Saturday, February 11, 2012

Back to Where It All Began

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Today we completed the circle by returning to Auckland and the Airport Motor Inn Motel where we stayed in our first night in New Zealand nearly a month ago.  We think we are even back in the same room.  This time we are on our way home.  Tomorrow we check in at the airport and head for Tahiti for a couple of days.  

We departed Paihia with some instructions from the motel lady.  “Don’t stop in Kaikohe - it’s not a very nice town.”  We wanted to see the western side of the peninsula on our return trip to Auckland and there are two routes to accomodate travelers.  They are called “twin discovery” routes.  We found the western route the more scenic and the less traveled.  That meant not as many cars trying to pass those of us who were enjoying the scenery, fewer big trucks and of course, the usual cows and sheep grazing contentedly on the green hillsides.

Kaikohe lived up to the predictions.  People didn’t look very pleasant and perhaps the reason for the reputation has some ethnic overtones.  Most of the people we saw appeared to be of Maori descent.  There may be some pent-up animosity for Europeans, tourists, Caucasians and other “outsiders.”  We kept driving.  

We came within sight of the west coast and the road turned south towards a low mountain region and the Waipoua Forest.  Along the way in our travels around both islands of this great country we had seen large stumps and the remains of what must have been large trees.   What happened?  Although today, there are many forests and logging continues to be a significant industry, many of those early giant trees are now history.  

Kauri trees once grew all over these islands and became “the backbone of the country’s timber industry.”  It was at one stage New Zealand’s greatest export.  Lumber mills proliferated along the west coast and port cities like Dargaville boomed.  By 1900 only 10 percent of the kauri forests remained.  Today the number is down to four percent.

The kauri is a giant tree.  The sequoia may be taller and older, but for sheer wooden bulk, the kauri has no equal.  Growing up to 2,000 years, the trunks can reach a diameter of 16 feet and soar to a height of 160 feet.  The trunks don’t taper until they are up about 65 feet, providing huge cylinders of straight-grained wood.  No wonder the trees were logged and the wood sent around the world.  

What remains are a few select trees in various places around the country.  There are no doubt large stumps remaining as well.  We saw one of those stumps fashioned into a sofa and on sale in a store in Paihia for $22,000.  The resin from these trees was also valuable and used as a base in varnish.  Pockets of this sap were located and exported as kauri gum back in the 19th century.  

Four of these giant trees remain in the Waipoua forest and one of them, named Tane Mahuta (the god of the forest) by Maori is the largest kauri in New Zealand.  We stopped for a look.  The tree is 168 feet high, measures 46 feet around, and sits five minutes from the main road.  It is massive and well worth the stop.  One of the websites I consulted in planning this trip was Trip Advisor.  They have a list of “101 kiwi favorites” or something like that.  The #1 place on the list was this tree.  Apparently, there are night-time tours which take you into the forest and you experience some spiritual connections with the trees and the birds which populate this place.  Hmmm. . .

We commenced to experience a bit of drama for the next 30 miles or so.  I was so intent on finding the tree that I neglected to watch the gas gauge and we were down to empty.  This warning light came on.  Could we make it to the next town?  Where was the next town and how far away was it?  The suspense began.  Should we let those cars pass or should we count on them to rescue us when we run out of gas?  Can we make it to the top of that hill and then coast down?  Where are the farms and farmers who might help us?  When will we get out of this forest?  Should we drive slowly to conserve fuel?  How much gas is left when you see the warning light?
the god of the forest

We kept driving.  Finally, we got back to some civilization and the sign “17 km to G.A.S. Station” gave us an indication of where we had to go.  More hills to climb, but now there were farms and a road construction crew.  We kept going.  Finally, there it was and we left $40 in trade for a quarter tank of petrol.  The car rental people advised us to “run it dry” since we were paying them for a tankful when we brought the car back, but this was carrying it to the extreme.  

