Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Northland: Sunnyside Up

Ok, everyone. Time to get out your atlas and follow along. We left Auckland and headed north to the magical, whimsical Northland. It is that tiny finger of land that juts so far out into the pacific that you wonder how it is still attached. Because NZ is upside down and backwards, the North is warm and the south is cooler. We were headed to the land of white sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise water, frolicking dolphins and roadside avocado stands. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

Our first night we found the most perfect campsite. We had a huge palm-tree lined space right over the dunes from a fantastic white sand beach. There was no one for kilometers and kilometers. Little did we know but this would be the case for most of the north. White sand beach after white sand beach with no one there except for interesting little oyster catchers (a shore bird). We fell asleep under our huge sunroof gazing at the Southern Cross for the first time. (The southern cross is a constellation you can only see in the Southern Hemisphere.) Ahhhhhhh.

There was a cliff walk that I really wanted to do at the Mangawhai Heads. 'Magical Mangawhai' is what the official roadside sign says. This gives me reasonably high expectations. If the government says this is magical, really who can argue? We stopped at tourist information. It was closed. It is part time. We read the 'full time' information posted on the bulletin board. It informed us that the return of our hike would not be possible across the beach at high tide. What does this mean? There was no diagram of the hike. There was no tide time table. We do not all live on an island in the Pacific, New Zealand. Some of us haven't thought about tides since grade 8 environmental studies. Oh well. They would make it REALLY obvious if this hike at this time was a bad idea. There would be lifeguards around somewhere watching for stupid land-locked tourists like us. We drove down to the beach. The sign warned again: 'No return via beach at high tide.' No tide-table, no diagram. Useless. Whats the worse that could happen? We take off our shoes and wade along the beach for a bit. Our feet were getting stinky anyways. No worries. We started out along the beach. Unfortunately, although this cliff walk started at the beach, at ground level, it involved hiking first to the top of the cliff before being rewarded with the spectacular view. We were on the top of a cliff. What did tides matter? Tides can't get us here! Safe! So we sauntered along. There were subtle transformations to the view around every bend and I made it my duty to capture each change. Each tree, each angle, each flower were adequately documented. This took some time. We came to a sign after about an hour and a half. There were 2 arrows. One pointed back the way we came from. 'Home via cliffs- 1.5 hours' Boring! We had just come from that way. I much prefer loop hikes. Thankfully the other arrow pointed the opposite direction 'Home- via beach' and yet again, 'Not possible at high tide.' Jonathan said he would be fine carrying his shoes along the beach, if it were in fact, high tide. A fact that is apparently a big secret in 'Magical Mangawhai.' Maybe the the tides were magic? Anyways, 2 hours really wasn't that longer than 1.5 hours. We crossed our fingers. The trail continued along the cliffs a while longer and then we went down, down, down a million step and steep ramps to get back down to sea level. 'Hope we don't have to climb back up these' Jonathan said, knowing that if we did he would have one cranky, sweaty, whiny wife crawling up the stairs behind him alllll the way back up.
So this is what I learned: Tides are stupid. Dumb dumb things. Who invented them? What are they good for? Is their sole purpose to ruin my life? Obviously when we got down to the 'beach' aka sliver of what was maybe sand, at some point, like 6 hours ago the stupid tide had clearly come in. My genius idea of rolling up our pants and carrying our shoes was quickly foiled when we saw the huge stone arch way, that I am assuming you would walk under at low tide, only now the water was about 4 ft high. We could tell that we were probably going to have to turn around when we were about 3/4 the way down the stairs, but in disbelief I insisted on going ALL the way down to see if maybe there was a secret or 'magical' passage way behind the cliffs. There was not. I wish I could say (for my darling husband's sake) that I chuckled and smiled and said ' Aw, oh well! Lets chalk that one up to experience, eh dear? Too bad we have to climb ALL the way back up those 5 gagillion stairs. But, you know, that's ok! Exercise is good for me!' But, alas, this did not happen either.

