Last Days in New Zealand

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Well, I guess I just took my final shower of this trip. In something called a “washcave” at the place we’re currently staying, a hobbit hole sort of place with no power called Underhill. “Glamping” is the term, I suppose — a portmanteau of “glam” and “camping.” A couple (Jessie and Craig) have a farm outside of Hamilton, and there?s a small lake in a valley a bit of a ways from the house with a hill into which someone has carved a cozy hutch and set up for visitors. We arrived later than expected yesterday evening (around 6:30, after about eight hours on the road — way more than we anticipated) and Jessie drove us down to the spot on her ATV with a trailer attached for our bags. We got down here, relaxed for a few minutes (I half-slept while Christin poked around), and then explored a bit, enjoying the scenery and making fun of the animals (a collection of sheep — eating sheep, not shearing sheep — live in the yard adjacent to the lake and hut where we’re staying). After that, we lit the million candles that provide the only nighttime light and Christin prepared some lamb racks on the grill (I helped out with a corn and tomato salad), we ate and had some wine, and then hung out under the stars for a while chatting. Hamilton’s not a big city, but it’s close enough to light the sky at night. So the stars weren’t quite as spectacular as they were at Kynjarmin near Matamata, but you could still see the band of the Milky Way and, at any rate, way more that you can see from our terrace in New York City. Jupiter still hung as the brightest object in the sky, just off the shoulder of the inverted, southern-hemisphere Orion.

Quick note: I’ve been informed by Christin that I’m making up facts about this trip. So please consult her for the real story. It’s possible we’re not even in New Zealand.

So, yesterday was take up mostly by driving here from Havelock North. We left there around 11am and took a quick break at Lake Taupo for a hamburger at the Jolly Good Fellow right on the lake — and so Christin could get a few minutes to wade in the water. Lake Taupo, to note, is the volcanic crater left over from an eruption around the second century AD, if I remember correctly. (Wikipedia this to confirm.) The eruption put enough ash into the atmosphere that apparently the Romans, Chinese, and South American civilizations at the time made note of it. None, of course, knew of New Zealand, which had yet to be seen by any humans when this happened. Anyway: It’s a huge lake amidst low-flung mountains. Very nice. After that we had a frustrating four-hour drive to our current spot, made worse by a fire that had on of the major highways closed off. We’ve been seeing “extreme fire warning” signs on the highways all around here, so I guess we weren’t incredibly surprised. Annoying, nevertheless.

Continuing back in time… We came here from Havelock North, a town on Hawke’s Bay that reminded Christin of Sarasota. But with vineyards and mountains. We were told that the area is the wealthiest in New Zealand, which seemed right. And it also seemed like the oldest. The only other folks staying at our bed and breakfast — a cute if somewhat over-saccharine place that kind of felt like your grandmother’s idea of a romantic getaway — were all retirees on trips of at least a month. The b&b served breakfast each morning to the people staying the the three rooms at the place (the rest of the house being the family’s home), so we got to meet our co-residents: An older Canadian couple and Australian couple (the latter of whom sounded rich-rich) the first morning and an English couple the second morning. All very nice. One funny observation about the people, here: the New Zealanders (and Australians and Canadians we mostly come across — very few Americans) have been incredibly chatty. Jenny’s husband at Kynjarmin attributed NZ chattiness to the fact that it’s hard to get off the island, so whenever foreigners turn up, the locals feel the need to learn as much about the world from them as possible. Obviously it’s easy in the 21st century to get off the island and learn about the world, but not long ago I suspect you were pretty much stuck here. No cheap overnight flights to the States. Anyway, I pegged the English couple as being English before we spoke because they were the first people we met who were super-outgoing. They seemed shy and didn’t break the ice until I asked where they were from. Very nice people! But I found it funny how people fit their national stereotypes sometimes.

I only have a few more minutes until I have to wrap up. It’s 11:30am and we’ve got to be out of here by noon (when Jessie arrives on the ATV to wheel us out of here).

The one full day we had in Hawke’s Bay we took a winery tour on bikes. We rented a couple of bikes from a company that dropped us off at Black Barn vineyard at 11am and scooped us back up at another vineyard (name forgotten) at around 4pm. We hit a couple of vineyards, then stopped for a snack at a cafe called Tandem — where we actually ran into Jenny, the proprietor of Kynjarmin where we stayed previously, and her sister. Quite a coincidence. They’re very nice people, so we hung out for a while with coffee and scones and chatted. After that, we biked on a raised trail through many vineyards down to the coast where we found yet more vineyards. We had a drink at Elephant Hill, a very sleek and trendy spot near the water, and would up getting some food at our final vineyard — name forgotten. We had a very talkative guy give us our tasting and we then sat outside and ate whilst defending our food for a very curious rooster. The place was mostly under a tent and had a casual vibe that fit us well. That evening (after a rest) we had fancy dinner at Craggy Range Terroir and that was that.

The previous night in Havelock North (our first night there), just to note, we grabbed pizza at Pipi’s Pizza, a very pink little restaurant recommended to us by the woman who ran the bed and breakfast. I had a Hawaiian pizza. Good food. But literally everything was decorated in bright pink. And you had to grab your own beers from the fridge.

I don’t know if I got every detail, but time to run. Our flight is at 10pm, so we’ve got some more stuff planned today. Probably have to write about that when back in New York.