First of all, we have to begin with an apology for the long interlude since our last post.  It has been over four months since we reported on our visit to Australia.  We left there with the intention of going to New Zealand for about two and a half months, but cut that short when Dave was diagnosed with macular degeneration in his left eye in Wellington, NZ, just as we were about to board a ferry for the South Island and the second month of our trip.  Instead we made our way back to Auckland and flew back to San Francisco where he was treated within days of arrival.  It is very treatable and is now stabilized.  We then spent the next several months traveling across the U.S. seeing family and friends before flying off to Europe in mid May.

Our time in New Zealand was spent entirely on the North Island and began with a week in Auckland, first with old friends from over ten years ago while sailing the Mediterranean, Annette and Barry, with whom we stayed, and Hera and Gerald whose home we visited upon our return to Auckland.DSC03941

We also had another three days with Terri Unger who always provides us with wonderful hospitality and companionship when in the Bay Area and had just finished a two week trip to the South Island.DSC03247

Auckland itself is a beautiful city surrounded by a rather amazing topography.  It sits upon one of the world’s most intense volcanic areas with at least fifty craters around it testifying to the violent activity that was part of its prehistoric past.  Here is quiet and long dormant Mount Eden on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the city in the background.  That the mountain is volcanic is pretty evident!

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It is also fortunate enough to have beautiful forests surrounding it–here is a view out of the visitor center at Arataki Regional Park–

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and beaches accessible from nearly everywhere in the city.  This is Piha Beach, just to the northwest of the city and famous for its surfing waves but as infamous for the undertow and rip tides that frequently prove fatal to the inexperienced.

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We were also fortunate enough to be in Auckland for its annual celebration of Auckland Anniversary Day and were treated to three days spent mostly on its newly reworked waterfront.  Like San Francisco, Barcelona and other cities, the enhancements to its waterfront has turned the entire city in a different direction and it is now a beautiful area of museums, restaurants, pubs and parks.  This is called The Silos, an area bordering what remains of the old industrial port, but now enlivened with a water fountain area for children to frolic in and lots of grassland for picnics.

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Each night fireworks exploded from the top of the Sky Tower in the heart of the city and were visible from almost everywhere,

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and the harbor was filled with boats racing or simply out for the day.  Here is Steinlager 2, winner of the 1989-90 Whitbread Round The World Race out for an afternoon cruise,

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and several Maori crews racing across the harbor in much more traditional craft.

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But the highlight of all the harbor activity had to be members of the tugboat fleet that came close to the spectator docks and then proceeded to almost dance on the water in a demonstration of not only agility but of raw power as well.

We also took a ferry across to Waiheke Island to see the annual Headland Sculpture Walk.  It consisted of more than twenty sculptures spread along a high bluff above the sea on fields and meadows and we walked the mile and a half through them all back to the ferry dock itself.Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition-walk, Waiheke Island, NZ

Our favorite was Veronica Herber’s Landform Installation which stretched across a large meadow high above the gulf in concentric circles.

Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition-walk, Waiheke Island, NZ_2

The Auckland Museum is also the storehouse for an enormous collection of Maori historical objects and one of the best ways to see something of their traditional culture.  They first came to what is now New Zealand sometime between 1000 and 1200 AD from polynesian islands far to the east.  Indeed their navigational accomplishment over such a stretch of the Pacific is one of history’s greatest as they had no compass, sextant or charts and were able to reach New Zealand in large numbers in their catamaran canoes using only currents, clouds, winds, waves and birds.  What they found were islands separated from the rest of the world for 80 million years and thus abounding in plant and animal life but much different than anything seen anywhere else on earth.  Within the first two hundred years of habitation many of the species of animals had been killed off because they were such easy prey.  Most famous is the Moa, a giant bird which could stand as tall as 11 feet and was flightless and thus an easy target.  Only skeletons and reconstructions exist today.

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The Maori had a rather sophisticated social and political structure, terraced much of the land to raise crops, and settled in villages which usually included a meeting house or ‘wharenui,’ often highly decorated both inside and out.  Here is one reconstructed at the museum.

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The interior is equally decorated with both wood carving on the structural members and with fabric on the walls themselves.

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Each village had as well a decorative doorway into its interior.  Here is one at the museum

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and as it appeared in a late 19th century photograph.

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Wood carvings were common everywhere and often include mask-like faces which replicate the intricate tattooing for which the Maori are famous.

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When we finally dragged ourselves away from Auckland we headed north and stumbled on some rather interesting modern art as well.  Most impressive were the public toilets at the top of this blog; they were found in the town of Matakana in the midst of a lovely park but without any plaque to credit the creator.

The other ‘bathrooms of distinction’ were those created by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian born artist who lived from 1973 until his death in 2000 near the town of Kawakawa.  We were told they were the most photographed toilets in all of New Zealand and we found no grounds for argument.  Made of ceramic tiles, bottles of every color and with a roof of grass and plants, they are the highlight of the main street with a convenient crosswalk in front inviting one in.Hundertwasser toilets, Kawakawa, NZ_2Inside the tile work and bottle windows amaze!Hundertwasser toilets, Kawakawa, NZ

We also stumbled on a wonderful 19th century roadhouse and hotel in the small town of Puhoi which featured a huge bar and walls and ceiling profusely decorated with hats, pictures, posters, currency of every description and, oh yes, assorted bras and female underwear contributed by now forgotten customers.

Puhoi Hotel, Puhoi, Auckland, NZ

Probably our favorite spot to the north of Auckland was the town of Russell, early on a whaling port but one of such ill repute that it was called “The Hellhole of the Pacific.”  Famous for its orgies on the beach and assorted other debaucheries, it was the first European settlement in New Zealand and quickly became that place where convicts on the run, gamblers looking for targets, and whalers in particular recovered from the deprivations of months at sea.  Charles Darwin was here in 1835 and said it was full of ‘the refuse of society.’

Today it is a considerably tamer place but aspects of its rather illustrious past remain, principle among them the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, the oldest licensed pub in New Zealand for ‘serving rascals and reprobates since 1827.’  While not the original pub (it has burned down twice since its founding) it is a beautiful building with a wide and panoramic front porch and a wonderful view of the bay.Duke of Marlborough Hotel, Russel, Bay of Islands, NZ

Duke of Marlborough Hotel, Russell, Bay of Islands, NZ

It also serves a nasty bowl of green lipped mussels, our favorite Kiwi meal by far!

Green Lipped Mussels, Russell, Bay of Islands, NZ

The other highlight of the far north was the Kauri trees and the forests which still shelter them.  These are giant trees, often compared to the California redwoods, though they are not as tall.  They are, however, nearly as old and as large at the base, and served as the source of much of the early construction with the arrival of the Europeans in New Zealand.  The trees are immense, for forests deep and tall and silent but for bird calls, the walkways artful and extensive.

Trounson Kauri Park, Kauri Coast, NZ

Trounson Kauri Park, Kauri Coast, NZ_2Highlighting their history is a wonderful museum in the small town of Matakohe.  It contains every imaginable piece of machinery used to bring the trees down and to mill them, a reconstructed boarding house of the type mill workers and others lived in, as well as information of the extensive industry in finding and extracting the gum of those trees, extremely valuable as amber and the chief export of Auckland in the second half of the 19th century.  Here is a photo of a slice of the heart of a kauri tree to give one a sense of their magnificent size.  Compare it to the three person bench beneath it.Kauri Museum, Matakohe, Northland, NZ