Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mom in Kiwiland: day 4 - The hippie island of Waiheke

Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with our plans of going to popular Waiheke Island: the big island of 26 wineries and great beaches that's just a 35min ferry ride from downtown Auckland. It used to be the home of hippies to tried to get away from the corporate city, but now they've been invaded by the uber-corporate types who've built massive million-dollar homes on the hills with magnificent views of Waitamata harbour.

We let mom browse the craft shops in the town of Oneroa where surprisingly the only thing she bought was a shirt in the surf shop. [?!?!] Then it was off to the vineyards. Mudbrick was recommended: not sure about the wines but it's garden terraces and the views from them are wonderful. Now I know where I get my cluelessness about wine tasting: mom just drinks it and makes a sour face. As such, Julie and I paid the $5 for a tasting while mom wandered and took in the grounds.

We took a ferry to the island, obviously, and rented a car once there. With big plans of seeing the whole island we barely made it halfway to the big Onetangi beach. And we didn't taste much wine either. Most places want you to pay for the tasting so that takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Regardless of the uppity wine types, the island is very scenic in typical NZ fashion and many of the houses over here showcase some interesting architecture. Mom kept asking me to take pictures of houses to send to Jayson - so Jay, expect a big email.

Mom in Kiwiland: day 2

[click title for link to pictures]
My initial thought was to take mom out to Piha Beach, but Julie got to reading and noticed that there was a scenic drive through the Waitakere Ranges. Julie plotted us onto the Scenic Drive - that's the name of the road - that would take us from Titirangi (stopped for a coffee & bank machine) along the eastern fringe of the ranges through to Swanson. Mom has been quite entertaining in her search for regular drip coffee. Very few coffee shops serve the stuff as down here (Auz included) as they are all quite keen on the espresso stuff. So we keep telling her to get a "flat white" which is espresso with milk as far as I can tell. She finally found one shop on Waiheke Island but the result was such a strong coffee that she'd have been better off with the flat white. :^)

Upon entering the ranges via the narrow twisty road, we stopped at the visitor info centre which looks remarkable BC-ish with its totem pole in front. Not so BC-ish with its "well-hung" Maori carved figurines inside. Julie figures that if you're going to carve an image of yourself, you might as well make it complimentary.

The maps we got at the centre weren't all that condusive to precise navigation - buy a better map, where I don't know. [Later that night I finally downloaded all of the required software and got us set up with some flash NZ GPS maps courtesy of Sweet as]
First stop was a short little walk (Auckland City Walk - sponsored by) through a NZ rainforest. It's a nice short walk (just over an hour) nestled in a valley below a nice-looking golf course. We got to see the big kauri trees and palms and ferns and other pines. Pretty nice. Mom's getting her baptism by fire in terms of learning to walk up and down hills.

I made a bad call on trying to head for Bethels Beach for lunch instead of having it here. We hit construction on the one road in and got sent off on a gravel road that put us backwards a few km. Finally after driving up another hill only to find the trail was 7km long I declared that we were going to eat our lunch off of the car's bonnet. Julie wasn't impressed with the digs but mom and I thought it was a choice place to snack on jalapeno hummus and crackers and fruit.

We did make it to Bethels beach and mom was in awe of the wildness of the place: the crashing surf, the wind-whipped shoreline grasses and the towering hills above.

We ignorantly defaulted on our rental car's return time as we realized we wouldn't get back to Auckland in time to return it. Thus Julie reckoned we should take one more walk. The brochure says it's a nice little walk to a nice little lake tucked in amongst the sand dunes. Sounded good. But it didn't mention how long the "little" walk took nor that it was through a stream for 80% of the way. After what seemed like forever (realistically it took us almost exactly the suggested walk time of 30min) we finally happened upon a little lake nestled between a massive sand dune and the green hills. Julie jumped straight in to Lake Wainamu, while I climbed up the dunes.
So funny thing for the way back! I reckoned that since we walked AROUND the dunes to get here, it'd be closer to walk OVER them on the way back. Mom said she needed a head start so I point her off in the direction that I felt was correct. Julie said I was crazy sending my mom off across what looked like a desert with no confirmation that I was right. Turns out mom went off down a little trail that I hadn't anticipated being there and hit a dead end. Fortunately she popped back out while Julie & I were scanning the horizon wondering where she went. In the end we made it back to the car with no incident and my sense of direciton was correct.
Back in Auckland we treated mom to an outdoor movie. Auckland City's Movies in Parks is neat *free* event where they showcase Kiwi films on a big inflatable movie screen in one of the many parks in the city. Tres cool. Bring a lawnchair, grab a crepe and a hot chocolate and enjoy the show. Mom got a kick out of it even though we missed most of the insider kiwi jokes.

