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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Chapter 25 ~ Wonderful Waipaoa

After nine months in New Zealand, I have finally reached the easternmost outskirts of this nation. Say hello to...

Also known as the East Coast, Gisborne is the easternmost region of New Zealand, stretching as far east as 178.5° eastern latitude, meaning that it's less than 100km away from the international dateline. Approximately 48,000 people live in this 8,355 km² big region, with the vast majority of them living in the eponymous city of Gisborne. Curiously, Gisborne is also the region with the highest percentage of Māori in the entire country. 45% of the people living in this region are Māori, as opposed to 15% nationwide, which is one of the reasons why this region is often also called "Te Tai Rāwhiti", translating into "The Coast of Sunrise" from Māori.

The place I'm staying at is located a short drive north of the city of Gisborne, in a community by the name of Waipaoa. Located along the shore of the Waipaoa River, this peaceful little township of three roads and a few dozen houses is quite a beautiful place. The name "Waipaoa" can be translated from Māori as "Water of Bushes", and although most of the surrounding area has been turned into farmland, there are still a few parts of untouched wilderness around, which reminisce about the origins of that name.

At 38° south, I am now at a latitude equalling Athens on the northern hemisphere, which is reflected by temperatures of up to 15° during the day (however, at night it still gets pretty cold). This quiet little village should soon become the base for...

The Eastern Exploration

Once again, I'm helping out a single mother with her children, as well with the house and gardens. Her name is Karen, and while she spends a couple of days each week in town giving chiropractic massages, her ultimate goal is to transform the property - which she acquired quite recently - into an organic orchard.

Her kids are two boys by the names of Rowan and Finn, and although the two of them are about a year-and-a half in age, they look quite similar both in appearance and heights, so it can at times be quite tricky to tell 7-year-old Rowan apart from 5-year-old Finn.

On the pets side, Karen has just recently adopted a Heading Dog from the SPCA, the animal welfare organization of New Zealand. Her name is Maple, and she was found abandoned and tied to a post in a field after apparently giving birth to a litter of puppies. Her previous owner apparently mistreated her, since she is quite timid, and so it takes me about a week to earn her trust. After that, she is quite pleasant company, and surprisingly well-behaved.

Later on, we should also take in Angus and Mac, a pair of Border Terriers belonging to Karen's parents for the duration of their holidays. Unlike Maple - who is still young and energetic - the two of them are quite old dogs, and enjoy taking their time and napping in their baskets for most of the day.

Fortunately, the three of them get along quite well with one another, and the two old dogs tolerate Maple's often lively and playful nature with a sense of stoic serenity.

And now, allow me to show you around...

The Place

Karen's place is a nice two-storey house with a big garden about a hundred meters away from the river.

Apart from the pets, this place is also home to a herd of sheep... well as a whole row of chickens...

...the latter of which are under constant threat from the Black Huntress, a fierce, tail-less cat daring enough to savage live chickens.

That having been said, should I take you for a tour around the place?

My room is one of the best parts about this place: Not only do I have lots of space, a comfortable bed, a private toilet, and a great workplace...

...but most importantly, I also have my own persona heating unit, which keeps the room cosy warm even in the relatively cold night hours (okay, so it rarely drops below 5°C here even in winter, but with wooden walls that have about the same insulation factor as a box of cardboard, it still gets frigid inside quite quickly without proper heating).

Now, let us continue to my first exploration, namely...

Interlude: The Grand Gisborne Gauntlet

Once again, I have the luxury of having my own pair of wheels.

And that, paired with the fact that Karen allows me to work flexible hours - working a bit extra on some days and then taking a day off - means that for the first time since Cable Bay, I'm free to go on exceedingly long rides. The first of those rides should take me all the way to Gisborne, up Kaiti Hill, some way along the coast, and finally back to Waipaoa via the back road.

The weather on that day is... ambiguous... but I decide to take the chance and get on my way regardless.

My way takes me down State Highway 2, which crosses the Waipaoa River just a short distance away from Karen's house.

