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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Back on the road again, oh it's good to be back on the road again...

Hello blog readers! Time for my once every several months sporadic update on adventures in the land of the elusive Kiwi bird!
Have not yet spotted said rare bird (Great Spotted, Little Spotted, Brown, or Rowi varieties) in the wild yet, however in the course of my dear Mum and sister's 12 day visit here we were able to watch a couple of Rowi Kiwis snuffling around in the forest litter of their darkened (they're nocturnal creatures) enclosure of a Kiwi breeding program. I will update you if I happen to spot one in the wild. The next two weeks will be a good opportunity to potentially hear, if not see, a Kiwi because I will be volunteer Hut Wardening with Kaitlyn at the Welcome Flat Hut on the Copland Track of the West Coast of the South Island. Because that might sound like some gibberish to you, I'll let you in the the best part- this means I'll be hanging out with my best bud at one of the nicest backcountry huts in New Zealand for two weeks. Why is this hut so nice you ask? Well that could have to do with the fact that it's located just metres from 3 natural thermal hot springs, which is where I will be found soaking after adventuring around the woods all day. Awesome! The Dept of Conservation even dropped our food off via helicopter already, so there will be plenty of room in my backpack for my trusty mandolin! It's a rough life over here folks, a rough life indeed.
Sarah and Heather's trip out here was a grand time. Luckily as Dad was not up to traveling after his recent bout of pneumonia (get well soon, Pops!), Heather was able to just on the trip last minute and use his bookings. We logged 2,700 kilometres bombing around the South Island. Highlights included stopping at heaps of waterfalls (I think Heather's count was somewhere in the 50's by the end of the trip), seeing glaciers, hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park (google it, it is gorgeous), going 'fishing' at a salmon farm, watching little blue and yellow eyed penguins waddle up onto the beach with full bellies at the end of the day, going to Milford Sound and trying to get the dolphins to come give us a ride, seeing a pitch black cave filled with constellations of luminescent fly maggots (ahem- glow worms), and getting the obligatory adrenaline rush in Queenstown via the Shotover River jetboat on Heather's birthday. One cool thing about the jetboat is that Grandpa Cy and Grandma Jean did the same thing when they visited New Zealand! It seems that a Fitton tradition is developing- who's next??  My cousins on the Fitton side, Lauren and Jason Blair, are planning a trip out here so maybe they'll be next! ;)
Otherwise all's good here- after some months living and working in Wellington it is fun to be back to life ruled by the white lines on the free free way. I do miss my friends and life in Welly, but it is nice to mix it up. In the next few months I'll be going on as many tramps as I can, potentially participating in a recovery programme for the Kakapo bird on a quarantined island- cool!, and maybe doing some more wwoofing or working picking fruit. I'll try to post photos when I can! Until next time!
Wandering Jamie xxx

Sunday, December 29, 2013


I feel like I start every blog post with an apology for not posting more often... so I won't apologize, but I will say that life has been full and busy lately! I'm living in Wellington for the 'working' part of my working holiday visa, and it has been a blast. I've made really beautiful friendships and I'm enjoying living in this city by the sea for the summer. Tomorrow is Christmas eve, which just seems unreal.
I'm loving my life here in Welly... here are a few shots of why...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Phosphorescent Maggot Crap, Meditation, and Permaculture- what more could a girl want?

Wow! Hi! My poor neglected blog readers! It has been quite a while since my last blog post, and much has happened since then. Apologies for the long gap, everything has just too busy and engaging to sit down and blog about it often. I'm currently residing in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It's a lovely city- vibrant yet small, with cafes on most corners and the ocean lapping at it's feet. City planners in 1840 had the foresight to set aside a "town belt" of undeveloped land around Wellington to stop urban sprawl and drive city property values up, and to make the city a healthier place to live. This ring of woods around the city is lovely- full of walking and mountain biking tracks and beautiful vistas of the city and the ocean- you can see both the harbor and the Cook Strait, which divides the North Island from the yet unknown to me South. This feels like a good place to get started on the 'working' part of my 'working holiday' visa, so Kaitlyn and I are planning on becoming Wellingtonians for the next few months and making some cash for our South Island adventures in the summer. 
A view of Wellington from Mt Victoria, part of the green belt
The last few months have been full of exciting adventures and new experiences, so I'll highlight a couple of the best. We've been WWOOFing- Willing Workers on Organic Farms- at Awhi (pronounced Awfi) Farm, an education-based permaculture laboratory of a place since July, and there I felt like a sponge soaking up new knowledge and experience of permaculture and living in community. At the end of August Kaitlyn and I drove up the coast to a 10 day silent meditation retreat. On the way there we made a pit stop to go black water rafting in glow worm caves! Wicked, eh? Then back down to Awhi Farm to pick up our mates (friends) from the farm and we all missioned down to Welly for a fun-filled weekend. 

