GoNOMAD Blogs From New Zealand
By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor Max Hartshorne recently returned from a visit to New Zealand's North Island which he chronicled in his blog, Readuponit. A blog is a daily diary that appears on the Worldwide Web, and GoNOMAD.com has nine affiliated bloggers, each with a unique perspective on travel. Since blogs are updated daily, the entries appear in reverse chronological order.
Nigel Ogle Recreates New Zealand's People
Driving past the grazing cattle on the straight road out of Hawera, we met one of New Zealand's most creative people, busy in his workshop. Nigel Ogle has been in the business of making lifesize sculptures for 25 years. He has created an entire world within the walls of his Tawhiti Museum, where the history of New Zealand is revealed with lifesize figures who look as if they'd come to life if you turned your back.
We toured these realistic scenes two days ago. The first one was a mother cooking dinner with a screaming youngster tugging at her apron strings, and an infant in her hands. Ogle captures the expressions a la Madame Tousauds, but he adds the detritusius and bric-a-brac that makes the whole scene come to life. There are rusty old wagon wheels, boxes of Wheatabix, cans of creamed corn, and dusty old containers of Vegemite.
When we met Nigel, the bespectacled craftsman was hard at work on a prone Maori woman. He was applying her eyebrows with glue and a special type of hair that comes out looking very realistic. There were six other Maori statues in the room, all undressed, waiting for the master's finishing touches...they would be sent to a museum display in Riverton, he told us.
While today's Tawhiti museum has many rooms to wander through, he has big plans for an expansion. "We want to tell more stories, like the one about Dickie Barrett, who helped defend a tribe of Maoris he had married into against a much larger hostile tribe. "It was 4000 armed men versus a few hundred," he said, and he pointed to a row of 40 warriors, clad in loinclothes all holding rifles. "Imagine what it must have been like to have four thousand of these guys all coming at you."
There will be a big new building and more of the detailed lifesize and micro sized depictions of Maori Pas, or fortresses, and of the early settlements in New Zealand. He will connect the new building with the Bush railway he runs on Sundays during school holidays, a lifesize recreation and extension of the museum.
Cindy, New Zealand Guest Blogger
This final New Zealand blog is written by a guest blogger, Cindy, aboard Air New Zealand flight NZ6 from Auckland to LAX:
During the trip my role has been that of keeping Max organized and on time; there have also been the occasional opportunities to give him a woman’s point of view on what we experienced, as well as times when I noticed little details he might have missed. I took a few photos and will proofread the stories. In fact, I plan to write my own article about the Maori. Stay tuned for that….
Prior to the trip many people told us “Oh, New Zealand is beautiful” so I expected the magnificent panoramic vistas, sheep and cows grazing in fields expanding to the horizon. Our drive from New Plymouth to Wellington took us through little towns that I’d never heard of. The Tawhiti Museum in Hawera provided a stimulating stop along the way. Hard to believe that Nigel Ogle has made all the models himself and chronicles the history of the country from the time of the Maori to the arrival of the Europeans and beyond. This is a must see for anyone with children. Or anyone who appreciates a craft well honed with passion and expertise.
A surprise of the trip was the kinship I feel with the Kiwis. They, like me, descend from European immigrants; we share a common language; when discussing the issues of the day they are all very similar. Kiwis are the most traveled people I’ve ever met. They have a spirit of adventure and a balance between work and play that we Americans usually lack. Our stay in New Plymouth at the Kaitake Lodge has given us new friends in Ross and Forest; our stay at Villa Margarita in Wellington gave us new pals Mark and Margarita. These are the gems of New Zealand…the people who we met along the way. I hope you go to New Zealand someday and meet them too!
Swept Up in the Arms of Villa Margarita
We had a long drive down from Taranaki almost to the bottom of New Zealand's North Island, ending up in the lovely outskirts of Wellington in Pauatahanui. We were late for dinner but no worries, our host Mark was so jolly on the phone he put us right at ease. We had sat through a long traffic jam, worrying again about our late arrival, but when we got to Villa Margarita, everything was bliss.
Mark and Margarita Owen opened their swank modern boutique villa about thirteen months ago. It is set on a sweeping piece of land in rolling hills. When we awoke in our bedroom, one of five in the main house all set in a long corridor, behind the full length glass walls was a stunning vista of miles and miles of mountains and grazing cattle.
Mark is a true renaissance man--he cooked up some steaks, served his home baked bread and after dinner we went down to the music room. There he played Mozart and Beethoven on the baby grand, and treated me to a luscious Cuban cigar. Cindy and Margarita donned wigs and danced to the glorious sounds of the music, and I felt like I was in a movie. The sounds of the Moonlight Sonata and the jovial warmth of the room was bliss. Then we repaired to the movie room where we watched videos with surround sound on the wall-sized screen.
