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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

1 comment:

  1. It was so fun reading your blog to your dad last night Jame.
    The drunken Tui description was priceless! We had a good giggle..
    The photos on both of your blogs are wonderful. We're looking forward to the next one... Love you mucho, Mum