one-roomed airport in a little town of Kataia, a place you blink and you've passed it.

The bach (beach house) we stayed at was in a stunning place. A staircase led straight down to the sandy beach, where we swam in the mornings, and afternoons and whenever else the urge overtook us. A lot of reading, walking along the beach, napping, lounging, holiday-making. The beach is lined with putukawa trees, which bloom with red flowers around Christmas, making them the "Kiwi-Christmas Trees."

The "town" nearby was called Manganui, made up of a few small shops and restaurants. Barney took me out for awesome Thai food one night, an early birthday dinner, and some lovely gifts. :)

We drove to Kerikeri, about an hour away, to visit a yoga studio that Bexie had WWOOFed at her first month in NZ, with Louisa. The studio was beautiful-made out of an old church. The class was Iyengar and very strict (Louisa had studied with Iyengar's daughter and had learned yoga in a painful and tough way), but also very apt and huge into alignment.

After the class, Susie had a private session, so Louisa invited Barney and I to check out her house and make a cup of tea. I loved this house--big and open, with a mural on the wall and surrounded by gardens and chickens, geese, llamas.

Another day was the long drive up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand. So beautiful, and such a cool feeling to have reached one end, knowing that across that ocean lay Samoa, Australia, and eventually the rest of the world.

We visited Susie's friend Fernella, who lived in an isolated valley and was trying to become as self-sufficient and eco-friendly as possible. Her line of work was building coffins that break down over time and become part of the earth. Her house was beautiful, a little octogon surrounded by trees and garden, with a composting toilet and a waterhole.

After a rough patch in the social dynamic, the group ended up in Auckland, and I ended up in a hostel. Being back in the same big city 4 months later felt really bizarre, almost like I had never left. But there were a few things that had changed about me. I knew how to take things slowly and pleasantly, I knew what I could spend money on (like food), and Barney was with me most of the time. We hung out and read and explored.

It was Christmas there. It's hard to convince yourself into the Christmas spirit when it's 75 degrees and the flowers are blooming. But in Auckland it seemed to be a little easier...

I went to this cemetary on my own, and was surprised at how peaceful it was. All the gravestones, mossy and crumbling and sitting quietly in the dappled sun under the trees. They didn't call for your attention, they just sat. These two were my favorite, leaning together like companions.Cute store. Stores like this kind of suck for travelers, because you can't afford much in it and you wouldn't want to carry it anyway. That didn't stop me from looking, anyway. One of my future projects is making bunting--the flags.
Before Barney and Susie left, we went to her friend's house for lunch. These people were in the business of traveling to France and buying things from flea markets, then selling them in New Zealand. Their house was beautiful. Especially the window seat. And the computer sitting next to the sewing machine--something I envision for myself when I have a craft business in the future.

After Barney left, I busied myself wrapping and sending presents. The ugly hostel was not the ideal setting for such a festive thing, but I guess I can't be picky.

Then, thank goodness, Bexie arrived. We spent an evening wandering around, we found a Japanese store where everything was $3, and had some fun there. We also went to a tattoo parlour-art studio-tea shop-radio station, where an opening was going on, and got some free food from the refreshments table. I loved the idea of combining those 4 things though--it made for such a cool and interesting place to hang out.

Here's our findings at the Japanese store: pens, oragami, a lunchbox, ribbon, a sewing kit, galore...

The next morning (my birthday!) we high-tailed it out of the city, taking the ferry across to the Coromandel Peninsula. We did stop at Muffin Break before we left, and Anne and Megan, I thought of you!

The hostel we arrived at was %1000 better than in Auckland--here there were no locks on the doors, random art everywhere, and such a relaxed atmosphere.

I felt so special on my birthday. We had some relax time to read and drink tea, and Bexie bestowed me with presents, which we let the elephants in our room guard as we went out for the day...

To Driving Creek Cafe. This is such a cool place, very laid-back, very comfortable, great food. A little bungalow, with local art on the walls.
I loved the screenprinting that was being showcased. This one was named "Root Cellar".
We had the best lunch of tomato soup and a huge sandwich of greens and chutney and goodness. Everything was delicious!!

After lunch we walked up the road a bit to the Driving Creek Railway. This was a little train that was built to haul clay down the mountain for the pottery at the bottom, but has turned into a little touristy place, where you can see the art and pottery, and then take it up to the view at the "Eyefull Tower" at the top. The pottery was awesome, and so was the scenery. Along the way, there is walls of wine bottles and sculptures hidden in the forest- all very cute.Bexie and I at the top. She's such a lovely traveling companion. Afterwards we stopped again at the cafe for a pot of tea, and bagged our truffle and cookie to eat after dinner. Sitting and talking for a while.

When we stopped at the little grocer's to buy veggies for our pizza that night, we grabbed this, and enjoyed it in the park--soo yummy. And where else but in NZ can you get kiwifruit ice cream?
We pride ourselves in becoming expert-chefs of hostel-kitchens. We managed to make pizza that night, with flat bread and sauteed veggies, and it turned out beautifully. Paired with a Marlborough wine and finished with our treats from the afternoon, which became my little birthday cake...I had such a nice birthday. I felt so blessed to be turning 19 in such a beautiful place, with a good friend to share it with.