Posing in our inner tubes at the entrance of the Waitomo Cave

On the way to the 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat Kaitlyn and I decide to cut loose a little by going black water rafting- essentially floating in inner tubes down a river in a pitch black cave. It is incredible! On the roof of the cavern are glow worms looking like a million stars twinkling down over the river. Glow worms aren't worms at all, though. They're maggots. And the glowing part is actually their phosphorescent shit! Gross! Glow worms sounds better when you're marketing to tourists though, so Waitomo Glow Worm Caves they are. We suit up in wetsuits and waterproof spelunker's helmets and follow the tracks of our fearless guide, B, through a native bush forest. We come to a gap in the ground and descend into the damp darkness slowly, shapes of rocks slowing looming out of the obscurity as our eyes adjust. B stops at the edge of the underground river and points out a long shadow moving slowly through a shallow pool of water towards us. A friendly eel, it's eyes milky white, touches it's nose to B's rubber boot and retreats back to it's hidey hole. It this is meant to convince me of the harmlessness of the eels lurking in the black river it's not working. I see a habituated creature, and wonder about it's unhabituated wild cousins waiting downstream. Nevertheless I take the plunge into the unknown. The first obstacle we encounter will be familiar to anyone who's been on a walk through pretty much any commercialized cave system, albeit on a different orientation than any I've encountered. It's more often than not called the 'fat man's squeeze' and it consists of contorting your body to some degree to fit through a narrow rock wall channel. This time though, the walls of the squeeze are above and below me, and the bottom barrier is of a watery nature. I stretch my body into a plank on top of my inner tube to try and get a couple of inches of clearance between my face and the low ceiling, but my toes still scrape against the hard surface as I bob along, carried by the current through the squeeze. On the other side I let out a whoosh of breath I don't realize I'd been holding. 
The moniker 'black water rafting' seems a little misleading to me- we aren't running rapids here, we're floating on a lazy river. But one branch joins another and the river is swelling to something more formidable than the initial stream. As we float over a particularly deep section B tells me that this hole is home to a 9 foot long eel. I quietly try to lift my whole body out of the water (unsuccessfully) and feel a lot of gratitude for every inch of my skin being covered by neoprene and plastic, creating a barrier between my toes and a hungry monster eel looking for a snack. A dull roar becomes louder as we approach a waterfall and stand up on the river bank, edging our way to the drop. I go first, leaping out backwards off the small fall and splash landing in my tube, chilly water finding an entrance to my wetsuit through the neck and stealing my breath, making me feel alive. I grab a climbing rope bolted to the cave wall and watch as the other 6 floaters make the leap and catch them with the rope as they float by. It's obvious B has a plan as we continue down the next stretch of river, and we pass the message back through the chain of us- "Sshhhh! I hear a walking tour up ahead- let's give them a fright!" We turn off our head lamps and splash quietly along. The tour group on the walkway above us don't see us- they're too focussed on the rock formations lit up by lights. They don't hear or see us until we're right under them. B counts off to 3 on her fingers and we make a hellacious racket that echoes and multiplies off the walls. They are frightened, that's for sure! Cave creatures coming out of the darkness with a roar! Then they start snapping pictures of us and I really feel like a cave creature! 