That drama behind us, we looked for lodging and found it at the Mangawhai Retreat.  For what seemed like a low overnight cost we got a well-equipped little 2-bedroom cottage (he called it a villa), high on a hill looking out at farmland, deep valleys and off in the distance the South Pacific Ocean.  Add a full moon and the place had a lot of romance for our last night before returning to Auckland.  We enjoyed a couple games of Skip-Bo before retiring for the evening.  

Today we completed the journey by driving the relative short distance from Wellsford to Auckland by way of scenic highway 16 which ultimately connected back with highway 1 in the big city.  Along the way we passed the Mt. Auckland walkway and wondered what kind of mountain that might be.  Some other day.  We found a small vegetable stand on the side of the road, enjoyed some pleasant conversation with the proprietor and bought two of his huge “free range chicken eggs” for a dollar each.  That will be breakfast tomorrow morning at our motel.  Seems like free range chickens are pretty desireable.

So this will conclude a marvelous adventure.  We’ve wondered how to respond when people ask, as they will, “How was your trip?”  It will be difficult, if not impossible, to boil it down to 25 words or less.  That’s one of the purposes of this blog.  If you want to longer version, look over these pages.  If you want the shortened version, we could boil it down to one word we heard frequently and said with proper British accent:


the national rugby team

Friday, February 10, 2012

Swimming with Dolphins, Almost

Friday, February 10, 2012

First, let me say that I did not do it, but I was there when others did and I recorded it on my camcorder.  So if you want to just skip this article, go ahead - I won’t be offended.

Dolphins of several different species live in the wild in and near the Bay of Islands in northern New Zealand.  The water is warm and the food supply keeps them healthy.  The apparently also don’t mind interacting with humans as it stimulates their native intellect.  It’s for that reason that dolphins have been taken captive and swim in the pools and ponds of resorts in Hawaii, Mexico, Florida and other locations.  We heard from people here that dolphins in captivity only live an average of 6 years from the time they are captured and one of the reasons is that living in a pool is not very stimulating.

So how do dolphins spend their time in the wild?  Twenty percent of the time they are feeding, twenty percent of the time they are sleeping and the other sixty percent is devoted to frolicing with dolphins of the opposite sex.  Females can store sperm and can choose which sperm they wish to have impregnate themselves.  Pretty good birth control, huh?

Several cruise companies advertise “swim with dolphin adventures” in Paihia.  We chose Dolphin Adventures and reserved a spot on the afternoon adventure.  The big yellow boat had seventeen passengers and three crew aboard.  Of the seventeen paying customers, two were over the age of 25 and their last name was Seim.  The skipper piloted the boat, his co-captain was in charge of assisting passengers and the ever-present photographer was snapping photos which he hoped to sell back to the passengers at the end of the cruise.

There are some 140 islands in the Bay of Islands and we headed out to the most remote of them, a little triangular rock they called Ninepin because it looked like a pin and it was nine miles out from Paihia.  Up close it was fairly large and populated by migratory birds who coated the rock in white you-know-what.

Beyond Ninepin we were in open waters of the blue Pacific looking for dolphins.  We were encouraged to help the crew scour the horizon but warned that if our dolphin turned out to be a piece of driftwood, there could be some recourse to our continuing as a passenger.  It was advised with tongue-in-cheek by the skipper.

There were a couple other boats out there scouring the same seas and the captains had radio contact with them to share information.  We were told that if we failed to see a dolphin or whale we were to be given another free cruise.  Dolphin viewing, guaranteed.  Within a few minutes of spotting other ships it was announced that dolphins were just ahead.  Prepare to swim!  Sure enough, there they were, cavorting in the water.  They swam up close to our boat and we kind of spun around in the water so the best views were from the back of the ship where swimmers were to enter the water.

