Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Note on Rain

Rain, Rain, go away...
    Come again another day.

Upper Uma Rapiti River flowing toward Rabbit Lake.
 This is just a short blog post for all of you whom are "Dying" in the heat of wherever you are.
Since about the first week of June we have had maybe three days straight of sun.

End of swale before extending. Emptying into fire pit and flax.
 The rest of our time here has been rather grey and rainy with punctuations of torrential downpour and extreme wind.  How extreme you ask?  Well, up to 40kph (25mph) sustained winds and 60kph (37mph gusts).  Doesn't sound like much you say?  I regularly find dishes blown off our counter and landed 30 feet away in our garden beds.

Our fire pit turned flowing pool.  Complete with iron feature!
 Three weeks ago it rained so much that the relief swale that was dug along the side our property to relieve water issues turned from a small stream to a mild river.  It overfilled and proceeded to turn our fire pit into a swimming pool.

Mysterious Pit a.k.a Rabbit Lake
 At the bottom corner of the property we found this random pit about 15 feet across and 5 feet deep when we first arrived.  It was bone dry with a couple of 2x4 ends and 2x6 pieces in it.  We now have a well-crafted duck pond.  Complete with floating detritus for the pukkekos and rabbits to sunbathe on.

Makeshift rain catchment system
Yes, that is correct.  7cm.  70mm.  2.7in.  A lot.

For those of you who might be in disbelief and thinking I'm leaning toward the exaggeration aspect of story-telling, I present exhibit A.  This is a tote that was left outside for about 18 hours before I realized it was there.  What you are seeing is proof in the pudding folks!  Approximately 70mm of rain in 18 hours!  Yes, 7cm (2.7 inches) of the wet stuff.  Please realize I come from Portland, Oregon where I'm used to it being wet for 6-8 months out of the year.  I will never complain again!  Lizzy stepped outside to use the restroom the other day which is about 50 feet away.  She ran there and ran back.  Upon her return she was literally soaked through front and back.

In parting I would just like to say, enjoy you 80, 90, even 100 degree weather.  I'm jealous.  And trying to find a decent pair of water wings!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

And The Trip Began...

     It seems every time I get left in charge of planning a camping trip, it comes out quite interesting.  This one was par for the course.  I have included a handy-dandy, color coded map to help you along the way.  Yes, Our journey was that complicated...

    Just click on the map above and you will be able to follow along.
Red: Day One, Part 1
Orange: Day One, Part 2
Blue: Day Two 
 Yellow: Day Three   

On the car ferry!
    Day one began with getting up at 6:00am to take the farm car to the mechanic shop for its yearly WOF (Warrant Of Fitness) tag.  Kind of like a DEQ inspection, only more invasive.  Last year when this was done, it cost our employers over $400.  Some mysterious seat belt issue.  This is example 1 of where "Chadding" as Lizzy likes to call it comes in handy.  After talking with the owner for 45 minutes, I'm handed a bill for $60 and sent on my way.  I stop at our neighbor's house to swap our car for his van, "Chad" for a few moments, end up with a keen place to go hiking and some ideas where o camp in the future, and home I go.  Lizzy in the meantime has done an incredible job of getting everything together in time for us to catch the 10:30am car ferry off the island.  Here we go, dog and all on our great adventure!
    Upon arriving in Auckland we are taught our first lesson.  Google maps in New Zealand really sucks.  Thank goodness paper maps still exist!  Driving in another country in it's most populous city in a borrowed vehicle is nerve-racking enough.  Doing it with a map that tells you to drive in circles...  Maddening!!!  Lizzy to the rescue!  She had the foresight to bring along the previously stated paper map, and as my wonderful co-pilot, managed to direct us to our first stop: Arataki Visitor Centre
The uhhh, "Masculine" entrance to the center
View from rear observation deck
     This is where we are taught our second lesson.  One that I thought I already learned when I was applying for my visa here in NZ.  Information on websites vs. information over the telephone vs. information in person is always conflicting!  And confounding!  While at the visitor's center I decided to confirm that it is ok for us to have Betty Blue in our campsite.  I looked on the website and yes, it's ok, I specifically asked when making our reservations and was told, "Yes, she's allowed.", and upon asking in person, nope.  No dogs allowed over night in any Auckland Regional Council campsite!  Arrrrgghhh!!!
    Example 2 of where "Chadding" helps out.  I speak with the park rangers for a bit, explain the situation and the fact that we just took a ferry from our island and drove an hour to come camp in their beautiful forest, and they relent and give us a new campsite and a pass with the dog for a night.  Rejoice and on with the adventure!  Next stop:  Piha for black sand beaches and the best surf on the North Island!
    The following are a few pictures from one of the most amazing beaches I have ever been on.  The sand is actually black, and is magnetic from the iron content.  When we arrived it was a torrential downpour and we had to wait in the van for it to stop.  And when it did, it was beautiful!
Lizzy and Betty on the way to Lion Rock

