Freitag, 30. Januar 2015

Birds, birds, birds

One of our most enjoyable and memorable experiences Down Under to date was a trip the other day to see the largest mainland gannet colony in the world.  

We're staying in Napier, a sweet little art-deco town half way down the West coast of North Island, and for the first time this holiday I haven't been able to do what I love most - go swimming. The waves are almost as high as doubledecker buses and are guaranteed to grab you, whirl you around and thrust down you down on the shore with a thud. Safe no, but fun to watch, yes. They whisk up a cappuccino-like froth better than the best italiano barister, spreading foam up the beach before being sucked up by the next great wave.

Tim proudly up front with driver, Clive

This is the backdrop as twenty of us jump onto a trailer and are pulled by a vintage 1940s US farm tractor to the bird colony at Cape Kidnappers. On the other side of the shore rise skyscraper-high cliffs, some over 4 million years old. Now and again Clive our driver stops to explain the geology, and at one point even gets off to chip away fossils engrained in the massive cliff face. At the start of the trip he jokes that he'll happily stop for anyone whose hat blows off. "Husbands, I'll even stop for your wife if she falls off. But only if you want, of course!" Now, however, he's spinning the tractor round and dragging us back already. Not to retrieve a hat or fallen persons but because he's seen a different type of fossil - half a motorbike sticking out of deep sand. "Poor rider got a bit stuck", he jokes, adding that the bike's been there about 10 years. Sometimes it's visible but mostly sand washes back over and submerges it.

Shake, rattle and roll -  rough ride, great fun

After about an hour's ride over sand and stone - Clive calls it "rock 'n' roll" - we reach drop-off point for hiking uphill to the gannet colony. We can't hear or see anything of the birds till we round the final bend of the steep path, which exits at an enormous plateau - home to over 20 000 nesting gannets. These birds can live for up to 25 years, and they sure can make a noise too. We take loads of pictures of the birds, which are so tame they'll even let you stand right close and eyeball them.

For me the greatest, most wonderful and lasting impression is staying for a while after everyone else has left. I enjoy simply being on my own with all these beautiful creatures, watching them circle overhead, flying over so close that you can almost touch them, before stretching out their wings to come into landing - not easy when the "runway" is blocked by thousands of other feathered friends......

I enjoy it so much that I totally lose track of time. Racing back down the hill, I reach the tractor to find everyone waiting and wondering whether or not to report me lost. All told though, a telling off for lateness is a small price to pay for a private audience with these fascinating creatures at the other end of the world - a memory which will stay with me long after the holiday tan fades.

Top cliff, top sight and sound!

Sonntag, 11. Januar 2015

Bears, Baptists and Beaches

We kick off the week by going to see Paddington at a really oldy-worldy cinema with original 70s decor. Tildy is pretty scared (some scenes are actually pretty frightening when they're trying to shoot the poor creature), but all the British sense of humour makes it a very funny film. I enjoyed it, anyway.

Next up, trip to touristy but fun Hot Water Beach. A real communal experience with people of all nationalities - all digging holes and then bathing together in geothermal water out of a hot spring. You just have to be careful you don't walk over sand where the hot spring actually flows, otherwise you get a scolding hot experience. The whole thing's a sort of cross between kids' beach party (though most of us seem to be adults) and sauna.

Sunday service with local Baptists. Church is fun in NZ because whatever type you go to, at the start of the service they always go round with a basket of chocolates and whoever's traveled the furthest gets first pick. Good for Europeans .. For me though church is a highlight here thanks to the modern praise music and the laid-back, informal way so many Zealanders seem to worship.

The best though - as always in NZ - is the beaches. The loveliest to date has been Pokohino Beach. Because the beach is quite difficult to reach - we had to drive 7 km off road along a bone-rattler dust track, then trek half an hour downhill through thick bush - we were virtually only ones there. Sea is opaque green and glorious to swim in, the sand fine and silky - just like in the Bounty adverts.
Bounty Beach