The Super Sunday Summary # 7 - December 2018
Wow, quite some time has gone by and it's already been a month since the last Sunday Summary. What have we been up to in the meantime? Because it’s to much for a normal sunday summary and we don’t want to bore you to much with details, we'll limit ourselves to our highlights from the past month and give you a glimpse of our job search, work & excursions here in New Zealand.
Welcome to the first Super Sunday Summary!
Downer of the last weeks
A lot of rain and thus little possibility to work and fill up the funds.
One of our camping chairs got stolen at the campsite - bummer.
We still need to clarify some Visa issues for next year and it turns out that this is a lot more complicated (maybe even impossible) than we are usually used to with our strong German passports.
Our exercising routine we have worked hard to establish in Te Puke, has been neglected for the last few weeks.
highlights of the last weeks
The Hobbiton Movie Set.
Rotorua and Lake Taupo’s hot springs.
Road trip through the central North Island.
Hiking up to Table Mountain.
Cozy movie nights in our Vanette in the rain (there were many).
Exploring many beautiful spots between the sea and lush green hills.
Our house in Wellington, the cats and Graham.
Where are we now?
Since Friday we are now in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Here we have a house sit again and take care of two cats and a wonderfully located house. The view over the lagoon to the East Harbour Regional Park is truly awesome! What’s even better is a proper kitchen and a private bathroom - luxury! We were incredibly warm welcomed by Graham, the home owner and even have been gifted with a stocked fridge. Here we will spend Christmas and New Year's Eve before we then take the ferry on the first day of 2019 down to the South Island!
work work work work work
If you’ve been reading the last Sunday Summery, you know we started picking kiwi flowers in Te Puke in early November. If not, you can revisit the issue #6 and dive into the profitable, but labour intensive world of the daily routine of a picker in a foreign country.
Actually, the season should last until the end of the month - the unusually warm temperatures in combination with strong showers led to the kiwi flower biz ending earlier than expected and after just 2 1/2 weeks we were forced to move on. To say thanks and farewell, our incredibly nice boss invited all remaining pickers to a Taco-Feast (connecting with this lovely, honest and fair family business was an absolute bliss!) and we had a great evening, sharing brews and chatting with good folks from all around the world.
So what do we do now? A question that became part of our traveling life as much as prepairing coffee every morning. We experience change constantly and are forced to make decisions on a regular basis. And not just things like “what do we have for dinner tonight?”, more like “where do we sleep tonight?”. We also have to stay flexible and can’t settle to much on a decision, because next week, next month or next year a possibility might have been passed and a new door to another path might open up. Since the weather in Te Puke was miserable with no improvement in sight, we decided to drive further south to Hastings. In case of rain you can not pick fruit anyway and honestly, Te Puke is not exactly San Francisco if you catch my drift. Well, we've heard that the blueberry season is just starting in Hastings and we're trying to get another picking job there. So on Monday the 26th of November we introduce ourselves at Gourmet Blueberries: an endless plantation landscape stretches out just behind the last houses of the “city”. Massive fields of thousands of blueberry bushes, protected from the birds by dense, white nets caging the segments of the orchard. Right next to the massive “Pickers Parking Area” a large sign leads us towards the office. We are not the only ones here to apply: mostly backpackers, but some locals are keen to pick berries as well. We fill out several forms, but we can’t start sraightaway. Since the season has barely started and the weather here is also not ideal, the lady at the registration tells us that we can probably start work at the beginning of December. Sh#%t, we thought we could start the week of arrival. Well, you can’t do anything about the weather and the whole agricultural industry of the North Island seems to be waiting for a couple of dry days in a row right now. We didn’t want to sit around and wait, so we explored Hawke’s Bay and the surroundings when we got a text message a few days later: On Tuesday the 4th of December we should come to the induction of the wonderfull world of blueberries. On the way back, we get stuck in traffic and just make it in time to the pickers parking lots, but are beeing send to the other end of the orchard by the car park attendant with the words “please follow that car over there!” - and then of course miss the introduction video (which apparently is a big deal). In the office they apologize for sending us to the wrong spot, but without a proper induction we can’t start for another 3 days… So we decide to let go of our dream to become professional Huckleberry Hustlers. Luckily! Because as it turns out, the berries are not ready for picking because of last weeks bad weather and it