We have a laugh and B tells us to stop at the river's edge just past the walkway. We clamber out of the river onto the slippery rocks as she tells us that we're ahead of schedule and she wants to share something special with us as we are all having a blast. This is not part of the tour, and she says not to mention it to anyone back at the rafting company, but there is something just around the corner that is out of the ordinary. We stash the tubes and climb up to the metal walkway above us and start running down the path, getting surprised and confused looks from the walking tourists as 7 neoprene-clad and hardhat wearing drenched cave rats rush past them and towards a dark cavern. It's silent and dark as we catch our breaths and B goes over to the electricity box and flips a switch. It's silent and stunning as my breath catches in my throat. This cavern is awesome in the true sense of the word- creating an experience of awe. Glistening cream coloured stalactites, thin as a straw, stretch from the ceiling to nearly touch their reflections in an absolutely still pond below. There is a delicacy that makes me want to not make a noise, to not even breathe. The presence of this fragile beauty is unfathomable, growing a centimeter in a hundred years and enduring thousands upon thousands of earthquakes by the nature of existing within the Earth's crust. The experience is too much for my thinking mind to hold- it's transcendent. 
We return to the river in an altered state and float on, the glow maggots luminous above and a soft quietness holding us gently. Ahead a dim light grows as we near our reentrance into the upper world. In the light we are treated to hot, good water pressure showers (something I've gained a great appreciation for, with living out of our campervan for the last few months) and hot soup. I thank B for the experience she has shared with us while knowing that no words can really touch the essence of my gratitude, and we journey on to the next adventure- 10 days of silent meditation.

10 days of silence, of not making contact intentionally with another human- even eye contact. 10 days of going within and working to understand the nature and habits of my mind, uncovering the layers covering the true essence. It was not fun, I will say that much. It was serious work that required persistence, diligence, and befriending or becoming equanimous to the suffering that we all experience. I won't say anything else about it, except to recommend it to everyone who is interested in developing as a human being, and to say that I'm happy I sat through those 10 days. Here is a sketch I made the day we left the Vipassana retreat.

I said that Awhi Farm is a permaculture laboratory of sorts, but what is permaculture, anyway? Good question. I'm still chewing on that one, and I minored in permaculture in university! Etymology of permaculture- 'permanent' or 'perennial' and 'agriculture' or 'culture-' a term coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s. It's about looking at how we can move away from the  environmentally degrading food systems where most commercially produced food comes from and move towards a more sustainable way of feeding ourselves. Currently most food from the grocery store is produced using the mono cropping method of farming- lots of longs rows of one crop that are replanted year after year. This method of food production requires a lot of resources, and eventually degrades the very earth it grows on. In nature, there is never just one species of plant growing- plants naturally grow in communities of many species that are mutually supportive. We use the principles of permaculture to observe how nature creates resilient plant communities and attempt to mimic these systems in our own gardens. Creating 'perennial' gardens is part of this. That is, gardens that continue on year after year with plants that live for many years or re-seed themselves. Perennial gardens can also include annual vegetables- we don't want to miss out on annual plants like tomatoes or cucumbers!- But also contain plants that carry on for many growing seasons. 
Permaculture is hard to define because it's not just one thing, one definition. Perennial gardens can be part of a permaculture system, but not necessarily. I see permaculture as more of a lens of looking at the world rather than one fixed thing. It's about observing how nature grows systems that are regenerating and increasing in complexity as time goes on and trying to find ways to use the inherent fecundity of nature to our advantage as we walk on this earth. The lens and ethos of permaculture can be applied to anything- from urban planning to surviving and thriving while off the grid in the woods. 
Permaculture is about observing the systems that we are part of and finding small ways to alter the systems so that they are more balanced, healthy, and productive. Permaculture is caring for the Earth, caring for people, and sharing the surpluses that systems create. You can find more about permaculture at the Permaculture Institute's website
Awhi Farm is a self-proclaimed laboratory for permaculture projects, so it was interesting to see their interpretation of permaculture in action. The projects at Awhi include a dome shaped building made out of earth (clay, pumice, and lime), planting and weeding gardens, caring for animals, food forests, a greenhouse, compost-heated showers, and generally working as a community. There was a lot to learn and observe there, but I won't talk (type?) your ear (eyes?) off with more yammering. If you made it this far, good job! Thank you for reading, and I will make an effort to post more often now that I'm settled in Wellington with a solid internet connection and some free time. Please post comments or questions if you feel so inclined, I'm curious if anyone reads this! 
Cheers, and until next time,

Wandering Jamie xx

Kaitlyn working in a permaculture 'food forest'

resident chook at Awhi

Sina, Kaitlyn, and Dan working on the earth dome 

Awhi farm 'wolfpack' out on a hike

Fur seals near Wellington

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tramping in Northland

I'm laying in the tent with the door unzipped to the morning, viewing the stream and what's left of a glorious sunrise here at Rarawa Beach campsite.