We were told that the crew needed to check out the pod of dolphins first before swimmers could jump in to make sure there were no juveniles in the group of dolphins.  Swimming around them would disrupt their nursing, which happens every twenty minutes for a young dolphin.  I guess the crew saw no juveniles because they began handing out swim masks, frog fins, and snorkel tubes to those who wished to swim, advising them to assemble on the rear deck.  They lowered a platform and gave some last minute instructions in English, which many of them probably didn’t understand since they were from other countries.

“Make a lot of noise in the water.  Splash around to keep the dolphins’ attention!  Swim right towards them.  Look down in the water to see them.  Stay out there and keep swimming around.”  Into the water went fifteen white bodies, flailing away at the water.  The dolphins swam away.  Another group out there seemed more interesting.  “Come back to the boat,” the skipper commanded.  “We’ll try again.”

Fifteen swimmers returned to the platform, huffing and puffing.  They pulled themselves up on the boat, walking backwards because of the fins on their feet.  The boat did a few circles in the water and then headed off in a new direction where more dolphins were spotted jumping around in the water.  Instructions were repeated and this time thirteen bodies went into the water.  There were now four of us watchers, two commanders and one photographer taking it all in.  The group was more successful this time in engaging the dolphins rather than scaring them away.  Again they returned to the boat, out of breath from treading water.

The third time most of the swimmers went back into the water and were joined by the photographer who took his underwater camera along.  One guy did a good job by swimming around freestyle and creating enough commotion in the water that the dolphin was entertained.  The photographer was the last one back on the boat and he set to work downloading his photos and burning DVD’s for those who wanted to spend an addition $62 to see themselves.   The boat went back to cruising towards a nearby island where the tour operators had established a little bar/cafe.  We were given a half hour to enjoy sitting on the beach and consuming $7.50/bottle beer.  Then it was back in the boat and we headed to our port-of-call, Paihia.  Another hard day of vacation behind us but one we will remember thanks to the video, the photos and the credit card bill.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Russell Transformed

One of my goals in coming to New Zealand was to spend some time, if possible, talking education with educators or at least visiting a school in session.  That turned out to be a bit tricky since this is summer and summer vacation includes most of the month of January.  This week I was able to visit a school, albeit for just a brief time.

Here's what one website said about New Zealand's world leadership in teaching literacy:

In the past two decades, New Zealand has achieved international renown for the high quality of its literacy education. Despite increased immigration and the numbers of families living in poverty, as well as relatively low teacher salaries, New Zealand has one the highest literacy rates in the industrialized world (see the summary of New Zealand’s results from the Programme for International Student Assessment [PISA], 2000). Its reputation as a nation of readers has intrigued researchers and classroom-based educators alike. 
Curiosity about how New Zealand has accomplished its success led a group of 50 U.S. educators, including the first, second, and fourth authors of this article, to visit the country during the summer of 2000 to observe firsthand the literacy practices used in primary classrooms. Our purpose was to learn as much as we could about New Zealand’s unique educational system.
We were fortunate to meet a number of key players in literacy education as we toured around New Zealand. We began our journey by visiting the Auckland College of Education, where we met with professionals from the Centre for Literacy and Languages, Enterprise Development, and Research. Here we learned about teacher education in New Zealand, the New Zealand Curriculum Framework, the structure and governance of public schools, school funding, and the school calendar. 
While in Auckland, we were delighted to have a meeting with Dame Marie Clay, the founder of the very successful Reading Recovery program. Dame Marie was very generous with her time, and told us everything we wanted to know about Reading Recovery. We also met with regional representatives from the Books in Homes program, which promotes family literacy. To complement what we had learned, we met with officials at the New Zealand Education Review Office, who explained the evaluation process all educational institutions that receive government funding must undergo.
Now we felt equipped and ready to visit classrooms and learn even more.
 What follows is a summary of what we saw and heard about literacy education in New Zealand.  Check out this website to hear what one group of educators saw and experienced on their trip here to visit schools.  Schools here have a unique approach to making sure that children learn to read.  Terms like "guided reading" and "reading recovery" originated here in New Zealand and have been copied in other parts of the world, including the U.S.

