Thursday, October 29, 2009

Waiheke - Day 2

I woke up early to the sounds of children playing and screaming. I stayed in bed for a while longer trying to catch up on any sleep I can get. After reluctantly waking up, I hung out with the family for a while waiting for a picnic they had planned with a relative and her kid, Phoenix.

Just before noon, the girls, Phoenix, and I packed into a van and drove to Whakanewha Regional Park and set up a blanket right by the water on a big grassy plane under a series of hills, one of which is a home to a vineyard. As Angie spent time with India, the kids took me up a hill to what used to be an ancient Māori pā. A short hike up a hill through native bush led to a small grassy clearing with a kumara pit. Through the trees around the clearing, I could see Auckland and the surrounding islands in the distance over water. After a short hike through the area and a climb up a large pōhutukawa tree from which I had to lift all the kids down, we walked off the path through the forest back to the grassy plane where we were based.

As it turns out, many of the parks on Waiheke, and Auckland as well, are installed with rudimentary kitchens in the forms of a water tap and large gas cooking griddles built into sturdy-looking brick bases. Over a glass of wine, Angie cooked sausages for the kids and salmon with hoisin sauce for the adults. Lunch was delicious as it also came with a tasty salad with tender greens (and flowers!) in a light sweet fruity vinagrette. The grated beetroot was surprisingly delicious in the salad. After the meal, the kids went swimming and I decided to start on a long, leisurely walk back to the house.

Walking north along Rocky Bay, I encountered a group of volcanic rocks again, which I stepped across to another beach. There was a protected colony of some kind of endangered bird there, along with a beautiful large Pōhutukawa tree. Apparently the Pōhutukawa trees are much healthier on Waiheke Island compared to the mainland due to the fact that they have managed to successfully eliminate opossums on the island. A walk through some pretty parkland surrounded by native New Zealand flora led to the road, which I followed for quite some time. I would run into others once in a while on this road, but it was mostly empty, surrounded by a green sea of grass, trees, palms and ferns. As I came to an intersection, I ended up taking a turn in the wrong direction without realising it.

After a fair bit of walking on a small track beside the road and enjoying views of Rocky Bay as I gained altitude, I came across a nice elderly couple. They asked me directions to a track, which I had no idea about. I though this would be a good opportunity to ask directions to Ostend, where I was couchsurfing, and they told me I was heading in the wrong direction. After handing me a map they picked out of an ant-filled box, we walked together and talked for a while. It turns out that the man came from England decades ago, and settled in New Zealand. He and his wife are on a weekend outing from the Auckland region and had sailed here on their boat. I had wanted to look for an opportunity to see if I can bum a ride back with them, but before I could, we reached the intersection where I took the wrong turn and it was time to part. Just as I was about to bring it up, a van came behind us, which they waved down and asked directions to Ostend for me just to make sure they weren't misdirecting me. The guy driving the van, a photographer who had settled in Waiheke over a decade ago, offered me a ride back, which I decided to take. Jumping in the van, I wondered if I had missed an opportunity to hitch a ride back with the old couple on their sail boat and had missed a great experience and an opportunity to get to know more people in the Auckland Region.

On the drive back, we passed by the Waiheke Dirt Track, where a race was going on. The Waiheke Dirt Track, well know in the area, is a track in a rough oval-pear shape where locals race old cars. There were cars parked all over the area, and kids and adults alike were mingling around the fence jockeying for a view of the cars running around the dusty track. I had meant to stop by on the way back, but had to bypass it as I wanted to learn more about the island through talking to the driver. He drove me all the way back to the house after a quick stop where I helped him load a new BBQ grill into his car from the supermarket in Ostend.

Later on in the day, I went on a walk around the southern shore of Waiheke, which I was told is very different than the north shore. The social make-up of the south shore is also different, and I'm told that as opposed to the large vacation batches of the north shore, the south shore population is "poor as." The walk was generally uneventful. the only points of interest being a swampy area I walked through, filled with air roots sticking out of the muddy ground around the path. I also walked through a hilly area filled, again, with native flora. This area was a quiet residential and farming neighbourhood where I encountered more people riding horses around, and had great views of the coastline. Walking along the shore, I came across a large tongue of water, flowing out from the receding tide, revealing an expansive mudflat where anchored boats became grounded, and the view of the mainland across the water beyond. There were dingy boathouses around here, and some people were sitting around a boathouse playing the guitar and singing songs. Finally, I walked through downtown Ostend, where there were a few restaurants and a sports bar just starting to fill up with cheerful people for the evening.

When I got back to the house, I had a light dinner of fruit with yoghurt along with everyone else before the kids were all put to bed early. Tonight, Phoenix was staying over as well, but luckily, Codi was also away for the night so there was room. I sat and chatted to Angie while she sewed for a while at night, dealing with India who refused to go to bed. Just seeing the interaction of Angie with her kids, especially India, puts a smile on my face as you can tell that although she is exhausted, she is genuinely loving and cares for her children. It made me miss my parents as I get to see them only about once a year. After Angie went to bed, I stood outside on the patio for a while, watching the stars above a valley of gently swaying trees and ferns. I could see the lights of a few houses around, but the area was generally dark if it was not for the moonlight. This was the first time I had watched the stars at night in New Zealand, and I tried to find familiar constellations as well as try spotting new ones visible only in the Southern Hemisphere. After watching the stars for a bit longer out of the window in my room, I went to bed. I didn't want to go to sleep too late as I knew that I would be woken up early in the morning again.

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