Thursday, October 29, 2009

If you don't know where to find me. well....

well, this one is a fly-by post as i am using a pay-per-minute computer to buy a train ticket, and decided to give a quick update before i run out. lately, i've been living between a tent, a truck, two dogs, and a group of conservationists. We've been to Tuateawa, Thames, Cambridge, Mount Mangatuatari, Rotorua, Tauraunga, and Whitianga where I will be training to become a whale medic for Halloween. I mean, on Halloween day, I will be literally be in training to save stranded whales, not dressing up as a whale medic though it would make a fun costume! I also have bathed in hot pools and rivers (Kerosene Creek), seen the world's largest pest-proof fence, and gone on a half-day serious bushwalk. Now you all must wait to hear details of these adventures, as I am onto the next. Will hopefully have internet on my 12-hour train ride to Wellington this Wednesday so I can do it all justice.

You do not have to know where you are going to be headed in the right direction! (From a fortune cookie)

Caminante, no hay camino. se hace el camino caminando...

xo bexie

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Otra vez, una caravanista!

On the food poisoning, it may be a virus. cuz it won't go away! i'm out of bed now, working and moving. but still getting dizzy and needing to lie down, and still on a diet of very simple foods. so... it's more than mildly annoying..

On my first day out of bed, I moved to the caravan. yea! once again this year, a caravanista (for those that need explanation, I participated in the 20th Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba in July of this year

I love the caravan, and despite the hassle, I love to occupy new spaces and small spaces. When I was a little girl, I loved hotel rooms. I'd look in all the dresser drawers and be delighted to discover all the things that were always in hotel drawers: bibles, menus, sometimes a free plastic bag for laundry!

Now, as a traveler, I take pleasure in personalizing each and every space I pass through. Out of my pack, I pull my books and stack them on the bedside table. I put my teddy bear, Tigo, on the bed. I set up my old travel alarm clock that I've permanently borrowed from my dad. I set up any decorative and sentimental touches that I have accumulated. On this trip: a kauri wood egg, a postcard from friends in 'Sota, a little monkey toy from my sister and niece, my capybara keychain from Auckland and for my "kitchen table," I currently have orchards from the Coromandel Music Society that were a thank you for running the data presentation at the Ukemania and Golden Girls concert.

The caravan is great because I even have my own little kitchen. Wow, a kitchen all to myself! I've stocked it with tea, coffee, rice milk, rice krispies (called rice bubbles here), muesli (for when my stomach gets better) and every night I bring over drinking water for the hot water pot and a piece of fruit for the morning. It's like easy camping, living in the caravan. I have my bathroom and most of my meals in the house. (I haven't attempted using the caravan's stove, oven or even microwave). Early in the morning, the birds start to sing, and these birds do rival the famous "dawn chorus" that I've heard (recorded) from the bird sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi near Auckland (Where I will be volunteering next year)

Robin and I made orange curd with her Seville oranges today. Then I juiced a bunch of grapefruit. It was fun to work with the citrus fruits, as I spent a couple days doctoring the trees, and feel friendly with them now. =)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ukemania sing-a-long

Kayaking in rocky road volcanic crater

The weather was fine on Friday, and I was lucky enough to have a kayaking connection in my reserves just for a fine-weather day as such. I put in my work hours for the day, and was picked up in the afternoon to drive over the hills (I'd call them mountains, but they're hills here) to the other side of the peninsula. The view from the top as we crossed over the mountain pass was amazing. Water on both sides, Coromandel behind us and Kennedy Bay ahead. On the drive home at night, we saw even saw the lights of Auckland. Kennedy Bay is a "locality" according to Wikipedia. It looks like a few houses on the outskirts of a town, but the nearest town or shop is over the mountain/hill in Coromandel. From Kennedy Bay, we drove North to the edge of Tuateawa. I don't even know what to call Tuateawa, since the only Wikipedia entry is in Maori. "o Tuateawa he nohanga o te rohe whenua o Waikato," for those of you that speak Maori.. I guess it's a locality too. I can't find any population estimates for either. A visible sprinkling of houses, and probably many more in the bush.