I think we're going to hang at this Pacific-side of the North Island beach today, hunting for green lipped mussels and trying to catch another fish. It's already warmish out, so if the clouds clear it will be another incredible day for the beach.

The last few days have been full, fun, and varied. Kaitlyn and I left our last WWOOF host's place on Wednesday and drove north to Kaitaia, where our friend Annemarie  is WWOOFing. We spent the night there and got all of our necessities in order to tramp, or hike, the Cape Reinga Costal Track. The track a 3 to 4 day walk from the east side of the northern coast, around Cape Reinga at the north, and down 90 Mile Beach on the west side. We prepped meals, marked up the map with high tide times and specific tips from Donna, the WWOOF host, filled water containers, and got a good night's rest. The next morning we drove up the peninsula and left our beloved campervan Tin Tin at a secure parking lot at Waitiki Landing and started walking to the trailhead at Spirit's Bay. We were hoping to catch a lift as the trailhead was 15 kilometres away. About 5 k's in a woman stopped on her way to a rural school and gave us a ride, but our joy turned to slight disappointment when the road split after 1 kilometre- she needed the right fork, we the left. It was with relief that we finally reached the trailhead mid-afternoon and beelined straight for the beach. The beach at Spirit's Bay is unique.
It's bordered on the right side by a big, lush hill where horses with a fabulous view graze, then there's a marsh and sand dunes leading up to the beach.
Millions of little pieces of pastel colored shells rounded soft by wave after ocean wave make up the sand- the perfect eroded crustacean massage for walking weary feet. 
We pulled off our muddy boots, peeled off our sweaty socks and jeans, and bolted for the light blue crashing South Pacific waves. It was total bliss to stand there in the waves, feet sunk deeply into the gentle sand.

After a contemplative sunset we retired to our campsite on the other side of the dunes to make a delicious dinner of quinoa, broccoli, carrots, and onions with a can of tuna each. I snuggled into my mummy bag in my divvy sack, excited to get a good night's rest and hit the actual trail the next day- we had a good 8 hour walk ahead of us. Well, I woke up at midnight to my body deciding that dinner actually wasn't delicious at all, and in fact kindly crawl out of your warm and cozy (now sweaty and trembly) bivvy sack as this body is making the executive decision to expel this offensive dinner immediately. Gross. I half expected Anne and Kaitlyn to appear out of their tent in a similar state, but luckily it was just my can of tuna that was bad, so only I was extended the joy of having food poisoning in the backcountry. The girls did have to endure my moaning and groaning the next day though. In the morning I forced down some muesli as I knew my body needed something it could turn into energy for the day's walk. It started off alright, but within a mile I was needing long breaks every few minutes.

We decided to shoot for reaching Pandora, a campsite at a beach we had planned on lunching at. I focused on the rhythmic sound of the crashing waves, the feel of the sea breeze on my face, and putting one foot in front of the others we walked along the edge of Spirit's Bay. When we got to the picturesque cove of Pandora, I didn't even have the energy to put my feet in the ocean and thankfully settled down to rest in my sleeping bag.
Goofing around in the morning at Pandora backcountry campsite
The next day we decided to abandon the Cape Reinga Costal Walkway and instead take the Pandora track out to the road that runs up the cape, as it would be unwise for me to push on with no energy.