So I wasn't sure what I would ask or what I would want to see if I visited a school.  I thought that meeting with the principal, asking for a brief tour of the school and perhaps checking out technology might give me some kind of feel for what is happening here.

My first real opportunity came at Paihia.  However, I got to the school too late in the afternoon to catch the principal.  The secretary invited me to return the next day after morning tea when the principal would have some time.  We elected to go across the Bay to see Russell the next morning.  It was a good experience.

To get to Russell from Paihia you board the passenger ferry after paying your $7 fee.  It's about a 10 minute trip across blue waters to the dock.  Russell is pretty laid back and quite different from the 1800's when it was called the "hellhole of the Pacific."  Back then it was a hangout for gamblers, murderers, thieves, philanderers and crooks of all descriptions.  Lawlessness was the norm.  When the Treaty was signed, Russell was designated as the capital city of New Zealand but that only lasted for several months.  Russell was too wild to be capital of the new country.  Eventually, Auckland won that honor.

Christ Church and Cemetery
Russell was the trading post established by Europeans to trade guns, ammunition, and liquor for lumber and other goods controlled by the Maori.  When the Maori saw that they were being swindled unfairly, they took out their wrath on Russell, burning the town to the ground.  Only Christ Church and one other building remained standing.  We saw holes in the siding of the church left by Maori musket balls in one of the confrontations.

Russell eventually rebuilt and tamed its image, catering to travelers, tourists and vacationers.  Some of the community buildings opened along with vacation homes, cafes, and small businesses.  Today, the mood is very laid back.  Several historical sites retell some of the history.  There are a couple of museums and Christ Church remains as the oldest functioning church in New Zealand.  Much can be learned just by visiting the church cemetery.

Entering the Russell Street School
We wandered the streets and saw the church before deciding to see the school next door to Christ Church.  The school is one main building, some modular classrooms and a meeting building on a three acre campus.  It is named Russell Street School.  There is a green play field, some play structures, and other trappings which tell you this is a school.  We came at recess time and one of the first things I noticed was children running around the campus barefoot.  I wondered if that was the norm for inside wear as well.

I was greeted warmly by the secretary and invited to come down the hall to meet the faculty, who were having tea in the faculty room.  Again, I was welcomed and met the principal, David xxxxxx.  We exchanged pleasantries, compared experiences, and he jokingly referred to the school secretary as the person who ran the school.  I agreed, based on some of my experiences.

I asked some quick questions about New Zealand schools and the literacy leadership they have earned over the years.  They all seemed to pretty much take it for granted and didn't really offer much in the way of specifics.  I suppose that could have come from more in-depth discussions.  I was invited to walk the halls, look at classrooms and stay around if I wished.

The school custodian escorted us around  the building and we saw rather typical classrooms, good art work, lots of backpacks, and the Reading Recovery Room.  There was also a library, although the custodian said it didn't get much use.  They were thinking of remodeling the building to make it more accessible.  They teach cooking and some classes are apparently done in Maori.  I spotted one eMac computer in the library.  I also noticed that each classroom had a wood burning stove.  The custodian's job is to light a fire, secure firewood and make sure stoves warm up classrooms on cool mornings.  Wow, what a job that must be!

It was a rewarding, reassuring and interesting visit.  Not much depth, but enough to give a feel for what goes on here.  The custodian's words and the school's website, reinforced one of the tenets observed at Russell Street School and applicable everywhere, "If children can't read, they can't learn."

Shops and restaurants now line the two main streets of Russell

Reminder of bygone days

WWII plaque

WWI involved more Kiwis

Note the needlework on the cushions in the church

School Entry

Reminders of a battle on the church siding

Honoring History at Waitangi

Thursday, February 8, 2012

How did New Zealand come to be?  What happened to the Maori people who first settled these islands?  How did this become a British colony?  What is the Waitangi Treaty and why was it so important?