The friend of Robin's that was taking me kayaking is named Jon, and he too is establishing himself in the bush. He has a piece of land and is awaiting council's approval so he can build a home, plant trees, etc... This seems to be how many Kiwis live. They buy some land and live in a tent while they build a small cabin. Then, they live in the cabin while they build a home. Then, they get WWOOFers who live in the cabin and help them to live off the land. Lisa, Greg's WWOOFer, was living in his cabin. It was pretty nice, as he had made it for his own home many years ago. Everyone has a WWOOFer here, and some are still living in tents alongside them. Jon takes WWOOFers, and they all live in tents. But right now he's living in the "big city," Thames (population 6,700), to get all his paperwork in line. Thames is the seat of the Thames-Coromandel District Council.

So, onto kayaking. We readied the boats and packed them up. This all took quite a long time. "It takes just as long to pack for an hour trip as it does for a multi-day trip," said Jon. You have to bring all the safety equipment, emergency water and food, etc... He entertained me with stories of his own close encounters to underline that point, including one time when he had to spend the whole night on a small, rocky island because it was too dark for a rescue though the coast guard knew he was there. He said it was more embarrassing than scary. As it was getting late, I was getting scared. But we set off, and Jon seems to have learned his lesson. As soon as we pushed off into the sea, a little blue penguin swam by! When we got out into the water, we looked back at the bay we had left behind and saw it's giant semi-circle shape. It was actually the remaining half of a volcano. We paddled along the shore and back. We were out for about two hours, paddling along the black rock cliffs, past caves and tunnels. Gannets, big black and white birds, were fishing around us. They soared high above us, peering down at us, and then suddenly would spin into a nose dive. "Gannets can dive from a height of 30 m, achieving speeds of 100 km/h as they strike the water, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than most airborne birds." (wikipedia) There were big boulders stuck in the cliff walls, and Jon explained that volcanic rock is soft like marshmallow, and these bigger rocks sink into them and get stuck like chocolate chips. So the cliffs were really just like rocky road ice cream.

We pulled in and packed up as the sun was getting low. Jon supplied a packet of Ginger Nuts for a snack. Has anyone ever had these? They are like ginger snaps, just as hard but a bit thicker. I guess they would be good for dipping in hot chocolate or something. We drove back to Coro through the winding roads at night, got that glimpse of Auckland, and when I made it back home I was too tired for dinner. But I am way too busy to go right to bed. I had to make a power point presentation for the Ukemania concert the next day. The ukelele group, Ukemania, was having a sing-a-long, and I was in charge of putting the lyrics on the screen. We borrowed a projector and screen from the Coromandel Independent Living Trust, and only I knew how to work it. I also made muffins for the bake sale. I will post photos of the concert soon...

After our successful paddling trip, we may go out again next week to explore seabird island. It all depends on my busy schedule! And, sadly, I've been laid up with food poisoning. Hence, catching up on all the blogs. It's incredibly frustrating to be in bed when it's such a nice day out and there's so much to do. Worse, I'm missing a day of work which means that I'll have to make it up somehow. Argh!

Friday, October 16, 2009


On my day off, Robin had organized a whole big day and sleepover for me with another WWOOFer. We laughed, because it was a lot like when we were kids and our parents would bring us over to a friends' house for dinner and say "They have kids too. You two can PLAY!" But we did have a lot of fun, so I was grateful for the motherly treatment. However, the day didn't go as planned. Many of you may remember the plan. Horseback riding in the morning. Well, it started out well. I was picked up bright and early by the school teacher from Colville, and he drove me up the peninsula through winding roads and past bays and islands. It was great, because Peter, the teacher, is also a tour guide and didn't stop talking about Maori and hippie commune history in the places we drove through.

We arrived at Peter's school, a two-room schoolhouse with 30 children. I hung out in the teachers lounge for a bit to read the paper, have a coffee and wait for the morning to proceed. I didn't want to show up at my friend's house before they all woke up. Then, I caught a ride from the school back into town with the school bus driver. He knew the person that started WWOOF in the 70's in Britain, and had moved to Coromandel after meeting a WWOOFer there. The walk from town to Greg's woodworker shop was about 45 minutes, and I wrote a little folk song about WWOOFing as I walked accompanied by a chorus of cow moooooooooos.