These two are a lovely pair, she a gorgeous latina whose family owned a cigarette company in Miami, and Mark a tall and handsome man with an easy laugh and a background in real estate and now, hospitality. The setting here is very California, modern paintings adorn the walls and all of the fixtures and appointments are first class. They have been entertaining many corporate executives here and earned the Qualmark five stars. They offer guests a two-bedroom villa just up the drive that features a huge clawfoot bathtub right outside the house, surrounded by nothing except windswept fields and cattle.
If You See a Possum, Run It Over!
One thing we heard over and over in NZ was how much people here hate possums. These medium sized rodents (much bigger than their docile cousins in the US) consume tons and tons of foliage in forests and worse, they eat the eggs of the flightless birds. In short, they are a major pest and every Kiwi has a duty to try and run them over or shoot them if they see them in the bush.
Pennie Sands runs Environmental Products, in a converted dairy factory in Mahoe, a little village just off the winding road called the Surf Highway. Here you can find all manner of items made from the skins and pelts of these pests...it's possum product heaven! They make wonderfully soft gloves by combining in merino wool, and jackets using the leather. We picked up some gloves and Pennie showed me where they pin up the hides and dry them. Pennie serves a growing market and helps find a use for up to 20,000 pelts that come from poisoned, shot and sometimes run over possums.
Then we met another Kiwi with a passion...Rob Wright of Moano Pearl fabricates jewelry using the natural paua pearls found in the Pacific. The mother of pearl has many uses in his jewelry as well, and outside they have a little collage of the abalone shells mounted on sticks. Rob showed us a pile of pearls that he said is probably the only time on earth you'd see that many of them at once. It was a year's supply, he said.
Rob is another person who loves what he does and takes joy in the creative process and in life here in rural Taranaki. With the view of fields and his daughter's horses outside the window, we can see he's having a ball!
Now Everyone Calls the Mountain Taranaki
Today we awoke to the bright sunshine of the Southern hemisphere, and a full schedule of people who wanted to meet us and share their slice of this wonderful land. The day began at the base of Mount Taranaki, where Greg and Judith Rupapera run Mount Taranaki Adventures, a biking and tramping company in Kaponga. Greg has that same spirit we've seen so often here in New Zealand: passionate about his land, eager to show it to visitors and locals, knowledgable, articulate and doing it on his own. Again and again, these entrepreneurs are the ones who fascinate and inspire us. Greg works a day job at a local dairy, and dreams of the day when his five-year-old trekking business becomes his fulltime job. It will, I promised him, if he keeps at it and works as hard as he can.
We hiked the trails in the bush that led up to Wilkie's Pools, a steep hike aided by steps that are maintained by trail volunteers. When he was a young man, Greg was one of the park employees who lugged concrete up there to form the steps. Today the water in the pools was quite low, it was being diverted into another stream so the pools were quite shallow. Up above, looking over us all was the volcano, and its distinctive shark's tooth crag.
Before we proceeded on our hike, Greg said a prayer to the Maori ancestors to ensure a safe trip and to ask their blessing. He said that recently there was a story in the news about another Maori property being sold off to a foreigner, even though it was still being litigated by the original owner. These issues still cause friction between the Europeans and Maori, although he agreed that things are pretty good between the two overall.
He said that when he was a kid, everyone referred to this extinct volcano as Mount Egmont, as it was named in honor of the Earl of Egmont by explorer Captain Cook. He didn't know that the Maoris had already named it for one of their chiefs. But today even the newspaper refers to the mountain by its original name.
Livin' His Dream on the Water in New Zealand
Greg Page left California 25 years ago and came to New Zealand. After years of running surf shops, he moved to Taranaki and now operates the country's only tandem surfing company, where he guarantees to get novice riders standing up on the long board.
We joined Greg on one of the world's most gorgeous beaches on the Taranaki coast. Wide flat beach, black sand, and endless perfect waves breaking way out from shore. The light was inviting, this shot shows Greg toting the giant two-person board on his head.
Both Cindy and I managed to get on our feet and ride the waves. Some people rode horses here and others rode the waves with kayaks. Greg is a patient and enthusiastic surfer who knows where to find the waves...he even does a morning surf report for a local radio station. As he likes to say, "Hang 20!"
The View from our Lodge in Taranaki
We're settling into our digs at the lovely Kaitake Lodge. Little did we know that we'd have this whole fantastic mountaintop two-bedroom house to ourselves for our visit here to NZ's west coast. The views stretch way, way out all the way to the sea, in between are impossibly green and lush fields, forest and ferns.