There is lots to this story and others can tell it better than I.  If anyone is interested, click on the link above and there will be much information, good photos and more links to tell the complete story.  Last night we went to the Treaty Grounds just down the road from where we are staying to participate in a dramatic presentation about New Zealand's colourful history.  We were a small audience of 17 people who bought tickets for the performance, which was held in an ornately carved meeting house on the Treaty Grounds.  We walked past the Busby Treaty House and the flag pole which was the scene of the signing back in 1840.  Our sponsor, who was also the producer of the drama, introduced himself and set the scene for what would happen next.  

Grandfather and grandson on the right
He first asked for and chose 3 men from the audience to serve as "warriors" in approaching the meeting house.  I was one of the three.  After we rounded the corner we were to be confronted by 3 Maori warriors who would question our worthiness.  One by one, they would throw down and item in front of us.  We were to look them in the eyes, not smile, reach down and pick up the item and then stand there without backing up.  If they perceived us to be worthy, we would all be invited into the meeting house for the performance.  We all three passed the test.

At the meeting house, we reverently removed our shoes before entering, filed in and took our seats.  We all sat in one row of chairs.  The performers, 4 men and 4 women, came out dressed in native costume.  One by one, the 3 of us warriors were called forward to shake hands and touch noses with two of the performers.  That was confirmation of our acceptance.  

The story of the early history of this land was told by a grandfather to his grandson, who asked questions about life back then among the Maori people.  His answers were supplemented by dances and songs by the performers.  It was historically accurate and done very professionally by actors, singers and dancers.  

The British came to the islands thanks to Captain James Cook, who claimed the place for the British and began trade with the Maori.  This led to settlers moving to the islands from Europe and Australia.  Some had good intentions and others were here to take advantage of the lawlessness of the land.  There was continuing conflict over whose land was whose and this led to Missionary James Busby arriving at Watiangi to begin talking peace.  A treaty was written, approved by Maori chieftains and prepared for signatures.  It was presented and signed on February 6, 1840 at the flagpole on the Treaty Grounds.  

Meeting the cast after the performance
That was not the end of the conflict.  Russell, across the bay from Paihia was to be the capital city.  It was known by some as "the hellhole of the Pacific."  Many of the Maori were upset with some of the European disregard for provisions of the treaty and they went on a rampage.  They attacked the church (we saw the bullet holes), burned down most of the buildings in Russell, and tore down the flag at the Treaty Grounds.  This conflict continued back and forth for many years after the signing.

Wikipedia has these comments about the treaty:

Flag pole where treaty was signed
"Today it is generally considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. Despite this, the Treaty is often the subject of heated debate. Many Māori feel that the Crown did not fulfill its obligations under the Treaty, and have presented evidence of this before sittings of the Tribunal. Some non-Māori New Zealanders have suggested that Māori may be abusing the Treaty in order to claim "special privileges".[6] [7]The Crown, in most cases, is not obliged to act on the recommendations of the Tribunal but nonetheless in many instances has accepted that it breached the Treaty and its principles. Settlements to date have consisted of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and assets, as well as apologies."

Ornately carved Maori Meeting House

Big City and Beyond to Northland

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Looking down at the Firth of Thames
One guy told us that he has lived his whole life on the North Island, but has never visited Auckland.  He avoids it at all costs.  And he says he can tell if someone is a resident of this largest city in the country.  They have a different attitude about them.

So on this day, we intended to get through Auckland on our way to the Bay of Islands.  There is no other way to drive there without passing through the metropolis.  It was hard to tell from some of the roadways that we were getting close.  We came down the west side of the Coromandel Peninsula and experienced more hills, sheep and wildness.  We took a shortcut, according to the map, and ended up on a gravel road on which we passed only 15 cars in about 25 miles.

