Thursday, February 19, 2009

In New Zealand's fruit bowl

After a brief stay in Auckland I caught a bus down to Hawkes Bay to visit my friend ‘Carl’ who I met back stateside. ‘Carl’s’ family has really opened their arms for me with a free bed and delicious dinners consisting mostly of the fresh produce grown in their back garden--yum! This part of New Zealand is known as ‘the fruit bowl’ and is packed with apple orchards and vineyards. ‘Carl’s’ backyard contains 41 varieties of fruit and nut trees/shrubs alone, not to mention a full vegetable garden, three chickens and a small aviary of exotic parakeets and finches.

The last couple mornings I have dropped ‘carl’ off at his tractor-driving job at a local vineyard and gone off to explore. The volcanic soil, a product of abundant volcanism arising from the nearby Pacific-Australian tectonic plate boundary, makes Hawkes Bay a prime area for agriculture and thus not much in the way of wilderness has been preserved barring a few exceptions.

Of course I have pretty much scoped all of them out over the last couple days: a small scenic reserve called White Pines Bush lies just a few dozen kms inland and shows just how lush the native vegetation was before the land was thoroughly cultivated. It’s a tiny rainforest oasis with trickling streams, massive tree-ferns and towering trees among a wider landscape of steep unnatural pastureland and tree plantations.

Further up into the mountains lies Lake Tuitira, which is a large deep lake home to New Zealand’s endemic grebe and ducks. It was quite gorgeous on the day I visited:

Just beside the rather large and sprawling beach town of Napier is the Ahuriri Estuary, an important habitat for local and migratory bird populations. I got to see a colony of about 157 Bar-tailed Godwits overwintering. In the next couple months they will make a 12,000 kilometer flight back to their breeding grounds in the Alaskan arctic, a trek that earns them the distinction of being the world’s farthest traveling migratory bird species.

In 1931 a large earthquake leveled Napier and it was rebuilt completely in Art Deco style architecture that was popular at the time, which makes it quite a unique and cute town. This weekend is art deco weekend, which means that Kiwis flock in from all over the country to showcase their relic 1930s automobiles.

I’ll stick around for the festivities and to see ‘Carl’ DJ with one of his mates at a local bar and then head down to Wellington after the weekend and then onward across the ferry to the south island where the truly stunning scenery is supposed to ubiquitous.

I’m hoping to catch up with ‘Carl’s’ brother, ‘Clive’ down in the south island in Murcheson, the whitewater capital of New Zealand. ‘Clive’ is a world-class whitewater kayaker and documentarian. Extreme kayaking has taken him all over the world and he has used his videos to raise money for charities in Africa that fight malaria and in Nepal that train women to be river guides. Another one of his videos earned him a year’s supply of Red Bull. Anyway, it seems like a fantastic opportunity to experience first hand the heart of one of New Zealand’s trademark extreme sports. Can’t wait!

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