is only possible to work every second to third day. Nevertheless, we are pretty annoyed to have missed the introduction because of just 3 minutes, but then decide to make the best out of it and go look for something better. So we just drive around to to ask for work at other orchards. And yes: Karma you wonderfull weirdo, you did it again! When we arrived at a cherry orchard just 10 minutes after we got the no at “Gourmet Blueberries”, the supervisor of the packing facility, Grace, explains that we showed up just at the right time and we could start immediately! So we graded cherries and peaches for size and quality the next 1 1/2 weeks and got to know great kiwi-colleagues in the shed. Thursday was our last day, we were able to make some cash and could grade even if it poured outside (the pickers had to wait for days for some sun to be able to work), we have to admit: we were not too sad to leave the shed, because standing all day in the same place and performing the same motions for 8 hours has been quite exhausting for our backs and our bored brains. The work the ladies do every day is so physically demanding, we can’t believe it when they tell us they do not have health insurance because it’s just too expensive. A problem, that so many countries, even the first world ones struggle with. As Germans, it’s hard to wrap our heads around a collective mindset, that does not support the concept of a solidary society. Did you know, that in Germany your employer is legally obligated to pay half of your monthly health insurance? You might ask, why the heck should that be a fair deal? Well, for example in a NZ grading shed workers break there backs and risk their health, handling sprayed fruit every day for a minimum wage and can’t even afford to see a dentist when dearly needed. These are things that our unions of the past fought hard for and to get organized could be a first step for labourers in NZ, to get a fairer deal - just sayin’.
Cherries, cherries, cherries - we can’t see them anymore. At least, our hand-eye coordination is now at the level of a 15-year-old Counterstrike pro player.
It's raining. Not just in Te Puke. Everytime we have a look at the meteorological map of the North Island, the picture is always the same: clouds, rain, and now and then a thunderstorm. And it will stay that way for the whole week. Nevertheless we decide to explore the area and leave Hastings for a road trip through the center of the North Island. After all, bad weather doesn’t bother the Kiwis not one bit and they are seen walking barefoot through the pouring rain with an admirably stoic attitude - we all should take a leaf out of the New Zealanders’ book, at least when it comes to dealing with rainy days. Honestly, how many times did someone in your circle of friends complained about the weather this week? So it's time to rethink our attitude and make the most of it! The weather is like it is and after all we are in the land of clouds. As if we had not known that beforehand. :D
First we go to Rotorua: the geothermal center of New Zealand. The island is located on the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire” and in Rotorua you can experience the geologically active zone in the form of geysers and hot springs. As soon as we drive into the city, a slight smell of sulfur hits us, which is politely ignored by both of us in the closed driver's cabin until we realize that the severe breeze is coming from outside. ;) The houses are of course heated by geothermal energy and the sulfur smell hangs in the streets of the entire city. A strange mixture of old chicken fat, gasoline and rotten eggs. For us it doesn’t matter that much, you get used to it relatively fast.
We spend the morning hiking through mighty redwood forests and on one of the peaks of the wooded hills of Rotorua we enjoy the magnificent view over the steaming hot springs in the valley below. The fog gets caught in the treetops of the wooden giants and blend with the rising hot steam that comes from the depths of the seething craters. The pattering rain and the gray twilight creates an impressive atmosphere that seems to underline the forces of nature. After 4 hours trekking through the rain, it is time to warm up: the hot water of the "Kerosin Creek" is ideal for this. We can hardly believe it, as we lie in the in the warm waters of a forest river while cool drops of rain trickle down from the trees on our heads. Oversized ferns thrust their fan-like leaves from the riverbank into the water and forest birds chirp to the splashing of the leisurely stream. We feel like we're in a free spa and would love to spend the rest of the day in one of the well-tempered pools. After one and a half hours we are completely soaked and head back through the forest to our living room on four wheels. In the meantime the light rain has increased to heavy downpour, so we decide to drive not to far to a free campsite near New Zealand's largest freshwater lake, the mighty Lake Taupo. We make ourselves comfortable in Vanette and fold the day bed up into sofa-mode to create more space in the tiny van. We cook in the car, listen to podcasts and let the day turn to night while watching a movie. The next day we wake up in bright sunshine and use the morning to dry our wet clothes and drink our coffee down by the nearby river.