A couple of hours later we were getting a ride back to the campervan with Marty, a local fishing guide on his way back home after a month of hunting possums in the bush. On the way back we chatted about fishing on the North Island, and when we mentioned that we were looking on TradeMe (the eBay of NZ) for a cheap fishing rod he said that he would be happy to sell us one of his old ones if we wanted to try out surf fishing, or fishing off the beach. We thanked him for the ride and drove back up the cape in Tin Tin, driving to and checking out the spots we would have walked to on the track- Cape Reinga, where the Maori say the spirits of the dead depart from,
Panorama photo from Cape Reing
 Tapotupotu Bay, another beautiful beach where we camped for the night
Tapotupotu Bay sunset

(what luxury to have the amenities of our dear Tin Tin! Table, chairs, dual burner stove, a bed, and all of our spices!),
The luxuries provided by Tin Tin
 and Te Paki Stream, where the track was to end. We played on the massive sand dunes and watched the 4x4 trucks splash through the shallow Te Paki stream, following it to it's outlet at the Tasman Sea.
The Tasman Sea is wilder and rougher than the Pacific that we had been walking along. Maybe it has something to do with the strong currents and storms coming up from Antarctica. Just standing ankle deep in the remnants of waves the sand was pulled out from under our feet and as we sunk deeper the sea tugged at us with currents pulling this way and that. 

After our side trip at Te Paki stream we hit the road, headed back to Annemarie's hosts' home. The road passed right by the possum huntin' fishing guide Marty's place, and we decided to drop by to see if he was around. We bounced down the driveway in Tin Tin and found Marty outside of his boat garage/ tour guide HQ/ home, skinning possums (their fur is a luxury item here, often blended with merino wool, and they are considered a pest that is harmful to NZ's natural environment) while his dogs looked on. He set us to unspooling the line off of a fishing rod and flipping through his album of massive fish caught while touring with clients while he brewed up some coffee. Marty proceeded to give us a full on fishing lesson- everything from how to tie knots and what kind of lure, sinker, and hook set up is best to where to find snappers and how to bring one onto the rocks or beach without snapping the line. He gave us a pole and 'kitted' us out completely with our own little tackle box, extra leader line, and loads of hooks and lures. And all her wanted for all of it was $30! Typical New Zealand hospitality and friendliness! He told us the spot to go to camp and catch a monster, so we extended our trip another couple days at Rarawa Beach. 
We pulled up at Rarawa and watched some German guys fishing in the river try to untangle their fishing line from a tree they had got it stuck in. Would we have any more luck than them? We headed straight for the beach in the fading daylight and on Annemarie's first cast she brought in a big Kawia fish. She and I did the typical unexperienced fisherman dance of pulling it onto the beach, holding it down, thanking it for it's life, killing it, and gutting it with intermingled cries of "ahhh!," "where's the brain?!," "kill it! Stab it in the brain! Quickly!," "ewww!," "ahhh!". But in the end we enjoyed a yummy and as fresh as it gets dinner of fish 'n chips.
Ready with our new pole!
Reelin' 'em in!
Fish n Chips!
Kaitlyn kisses her catch
All in all, a successful weekend!
Until next time!
Wandering Jamie

Friday, May 10, 2013

New Species and New Perspectives

It is fun to be in a place where I'm not familiar with almost all of the flora and fauna. There is something freeing and very playful about letting a childlike sense of curiosity and openness influence and direct my experience. Chasing this feeling is a major motivator in my love of travel, and definitely a reason that I'm in New Zealand now. It's great to not have a routine and to be able to change plans on a whim. I have a tendency to let things  get a bit boring when I'm in a set routine all of the time- there's no room to notice synchronicities when I'm just focused on going from point A to point B. When everything is new and different it is much easier to be open to the possibilities that exist latently all around. It's exciting!
I have spent about 4 days in total in Auckland city, and that's been enough for me. It is just a city, and there's not much that interests me as a backpacker there. Highlights include the Auckland Museum, the Auckland Domain, and Mt. Eden. I landed in Auckland at 6:30 AM, dropped my big backpack at Oaklands Lodge hostel and walked the trail up Mt. Eden that started just two blocks from Oaklands Lodge. Met a young Chinese couple on the way up who were on the tail end of their trip; we talked about their favorite sights in NZ. At the top my jaw dropped- what I thought would be a usual mountain top was actually a massive crater! I asked the Chinese couple if they knew what had caused it. The language barrier was a bit high here- a meteor? A puzzled look from the woman, so I mimed a meteor whizzing into the atmosphere and smashing into the Earth. No luck communicating that one. We walked along the rim and came to a sign explaining that this old volcano was used as a pa, or fortress, by the Maori people in this region. I knew that New Zealand is a volcanic county defined by it's geothermic activity (it's located on the southwestern edge of the ring of fire), but it was another thing to unknowingly walk onto an old volcano. I learned more about the history and culture of New Zealand and the Maori people at the Auckland Museum that afternoon. It was neat to see a massive longboat on display, and a replica of a meeting house.