The morning horseback ride had been canceled and moved to the afternoon. I found out when I arrived at the cabin where Greg's WWOOFer, Lisa, stays. But it was fine with me, because i got to hang out and do NOTHING all morning long. It was divine! I read, and had tea, and stared out the window while Lisa and Greg were working up in the woodshop. When they finished, we all had lunch and while we were eating the horse place called again. This time to tell us that there was no guide to take us out. She was in Coromandel getting her hair done. But I had just come all the way from Coromandel (or Coro, as the locals call it), and would we like to go on the ride without guides? Well, we didn't lie about our experience. I figure I ride a few times a year, and Lisa had ridden a few times in her life. But they seemed confident that we could go for it, typical laid back Kiwis, so we gave it an honest effort. First, the lady who put us on the horses gave us no instruction. Second, my horse was named Farty! And no, Farty didn't want to go for a ride that day. Neither did Lisa's horse. We spent half an hour trying to make the damn things move. The lady who was helping us would drag us over the bridge, and then the horses would jump back into the river and gallop us home. I asked for some tips, as she kept yelling at me to have two hands on the reins which meant the horses were ridden in a different style than I was used to. And her tip was only "growl at them." After our unsuccessful attempts at growling, I was laughing at my own growl, we were allowed to give up. Instead of a horseback ride, we went on a walk through the cattle paddock where a giant bull steeled us with his stare (Um, do you think he's going to charge Lisa? I asked. I kept my head down and didn't make eye contact, as I would if there were a shady character across the street in the city), and we admitted that we knew our place here on the farm.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tree doctors

So busy here in Coromandel. I had no idea that life could be so full! It's exhausting and inspiring..

On Monday we played tree doctors. The citrus trees have borers (nasty little pests that bore holes through the whole tree). Neither Robin nor I really knew what we were doing, but we spent some time online and dug some thigns out of the shed and had a go at it. It was an all organic approach, with neem tree oil, copper and acrylic paint, paraffin and other home remedies. We had to completely chop up one tree, as it is almost dead anyways. We doctored another tree, cutting off branches and finding borer tunnels. Then eye droppering paraffin down them, clogging them up with blue tak (like that yellow putty stuff we use to hang posters with), and painting the cut with a mix of acrylic and copper. Then I bandaged the really damaged areas with rags soaked in neem tree oil, covered it with food wrap and taped it up. The patients need to wear these bandages for three weeks, which means I'll take them off right before I leave. And hopefully I'll be back in Coromandel next year to see how my trees are doing!

Tuesday was MahJong day with the old ladies from town. Jocelyn, the whitebaiter, plays mahjong on tuesdays and bridge on Sundays. I mentioned that I've always wanted to learn MahJong, so she brought me along. It's a great game and now MahJong set is on my mason jar list. It's kind of like Gin or Gin Rummy but with much more complicated sets, traditions and rules like building the tiles in a wall, to represent the great wall and keep bad spirits out. There are so many different combinations to win with that each played must have their own book of sets and each has its own name like "Seven sisters," "Chop Suey," "Wiggly Dragon," "Big Robert" etc... I love the sound of the tiles clacking together when they're being shuffled. It's called twittering. Due to the age of my company (75 and up), I didn't make any references to Twitter.

Tomorrow is my day off, and Robin has arranged for me to go horseback riding in Colville (30 minutes up the peninsula) with another WWOOFer. The Colville school teacher lives next door, so he is picking me up on his way to school at 7:15. I'm to be dropped off at Greg the woodworker's. Then I'll meet Lisa, and we'll ride at their neighbor's place. We'll get a ride back to Coromandel with the school teacher or hitchhike (which is common here. There's two of us and it'll be daytime so don't worry mom). Then it's quiz night at the pub!