I think Kiwi's like to play 'telephone.' The Ranger came by our van one morning. We were staying at this gorgeous site and 5 meters from the beach of a wide harbour, right around the bend from the open ocean. 'You up?' I opened the door and the poor Ranger got a glimpse of my dear Jonathan sans shirt, barely awake, squinting into the sun. Guess he should have seen that coming. Hope he couldn't smell his breath. 'Sure,' I say. 'Sorry, I wouldn't wake you but we just got a call. There's a tsunami warning,' the Ranger informs me. 'Don't worry though. Nothing serious. Something off South America. The warning is for the whole country. North and South Island. We will keep you posted. If it gets bad we will have to drive to 30m, at the top of that hill over there.' He points to a hill behind us. Jonathan decides maybe he should be awake. There is an awkward pause. The ranger is still standing there. These kiwis and their friendliness. Now is not the time for friendliness! It is a time for action. There is a non serious(?) Tsunami on the way. 'Sooooo..' I say and we chatter for a few more minutes, ignoring the potential impending doom.
'See those gannets over there diving for fish?' The Ranger asks, pointing to big white birds across the harbour nose diving into the ocean. 'There were dolphins in here yesterday. They swam back and forth. Back and forth. We got a call from the boss. There was word that there had been a dolphin caught in a net out in the harbour and he wanted to know how we got on. It wasn't a dolphin, I had to clarify, it turned out to be a diver!'
'A diver was caught in a net!?" I ask.
'Oh no,' says the Ranger. 'it turned out that a diver was caught WITH a net and he had caught way over his limit of scallops!' And with that he was off to warn the others. Like I said. I think these Kiwis like to play telephone.
He comes back. 'This just in. They had it wrong. The tsumai warning isnt for t he whole island. Its just for the Northland, North Island, east coast.' He smiles. I look at Jonathan. 'Isn't that EXACTLY where we are? Northland, North Island, east coast?' This should be good. 'Wanna head to the west coast?' I ask Jonathan.

Fact of the day: NZ has a population of 4.2 million people... and 40 million sheep. Baaaaaaaaa

Second Fact of the Day: This Kauri tree that Jonathan is standing in front of is 13m wide, 50m tall and almost 2 000 years old!!!


happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear loochy, happy birthday to you!

Friday, October 22, 2010

New Zealand: Wow, eh!?

Wow, eh!? Because, according to Jonathan this is what I have been saying about every 5 minutes since our plane landed in Auckland. But really, New Zealand: Wow! Eh?!

Its spring in New Zealand. There are pink blossoms on the trees, colourful spring flowers, lambs, calves and ducklings. This is where the familiarity stops.  It is like we have been walking around in a giant botanical gardens for the last four days! We walk through the forest and it is full of palm trees, ferns bigger than I am and a variety of other trees I have never seen before. There is a sweet fragrance in the forest. Cala lillies grow everywhere in bushes by the dozen. Birds are colourful and sing beautiful tropical songs. We certainly aren't in Canada anymore. It is interesting (I think) to note that NZ has no land mammals, besides a few species of bats. There once were massive birds called Mia, that could weigh up to 240kg and were twice the size of osterich, but the country's first settlers made short work of these. 

We arrived in the afternoon of your future. We arrived on Thursday and you kids where still stuck on Wednesday. We, on the other hand, never had a Wednesday. We left Vancouver on Tuesday night and arrived in Auckland 22 hours later, Thursday around 1pm. Crazy. The first Auckland resident we met was a Korean. He gave us free Miso soup. I wasnt clear on whether it was because we were Canadian or because we told him we were eventually headed to Korea.. or because it was about to be thrown out and he fed it to us instead. Free soup is free soup. Our first day was a tired blur.