Auckland Sky Tower
The western side of ths Coromandel is bounded by the Firth of Thames.  “Firth” - what could that be?  Thames sounded British and a “firth” is defined as “a narrow inlet of the sea” but I don’t guess we have any in the U.S.  Thames is a cute little town where we stopped to cash some traveler’s checks (cheques) at the post shop (office).  No fees are charged here.

From Thames, we journeyed westward towards Auckland, which is up and over some hills and squeezed between several bays, firths, rivers and oceans.  At some point the highways fork and one road leads south to Hamilton and the other north to Auckland and the Northland.  (You can tell you are headed north if the signs direct to Cape Reinga, the northernmost outpost in the country.)  From there the highway turns into a freeway, expressway or motorway with exits, medians, lots of signs, big trucks and multiple lanes.  Before long we passed the airport exits and came in sight of the Sky Tower, a landmark for the central city.

The highway goes up and over a major water body, probably an access to the port of Auckland, and continues to the northern suburbs.  We feared another Seattle of congestion, but were pleasantly surprised to get through the city unscathed.  Another 20 km or so and we were back to a two lane highway with occasional three lanes for passing, and beautiful hills with sheep, cattle and flowers.

Scandrett homestead concrete house
We’ve noticed signs and offices designated as iSites.  Every city and town seems to have one and many of them also advertise public toilets.  The offices are staffed with helpful people who answer questions about the area, recommend accommodations and attractions and also make bookings if necessary.  We pulled into a town named Warkworth and dropped in to the iSite office to ask about accomodations.  Not only did the lady recommend a motel, she also booked a room for us and accepted a 10% deposit.  (I assume that was her “finder fee” for booking the room.  So we headed for Snells Beach, a 10-minute drive to the east, where we were told we would have a view of the sea from the Snells Beach Motel.

Farm buildings
Snells Beach was named for the Snell family who settled here some years ago.  One of their family is Peter Snell, an athlete of some sort, who now lives in the U.S.  It appears to be a bedroom community with modest homes and small shops along the highway.

We were greeted by a friendly lady, whom I think is one of the owners.  She was sad to hear that we were only there for the night because there was much to see in the area.  The next morning, her husband, the other owner recommended three places to visit before we left town.  One was Scott’s landing, a boat launch site at the very tip of a long peninsula of land which stretches out into the sea.  The second was an historic farm which is now a regional park.  We found it to be very fascinating.

George Scandrett arrived from Ireland in 1863 and began farming at this remote spot at Mullet Point which looks out over Kawau Bay.  It was a land of steep hills, a beautiful waterfront, and a place to farm and raise a family.  The family carried on farming here for the next 140 years.  In the process, they built an unusual farmhouse out of concrete, and then added other farm buildings for cows, sheep, chickens, farm implements and the family boats.  Transport back then was by water and the boatshed was equipped with a winch and rails on which the boat could be moved easily to the water.

Public toilets
All of these buildings have been preserved and can be seen by visitors to the Scandrett Regional Park.  Several houses on the property can be rented as vacation homes.  There is a campground for campers and RV’s.  It’s fun to think about life and its challenges back in those days.  There were no doubt times when the beautiful scenery was forgotten when compared to the daily rigors of life on the farm.

We enjoyed another sheep stop and Sheep World.  No show this time, but we found a couple of gifts in the gift store, a bowl of clam chowder and hokey pokey ice cream in the cafe.  And then it was on to Kawakawa and the Hundertwasser’s Toilets.

There is much to be said about Friedensreich Undertwasser, a 25-year resident of Kawakawa.  He was a noted architect and ecologist who moved to New Zealand and bought a farm near Kawakawa in 1975.  In 1997 he was commissioned to design and build public toilets on the main street of his adopted city.  The brochure describes his final work:

“The Kawakawa toilet block with its ceramic columns, garden roof and curving, colourful exuberance has put the Northland town of Kawakawa on the international tourist route and travelers from around the world pay homage to the man and his unique, architectural charm.”

I admit that using a public toilet has not been so enjoyable for a long time.

