Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Te Hiku o te Ika

A few weeks ago, my boss Geneva (who lives in Auckland) suggested that I come up and visit. She is from the far north, so she said she'd show me around. When I first checked for plane tickets, I wasn't sure if I could afford it. But when I found that it was about $100 cheaper to fly out on Friday morning instead of leaving after work, Geneva convinced our manager that she needed me to do some work in the Auckland office.

When I got to Auckland, we first stopped at Geneva's house, which is in the "bad" part of town. Her neighborhood is a regular sight on the evening news, so I was curious to see how the "scary" neighborhoods of New Zealand compare to those in the US. My analysis? They don't really compare. I was expecting it to maybe look like Detroit, but to me it just looked like some of the less manicured neighborhoods in Ann Arbor.

Not surprisingly, we didn't actually make it in to the office, and took off from Auckland around noon. Geneva kept apologizing for the long, boring drive, but I was fascinated just watching the countryside. I am still struck by how green everything is. The countryside is quite pastoral--rolling hills, cute farm houses, and grazing sheep and cattle. The effect was enhanced by the fact that it's springtime and there are tons of little lambs and calves.

The "highway" system in New Zealand is funny to me because it's basically just windy little back-country roads with amazing views of the ocean every now and then. But it was like taking the back roads in the US and we went through all kinds of cute little towns. Geneva was obviously a much better guide than Lonely Planet, and could help me discern things like yes, it is worth stopping at the Hundertwasser Toilets, but not worth stopping at the Gum Tree Museum.
By dinner time we made it to Doubtless Bay, which is where Geneva grew up. It was absolutely stunning. It was so weird to hear her talk about growing up there and the daily things she took for granted. Like having her school literally on the beach. Or the way her dad would train the kids for sports by making them run a course around the town while he watched from up at the top of the pa (Maori fortification on a hill). It makes me wonder what awesome things in my childhood that I took for granted or didn't realize were out of the ordinary.

We spent the night in Kaitia with Geneva's cousin. Kaitia reminded me of small town America, but not in a good way. A lot of the industry up north has been closing down, so the region has been hit with a lot of poverty and unemployment. You can definitely feel it in Kaitia. The interesting difference, at least for me, was that small town America tends to be caucasian, while most of the far north is people of color (Maori in particular).

The next morning we got an early start and drove up to Cape Reinga, which is the very top of New Zealand. The drive was amazing because as you go farther north, the land narrows (check out this map) and you can see water on both sides of you. The Cape itself is even more impressive. It's where the waters from the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean come together, and you can actually see exactly where it happens. The waters are different colors and they crash together spectacularly. Also very cool at the cape is a tree right on the tip that's leaning over the water. According to Maori tradition, this is where the spirits of the dead jump off into the afterlife.

After we left Cape Reinga, Geneva and her cousin were intent on giving me a non-touristy experience and took me tuatua (clam) fishing. We went over to Ninety Mile Beach (it's actually about 90kms, but that doesn't make it any less impressive) and dug around in the water. Unfortunately the tide wasn't out far enough so we didn't catch anything, but I was pretty excited about eating a raw tuatua straight from the water, not to mention taking more home to cook for later.

Next was a drive back down the coast to Paihia, a tourist town in the Bay of Islands. More beautiful scenery. I will post pictures soon. We also stayed at a fabulous hotel in the next town over, Waitangi. That's Waitangi as in Treaty of Waitangi--the document often considered to be New Zealand's founding document. On Sunday morning I took a tour of the Treaty Grounds, adding to my knowledge of NZ history. Again it was interesting to get the local perspective from Geneva and her cousin. Although they had been to the Treaty Grounds a number of times, it was always part of the Waitangi Day celebrations (and protests)--definitely a different experience than a Sunday morning tour group.

Hmm... this post will be more interesting once I put up pictures, because words can't really describe how beautiful the area is. I am constantly overwhelmed by this country.


Jaya Lakshminarayanan said...

Hmm...the New Zealand highway system sounds a little like the "routes" in Massachusetts. Are there any with more than one name? (Out here route 128 is actually I-95, several highways marked "north" actually travel south partway, and then there's route 3A which is NOT the same thing as route 3.)

I can't wait to talk to you when you're back in the States.

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