The next day we headed to the island of Rangitoto, which is a volcanic island only a 25 minute ferry ride away. Rangitoto (pronounced rang-ee-toe toe) was formed only 600 years ago. The Maori (NZ's aboriginal population] were living on an island an right beside them a volcano erupted from the ocean and 'pop' they had an island neighbour. Maybe there was a little more to it than that. The island is made up of black volcanic rock with relatively new vegetation growing from it. Apparently much of the vegetation that grows in the volcanic rock would only otherwise grow in very different conditions, like alpine flowers for example.  We hiked all around the island/volcano and eventually to the summit of the volcano. There is still a huge crater in the middle from which smoldering lava flowed long ago. On our assent Jonathan turned to me and said 'You know, it feels like it wouldn't be entirely unlikely that it we kept hiking a bit off the path and deeper into the forest we may just come across a dinosaur'. It felt like Jurassic Park.

We picked up our campervan... I mean, spaceship 'Adama' on Saturday. Adama was a commander in Battlestar Galactica. I know this because I googled it. He is very orange and rather old and eats gas like I eat chocolate. Other than that though, he's perfect. He has 2 sunroofs. One over the front seats and a huge one over the bed in the back. Itching to get out of the city as fast as possible we headed to the west coast. We drove from the east coast to the west coast in about half an hour! We checked in at Waitikere Ranges, and marveled at the crashing waves, steep cliffs and lush green vegetation.

Jonathan's family, Maureen and Maurice, kindly invited us for supper that night, so we drove back to the south of Auckland to their house. It was great to see/meet them! They breed canaries and have a number of beautiful, bright yellow and orange birds in a huge aviary in their backyard. Some eggs has just hatched and there were tiny one week old babies too! We also had the pleasure of meeting Maureen and Maurice's son, Josh, his significant other, Sharon and Sharon's daughter, Jade. Meeting him was great for a number of reasons, but one especially comes to mind. It might sound a bit silly but the coming to life of a person whom I have only known through a handful of photos and the occasional story is exciting. I suppose I went from from saying, 'I have cousin in New Zealand,' to saying, 'my cousin, Josh, lives in New Zealand.' Its maybe only a subtle transition, but it is also, I think, an important one that I am grateful to have bridged. Sharon knew so much about NZ and was nice enough to circle a bunch of great places on the map for us. It was so great to meet everyone and spend time with them. Maureen made a delicious dinner for all of us and we had a wonderful meal with great conversation. What perfect night!

We bid farewell to Jonathan's family with full bellies (and, not to forget, a scrumpdidleyumptious jar of homemade marmalade), ready for our adventure in the Northland.

NZ fact: New Zealand was named after a province in Holland, `Zeeland`. Abel Tasman was the first European to enter NZ waters in 1642, and although a squabble with the Maori sent them packing before they even touched land, the name stuck.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend- Vancouver Style

We had the pleasure of spending Thanksgiving weekend with Laura and Rosemary. They patiently put up with us for a very long time. It was a very fun time.  We are very thankful to have such great friends.  Laura, knowing my insatiatble desire to experience the 'real Vancouver', filled our days with Vancouver-istic events and suggestions. Literally. We went to 'Legendary Noodle' where noodles are 'legendary'. What else can you say about that? In my search to eat all things Vancouver we also met Adrienne and her boyfriend, Isaac, at what is 'sushi institution' on 'the Drive.' (Commercial Drive is the street Laura lives off of, lined with great restaurants, coffee pubs, entertaining weirdos and shops.) And, to what Laura assures me would make us the envy of all people who watched the Olympic coverage closely, we went for 'Japadog.'  In case you haven't heard about them (I hadn't either) Japadog serves hot dogs with a Japanese twist. All the rage during the Olympics. For example, your dog comes topped with Terryaki sauce and shreds of seaweed, or raddish and beets and the 'shaked fries' with a sprinkling of wacky flavours 'shaked' for you in a brown paper bag. All served by a bubbly Japanese kid who smiles ear to ear the whole time you are ordering and then giggles when you pay. Fantastic.  Oh, and we had a traditional-like Thanksgiving dinner on Laura & Rosemary's balcony too!