School kids made the tiles

Waitangi Day at the Beach(es)

Monday, February 6, 2012

See the video we took here.

Our guest cottage at Hahei
Today is the New Zealand equivalent of the 4th of July.  It appears that they don’t do much with fireworks, hot dogs and parades but it is a holiday and people will be going places out of the ordinary.

One of those “out of the ordinary” places is Hot Water Beach and that’s on our list of places to see on this day.  The Coromandel Peninsula is also one of those special places in New Zealand that is on the “must see” list.  If you look at a map, it is the stubby finger of land on the right or eastern side of the North Island.  It begins after passing through the port city of Tauranga.  We were looking for a place to stay in the town of Hahei so we called a lodge called The Church.  (sounded ominous)  We eventually connected with Richard Agnew, the manager who was attending a birthday party.  He said the lodge was full and he thought finding a place in Hahei would be difficult because of the holiday weekend.  As an afterthought he asked if we would consider staying in a little cottage next to his house which he rented to friends.  Wow!  It turned out to be a great little place.

Not many here yet
So we headed for Hahei.  The Coromandel is hilly so the road winds around with hairpin turns, narrow, one land bridges and scenic views in all directions.  It’s a little hard to take in if you are behind the wheel.  There are small towns along the way and once in a while you will catch a glimpse of the blue Pacific, but the beaches are pretty secluded.  The peninsula was popularized back in the 1970’s when young twenty-somethings discovered it was a good place to be to “get away from it all.”  They needed some kind of livelihood so they made pottery and did other crafts to sell to tourists.  There are also sheep and dairy farms in the area.  Picture postcards would show a herd of black and white cows grazing on a green hill dotted with tall trees and sprinkled with flowers.

The crowd is gathering
The turn off to Hahei also listed two other attractions:  Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove.  The road winds around for about 10 km and then you enter town.  Guidebooks say the population is 270 in the winter and about 7000 in the summer.  There is a general store and a few small shops and signs indicating B & B’s, homestays, cottages and a few motels.  There is lots of activity at the General Store which is also a Takeaway burger stand and the town’s post office (post shop).

We went to The Church and got directions to Richard’s place, which was up a steep hill and about a mile from town.  There were private resiidences or retreats on both sides of the gravel road as we approached his place.  It sits on about 5 acres of land against the side of the hill and the little cottage is next door.  Quite a place.  The Church must be doing well.  (It’s called that because the restaurant is an old Methodist church that he moved to Hahei from some other place.)

Is it hot yet?
So today we wanted to see two beaches in the area and ended up at three.  Low tide was set for 12:22 pm, just after Noon and we were advised to show up at Hot Water Beach two hours before that to dig our “spa” on the beach.  We borrowed a spade from The Church and got to the beach before 10:00 am.  We weren’t the first.  It was cloudy, windy and the water was turbulent.  No surfers here today.  Several were standing on the beach and others were starting to dig.  We joined the diggers but the water that came up was cold.  A young lady pointed out that we needed to dig in just the right place to find hot water.  Since no one else was doing any digging, we stood around getting chilled by the wind coming off the ocean.

Cathedral Cove on the other side . . .
We decided to give up our prime parking place and come back later.  So we drove down the road and found another parking lot.  By the time we got out to the beach it was around 10:30 am and we noticed quite a crowd had gathered at the “hot water spot” we had vacated.  As we walked toward it, we saw more and more coming from the opposite direction.  Some were starting to dig and others just standing around.  By the time we got there, we sensed some excitement.  Some had struck paydirt or was it hot water?

Looking down from the trail (track)

From the signs posted by the DOC, we learned that there are some thermally heated rocks below the surface at this spot.  When the tide goes out, the water that seeps down through the sand hits these rocks and because it is warmed, it rises coming up through the sand in whatever pools are created for it.  The locals apparently know just where these underground hot spots are located and dig accordingly.  Quite a group was congregating in one spot.  We enjoyed being spectators and we could cross this one off our list of “must do’s.”