Fortunately, the road is not very busy, and the few remaining drivers are actively encouraged to keep their distance from bicyclists such as myself.

Along the road, I pass by the slightly larger town of Ormond, where Karen's kids go to school. Once a military settlement founded in the late 18th century, when this area was a battlefield between warring Māori tribes, as well as Māori tribes and the Europeans, Ormond once had a larger population than Gisborne, which back then was only a small port town.

By now, most of the fields are quite bare, although one particular kiwi fruit orchard still sports fantastic autumnal colours...

...and one particular native evergreen tree sports at least fifty shades of green.

My first stop is the Gray's Bush Scenic Reserve, which is a small but highly significant remnant of the tall, kahikatea forest which once covered much of the Gisborne Plains. Here, many intricately intertwined trees can still be found, and the woodland serves as a breeding ground for many endemic birds.

Afterwards, I continue on to Gisborne, or Turanganui a Kiwa, meaning "Great Standing Place of Kiwa" in the Māori language.

I pass by a colourfully Montessori pre-school...

...and cross the Taruheru River...

...before making my way to Kaiti Hill. Contrary to all appearances, however, the way there should be rather uneventful.

Cycling up the 129m high hill from all but sea level is quite a challenge. But on my strenuous way up I pass some interesting, and probably comparatively easy-to-install speed breaks for cars coming the other way.

Eventually, I reach the top, and have the ocean's rolling waves below me on one side...

...and the city of Gisborne on the other.

It's on a lonely picnic table up here where I stop to rest, and have a couple of müsli bars to recharge my batteries.

Subsequently, I climb up all the way to the top, where I can enjoy the great panorama.

Another thing that's up here is the James Cook (who else?) Observatory, which is the world's easternmost observatory. With that particular entry ticked off my list, I've yet to find the James Cook Lavatory, the James Cook Dime & Five, and the James Cook Cathouse.

Next, it's back down into the city, and across the Turanganui River to the wharves...

...where I not only find a fountain dedicated to the Waters of Hiharore...

...but also a statue of guess who?

However, not far away from this one, there's also a statue of Young Nick, who was the first one to spot New Zealand on the 7th of October 1769 (after Abel Tasman, who already discovered New Zealand in 1642, as you might remember from Chapter 20 ~ The Golden Getaround).

From there, I continue west along the coastal walkway...

...and past a public barbecue station.

On my way back, sunlight filters through the clouds above in places, giving the dark landscape below a heavenly flair.

The back road takes me through the township of Patutahi, where ponies still roam the streets freely.

And just to underline my earlier statement that every size-1 city in New Zealand has a monument...

After leaving Patutahi, I embark on Lavenham Road. Now, the good news is that Karen's place is just on the other end of Lavenham Road. The bad news is that Lavenham Road is almost 14km long, so I'm still in for quite a ride until I get back home...

...and by the time I reach the other end, it has already gotten quite dark.

Nonetheless, I manage to arrive safely and sound, tired but accomplished. I relax for the rest of the day, after all, I need to be well rested for...

The Job

There's a variety of things for me to do here in and around the house, for example digging over one of the vegetable patches for planting.

Quiz time! What's wrong with this picture?

If you guessed that the chicken to the right was on the wrong side of the fence, then you're absolutely right. The fence of the chicken coop has holes the size of Kuala Lumpur in it, so I spend a couple of days tracking down and fixing all of those.

Karen also has a stack of firewood which needs to be split, and that's just fine with me. You see, I never wanted to be a Game Designer. I always wanted to be a Lumberjack! Yes, a Lumberjack! Leaping from tree to tree, as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia! With my best girl by my side! The Larch! The Pine! The Giant Redwood tree! The Sequoia! The Little Whopping Rule Tree! And I'd sing, sing, sing!

As we get more rainy weather later on, I switch to indoor tasks, which not only include cleaning out the oven...

...but also caulking up the gaps in the walls of the children's play room...

...prior to sanding them down...

...and applying the undercoat of a paint job, which I have to leave for the next helper to finish in my place.