We did manage to extend our experiences past our stomachs, however surprising. First, we rented The White Ribbon, a film by Michael Haneke. Then we went to see Norma, an opera by Vincenzo Bellini with our friend Emily in the title role. She was so fantastic that you could barely take your eyes away from her when she was onstage. Her voice was amazing. We also went to the Vancouver International Film Festival, the chic people that we are, and saw the incredibly funny Mike Leigh film, Another Year.  We wandered through the thrift shops on Main St, explored Granville Island and the market and spent our last day wandering around the Kitsilano neighbourhood and then eating lunch at a well known vegetarian restaurant called 'the Naam.'

Laura and Rosemary, enlightened Vancouverites they are, let us in on many of the City's quirks, for example: the Free Corner, where people share stuff for free, the back door loading of the 99 bus and why no one goes to Burnaby. Most importantly, however, was the lesson on 'How to Spot a Hipster.' Why? Because poking fun at hipsters is an acceptable and important Vancouver pass-time. Big glasses, maybe colourful and plastic, plaid shirt, perhaps a toque, tight jeans... and there's your Hipster. Are you having fun yet?

We had a fantastic time in BC. Thanks mostly to all the people we got to see and spend time with. We are so lucky to have such amazing friends and family in our life. If we didn't say it before, we really do appreciate everyone making time to see us, letting us sleep over and feeding us. Thank you!

Parting Thoughts:
Since we are flying through the US on our way to Auckland we have to go in a separate US bound terminal. The US has Pre-Clearance in Canadian Airports which means you are processed by Customs and Immigration before you even leave Canada. Or so I thought. They scare me, so I made sure we had plenty of time. We manage our way through airport security and find ourselves at the whim of the Vancouver Airport Guy who is making sure everyone has their US Declaration Cards filled out properly as not to irritate the US Border Patrol. Smart idea. Obviously aptly trained the Vancouver Airport Guy notices that we have 2 apples in our hands. How could he not, these apples are gorgeous.
Vancouver Airport Guy: You have apples! You can't bring apples into the US! No apples! (No soup for you!)
Me: I wasn't going to bring the apples into the US, Sir. I am going to eat the apples in the tranquility of Gate 83 of the Vancouver International Airport, (British Colombia, Canada.)
Vancouver Airport Guy: No, once you go through US Customs you are in the US.
Me: (Eyeing Vancouver Airport man suspiciously) So, that part of the airport is the United States of America? Its not just a designated area where passengers whom have been pre-cleared by US Authorities wait to board their flight?
Vancouver Airport Guy: No, it is the USA.
This makes me upset. If this is true, this is a very bad idea, Canada. But, what do I know. Either way, Vancouver Airport man threatens that if I don't clearly declare my apples I will be fined $300. I have already been fined $300 this week (angry fist at Budget) so, I scratch out my check mark and declare that I do, in fact, have 2 beautiful apples that I am importing to the US, aka: Gate 83 of the Vancouver International Airport.
Then, I hang my head and shuffle to the US Border Patrol Officer waiting to be scolded. So this is what it is like from the other side. Shockingly, the US Officer is not overly concerned about my apples. Apparently the potential contamination cooties of my apples to the apple orchard growing in the United States' newest land claim: YVR Gate 83 was not high priority. Phew, because these are hand chosen rediscovered Heritage Ambrosia apples from the Okanagan, or something equally as important sounding. Known for their deliciousness, these apples. Just a final note to anyone wishing to travel to Vancouver Airport, USA: The Tim Hortons there only takes Canadian money.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Beautiful British Columbia