The other beach in the area that is popular is Cathedral Cove, but this being a holiday we thought it might be better to go after the crowds have thinned.  So we drove to overlook Cook’s Beach, named after Capt. James Cook, who anchored in waters out in the bay back in 1769.  While anchored there he view the passing of the planet Mercury overhead and named the location Mercury Bay.  Locals call in “Merc Bay.”  Closer to Cooks Beach is Lonely Bay and on this day it was indeed just that.

Back to Hahei, and turn left at the General Store to head for Cathedral Cove.  We bought some fish and chips at the Store (not recommended) ate them in our car and felt ready for a 45-minute hike to the Cove.  We arrived at the carpark and noted that most people were home eating their fish and chips.  The sun was dropping in the sky, the moon was coming up and so was the tide.  There are three coves in a row, the third being Cathedral, which is only accessible by walking through a hole in a large rock when the tide is just right.  Thus, the name Cathedral.

The hike took us up and down and around and included 157 steps, created just for the throngs of people who have popularized this spot.  It was also one of the scenes in the movie “Prince Caspian,” one of the Narnia series.  It was indeed a beautiful place.  We walked up and down the beach, took photos, and wished we had arrived earlier.  The high tide prevented us from going through the rock to Cathedral Cove.  But we can go home and watch the movie instead.

On this day we did little to celebrate Waitangi Day.  That would come in a couple more days.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Where two or three are gathered . . ."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

It's Sunday morning in New Zealand but only Saturday in the U. S.  That means that over here, people won't be able to watch the Super Bowl because it won't be on TV until Monday.  Strange, huh?

But it's Sunday morning for us in Whakatane, and we've decided to check out the local Lutheran church.  We haven't been in a town that had a Lutheran church on a Sunday morning since we've been here, so this will be a new experience.  The church here is Whakatane Lutheran Church and it was easy to find it from our motel, where we checked out.  Unfortunately, not too many people were finding the church with us today.  The last time this happened, Sandra wanted to just keep on driving around the block.  But today, I pulled into the small parking lot at 9:25 am, walked to the door and found the pianist and guitarist rehearsing some songs.  There was no one else there and they assured me that church would begin in a few minutes.

Whakatane is what might be called a "tripleparish."  The main church is in Hamilton and two other churches are partnered with it and served by one pastor.  He comes out to the two smaller places once a month.  On the other Sundays, worship is led by a layperson.  At about 9:28 am the lay leader walked in with his wife and by that time three others had also joined us.  We began the service.  It was Lutheran, just like home.  There was a printed liturgy in a booklet which included confession, absolution, prayers, creed, Scripture readings, sermon and hymns.  The hymns were projected on a screen and brought back memories of the 70's.  I hadn't sung "It only takes a spark to get a fire going" for a long time.

The sermon was pretty much a reading.  I was told later that lay leaders choose sermons written by pastors from some kind of resource.  The guitarist, a man named Tony, put together the worship guide and chose the hymns.  He was formerly a missionary with the Salvation Army, but joined the Lutheran church because he kept hearing the bell on Sunday morning from his house down the street.  On this Sunday, the sermon was based on Isaiah's verse about "flying like eagles."  A good job with Law and Gospel properly distinguished.

The Lutheran Church of New Zealand has about 13 congregations.  Most are in or near larger cities and were begun when there were Lutheran immigrants moving to those communities.  The 13 congregations form a "district" and are officially part of the Lutheran Church of Australia.  They are served by a full-time president, who is going to be installed into his office this next Sunday.

Apparently Whakatane Lutheran is content to be a small little group of Lutheran Christians.  There would seem to be much potential for outreach and growth.  There were other churches in town, but there are also probably many who no little about Lutherans and even less about the Gospel.  We wondered what we might add to this little group if we were members here.  We do know that true to His promise, Jesus was there in our midst that morning as promised.