Mom in Kiwiland: day 6 - Maori Culture Tour

Auckland has a strong service network to assist migrants in learning Kiwi culture and how to find jobs and such. Julie & I attended a job search seminar back in January and it was quite helpful in showing us how to "Kiwi-ize" our resumes plus providing some contacts to find jobs, even though we didn't give the job search much effort. Anyhow, part of the services is to show newcomers the Maori culture. A required seminar for most immigrants is a lesson on the Treaty of Waitangi - an important document signed between a few Maori chiefs and the British. Much can be said about this treaty and how it's been ignored/abused over the years, but I am not in a position to argue it as I don't know much about it.

Today's tour focused on a traditional Maori meeting place - a "marae". We went to the Orakei marae which is located near our place on Bastion Point. At the marae there is the meeting hall and the dining hall. In the meeting hall we were given a traditional welcome. You must remove your shoes before entering, then the men enter first and sit in the front row with women and children behind. Each man in the front row will have a role (quite similar to a modern board meeting) so we had a gent who volunteered to be our representative and presented a greeting on behalf of the tour group. It's all sorta neat, but other than our man's speech it was all in Maori so I'm not sure what was all said.
We were fortunate today to be given an impromptu cultural performance by a group of school children who are practicing for the upcoming Pasifika Festival.
After the show it was activity time: learning the haka and flaxgrass weaving. The haka is a war cry/dance. The version we learned today is one that one of the Maori tribes developed after their chief was pursued by another tribe. It's also the pre-game ritual of the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks. Mom & Julie got a kick out watching me learn it; I got a kick out watching the East Indian fellows trying to learn it.

Now we come to the best part of the day: lunch! A Maori "hangi" lunch is basically a roast dinner: there's beef, pork, chicken, stuffing, potatoes, kumara (a NZ sweet potato), pumpkin and bread. It's all cooked by fire-heated rocks in a hole in the ground. Super, super good. Oh, plus some fresh-cooked NZ green mussels. (One fellow diner commented that the Maori have good bone joints late into life due to the high amount of mussels in their diet.) And did I mention the steamed pudding with custard and ice cream for dessert? Sweet as, bro.

Mom was wise in opting for the haka before lunch, saving the low-impact flax grass weaving for after. Flax grass doesn't look like flax - it's actually a tall lily, but the Brits reckoned that it's fibrouJulie hard at its leaves reminded them of fibrous flax stems so that's what they called it. The Maori term is harakeke. Our crash course in weaving produced varied results in the class. Some people complained that they just could not understand the concept and gave up; others got it quickly and produced more tmom with our workhan one woven flower. Tooting my own horn here, I got the hang of it quite quickly and was commended on how tight and even my weave was. But once all of the flowers were complete, you couldn't tell the good from the bad - they all looked like twisted grass. And tradition stipulates that you gift your first one, so most people were jokingly glad to give away their first piece of messy weaving.

After a day of haka and flax weaving we were pretty tired. But that's not the end of our day! The Mission Bay Jazz & Blues Festival was cancelled yesterday due to the lowsy weather so it was postponed to tonight. (All we did yesterday was wander around town: rode the Link bus around central Auckland showing mom the sights.) Mission Bay is a nice part of town just a few kilometres from our place along the shore. The festival overtakes the beachside park and shuts down the main street. 19 stages are set up with the same band playing the same stage all night. To prevent too much distortion, the stages are numbered and alternate every half hour by even/odd numbers. They stretch the genre of jazz/blues, but there's a lot of good music and it's a pretty cool scene either way. This festival kicks the snot out of last weekend's Devonport Food & Wine Festival, but Julie points out that they're targeted at different folks.