Some pictures of the B&B and the backyard it at sunset.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"All whitebaiters are liars, except for you and me" or "The day the pub burned down"

Well, it's been a lively and lovely week in Coromandel, and I think I could be happy staying here forever.. Most of the people living here have come from somewhere else, and many of them came here first as WWOOFers (doing what I'm doing. By the way, I found out that even though I'm using Help Exchange instead of WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), I still am called a WWOOFer). It's a small town, but there is a lot of activity if you know where to find it, and Robin has kept our calender jam packed with housework, gardening and diversions round town.

Of course, the first thing is always work. I am here to learn and work, though adventure is a part of it all. I've been learning the ropes here at the B&B. Robin taught me all about cleaning the rooms and bathrooms, making the beds etc.. She noticed right away that I'm not "domesticated." I tried to learn, but after two days, I found that it was totally exhausting and tedious work for me. So now I am doing the downstairs stuff in the mornings: cleaning the kitchens, vacuuming the lounge, making muesli and bread, gathering firewood, sometimes ironing and helping hang the laundry outside.. Much more suitable work, as it doesn't exhaust me and I enjoy it alright. We also get to do fun things like crack macadamia nuts, make pickles and marmalades, juice fruits, and work in the orchard and garden, of course.

One day, we zoomed off to go whitebaiting after the guests had breakfast Whitebait is a delicacy in all the cafes and restaurants here. It's actually baby fish. The fish come down the rivers to the sea to lay their eggs, and the whitebaiters catch the newly hatched babies as they start their journey back up the rivers at high tide. Whitebaiting is a bit of a fixation here, as its very expensive in restaurants and shops. Robin, my host, is a new whitebaiter, and I was lucky to be invited along. The season just began, and she is learning from Jocelyn, a 77-year old who has been whitebaiting for 50 years. Whitebaiters are very secretive about their spots, Jocelyn just inherited a new spot along the river after the death of a friend. I guess I was allowed to witness her new spot because I'm not from around here and maybe couldn't find it again if I tried. Robin told me that we weren't allowed to tell anyone where we were or what we caught. "All whitebaiters are liars, except for you and me," is the common saying among whitebaiters. So I'll tell you what I can. We all stood on the side of the river, and Jocelyn had put a piece of white plastic in the river so we could see the baby fish when they swam by. Then we'd all be very still, and she tried to swoop them up with a net. After the whole morning, she had caught about two handfuls.

On Wednesdays, its pub quiz in town. Last week was New Zealand themed, and I was only able to help out with a few questions. After the quiz, Robin volunteered us to write the questions for the next quiz, so between all our other activities we've been working on that. So far our categories are "Death by misadventure" and "Incredible edibles." As an antidote to the last quiz, our questions are international themed. We need four more categories. Suggestions are welcome. I changed the settings on my blog so it'll be easier to leave comments. Thanks for those that have commented. I replied in further comments so check back to the posts you commented on.

On Thursday, we covered the strawberries in the garden, worked on lime pickles, did the inn work, and then made curry and dal, followed by chocolate beet cake and watched TV. I hadn't watched much TV in NZ, but Robin is a fanatic about Outrageous Fortune, a Kiwi series that is supposed to be remade in the US. It is good to sit on a couch and relax, especially with chocolate beet cake. I love the cake so much, I told Robin that I'd leave when it was gone. And she said that she's keep making it as long as I'm here. yea!

On Friday, we went to into town in the morning and visited yoga, the artists co-op and the farmers market. Yoga is at the local church, and I was a bit disconcerted when we pulled up and parked next to a small graveyard. First time I've done yoga next to a cemetery! In the afternoon, it was rainy and cold. I started the fire (all by myself!) and organized the kitchen, filling jars with various flours, nuts, grains, dried fruits, etc... Then I fed the calves. After they finish their bottles, they start sucking each others ears (see photo below) until the milk kicks in and they start running and playing. It's cute. They're two weeks old, and have to start eating grass soon...

