Leslie’s Letters: North Island Kiwi-land

north_island_physicalJanuary 1, 2017 – Happy New Year!

The Kandu crew is doing well. All of us are healthy. The boys are growing like weeds and eating up a storm. We have been traveling down under these last 4.5 weeks beginning in New Zealand for 2 weeks followed by 2 weeks in Australia to visit Eric’s brother Curtis who lives in New South Wales just north of Sydney. We are presently relaxing on the plane heading to Auckland and then tomorrow directly back to Tahiti for a week before returning to Raiatea. These last 4 weeks have been an incredible journey of discovery. Our visit to Australia was long overdue considering Eric’s 3rd brother has lived in Sydney for over 13.5 years. Last year, before leaving the Marquesas, we decided we wouldn’t be sailing Kandu to either New Zealand or Southern Australia due to a variety of reasons, so we planned instead to fly over, leaving Kandu safely moored in Marina d’Uturoa, Raiatea.

Not knowing much about New Zealand before planning our visit, we have now learned that the two beautiful islands of New Zealand are sparsely populated with just over 4 million inhabitants most of which live in the cities: Auckland and Wellington in the north, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown in the south. We found Auckland to be thoroughly cosmopolitan with a modernized downtown, rapid transit trains and substantial racial diversity including recent immigrants from India, the Arab world, and China. I was astonished to see and hear so many first generation immigrants. We spent our 2 weeks in New Zealand strictly traveling the North Island, renting a large diesel-powered SUV to explore the island carrying our 5 weeks worth of luggage, 2 surfboards, electronics, and freezer bags to cart perishable groceries.

Shopping mall haven!

Upon arrival in Auckland, we were hosted by friends Odile and Gareth the first two days. Not having been in a commercial mecca for quite awhile, it was great fun to walk through one of their fancy shopping malls, just to buy shoes and groceries – and the food choices were a noteworthy change: lamb instead of fish, L&P soda instead of Coke, kiwis and apples instead of papaya and mangos, pavlova instead of apple pie, plus lots and lots of snack food. MMMmmm good!IMG_1713 “State-of-the-art” life for us in Auckland included catching a ride on their local rapid transit train to the downtown area where we visited the Maritime Museum exhibiting wonderful old Maori rigs in the “Landfalls” exhibit, modern 12-meter sailing boats and a “New Beginnings” exhibition where you meet NZ’s early European settlers hands-on. Plus we hiked up to catch a view of the SkyTower from one of the many local crater cones.Version 2

RigneysKandu with Odile Simkin and children in Auckland.

After Auckland, we drove up into the Northland Peninsula, visiting my longstanding Belgian friend, Muriel and her Kiwi husband, daughters, and family in Whangarei. We took a walk along the city’s newly renovated harbor promenade, played in the park, and then together hiked down to the lovely Whangarei Falls.IMG_1840

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Leslie Rigney with Muriel Willem

The next day, traveling as far north as the Bay of Islands, we toured the idyllic waterfront town of Russell, which boasts the oldest church in NZ called Christ Church. It was such a beautiful resort spot to hang out for the day and night.IMG_1887 In order to get to the town, we took a 12-minute, $12NZD car ferry over the bay from Paihia. We had reserved tickets for a boat tour and chance to swim with the local wild bottle-nosed dolphins. We lucked out, getting that chance. The water temperature was frigid, taking my breath away, yet the four of us braved the chop and paddled close to three males of huge girth. One actually leapt out of the water right in front of us. Darnit – didn’t get a picture of that.

IMG_1927The nearby Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Museum were beautifully renovated and groomed with a lovely interior museum, 120 man wooden canoe, and a live historic reenactment of a Maori preamble ceremony along with traditional song and dance, the most noteworthy being the Haka war dance where they stick out their tongues and flash their eyes ferociously wide open . . . phenomenal!!!

Click on the VIDEOMaori-hakaIMG_1944Due to the boys’ avid interest in surfing, we ventured off the beaten tourist tract to discover gorgeous and incredibly scenic surf sites like Piha (which according to Maori customs is a sacred beach and therefore ‘forbidden’ and dangerous.)

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Bryce Rigney surfing Piha just west of Auckland.
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Lion Rock located at Piha, West Coast of New Zealand.

Bryce recounts his Piha Surf Experience. Click the VIDEO : Bryce-Surf-Piha

Braving the cold water temperatures much like Southern California, Bryce and Trent also got a chance to surf at Raglan (the most famous NZ surf site) also on the West Coast. Unfortunately, every time they surfed the weather and swells just weren’t quite right so the boys didn’t experience the legendary waves of which the regulars boast.

Raglan Beach

Driving south toward the middle of the North Island, we toured Rangiroa where we visited the steaming sulfur Maori Whakarewarewa thermal grounds (free facials for all!) and village. The local Moaris put on another fabulous show.