Its begun!! We are here in Vancouver 5 days into our adventure. Our trip began as expected, with Jonathan being chosen for a 'random' search at airport security in Hamilton. The whole situation was screaming 'shave your beard!!' to me. Security assured us, that, no, of course the beard had nothing to do with the completely random search. I laughed. Tally: 1 for 1. The flight was wonderfully uneventful. We left Karly in Calgary and made it to Vancouver almost on time. Laura's directions made getting to her place a breeze. We are practically Vancouverites already. We hopped on the Sky Train like pros, zipped up our fleece jackets and donned our raincoats. Fleece, if you didn't know, along with gore-tex, neoprene velcro, laminated fibres and khaki are Vancouver's official fabrics. According to Douglas Coupland's book City of Glass that Laura lent me. From reading this book I now have the inside scoop to all things Vancouver. If you want to know anything about beads,granola, dim sum, greenpeace or grow-ops you just ask me. I know it all. Another tidbit:  In Vancouver people refer to the rest of Canada as 'back east.' So, hello to all you easterners!

It was so great to see Laura. We had a lot to catch up on and did so over a deliciously made vegetarian lasagna. Fantastic host! It was like back in University when we had 'Family Dinners' only now with new, extended family. On Tuesday Laura sent us off with a bag full of homemade buttery treats and we picked up our rental car and were very quickly in Chilliwack for lunch with Jonathan's family, Hazel and Brent. They have a beautiful condo up on a mountain over-looking the Chilliwack Valley and surrounding mountains. They were great hosts and, again, it was so nice to catch up. Before we left they showed us to Cultus Lake Provinical Park and we had the chance to go on a nice hike and take in some beautiful inland BC views. We even had a chance to stroll along the Vedder River, something I did almost everyday when I was in CHilliwack on course. There were dozens of people fishing. One guy pulled out a massive salmon as we were watching! Yum!

We headed to Abbotsford and met mom's childhood friend Kathie and her husband Steve for sushi dinner. Again, we were spoiled and had great conversation that continued all evening until it was eventually time for bed. Kathie and Steve had been hard working on renovating their house and have done  a fantastic job. The kitchen and floors looked straight from a magazine and their ensuite bathroom felt like a spa. The next morning we headed back to Vancouver to return our rental car. Things were going astonishingly wonderful. We didn't get lost, we didn't get stuck in traffic, we had a supply of chocolate.. It seemed just too good to be true. And so, Dylan from Budget Rental, here in known as 'Pretentious Jerk' plucked us off cloud 9 and dropped us, quite rudely, onto the concrete in this City of Glass. Long story short, Pretentious Jerk said we dented the car, when we, of course, did not. I went out to find the alleged dent and literally could not see it. I stared at the offending spot for 60 seconds. The sun came out. And, oh yes. In the right light, if I squinted my eyes, tilted my head just so, hopped on one foot and spun in a counter-clockwise circle, I could see it. A thumbnail size dent by the gas tank. Seeing as the only two places the car had been parked with us were in gated private driveways, it seemed very unlikely that we were at fault. This was of no consequence to Pretentious Jerk. $300 later and we were left thinking maybe we didn't get such a good deal on a 24 hr rental after all. I am obviously now, and forever on going to boycott Budget Rentals. Realizing that this will be only one of many rip offs we experience over the next year (although hopefully none as expensive) we turned our frowns upside down and caught a bus up the Sunshine Coast to Squamish. Crankiness is not allowed on the Sunshine coast, which suited us just fine. Tally: 2for2 after Jon got searched again by security before being allowed on the Greyhound.