On Friday night, we went to a folk concert at Robin's friends' house. It was a guy named Mike Harding, who had a night off his tour and decided to do a small show for a few friends. What a treat! We sat by the fire and he told us all the background to the songs. Kiwi folk music, love songs about gumboots and train stops, TV jingles for Crunchie bars... I probably missed over half of the jokes but enjoyed in nonetheless. For example, "The Day the Pub Burned Down" was about a local pub that caught on fire. When the firefighters came, they tried to put it out with beer. "Screw the pub. Save the beer!" said the locals. "The firefighters fought the fire, and we fought the firefighters!" It was the kind of music my brother would love.

Saturday, I rode my bike into town after work, and checked out the local cafe, Driving Creek Cafe. They also take WWOOFers, and I would love to work there. I stopped in the gold museum briefly. Coromandel is the first place that they discovered gold in NZ (As Uncle Charlie pointed out in his comment). There's people that are pushing to have the mining opened up again. At the same time, there's a group of people that have turned Coromandel into a "transition town," tryng to reduce its reliance on petroleum. I wonder how these people get along with each other. I will find out more, as the Transition Town people are all at market, where we hope to sell our lime pickles, and Driving Creek Cafe, where I hope to hang out more. While the main guy behind gold mining is a pub quiz junkie. So I hope to find out more over the next couple weeks.

We went to Greg's house for dinner last night. Greg is a friend of Robin's, a woodworker, living on a lifestyle block, who makes beautiful slab furniture. He has a WWOOFer from Chicago, another woodworker who sells beautiful jewelery on Etsy ( It was a meal made entirely from him garden and lamb. There were a few lamb running around the house while we ate, so I'm sure they were free-range. When we finished dinner, Greg said, now I'm going to make a cake. I was a bit surprised, since it seemed a little late to start making a cake. However, Greg was making prison cake, which only takes half an hour cuz that's all the time you have to make cake in prison. It's also a chocolate cake, not as amazing as the beet cake but good. I'm eating cake everyday here!

Today is Sunday. It's been a relaxed day, though we did go into town to see the country music at the "bottom hub," the bar at the bottom of the hill. The bar at the top of the hill is called the "top pub." It was an open stage, but we didn't get up to sing anything. There was a Maori guy that sang (Maori is the indigenous people of NZ), and it was pretty good. The rest was all off-key American country songs like Boot-Scootin Boogie. Well, it was an experience...

I better get some rest now, and let you all get back to your lives! Sorry for the long blog, there's just so much going on! I'll load some pics of the b&b and town soon too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Final notes on kerikeri. Hello Coromandel (with maps)

Ooh. We crammed it allll in for my last days in kerikeri. On Saturday, Richard who rents a room at the house, brought me up to Ahipara, about two hours up North, to tag along on a quad tour that he was leading. I was really lucky have the opportunity to jump on the tour, which usually costs $150.

We rode down the beach, past the seaweed pickers village of informal houses and across sand dunes. I was also lucky to see some more of Northland, including the Mangamuka scenic pass which wound through pointy top mountains and misty fern-filled forests.

On Sunday, we went on a hike around some old Kauri trees. The whole North island used to be covered in ancient, tall Kauri trees. But the British, and later the Americans, Australians and the rest of the usual suspects, came in and cut them all down, as I was explaining in a previous post. Well, there are a few that remain.. They're massive size is mostly trunk..

We also went to the Kerikeri farmers market where I sampled macadamia nut butter, chutneys, kumara (sweet potato) chips, fudge, etc... On Sunday night, we had a big dinner and a full moon party bonfire for my last night. We had been planning it for days, but the whole day it rained and rained. I was sure it would be canceled, but Louisa continued with the plan. "We'll burn a hole in the clouds so the full moon can peek through" Some of the people I've met in Kerikeri came over. Louisa made blue cheese pizza and a chocolate roll with coffee cream. Right as we finished dinner, the clouds parted!

The guys built the biggest bonfire I've ever seen, which they said would be the smallest I ever see in New Zealand.

The kids roasted marshmallows. The puppy and cats and ducks all came. Louisa pulled out a box of fireworks and then worried the whole time about the kids hurting themselves with them. Some of us fell asleep in front of the fire, as we stayed out there past midnight.