The view from the Auckland Skytower

Another view of Auckland

The wood carvings were intricate and detailed, and I would have liked to learn more about the stories that the figures in the wood were telling, but it was getting late in the day and jet lag was starting to set in. The walk to the museum goes through the Auckland Domain, a huge green space of lawns, trees, and forests located just outside of downtown. One tree especially was incredibly massive- the roots were much bigger than me. I returned to this tree again when Kaitlyn arrived a week later and we sat up in the branches and ate lunch.
Kaitlyn peeking our of the branches of the Auckland Domain tree

One of the many resident cats at Kawai

Although not knowing what any of the plant and bird life around me is a great way to maintain a sense of wonder, I do have a strong drive to want to know what these living beings are- their names, properties, history in this place, uses, and relationships to their surrounding environs. One of the first creatures that I became interested in was the Tui bird. I didn't really have a choice in being intrigued by this strange bird- it compelled me to it with it's bizarre whistles, chirps, caws, pops, clicks, and song.

 I woke up my first morning at Kawai Purapura to a grey predawn light- it was earlier than I would have liked to get up but I was still adjusting from the jet lag of flying across the ocean. I took a walk through the orchard of feijoa (a native, tart fruit) trees and heard this loud sound coming from a branch. At first I couldn't believe that this massive variety of noises was issuing from this one bird. The Tui actually has two voice boxes in order to make it's plethora of noises, and it is adept at mimicking humans and cellphone rings. How strange! One of the favorite food sources of the Tui is the New Zealand flax flower (Phormium tenax), which is unrelated to the North American flax plant. The nectar of the NZ flax sometimes ferments, becoming alcoholic, and the Tuis like to drink this- their calls probably get even weirder! A drunk Tui is characterized by it's erratic flight patterns. There are several types of birds here that aren't great fliers, so the Tui doesn't stand out too much when it's intoxicated. This is because New Zealand doesn't have any native species of land animals, so some of the birds that flew here from Australia evolved to become flightless or nearly so. Some of these birds are extinct, like the 8 ft. tall Moa, which evolved from the Australian Emu. There are rumors that there is still a Moa or two hiding out in the wilds of the south island, will keep you posted if we find it! 
Swimming at the KP Pool!

Kawai Purapura (KP) retreat center has been a good place for Kaitlyn and I to land and get organized and acclimated here in New Zealand, but we are ready to launch out to explore the country as soon as we can get our wheels on the road. That's right- our wheels! We're in the process of getting a campervan that will become our home and mode of transport for the next year. Campervans are a common way to travel in New Zealand, and there are lots being bought and sold as travelers arrive and depart. Typically they've got front seats, then all of the seats in the back of the van have been removed and a bed is put in with room for storage underneath the bed and sometimes a bit more storage right behind the front seats or at the very back of the van. So we've been using our time at KP to find a van we like, get in contact with the next WWOOF sites we're going to, and start plotting our moves. KP's alright, but it's not the ideal WWOOF site for us for a couple of reasons- primarily that WWOOFers here provide their own food, which gets expensive quickly, especially as there isn't a garden here that WWOOFers are allowed to eat out of. There are orchards that we can harvest fruit out of, though- like this massive fig tree!
The work we are doing is mainly maintenance, and the gardening that we are doing is mostly just maintaining ornamental plants rather than growing food, which is what we really want to be doing. The great part about KP is that there is a load of WWOOFers here- between 10 and 15 at any one time. It has been great fun to get to know all of these other travelers and get everyone's advice on the best sights in NZ.

Some of the WWOOFers out at the local pub

That's all for now, thanks for reading! Please feel free to post comments if you have any questions :) Also check out Kaitlyn's blog, she's a more regular updater than I am! More soon, but internet access might be more limited as we travel to more rural areas. 
Cheers! xx
Wandering Jamie