Finally, just a few nights before my eventual departure, I also help Karen put together the bed in my room, and henceforth spend my nights in a slightly more elevated location.

Interlude: The Indian Information

One of these nights, Karen takes the kids and me, Kira the European fox with an affinity for the Japanese, to the New Zealand and Māori city of Gisborne to witness a Native American dance performance and culture lesson in the Tairwawhiti Museum.

Over the course of an hour and a half, the two Native Americans tell us stories about their culture, including tales of folklore, and demonstrate a number of songs and dances, including a traditional opening, the energetic men's dance, the more contained woman's dance, and finally the intricate hoop dance, which tells the tale of a Native American creation myth.

My favourite part is the interactive ring dance, in which chosen members of the audience - myself included - may participate. It's interesting that I should learn so much about Native American culture here in New Zealand. Maybe the next time I visit America, I'll end up in a Māori performance in turn?

The Food

As is probably customary by now, my days begin with a bowl of nutritious home-made müsli, and a cup of tea.

Lunchtime brings with it a variation of eggs on toast (potentially with added salad), sandwiches, or simply brad with jam...

...and dinner - being the most important meal of the day - features diverse dishes such as venison curry, risotto, burritos and sushi (I love sushi!).

On quite a number of evenings, cooking duty falls to me, first and foremost of which is the night of the Festival of Lights, where, to celebrate the occasion, I lavish Karen and her boys with the most delicious recipe I know: Legendary tri-Tail Pizza!

But that's not all. Over the course of the following days, I should also delight them with savoury Naleiayafero, Fleischpflanzerln in the creation of which the whole family was involved, and Gamm Ligeral to demonstrate the preparation of schnitzel to Karen.

Apart from the main dishes, there's also room for a nice bowl of salad... well as the occasional dessert.

And finally, Karen is also the very first host who treats me with a bag of my very favourite chips! Talk about great catering! This must only be the seventh time I've actually eaten a bag of chips on my entire journey.

With nutrition this hearty, I'm more than ready for...

Interlude: The Waihirere Walk

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon when Karen takes me and the family out on a walk to the Waihirere Falls. Since it’s quite some distance away, we drive part of the way by car, and then continue into the hills on foot.

Little did she realize this would give me the perfect opportunity to introduce the three of them to Geocaching, and before long the four of us (plus three dogs) are scrambling through the undergrowth in search of a cache, and boy are the kids fascinated when we find it.

The trail takes us up into a forested valley, some ways up the slope of the hill…

…and after about half an hour, we arrive on the Waihirere Falls, which are quite active after the rainfalls of the last few days.

After returning back to the car park, the kids are still full of energy, and so I spend some time running around with them on the nearby playground and fields, before Karen takes a photo of me with the boys.

The Flair

Even outside all these interludes, there are quite a number of interesting things that happen during my stay here with Karen, such as a lively dinner party with her neighbours and their kids…

…during which some of the children take an active interest in the Chronicles of Ceal, to the point where they enthusiastically try their hand at copying some of my character designs.

Then, on one of my bike rides, I come across the amazing and unprecedented bicycling scarecrow. Rowan even tells me that during summertime (aka NZ Christmas), it even wears a Santa Claus outfit.

Coming back to the house, Karen owns a set of remarkable typography artwork which – even though they’re made up entirely of words – somehow defy description.

There’s also this really hot sauce, of which Karen likes up to three droplets on her food. How hot is it? Well, one day Rowan tricked Finn into putting a spoon coated with Kaitaia Fire in his mouth, and the poor boy kept on screaming for half an hour flat.

Regarding the climate here, I know it’s technically winter, and yet it’s not uncommon to see bees buzzing around and pollinating flowers – at least during the warmer daytime hours.

Sadly, this is also the place where I must say farewell to my trusty pocket mirror. Having served me for over a full year now, the handy accessory decided to crack in my pocket without any prior notice. However, since it has an intricate Wave Mirror rune on the other side, which epitomizes my Zeritij name of Kira Resari, I decide to leave it with Karen and her kids as a souvenir as opposed to just tossing it.