On Monday I rode back into Auckland with one of Louisa's yoga students. I stayed in a giant hostel in the heart of the city, which I must say, I could happily never visit again though I probably will be passing through it many more times. Tuesday morning, I jumped on the ferry to Coromandel where I now reside at the Jacaranda Lodge with my host Robin. The first day here has been busy with settling in and all the visitors that have popped in and out. I spent a lot of the day in the kitchen, baking bread for the guests, making lime pickles for the market, and eating Robyn's chocolate beet cake. I also got to bike into town to pick up some milk, learned how to stock the firewood and start the fire, collected citrus fruits off the tree for juicing and met the baby calves who I will be feeding (with bottles!) on Friday. This is going to be a great place to stay and help!

I have put my photos from these last few days on picassa, so you can see them all instead of just the ones I upload here. It's always so hard to choose! There's more photos of the sand dunes, seaweed pickers village, bonfire, fireworks, farewell dinner, and ferry crossing. I even put captions on a bunch of them and there's space for comments so check it out! (There's also bird photos that need ID)

And here are some maps of the North island that my dad found to show you all where Coromandel and Kerikeri are.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Winding down and up in kerikeri

I'm squeezing it all in before i shift places on monday. Yesterday I learned how to ride the motorbike. The boys got new motorbikes as a surprise present from their dad. They were delivered while I was taking care of them, which wasn't really the best surprise for the babysitter. "They don't have any gas in them, right?" I asked the deliveryman. "Well, Of course they do!" And then he proceeded to show them how to use the gears and took off. Anyways, they are addicted to video games so motorbike fun wore off fast, and I got a chance to try em out. After a little bit, I was in third gear making figure eights around the chicken paddock. It was pretty cool, but scary. It's easy to panic, take your foot off the foot brake, and then pull your body back which revs the accelerator while trying to squeeze the hand brake. Really easy.. The guy that taught me how to ride them explained to me that exact sequence of events two or three times before i got on the bike. And it's the first thing I did. I got into gear and took off before I was ready, thinking "oh crap, it did it," and then panicked when I got to the fence. I laughed it off that time, cuz it was exactly what I was told not to do. Then there was another time.. Well, I won't go into details for mum's sake.. Let's just say that I didn't realize what I scare I got until I got off, and my knees were shaking.

After motorbikes, we went to the swimming hole to catch eels, since I had mentioned that I've never seen one in a river before. You see, the boy's uncle was staying with us, and he's an active, outdoorsy guy. Same one that decided I should learn to ride the motorbike. I mentioned the eel thing when we were talking about the baby ducks. There had been nine, and they are already down to six! Louisa says the hawks, cats, and eels get them. Next thing you know, we're out at the river with a line, a hook and a sausage. We caught about four eels, but who knows how many for sure since we threw three back. One was kept for dinner.. cooked over a fire. Cuz that's the only way uncle Grant cooks things I guess..

Grant's son (Angus or Bryce, I never got it straight) and the eel that was later dinner. As a former vegan and current freegan, I will spare you all the picture of the eel pinned to the tree with a knife thru it's head, though I wish it had been a video cuz the eel suddenly wriggled and i had to choke back a scream

the boys on their bikes (didn't get a picture of me on the bike, cuz obviously, how would i take a picture of myself on it)

a shot of the family (Louisa, Charlie Rose, Finn and Zena the puppy. all except Tiger, the 11-year old boy, who is way too cool for ice cream with the family) in Paihia, the neighboring touristy town on the sea about a half hour away. The puppy had never been to a town before. She had no idea so many people existed in this world, and it was still a tiny town.. Next stop, New York. Well, maybe not. maybe Auckland where she'd be a country mouse in the city. She's still deathly scared of cars, other dogs, and the ocean...

Here you go dad. There birds were not pets. I have been trying to get photos to send to dad for identification, but bird photography is not easy. For example, the photo below was supposed to be of this big white sea bird swooping down to catch fish. Instead, all I got was this rainbow.

And here's some birds on the rocks.. yup, bird photos are pretty boring when they're just little spots..

Tomorrow I go into kerikeri to use my coupon for a free breakfast buffet and then up North to maybe ride quads in the sand dunes!