The next detour takes us to a wonderfully idyllic lake, hidden in mountainous landscapes whose slopes are overgrown with dark coniferous woodland, lush pastures or scrubland full of tree ferns. In the midst of this setting we discover one of the most beautiful camping spots of our recent New Zealand adventure: Lake Tutira.
As we follow the narrow, winding mountain road in the pouring rain, the sky suddenly breaks open and the sun shines on a lake, embedded in green hills where young cows share the madows with sheep and their lambs. The environment is such a clisché of prettiness, that it almost seems like a movie set for a sentimental film with regional background of Upper Bavaria. To our right, a rocky mountain range stretches out to the south, flattening horizontally towards the summit: Table Mountain. And right here, between the shores of the sparkling Lake Tutira with its black swans circling slowly across the lake and the green slopes of the pastures, is the camp spot (there’s a donation box and a sign which is suggesting a donation of 5$ for a family per day) where we are spending the next two days. Apart from us, only one other car and a tent can be spotted. After days of rain we enjoy the sunshine and the blue skies, cook dinner outside after a short stroll along the lake. The sun is hanging low over the lake and the birds are singing their evening songs while we open a cold brew. Although it rains the next day, we learned our lesson from the Kiwis and use the day for a hike. Starting from the campsite several trails go through the surrounding forests up to different viewpoints. The longest one leads across Table Mountain, which offers a fantastic view over the valley. We wait briefly for a halfway rain-free window, lock up the van and then make our way quickly towards the slopes of the mountain. We first walk through pastures past bewildered sheep and cows into a dense coniferous forest, always uphill. The path is wet and muddy and our boots almost get stuck a few times in the ankle deep dirt. After a while, the forest changes - it becomes more pristine and a bushy diverse flora determines the rest of the ascent. The tree ferns make the environment look alien and prehistoric in an enchanting way. Of course we would prefer a more indigenous flora and fauna over all. New Zealand has a huge problem with livestock farming, deforestation and monocropping. Maybe that’s why the North Island reminds us so much of European Backcountry. It all looks pretty and romatic, but it’s not a natural habitat at all. The lake apparantly is infested with a foreign sort of alga and signs warn potential swimmers of Duck Itch (Swimmer’s Itch) infection. We have to remind us, that this sort of countryside is almost entirely manmade, even the parts where reforestation of bushland has took place.
As we are passing through the forest, we climb the higher pasture hills of young cattle herds and we immediately feel transported to the Algäu (region in Swabia in Southern Germany). On the way further up we are dodging cow dung and exceed cattle fences. The flat summit of Table Mountain welcomes us with rough weather and the wind seems to be trying to pull us back down into the valley. The view lets us linger for a while anyway.
Hobbiton Movie Set
Wow, that was definitely one of the highlights of the last weeks and one of the coolest things we’ve done in New Zealand yet! Yes, it’s a massive tourist attraction and we usually stay far away from these kind of spectacles, but it would be a shame for someone who read the books of Tolkien, without a visit to Bag End: We went to the Hobbiton Movie Set and it was just magical. Anyone who has seen the Lord of the Rings films, can imagine the cosiness of the Shire and Hobbiton. We do not even know where to start describing this place. The village with its 44 unique hobbit-holes is designed with so much attention to detail that every corner, every garden and hidden path is full of surprises! There are real vegetables sprouting in the adorable gardens, fruit trees and colorful flowers growing on the side of the paths. An army of gardeners are constantly working to maintain the charm of Hobbiton (while we where there we couldn’t see anyone of the staff though). The flowers, herbs and big-leafed veggies, even the apple and plum trees - it’s all taken care of with so much love and considering the livestock farming that spreads out for miles and miles around the Set, it’s also a haven for birds, bees, bumblebees and other insects.
