Sunday, 30 March 2008

Before we checked out of the hotel this morning, Clay made the kids try vegemite. I’ve been carrying this little jar of it around for two weeks now, since we first bought it back in Christchurch. He claimed he was exempt because he tried it years ago when a co-worker from New Zealand required his team to each eat a vegemite sandwich. Nate was the first to attempt it, he put it in his mouth for a few seconds and then spit it in the trash. Of course Benji couldn’t let his brother show him up, so he took a bite and spit it out as well. Then Alayna, not to be outdone, took a bite and swallowed it. This severely hurt the boys’ egos so they had to take another bite and swallow it as well. I wasn’t sure Benji was going to make it, it stayed in his mouth for a long time, but he eventually choked the stuff down. Peggy and Maurice each took a sniff and shook their heads in disgust. I was not about to be bullied into trying it, and my self-esteem is just fine, thank you very much. Nate claimed it was salty, and when we checked the ingredients, after yeast extract, the second one was sea salt. What are those Australians and Kiwis thinking?

We checked out by 10 and continued north, our next destination the Coromandel Peninsula. On the way we passed through a town with a building shaped like a giant sheep, another one like a giant dog, made out of corrugated tin. Alayna said it looked like origami with metal. She is quite the origami girl the past few months, she folds people’s napkins and makes swans in the back seat of the car and little boxes to keep her little clay figures in. She always wants to have a few pieces of paper to work with on car rides or in restaurants. I cannot wait to see how this talent of hers manifests itself as an adult. She will be a world-renowned maker of tiny and creative things.

I forgot to mention our hearts tournament while staying in Ngongotaha. It got a little ugly. I kept getting horrible cards, and Maurice kept holding back the queen of spades (the really bad card that gives you 13 points) from his dear granddaughter, Alayna, saving it for poor little me who ended up with all the points at the end of each round. Actually, not all the cards, which would have been good, as all hearts players know. Let’s say all but one of the points were mine just about every round. During one round, I was able to lay that queen of spades right on Alayna, and when I did I said, “I’m not your Granddaddy.” That quote will live on in Davis lore, a testament to a grandfather’s love and a mother’s . . . well, a grandfather’s love.

This was a day for stopping along the way, we found lots of diversions as we made our way to Whitianga. We parked and hiked up 188 steps to admire an old kauri tree that had a trunk the shape of a square. It was huge, 9 meters (27 feet) around the trunk. We hiked back down, stopping to take close up pictures of interesting vines and flowers. As we continued the drive, the scenery was spectacular, it was the most beautiful drive I’ve ever been on. I can’t describe it, the pictures won’t do it justice. From up high we looked down on green hills and rain forest and sparkling blue water with rock formations emerging from the ocean. The roads for the majority of the trip were good. Most bridges were one way, and signs indicated who had the right of way, but at one point we turned off on an unpaved road called the 309 to find a few well-hidden treasures my guide book had mentioned. Lots of hairpin turns and drop-offs kept us on our toes and biting our nails, but Clay brought us safely through to the other side.

Along the way we stopped at Waiau Waterworks, which billed itself as a whimsical sculpture garden and playground. I loved this place from the moment we stepped into the parking lot and saw a water wheel with lots of old tea pots and kettles nailed on the edges to catch the water. A figure of a man had been fashioned from metal bars, his face a pair of goggles and a work hat, and it appeared he was cranking the wheel to keep it turning. Some of our favorites once we entered the park were a human hamster wheel, where all three kids climbed in and ran and flipped each other around. Clay tried it out and looked hilarious, losing his sense of balance as he used his hands to try to catch himself. There were bikes that squirted water when you pedaled them, zip lines that zipped us to the end where rubber tires stopped us, sending us swinging, we had to hang on tight. There were swings that swung so high you had to wear a seat belt, and a burbling creek to explore. There was a boat track and everyone picked their own little piece of wood and raced them, cheering and cheating along the way. We made sure Clay came in last.

I wished we had all day to spend at the Waterworks. I wished we could put on our swimsuits and swim in the creek and fire up one of the bar-b-cue grills to cook some fabulous dinner to eat at one of the wooden picnic tables. But we didn’t have any meat to cook, and if we got all wet we’d have to drive without towels for another hour to the hotel. It was getting a little cool, we decided to tear ourselves away and continue onward. Our next stop was a grove of kauri trees, New Zealand was once covered by these giant monsters of trees, towering straight and tall above the forest. Most were cut down by loggers, but a few remain. This grove had several, including a “Siamese kauri” which was one two trees which fused together since they were growing so close together.

