Friday, 30 September 2016

Chapter 3 ~ The Oakura Factor

So this is it, I've officially arrived at my first destination, which is the lovely little town of Oakura, in the district of New Plymouth, in the region of...


The region of Taranaki is a peninsula jutting out into the Tasman Sea. Dominated by its eponym Mt. Taranaki, this region is home to a little more than 100.000 people, with about half of them living in the city of New Plymouth.


The town of Oakura is a couple of miles down the coast from New Plymouth with a population of about 1.500 people.


It is in this cosy little place that I begin my career as a WWOOFer, in what I like to call...

The Great Gardening Gambit


My very first WWOOFing host is a lady by the name of Cynthia, who rents out a number of houses in New Plymouth. Each of them have gardens that need tending to, and her own home in Oakura has quite a large garden as well, which she uses to grow all sorts of vegetables and spices. Now that spring is coming, weeds are on the advance, and she needs someone's help to keep them in check. That someone, is me!

The Place


Cynthia's own home is at the very edge of a valley. As a result, the garden has an almost 45° incline, and Cynthia uses terraced agriculture in wide parts of it. The house itself is a two-storey structure, with a separate small studio, that Cynthia is looking to rent out to a nice tenant. When the weather is nice, you can sit out on a small veranda and look all the way down the valley and to the sea, and on some days, you can see cows grazing on the opposing slope.




The place is quite nice, all in all. However, like most New Zealand houses, it has one big problem that really punches it around this time of the year...
It's COLD! So bitter cold! =>,<=
As soon as the sun breaks through, it gets nice and warm very quickly, but on rainy days or at night, the wooden walls and single-pane windows do a poor job of retaining the heat, and you often have to cope with temperatures as low as 12°C inside the house. A quartet of warm bedsheets keep me warm at night, but as soon as I get out, it's freezing cold again.

From the house, it takes one about 15 minutes to get to the sandy beach, which is a lovely shade of black...


...and also home to an old shipwreck.


Naturally, I leave my mark in the sinister sand...


...and watch in awe as the groundwater carves out long runs of tiny little canyons in the beach.


In regular intervals, little streams - shallow enough to wade across - flow right over the sand...


...and for those that are a little bit bigger, there are convenient rope-bridges for pedestrian use.


One evening, I also captured a beautiful sunset over the waves of the ocean.



Of course, the weather is not always nice enough to go out. Taranaki has a reputation for being one of the most volatile places in New Zealand in regards to weather. In fact, there is a saying that goes:
"If you can't see the mountain, it's raining. If you can see the mountain, it's going to rain."


The sea is quite stormy on such occasions as well...



...though on nicer days, the waves are quite popular with surfers. Oakura is quite famous for its beach, which, in fact, is one of only three (!) north-facing beaches on the entire west coast of New Zealand (remember: north is where the sun is here on the southern hemisphere).


Walking through the heart of town, you eventually pass through Matekai Park...


...and eventually end up at the Oakura School and Library, where the kids are quite proficient at protecting themselves from passing traffic.


On the other side of town, there's the Oakura Pa, which is a community centre of sorts to the local Māori...


...as well as the Oakura River, from which the town got its name.


The Oakura River, in turn, which is called Oakura-matapu in the Māori language, was named after Akura-matapū of the Kurahaupō waka, and literally means "Belonging to Akura-matapū".

And if you go just a little bit past the river, you eventually find an array of beautiful cliffs...


...which in turn give you a lovely little outlook on the town and it's brilliant black beach.


The Job


As mentioned before, my host Cynthia owns a number of properties that need maintaining, and also has a garden of her own. Among other things, there is weeding to be done...


...plants to be planted...


...vegetable beds to be trimmed into shape...


...and wood to be piled up.


The vast majority is weeding through. Our arch-enemies are Kikuyu Grass, which is a neophyte introduced from Africa, as well as Tradescantia, which originated in the Americas. Both weeds are quite hardy, and spread virulently, making it a difficult task to weed them out permanently. Granted, there is always the chemical approach, but since the second O in WWOOF stands for "Organic", such things are a strict no-go. Instead, we weed them out by hand. At times we also turn on the Onion Weed, which the early settlers planted as replacement for actual onions to spice up their meals with, and which in time took quite a liking to the wet and sunny climate of Taranaki.

It's not all gardening though. Among other things, Cynthia also utilized my manpower in cleaning up the downstairs studio...


...painting a chair...


...holding ponies on the beach...


...and painting a room and a door.


During that last task (which I find to be quite to my liking) I find myself being observed by a curious cat...


...who checks to see if my work is satisfactory before scampering off (by the way, cats here in New Zealand are about 20% bigger).


The Food


Those who work, must eat. And Cynthia is determined to make sure I don't develop scurvy during my time with her. Unfortunately for me, that means I get lots and lots of cooked vegetables, as well as rice and soy sauce.


Being a big fan of sushi, I don't mind the latter two, but by the end of the first week, I'm starting to get sick of the greens. Fortunately, the odd day sees some welcome respite in the form of Nachos...


...and naturally, delicious fox-made pizza!


Now new, with custom-order pizza soup!


The Flair


To wrap this up, here's a bunch of random stuff that does not exactly fit any category, but nonetheless is a palpable part of the experiences I made in Oakura. For example, did you know that showers in New Zealand are... different? (The knob only turns left and right, and you have no way to regulate the water pressure)


Being a post-industrialization country, the roads are also quite straight, cutting through hills where needed, and often going up and down inside the boundaries of town. Also note the speed bumps, which are quite a common sight around here.



Then, there's also some birds with quite an interesting song twittering about.



Besides, did I mention that it's not only the cats that are a little bit bigger around here?


Also, here's an interesting piece of driftwood I found on the beach...


...and even this little town has a Mc Donald.


Finally, let's not forget the music circle I joined one Sunday together with Cynthia. The people there were thrilled to hear some of the German and Japanese songs I had to offer.


The Retrospective


So, all things considered, how was my stay in this place? I didn't like the food very much, but the atmosphere was mostly nice. I got a nice single room with a big and fluffy bed, but one of my vivid memories of the place is being cold. I got around the townscape and found a number of Geocaches, but also failed at others. So, all things considered, I'd call this an average stay, which was definitely more pleasant than my stays in the hostels.


In the end, I'm grateful to Cynthia for taking me in, and prepare a little farewell gift for her.


The Road Beyond


My next stop is a friendly little furry den in New Plymouth, where a nice Chakat by the name of Sandwalker has offered me sanctuary. After that, it's off to the town of Marton in Manawatu-Wanganui, but that's a different story, and shall be told at a different time.

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