The owner here, Ross Henry, said he likes to vacate when he has guests so that newlyweds and others have the privacy they want. He hosted the producer for The Last Samaurai here, and showed the place to moviestar Tom Cruise. But the big guy wanted a bigger place, and asked if they'd build three more bedrooms. Ross said no but got to watch the star's helicopter taking off and landing in a bigger spread he rented down near the beach. Ross practices Gigong healing and offers people a chance to gain wellness through these arts.
Flat Whites, Bare Nipples and a Brain Drain
I often try to think of the best way to summarize a trip. When Kent and I go on travel radio shows, they give us just a few minutes to make points. Likewise, a bunch of people will ask us about our trips but they aren't really that interested in hearing more than just the bullet points. Below are some random musings to answer these queries.
*Dresses and skirts are everywhere here. In the US, even in the summer, you just don't see that many women dressed to look like, well, women. Here skirts, dresses minis and maxis are everywhere. Even the little girls dress up like this. It's a good thing.
*Sexy actress Juliette Lewis is in Wellington this week playing a gig with her rock band. I swear we passed her walking alone in the Auckland airport. The city paper included a photo of Lewis, shirtless holding a giant bow and arrow, with a visible nipple. When Janet Jackson dared to bare her metal-ringed aureole during the Super Bowl in 04, a volcano erupted. Here it's just another photo in the paper, and a shrug.
*Drivers are kind here, nobody honked at us even when we were navigating the many roundabouts, driving like little old senior citizens. No honking, no worries, no hassles. We love it.
*It's easy to get a flat white (like a little latte), a well-made cappuccino, or an espresso anywhere. But try to get 'filter coffee' well that's tough. In two hotels, the closest we could get was an annoying French Press that renders gritty weak-assed brew that makes you want to run out and buy a real latte.
*Airport secutiry is, well, isn't really. We boarded our domestic flight and no one even looked in our bags. One of the pilots stowed the baggage, collected teh tickets, and told us the safety instructions. When we returned our rental car, instead of the usual grilling about new dents in the car or how far we drove, we just dropped the keys down a hole at the empty Budget Rent-a-car desk. Lovely!
*A billboard in Auckland airport said it all. It showed a bunch of college grads being towed away in a box with a UK flag with the heading, "The Brain Drain. Why you need to insure yourself in New Zealand." We have met many people from other countries who have moved here, as well as many young Kiwis who have already lived part of their lives abroad and have returned.
Blokarts: Sailing Around the Track on Wheels
The Blokart is a uniquely Kiwi invention. It's like a three-wheeled go kart but instead of a smelly motor, it is propelled around the track by four meters of sail. I tried these out at Blokart heaven, with Garry Ingram piloting his own craft and shouting directions to me as we whizzed around a track. "Pull it in! Pull it in!" he cried. This is easier than it looks, and they've gotten these babies up to about 100 Kmh on wide open spaces like the Great Salt Lake. Fun!
Kayaking in the Dark toward the Glow Worms
We met Blair Anderson from Waimarino Adventure Park and Kayak tours and proceeded in a van pulling four kayaks to Lake McLaren. It was getting dark, and that was good--we were there for a moonlight kayak and a chance to see the glow worms light up the inside of a cavern.
Blair, 31, is unflappably cheerful, and a delight to join on these graceful two-person crafts, which he joked are sometimes called "divorce boats' for what they do to a couple trying to coordinate paddling together. There were seven of us, and after fitting our spray skirts and lifejackets and positioning foot peddles, we paddled off sending geese flapping out of our way.
You could not see much, but that was what made it special. Over our heads, the southern sky was a vast planetarium, with the Milky way gracefully presenting itself to us. We watched as a satellite made its way toward a bright star, these are the ones that move slowly across.
We paddled in the dark, geese and ducks and in the far distance more bird calls; there was no moonlight but the stars and Geoff's gentle directions taking us toward the cavern. Cindy manned the front, and I steered with my foot pedals in the back. We finally reached the end of the lake and it got even darker in the cavern. Along the walls, the glow worms looked like a million fireflies with their lights left on. It was magical to slowly paddle and have these insects light our way in the narrow cavern. Geoff told us about how he bought this business from his father four years ago. His great love is kayaking down class five rivers, "the harder the better," and how he tries to do at least one of these monsters every few years. NOw with his four and two-year olds and busy life running the park, it's getting harder.
"My four-year-old knows how to paddle," he said proudly. "I never even taught him but he just knows, and he's great in the kayak." As we emerged from the cavern, we paddled all lined up in a row, and again we let the silence put its spell over us. We gazed heavenward and saw more stars than I've ever seen, and quietly tried in vain to find a shooter. The satellite was the closest we came.
Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted, and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and watching his grandchildren grow up.