Friday, October 12, 2007

Wednesday: Heading Back

Over breakfast we chatted with the lady working in the cafe, who told us that her husband was currently traveling in America. She said he was amazed by the size of the portions they give you in restaurants there. Probably shocked that you don't have to pay for the bread, too.

As we were eating, a group of sheep came down the road. They huddled together in a group, stopped, and then made a sharp right turn through a gate, all apparently unattended, though there must have been a dog in there somewhere. I guess they weren't that worried about traffic on that road.

Just down the road from the B&B was the "Kauri Museum", an institution dedicated to the wood of the Kauri tree and the olde time logging thereof. It was actually kind of cool, with displays of Frontier Life, a full (though not working) sawmill and an entire wall of chainsaws. They even had manaquins modeled after the descendants of early settlers in their dioramas, for that extra touch of verisimilitude. For what I thought would be a quaint little local museum, it was surprisingly large and remarkably thorough, with the notable exception of there being any mention at all of the Maori and/or their use of/interactions with the Kauri forests. I realize that this all doesn't necessarily sound fascinating, but it actually was; a kind of upside-down mirror image of our own frontier memories.

Out front they were selling little Kauri seedlings for you to buy and plant in your garden, assuming you had the kind of garden that could be expected to one day support an eighty-ton tree. I would have bought one, but I have the sense that the California Department of Agriculture might take a dim view of that kind of individual conservation approach.

In fact, we spent so long at the museum, that we ended up cutting it kind of close to make it back to Auckland and return the rental car by one o'clock. Not that we were actually that far away, but when it comes to winding, hilly, two-lane roads with heavy truck traffic (once we got back onto Highway 1), "far" is relative. But, thanks to some skillful navigation (ahem), Mom driving rather faster than made her happy and only one U-turn, we found our way, filled up the gas tank and pulled into the rental agency parking lot at twelve fifty-five. You can't say we don't get our money's worth.

On paper, we still had a full day left, but the truth of the matter was that for all intents and purposes the trip was over. We hit a bookstore and the All Blacks team store, for unavailable-at-home books and cheesy souveniers, respectively. The New Zealand fashion week was going on right next to our hotel, but the public events wouldn't start until the weekend, so all there was to do was sit in the hotel lobby and wait fruitlessly for someone glamourous to wander by.

Of course, more things happened, and I probably would have been able to record them if I had gotten around to this less than a month later. But I think it's time to be done with this and move on.

After all, Luftansa is having a sale...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Tuesday, Part 2: Big Trees, Long Roads and a Surprising Lack of Sweet Potatoes

It was about three o'clock when we made it to the west coast, at a tiny resort town with enormous sand dunes and abundant rental cottages. There was a gas station here, too, but this appeared to be the one part of New Zealand where the gas price standardization had not taken effect and, at twenty cents a liter more than we had been paying, it seemed steep. So on we went.

The gas light came on just as we were entering the Kauri Forest National park. We had passed up a gas station with a prominent sign reading "Last Gas", but we didn't totally believe it. After all, this was a major tourist area, right? There were bound to be more stations near the park entrance. But when we asked the lady selling overpriced snacks at the first viewpoint we came to, she confirmed that the closest station was the one back the way we came, about ten minutes that way; the next wasn't for another twenty-five minutes or more ahead. (People in New Zealand tend to give distances in time, rather than distance, which suggests to me a certain consistency of speed.) We debated, and worried, while we went to take a look at the trees (they're big), and eventually, reluctantly, decided to turn around. Because, as much as we didn't want to backtrack, we wanted to be stuck out of gas on a remote road in a wilderness park in the gathering darkness even less. So back we went, which turned out the be the right idea.

(Okay, it doesn't really sound like a big adventure, but it could have been. Call it an adventure narrowly averted.)

Once we didn't have the gas thing to worry about, the Kauri forest was very interesting. Most of the island had been heavily logged, and it seemed likely that this particular area had been left alone more because it was up in a steep, mountainous area than out of any particular conservationist bent. Even so, some of it appeared to have been cleared at some point in the past, so you could see the various stages of the forest coming back. It was very peaceful, and almost completely empty.

Also totally empty: the town of Dargaville, Kumara captial of the world. At least that's what the guidebook said. Driving through, we didn't see much evidence of kumaras being grown there, unless they were cleverly disguised as sheep. There were a couple of fields that looked like they might have had something planted in them, but it was hard to tell. I suppose the qualifications for being a kumara capital are not that stringent.

It was just about dark when we found a place to stop, a B&B with an attached cafe in Matakohe (alert readers will recall that this is where I made it back to the internet and demanded attention). There was only one guest in the cafe, and none in the B&B, which meant that once the owners went home for the night we had the place to ourselves. The room was smallish, but there was a nice big sitting room with books and tea, and on our dresser we were provided with some chocolates and a small decanter of port, a development both odd and ideal.