Friday, January 22, 2010

Cheese by the sea...

Oamaru has been a great place to spend a few days. The backpackers we've stayed at, called Chillawhile, is the best I've ever been to. There's an art room full of paints and canvases that are free to use, a music room, and on our first night there was a potluck! Every dish was vegetarian, just by coincidence, which says something about the people that stay here. Robin and I made coconut lentils and banana curry. Everybody had to introduce their dish and strike a pose. It was the most fun I've had eating and preparing dinner at a backpackers.

Kelly (standing) and her daughter Saol (on the couch), are the owners of the backpackers, had hosted us as WWOOFers at her house about half an hour away, in a boring town called Timaru. It was great to get to her backpackers after spending three days in Timaru, where she taught us how to play the djembe African drums.

The town of Oamaru was full of old-fashioned charm, with a dutch bakery, a bookbinding shop (that accepted donations of single malt) quirky art galleries and a whisky T lounge...

The other fun thing we did in Oamaru was visit the cheese factory by the sea, where we spent about half an hour with our noses to the viewing window watching the cheese makers in their oompah-loompah-like factory (maybe had the impression of oommpah-loompahs because they were all wearing white clean suit, hats, goggles and white mudboots).. Pictures were not allowed there though!

Oamaru at night..

This is when the penguins come out.. As we never made it to the Penguin Entertainers Club, so I'm not sure exactly who, or what, graces the stage for Oamaru's nightlife.

I do know what graces the beaches. Penguins. Little Blue Penguins that come onto the beach at 9:30pm every night to waddle across the beach, and road, to their little houses, or to sleep under buildings. Their houses are little white boxes, all numbered and clustered into little (stinky) penguin neighborhoods. On our first night, we only saw one penguin.. On our second night, we saw several.

First, they were just a cluster of black spots on the water, approaching quite fast, we knew it couldn't be seaweed. Then we saw about 8 of them appear on the beach and waddle as fast as they could to their neighborhood, where they preened and stretched until dark. I do have a suspicion that some of them made it to the Penguin Entertainers Club, as I heard the sounds of guitars and drums warming up right after the first group came in...

On our drive home, we saw more penguins! Why do penguins cross the road? To hide under houses and sleep.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chicks and rays!

After Christmas and New Years, the house in Tuateawa turned on its hard hat to set up for volunteers. We set up beds, varnished floors, moved furniture, and put in a huge effort to make the place as cozy as possible for a large group. I filled the freezer with pre-cooked foods: banana bread, plum sorbet, pizza dough, orange squash hummus, and countless loaves of wholegrain bread from the breadmaker. I filled jars with beans and spices, and labeled EVERYTHING from cupboards to rooms to toilets ("If it's yellow, leave it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down!" We are conservationists here!) Two of Jon's past volunteers, Sadie from Wisconsin and Dave from New York, came to help and the four of us shared long days and good dinners. I put in extra hours to make sure there was always good food on the table to get us through.

Amongst the work, we managed to make it out to sea a few times. We went for a full moon paddle on New Years (waiting for pictures from Sadie's camera), following the moon trail out to sea and drinking hot chai out of a thermos. We went snorkeling a couple of times.. Watching out for sting rays! Jon says it's a rush to swim over one.. I agree that it would be a "rush," but I don't think it's quite the kind of "rush" that I'm ready for... Can you find the sting ray in the picture here? (taken from an island that we climbed up during a kayaking lunch break)

On my last day, before heading South to catch up with Robin and her dad and brother for a camping trip, Jon and I went paddling out to an island off the shore where we climbed up to see gannet nests. We spent about an hour just hanging out with the birds and their babies, watching them fly and swoop in right by our heads. They all ignored us, kind of reminded me of the blue-footed boobies in Ecuador. When we paddled back to shore, there were hundreds of petrels (seabirds) flying towards shore all around us. They were all going the same direction and flying right along the water. It was like being in the middle of petrel rush hour. There are no photos, nor words to aptly describe the experience. All I can say is that I'm lucky to be here. As for the gannets, there are TONS of photos. Some of the best are below...

After kayaking we threw our gear in the car, and I hopped on the ferry to Auckland. From sea to shore to sea, without time to even grab a snack. On the ferry, I ate leftover curry while watching the sunset and slept, waking up just in time to see the city lights. I spent a few hours in Auckland, arriving at the hostel late (11pm) and leaving early (4am) to take a plane to Christchurch where I met Robin. We then took a bus to Timaru, where we are wwoofing for a few days, and meeting her dad in Oamaru, known for its penguins. Can't wait to get camping, as I'm tired out from work and would love to spend my days hiking and reading and knitting again!