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Living Maori Village VIDEO: Living-Maori-Village

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VIDEO: Thermal-geyser

A little southeast of Hamilton, the four of us braved freezing cold spring water, inner tube rafting in the renowned Waitomo Glow-worm Caves (a highlight of our trip) to see the spectacular sparkling walls and where incidentally we were required to leap backwards three separate times dropping down the 5 foot falls to land with big splashes into the dark pools below.IMG_3513With Eric in the movie business and our family being avid Tolkien fans, we couldn’t miss tours to Hobbiton near the town of Matamata and the Weta Movie Studio “Caves” in Wellington! Peter Jackson’s amazing eye for detail was special to witness up close in person!  Click the VIDEOHobbitonIMG_2167 IMG_2109 IMG_2098To Eric, Wellington felt a lot like San Francisco. The hillsides were packed with houses surrounding a large meandering bay that supports a strong maritime industry. Having found excellent private home lodging through AirBnB, we ducked in and out visiting the fabulous Te Papa Museum that houses the incredible “Gallipoli: The scale of our war” exhibit and a natural history section that highlighted the odd animals of NZ, extinct and thriving. We even saw a skeleton of the Moa, a large land bird that was killed off after the arrival of men as early as 1400 CE. We also loved visiting the Wellington Zoo where we went especially to see kiwis.

Cool VIDEO of a live Kiwi: KiwicallsSince w’ere avid Sci-fi moviegoers, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see the recently released film Star Wars: Rogue One showing at the fabulous renovated Embassy Theater where Wellington holds its red carpet world premieres. We enjoyed very much learning about the early years of the Maori Polynesians and how the English’s imminent arrival obviously changed their way of life as the two cultures negotiated and worked to co-habitat the land. Due to living among the French Polynesians for the last year and 1/2, we’ve gained a deeper level of understanding about Polynesian beginnings and present day culture such that learning in-depth about the Maori culture and their present life was enriching.

We were also quite fortunate to enjoy visiting or staying with dear Kiwi friends residing in different areas of the northern island: Rachel & Brent of Omokoroa near Tauranga and Eric’s long standing sailing buddy Tova and her family residing in Palmerston. Each of the four lovely families allowed us a small glimpse into their lives: the special Kiwi foods they enjoy (BBQ’d lamb, vegemite/potato chip sandwiches, L&P soda, great Kiwi wine, pavlova dessert, tea & crumpets), the styles of homes (mostly brick, US mid-western looking), and typical modern clothing (California casual). Throughout the country, there were generally two-lane highways and few freeways around the cities. The countryside was green everywhere you looked (regular rain) with the greater part cleared of forest, allowing for sheep and cattle to graze. Food, clothing, restaurants, products and services all seemed expensive even with our 30% exchange “discount”…fortunately for us the dollar was strong! However, tax and tips are included in marked prices, so perhaps the prices were actually equal. It’s been almost 2 years since we’ve been home; it’s possible that prices in the US have increased. And now that we’re feeding two hungry, growing teenage boys, we can no longer get away with two and 1/2 meals…kids meals are behind us…except for me sometimes . . . LOL.

8 thoughts on “Leslie’s Letters: North Island Kiwi-land”

  1. Great writing, Leslie. Feels like I am there with you. And, yes, prices are rising where we shop in Ventura, CA! Don’t they always? What a fantastic experience you all are enjoying! Thanks for sharing it.

    1. So nice to hear from you Jim. Uncle Bill just mentioned you this morning….how things have recently changed for you and your wife – for the better. Now you have some free time to travel. Hurray! Leslie

  2. Hey guys. Greetings from Atlanta. Amazing photos. What an adventure. Love reading your letters. Keep them coming.

    1. Great to hear from you Michael and for reading our site. Yes, the adventure continues. So far so good. We’re getting Kandu ship shape to throw off the Raiatea dock lines and head northwest. More news forthcoming! Leslie

  3. LOVED READING ABOUT YOUR TIME IN NZ. Photos of the four of you are always good just to keep in mind how you and the boys currently look, especially since your 2 guys tend to grow like weeds. Annie sends an occasional pic of Bill now that he’s in your hood! And soon we’ll be in NZ’s north island to see my brother and his NZ wife, as they settle in to retirement in Hamilton; Sheryl lived in the U.S. for 45 yrs, and now they’re going back to her roots as he promised her they would. We go in early 2018. i took notes on your adventures there – we’ll be there for 6 wks in an RV. Well, off to read another one of your entries … great armchair travel!! Bisous – Cindy&Rick

    1. North Island was great for us. So much to see and do. Facebook lists most of what we did there. RV’s are popular, but we liked renting an SUV and staying in people’s homes (Airbnb). We stayed in Hamilton, a blue-collar city with a large dairy operation. Very modern shopping, etc. It’s booming because Auckland is too expensive. Home prices in Hamilton increased 25% in one year. Not a lot going on in Hamilton, but a lot of great areas are nearby, in all directions; a hub for several North Island hot spots. Drink some L&P soda for me. I like it a lot.

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