One day while Geocaching, I come across a log which has been signed in all sorts of colours, and my orange signature makes the perfect amendment to the colour scheme. Here’s hoping the next guy to sign it has a dark green pen.

And finally, coming back to our series of interesting mail boxes: Here’s a gravity-defying milkpail-on-a-chain.

Interlude: The Japanese Jabber

Another event to which Karen invites me to come along with is a children’s disco evening…

…where the little kids can practice letting loose in the dark.

However, the one thing that should make this evening particularly special is my encounter with Iku, a 26-year-old traveller from Japan. Having diligently studied Japanese for quite some time now, I actually manage to converse reasonably well with her in her native tongue, and while my understanding of the Japanese language is not yet very thorough, we still manage to talk about some basic subjects without much difficulty. An encouraging event, considering I am planning to travel to Japan in only seven short months’ time.

The Retrospective

I sincerely did not expect finding a place that was better than Sparky’s Farm, and even her lovely home only won first place over Cable Bay by means of the Day Value Average tie breaker, since both of these places earned an equal number of stars.

However, once again, the unexpected happened: By earning a perfect score in five of the seven categories, Karen, who has not hosted a helper before me, has managed to break all records, and become the best place I’ve visited so far, with little chance of me finding and even more perfect location.

The accommodation was a nice and spacious warm room with a great place to set up Liete, and a private toilet, the food was regular, plenty and tasty, with a good number of snacks to go around, and delicious blackcurrant juice to supplement the soda water, and the work was varied and interesting. The facilities – while lacking a dishwasher and fast internet – were still on the good side, and even included a bathtub, and the atmosphere was very nice and homely, making me feel instantly welcome as a part of the family. And then, there was the recreation aspect. Never before did a host take me on so many side trips, not to mention the long bike rides I could undertake as a result of flexible work hours. In the end, I worked quite a bit extra just so that I wouldn’t end up on the short side of the work-value ratio. My only regret is that with all the fun I had here, I didn’t get a lot of time to work on the Chronicles of Ceal, but considering how good a time I had with Karen, Finn and Rowan (not to forget Maple), I’d say that it was justified.

Naturally, I also prepare a piece of gift artwork for her and her boys, featuring Karen as a green gecko, and her boys as Heading Dogs, since they are both quite fond of Maple. Karen is quite enamoured by this little gesture of mine, and promises to keep the picture safe from her three energetic little munchkins.

With that, it’s almost time for me to move on, but not before one final adventure, namely…

Interlude: The Rugged Rainy Ride

With the weather a bit on the edgy side, I delayed my second ride as long as possible. But eventually, my last full day in Gisborne arrives, and I have to take the chance, or regret it forever.

With a length of just short of 65km, this one should be my second-longest ride so far after the Collingwood Challenge (see Chapter 20 ~ The Golden Getaround), and with a total of over 600m uphill by far the most ravaging one.

It starts out easily enough with a gentle ride up the flat Waipaoa Valley and streaks of sunlight teasingly filtering through the cloud cover above…

…and before long I arrive in the town of Te Karaka, where my monument hypothesis is once again proven.

From there, I once again cross the Waipaoa River…

…and make my way up into the mountains along the Kanakanaia Road…

…which nowadays serves as a main access road for various logging camps.

True enough, before long I should encounter the first logging truck coming down from the mountains, and from then on out, another one of the metal colossuses should pass me every five to ten minutes, making my trip just a little bit more exciting

Making my way up the valley, I cross a number of little streams via the ubiquitous one-lane bridges…

…as well as what appears to be a vulture-turkey farm.

Near the end of the valley, I surprisingly find a lonely Emu prancing around in a nearby field…

…and I come by the first of the logging camps, where the deforestation effort is coming along nicely.

This also marks the terminus of the comfortable part of the journey, because from here on out, the road steeply climbs the mountains up to an altitude of 340m, and although I am outfitted with an excellent bike to face this challenge, the effort to attain that height by the power of my legs alone is… considerable.