The view south from half way up Lion Rock

The view north from Lion Rock
Lizzy next to a monument to a Maori tribal ancestoress
    So, this is where our trip starts to get really, really interesting.  Lizzy, Betty Blue and I climbed up Lion Rock to get a better view of the beach.  Betty was off leash and minding pretty well.  We took some pictures, admired the scenery, then started to head back.  Betty lead the way down and disappeared into some grass.  I followed and found her licking some tin foil with some sort of residue on it on the ground.  I scolded her, then off we went.  We went and played on the beach for a bit, threw a stick for the dog and all was well.  Or so we thought.
    As we were driving away from the beach to our "new" campsite, Betty started acting a little strange.  She was riding in the back of the van just fine all day, and now she was freaked out about something and kept trying to jump into the front seat.  As I'm driving.  Up a very steep, very windy road.  She gets scolded again and off we go without further incident to the camp.
    Our campsite is just south-west of a little town called Huia in the southern part of the Waitakere Ranges.  What we were NOT told, was that to get to the actual camping area we had to ford a stream that was a bit too much for us with all the rains currently dumping on us.  We decide to camp in the van in the parking lot to save us the hassle.  This is where we notice Betty Blue acting very strange.  When she was walking around, she looked just fine.  When she stood still, it looked like her hind legs were about to give out.  Then she started staggering around and really freaking Lizzy and I out.  We get her to eat, then put her to bed in back of the van.  She can barely hold her head up, and when she does she does the bob n' weave like she was drunk!  We are nearly convinced the dog is going to die, but there is nothing we can do at that moment.  It is getting dark and we are miles from anywhere.  We decide to tough it out and she if she is better in the morning.  Lizzy and I hunker down after dinner to do some reading in the back of the van, and right when we are about to go to bed, a set of headlights appears in the parking lot.  We think it's the rangers come to tell us we can't camp in the van.  Nope.  We see one headlamp, then two, then four, then a whole bunch.  And they're running around.  And running some more.  Then talking right next to the van.  Then in the creek next to the parking lot.  Then they leave!  Were we just visited by boisterous aliens???
Gypsy van the next morning
More amazing carvings

Our kitchen

    The next morning we find that all is right in the world.  No strange lights, a perfectly normal dog, and the beginnings of some decent weather.  After our trip and consulting with some other people, we came to a final conclusion about the dog: She ate someone's dope stash on Lion Rock and suffered the effects for 18 hrs.  That'll teach her to lick strange bits of foil!  As for the strange lights, we run into some sort of high school outdoor group on the trail the next morning.  I can only assume (and hope) it was them.
    So day two has us starting on good weather, good dog health, good spirits with the humans, and an amazing hike through an amazing water catchment / rain forest in New Zealand.  It is also one of the more grueling and demanding hikes I have been on in a while.  The following pictures will give you an idea, but they just don't do any justice to the sights we saw:

A Kauri log on an old train cart used for logging circa 1900's

Waterfall off the side of a mountain

Lizzy and Betty Blue stream crossing

Waterfall and rock pool off trail

This was the trail a good portion of the way up the mountain

Even Betty had a hard time!

The sights were worth it

Nature's helping hand!
    We ended our hike just in time for the rains to come in.  Finally some good timing on our part.  We hosed our selves off, scrubbed the dog, headed to Drury where we were supposed to be picking up our Chickens on Saturday.  Upon arrival, I spent a few moments "Chadding" with the gentleman working the counter of the pet store making sure it was ok that we picked up our chooks the following day, and picking his brain about a dog/van/camper friendly area somewhat near.
 This was followed by a long, drawn out trip from the middle of the North Island, to the Firth of Thames (pronounced Timms...), disappointment at multiple potential camping spots, all the way to the town of Thames (pronounced Timms...).  Here we encountered petrol attendants who didn't know where any camping was around there (even though there was a sign for camping 15km away in their parking lot), and sidewalks that didn't allow any dogs...  go figure...  We decided to take the road next to the petrol station in hopes of finding a pullout we could stop and cook dinner and sleep in.  And we drove.  And drove.  And drove off the paved road.  And then drove over a ford in a stream.  And drove.  And then miracles!!!  We came across a visitor's center in the middle of nowhere!  Closed!!!  Arrrggghhhh!  So, we drove a bit more.  We found a campsite!  With a toilet, garbage, and water!  Huzzah! 

We promptly set up camp, cooked dinner, and tried to unwind a bit after a drawn out afternoon spent driving all over the place.  I told Lizzy we were going to have an adventure!
Oh. I almost forgot.  At some point I decided to go utilize the magnificent facilities available to us.  As a went to sit down on the great, white throne, my headlamp strayed across this guy here:        <-----------------------!!!!!!!!  El Monstro!  Almost scared the crap right back into me!  I had to take a picture to show Lizzy.