Next stop a small waterfall. Once again, on a sunny summer day, with towels, it would have been a great place to swim and frolic. We settled for hopping from rock to rock across the creek and climbing on the muddy bank a bit. After this last stop, we drove to Whitianga and found our hotel. This time we were on the beach, with a trampoline and hot tub in the back yard. We set our stuff down and headed into town for dinner. We found a great place with a playground across the street, and while the kids ran to play we savored a bottle of New Zealand wine and enjoyed the night air. It was a good travel day.


Monday, 31 March 2008

Ever since we told the kids we were going to New Zealand, we’ve been telling them about Hot Water Beach. How when the tide goes down you can get a shovel and dig a hole and hot water from an underground spring comes bubbling up and fills your sand hole like a hot tub. This was the morning, Peggy and Maurice opted to stay behind for the morning, so we took off on our own. We found out the tide would be low at 8:45, the best digging takes place an hour on either side of low tide, so we got up by 6:30. The sun was rising out our back window, the horizon was purple and blue and orange, and up above was the hazy moon and a few lingering bright stars. We hopped in the car at 7 and drove the forty minutes to the beach. We grabbed the shovel we had borrowed from the hotel out of the back of the car, and hurried to the beach. We couldn’t wait. There were several others with the same thing in mind, we spied a map that had the hot spots marked, kicked off our flip flops, and marched across the sand to where “X” marked the spot.

Only, the “X” was still covered with ocean. Giant swells were rolling onto the beach, blocking our way, crashing on a craggy outcropping of rocks. A friendly guy who was standing knee deep in the water told Clay that the swell was going to be too high to dig that morning, people hadn’t been able to dig for a week. Bummer. He called us over to a spot where you could wade in and ooch your feet just inches under the sand and feel hotness from a spring. It was so hot in some places, you couldn’t stand it, you had to jerk your foot away. The kids set to work on the dry part of the sandy beach, building a sand wall to cover an opening to a small cave in the rock. Clay and I admired the power of the ocean as some of the bigger waves rolled in and crashed on the rocks, sending spray way into the air. We broke the bad news about the big swells to others as they began to arrive, we decided to wait until true low tide at 8:45 just to see if it would go down just enough for us to dig for a few minutes. No luck. We laughed as ten or fifteen people gathered in the knee-deep water, waves splashing them as they shook their bottoms, trying to get their feet into the sand low enough to feel the hot spring. We were a bunch of pathetic hot tub digging wanna-be’s.

We headed back to the hotel and jumped in the hot tub, which wasn’t really very hot. I think whatever heat it had was left from the night before, Clay said we were in danger of getting hypothermia. He and Alayna got out, but I stayed for a while with the boys, willing it to warm up. Magically, the bubbles started up and a little heat along with them, we stayed until our fingers puckered on the ends and then got out.

It began to drizzle a bit, but we decided to take a chance and do a glass bottom boat ride that afternoon. It turned out to be pretty fun, the rain stopped and our driver took us to see some caves that had been carved into the rock after hundreds of years of water pounding at the rock. We went to a marine reserve where he lifted the floor of the boat to reveal the glass viewing windows. We saw lots of snappers at our first stop, but after that not so many fish and a lot of waving kelp and black spiny sea urchins clinging to the rocks beneath us. We hit some big swells and I was glad I had taken some motion-sickness pills or I would have been ill.

Tonight I listened to the sound of waves rolling in on the beach. Alayna is talking in her sleep, she talks almost every night, sometimes in words and sometimes in mumbles. Tomorrow we’ll leave for Auckland, our last stop in New Zealand. Maurice and Peggy will go home, we’ll go to South America. It’s hard to believe we have less than seven weeks left. My mom sent an email that said she was talking to my aunt and told her “It’s just seven more weeks until Meredith’s family is home!” and my cousin said it sounded so weird, being excited about seven weeks. Normally, if we were away from seven weeks, it would seem like an eternity, but after eight months, it’s nothing.

We’ve been talking a lot about coming home. What time our plane lands, what we’ll do that first night. And yet we still have so much to do, so much to experience, what will life be like when we aren’t packing up and moving on every few days? When we have more than two shirts to choose from? Will we be the same people, putting on the clothes we left behind last year? And more importantly, will the same body be fitting into those clothes? I fear not . .