Even though I’m an experienced bicyclist, I still have to take several breaks to catch my breath on the long way up. Eventually, however, after a 3km long ascent that lasted easily half an hour and felt at least thrice as long, I arrive in the Kanakanaia Highlands, where I am greeted by a light but steady drizzle of pearlwind.

It is here that the sealed road ends, and continues as a dirt track - a circumstance the implications of which I had yet to realize.

Even though the worst part of my ride is now behind me, the track still continues to gradually climb even further until reaching its terminal altitude of 421m just a short distance away from the world’s most lonely street sign, honouring a single road leading down into an otherwise inaccessible valley past a solitary tree and a seemingly abandoned sheep station. Apparently, this is also a school bus route servicing children living in that valley, which I imagine would make this one of the world’s more exciting daily bus rides.

My final destination up here is not much further, and as I reach the next sheep station on the road, I dismount my trusty bike to have a well-earned lunch in awe of the amazing view from up here.

It is only when I turn around and see my bike that I realize the price of coming up here on the unsealed road in rainy weather like this.

And it's not just my bike - my clothes and backpack share the same look too, and I didn't even notice it! Desperately hoping that Karen is not going to kill me over this, I make my way down the mountain again. Fortunately, the way back into the valley takes significantly less time than the way up into the highlands, and after enduring another rain shower or two, I am pleased to find traces of sunlight waiting for me down in the valley. But alas, it is of brief duration, and it shouldn't take long for the next spells of rain to coat me with their wetness.

With that, my ride is nearly at an end. But there is yet one thing I have to do: A Geocache beckons from east of Te Karaka, and it turns out to be one of the ingeniously hidden sort. Fortunately, my keen fox nose still manages to sniff it out in the end.

But after this one, I’m truly at my endurances end, and the best I can do is to stoically make my way down the last 12km to Karen’s place, weathering the spells of whipping rain that occasionally sweep over the countryside, and ignoring my aching backside and leaden thighs. I should feel the sores from this particular excursion for some days to come, yet I also cannot deny having a sense of accomplishment in regards to the feat I have done today. With this, I have finished everything I wanted to do in Gisborne, and am ready to move on. So now, all that’s left is to look forward to…

The Road Ahead

The next leg of my journey up north should not be a long one, but it would take me through beautiful landscape. I am basically traversing the width of the eastern fin of the fish of Maui, leaving Gisborne behind, and arriving in Opotiki, which is located in the easternmost reaches of the Bay of Plenty.

After yesterday’s showers, the morning is quite misty when I depart from this place that has grown so dear to me over the last two weeks.

As it’s time for Karen to drive her boys to school anyway, she has no problem with giving me a lift to the closest bus stop, which is located in Te Karaka, through which I cycled just yesterday, and since the InterCity bus predictably is late again, I end up waiting in the mist for about half an hour before it finally picks me up.

The road to Opotiki takes me straight through the Kahikatea Range by means of a winding road. At first, mist continues to envelop the countryside, but by the time we reach the Matawai Valley, we manage to break free of it and enjoy the scenery. Not long after that, the road climbs up onto about 700m, and continues to follow the ridge line for a while, before eventually descending into the Waioeka Gorge, where it follows the course of the Waioeka River all the way north as it winds its way through the rest of the mountains, and all the way to Opotiki. It’s quite a windy road, and more than once do I have to fight back a fit of nausea. But in the end, I manage to arrive in Opotiki with all of my breakfast still where it belongs.

I don’t have to wait for very long at the bus stop before my next host comes to pick me up, but before I get taken to my new home, we should first go on a little side trip to harvest some watercress, as well as a few herds of cows.

Since I’m once again staying on a farm, it’s a little bit out of town, and the way there takes us along the unsealed Old Creamery Road, amongst others.

Since I began today’s journey pretty early in the morning, it’s only about noon when we arrive at the little place under the orange trees...

…and I soon get to make myself comfortable in the cosy little sleep out, anticipating the adventures that await me here in the Bay of Plenty.