In the morning we woke up, had a leisurely breakfast, and restarted our wondrous journey back toward Drury.  We were  all about the kumara, eggs, and smiles!  Lizzy already posted prior what the next stage of our trip entailed.  By the way, we have to thank Karma and the DOC for our last night.  Our site was a honor system pay spot.  When we went to put money in the envelope, we found we didn't have any change other than a $50 bill.  Not going to put that in for $10 worth of camping.  So we promised ourselves it the visitor's center was open when we left, we would pay the tab.  Alas, it was closed and we had a good end to a hair-pulling camping trip.  Even when I think I've done my research.  I have to triple check.  Lizzy is planning the next one!


Monday, August 6, 2012

At Least the Trip Ended Well...

Chad and I have never had an uneventful camping trip.  This one was no exception.  It ended well, though, so I'll start there.  We awoke the third morning to sunshine (or was it drizzling rain).  Either way, it didn't matter, we were just happy to wake up at a quiet campground with a dog that was still alive and who would not be shunned, and where we could leisurely cook breakfast before heading to Drury to pick up our new chickens (or "chooks" as they say around here).  Potatoes and eggs were on the menu and our spirits were high.  Even taking our time, we left before the visitors' center opened, so with promises to the 'Powers that Be' that we'd pay double next time, we set off.

Back down the gravel road, through Thames, across farmland, over the Bombay hills, and back into Drury.  The hens all gathered around as we pulled up to the pet shop, each wanting to be the lucky lady chosen to go to Waiheke Island.  Before picking them out however, we had to engage in the obligatory chat with the fellows working at the store.  This procedure, which I have taken to calling "chadding" can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours, and while it usually results in some fascinating incites into local culture and/or useful information, my attention span can't handle that much small talk.  Realizing what was about to happen, I took the dog out for a walk.  When I returned, Chad was getting directions from the two gentlemen for shops where we might do some bulk food shopping.  After telling us just exactly how to get to the shops multiple times (complete with hand gestures on navigating the roundabouts), they drew a map and then proceeded to walk us through it one more time.  O-kay! I think it's about time we pick out those chickens and hit the road!

After visits to an Asian market, and Indian market, and a Fruit and Veg shop, our gypsy van was complete.  To compliment the poultry, the blue heeler, sleeping pads, campstove, and yesterday's smelly attire, we now had three sacks of potatoes, two sacks of rice, 6 varieties of dried beans, a gigantic bottle each of tamari, olive oil, and hot sauce, assorted spices, and way too many kiwifruit.  This is real life Oregon trail, minus the snakebites.  And the typhoid.  Although one more heavy rain and we would've had to caulk the wagon and float.

With Chad by now being proficient in Kiwi driving techniques along with my superb navigation skills, we made it back to Auckland with time to spare before our ferry.  Fish and Chips?  Yes, please.  A stroll along the harbor in the sunshine?  Oh if we must.  What a lovely ending.

 4 chooks, $96
1 bag of feed, $20
1 round-trip ferry ticket, $90
1 camp site, $12
petrol, $56
Fresh eggs every morning, priceless

 Stay tuned for the prequel!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

When there's too much rain to farm.....go camping!

Kia Ora!

I'm sorry you haven't heard from me for awhile.  We've been quite busy building strawberry planters, weeding, creating a driveway, transplanting bananas, cooking in the pizza oven, mapping the orchard, and answering the daily e-mails we receive from potential wwooferes.  The past two weeks we've had help from two fabulous wwoofers from France.  We were able to accomplished so much more with four pairs of hands instead of two!  I'll elaborate more on our recent projects another time. 

It's nearly midnight here and Chad and I are packing for our first overnight adventure off the island!  YeeHaw!  Not sure where we're going.  Chad's in charge of that.  It all started because our chickens were too old and stopped laying and for the past month or so we've been diligently trying to find replacements.  It's not easy to do on a little island.  Folks are pretty possessive of their animals.  After several failed attempts of trying to coordinate multiple parties' schedules to get chickens from the mainland to us, Chad and I have had enough and are going to get chickens ourselves.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, not so simple when it involves a ferry, several buses, a train, and who knows what else, and on the return trip you're carrying four chickens.  Suddenly 90 some dollars worth of chickens turns into a couple hundred dollar day trip.  So, with the gracious offer of his van from our friend and neighbor, Russel, and at the encouragement of our employers, we're taking three days off and going on a chicken retrieval/camping trip.  Oh yes, and we'll be stopping for bulk groceries in Auckland so that we'll have staples to feed the wwoofers we've got booked though October.  The rain is pouring down outside, we're still not sure if dogs are allowed in the campgrounds, and we realized today that we have no gas for our campstove since we had to empty it out before we left.  But we've got a trusty map and the mac and cheese is packed so I think we're good to go.