The 'Sea to Sky' highway which runs from Vancouver to Whistler is coined the 'Sea to Die' by locals, my cousin, Adam, informed us, because there are so many accidents along it. Thankfully we found this out AFTER we had arrived safe and sound on the lurching, speeding, corner cutting, honk happy Greyhound. Phew. Any irritation left melted away completely when my fantastic cousin, Adam, roared up in his super-cool-imported-wheel-on-the right side- Japanese truck, grinning from ear to ear. Adventures in Squamish! It was whirlwind fun. We checked out his sailboat, the 'Wet Dream', went to a couple beautiful lookouts and a little lake off the highway that is a popular swimming hole for locals and then went for dinner on the patio at a riverside restaurant 'The Watershed' where his roommate Mare works. Adam told us that in the winter the Squamish River is home to literally thousands of bald eagles. This was confirmed in my guide book that said Squamish had broken a record of sorts with there being 3000 something bald eagle sightings in one day! He said it was a little early for the eagles though. Luckily for us, however, an eagle decided to make a guest appearance while we were in a prime viewing location! His act was followed by 2 or 3 seals playing in the fast-moving water! Fast moving water that Adam and friends once decided to have an impromptu rafting adventure down! haha! I love Adam! I love Squamish!

Little did I know that this love affair was like said raft heading for a waterfall. Adam wants to climb a mountain. Black Tusk it was called. With us. He had been wanting to scale it since he moved here 4 years ago. I tell him that I like hiking, but not really going uphill. The last time I climbed a mountain it was in Whistler 3 years ago with Laura and a bunch of her faculty members. They were on their descent and I was still crawling my way up through the alpine meadow; on the verge of death. I was in bed by 8 and couldn't walk for days. Being family, I thought it was only fair to warn him about my inability to use the stair climber let alone climb another mountain. He thought I was joking. Jonathan knew better but was looking forward to the entertainment, I think. So. There we were, the next day ready to climb 9km UP, up hill, both ways. The description said the first 6kms were a 'steady up hill climb'. This translated to what seemed like 100km of switchbacks steep enough that we probably should have had ropes and spiked shoes and been tied together. Ok, Thats a lie. But Adam and Mare were sauntering along like they were on a Sunday afternoon stroll and I was doubled over gasping for oxygen. Surely the air was thinner up here.  Every few minutes they would look back and realize they had lost me, again, and, the caring souls they are, they would wait for me to catch up. Again. I trudged along, faithfully bringing up the rear motivated solely by the fact that I knew Adam had put the chocolate covered raisins in his bag and clearly he had no intention of stopping until we reached the summit. Or, maybe if I passed out from over exertion and rolled back down the mountain too. As expected the breathtaking view of the sapphire lake nestled way way up in the  snow capped mountains was worth the exhausting hike up. And, I got some chocolate raisins in reward for survival. Everything was right in the world again.

Adam drove us back to Vancouver the next day. Coming back to Laura and Rosemary's place feels like coming home. We are so lucky to have such a comfortable, warm, cozy place to stay in 'The City.' The four of us bought tickets to go the Vancouver International Film Festival on Monday and rented an award winning film called 'The White Ribbon' that had been in the festival last year to prepare ourselves. We are fancy like that.

Today we strolled, actually strolled, the sea wall that runs along the rim of Stanley Park. We saw seals, birds, jellyfish and starfish! Its a great place, regardless of the weather. We were sitting down for cupcakes. Yes, cupcakes, and the skies opened up. Rain doesn't stop Vancouverites. There is no one hiding under canopies or dashing to their cars. Everyone just pulls out their favourite accessory: the umbrella. Its almost like the more grey the skies, the more colourful the streets become. Bright red, pale yellow, ocean blue and neon green umbrellas pop up everywhere. There are umbrellas with stripes, flowers, polka-dots, plaid and lace. Little Asian girls have Hello Kitty umbrellas and tourists have ones with big red maple leaves that they bought on the street corner. Men hold umbrella's over the heads of the women they are walking with. Thankfully Laura had lent us our very own umbrellas. Walking with an umbrella down a crowded street is an art. Or at least a skill I have yet to acquire. My umbrella was bouncing off everything. Trees, poles, parking meters, windows, but most often, Jon's head. Turns out being a wet-coaster is harder than I thought....