Pegged on the clotheslines you can see Hobbit vesture hanging in the wind to dry and from the appereance of a hobbit-hole and it’s garden you might be able to guess the profession of it’s owner. One must be a gardener I’m pretty sure (who do you think I’m talking about?;), another family is probably in the bread and pastry business and one messy hobbit might be more into finishing a bottle of wine in the sun, than in cutting the grass in front of his hole, like his neighbors would do. This place was not just a movie set - everything, every little detail is so perfectly staged that you just cannot escape the world of the Shire that’s been so wonderfully fabled by J.R.R. Tolkien almost a centuary ago. You’d almost expect, that one of the "trolly halflings" is raking the veggie bed, or prances proudly towards the village tavern with a large pumpkin in his pushcart to show it off to his lads.
The crowning glory of our tour through Hobbiton is a visit to the "Green Dragon", where we are invited to a delicious cider while the crackling of the fireplace mixes with folky irish tunes played by some Hobbits in the backroom. We haven’t expected the attention to detail and were prepaired to step right into a tourist trap, but we left this “ not so hidden gem” with smiles on our faces.
Since the rush of visitors is enormous and the Hobbiton Movie Set was built on the private Alexander Farm, Hobbiton can only be visited with a tour that is always fully booked and not cheap at all (Price p.p. in 2018: 87 NZ $). But imho this tour is worth every penny! Funnily, our tour group consisted of 90% older Asian Tourists, who unfortunately did not understand a word of our likeable tour guide’s stories about this amazing place. Most likely, hardly any of our group actually saw the movies or let alone read the books - but they still loved it! And believe us, if you’ve seen the movies, you won’t be disappointed with the Shire, the hobbit holes, or the Green Dragon - it’s a unique excursion to a very special place of Middle-earth! ;)
Cape Kidnappers (´Te Kauwae-a-Māui`)
In the camp kitchen we hear of a hike that leads to Australasia's largest gannet mainland colony. Apparently it is nesting season and the birds are located just a couple of minutes drive away from our camp. Of course we are keen to see this natural wonder - up to 25,000 birds nesting at the same time, fishing and diving with a speed up to 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) straight into the sea! On our only day off we had in Hastings, we head off to the Cape Kidnappers where blue skies and bright beaches await us.
The hike to the gannet colony is only possible at low tide, as the total of 19 kilometers long hiking trail leads to the cape over a narrow strip of sand and rocks. On the way we pass dramatically layered rock formations which stretch as high cliffs into the sky on our right. To the left there lies an endless ocean. We walked along the beach for almost two hours when we reach the first gannet nesting site at Black Reef, before the path leaves the beach and leads finally up to Cape Kidnappers. It is a pleasant hiking trail and on the way up to the cliff you have spectacular views over Hawke's Bay.
Once we are approaching the top, we first notice the excited chatter of thousands of birds and when closer a severe smell coming from the nesting sites of thousands of birds. What a spectacle of nature!
We are spellbound by the big flying and brooding birds and fascinatedly observe the orderly chaos of the countless breeding grounds. With a wingspan of up to 2 meters, the mighty seabirds start and land more or less “gracefully” in the feathered sea of beautiful shiny boobies (thihihi). Here and there we spot "little", fluffy young birds sitting in the cratered nests and being fed by their parents. A cub did not make it and is lying motionless next to a nest. The grieving mother is still protecting the lifeless body from landing conspecifics and curious seagulls, but otherwise does not seem to know what she will do, now that her only chick is gone. A high percentage of the young will not survive the harsh conditions at the unprotected cliff. Compared to the big gannets, the few seagulls in between the colony seem as little as sparrows. 80% of the birds are monogamous and stay togther there whole life. For us, they all look the same and it’s mind-blowing how they can spot their mate in the white and yellow mass of birds. Once the partner returns to the nest from fishing in the ocean, an excited welcome ritual begins. It looks like a mix of dance moves and cuddles. After one and a half hours of nerdy bird watching and taking hundreds of pictures, we set off again to head back to the van before the tide will force us pay for one of those touristy tractor rides on the beach.
For us, this was a perfect day. The view was fantastic, the birds absolutely fascinating, the walk on the beach not very exhausting and on such days we have time for grand conversations! Yes, even after more than 13 years of relationship and 24 hours we spend together each day, we still have loads to talk about on a 5 hour hike.