A hairy kiwi

Today en route for Mount Monganui I saw a brown ‘tourist attraction’ sign for Kiwi 360 which did catch my attention as to what this could possibly be. Little did I know that I had driven into the kiwi growing capital of the world. A huge kiwi fruit sign along with the promise of a guided tour of kiwi vines did make me turn off Route 2. For $20 I would get a ride on a cart and get a tour of the kiwi growing areas and why they are so successful in this nook of New Zealand. After a chat with the ladies behind the counter in the gift shop who kindly offered to clean my silver ring which is still suffering the tarnishing power of the muds of Rotorua the tour began.

It is the unique combination of the deep ash soil, temperate climate and high number of sun hours which makes this part of the Bay of Plenty the perfect home for the thousands, perhaps millions, of kiwi vines. 80% of the country’s kiwis are grown in this region. The majority are for export to the world markets. Thousands of migrant workers come to pick the kiwi fruit once a year. The fruit are not yet ready but this ensures that they can remain in the cold stores to keep the international market supplied year round. Two kinds of fruit are grown in this area: the green kiwi which is the hairy one we are the most familiar with and the gold kiwi which has a smooth skin and not so readily available as has a shorter season and cold storage life. The gold and green kiwis have different flowering times so no issue with any cross pollination. Both types require bees to assist with the pollination process and thousands of hives are brought into the vine areas when the flowers begin to open. Both types have male and female plants at a ration of 1:4 with only the female plants producing fruit.

The crop of gold kiwis have already been picked although some have been left on the vine for people visiting. The green kiwis are nearing time for picking. Once picked the fruits are graded for size and weight. Those which do not pass the high standards required for international export are sold on the local market. The largest fruit are shipped to Japan. All the fruit are shipped in cold stores from the nearby port of Tauranga as and when the markets demand.

Quite amazing to think that the hairy kiwi I used to buy in Spinneys in Dubai came from these vines or vines nearby.

Do you have a flag? Actually we have three!

Up until the 1830’s the growing colony of New Zealand did not have it’s own flag. It was only when New Zealand began trading with neighbouring Australia did this become an issue. In accordance with international sea laws a ship had to have a flag flying to designate it’s country of origin. When the first trade ship arrived in Sydney harbour with Sir George Murray at the helm it was seized along with all it’s goods for having no flag and the crew were all arrested as pirates.

Clearly a flag was needed to prevent any more confusion and in 1834 James Busby came up with three designs for the local Maori chiefs to choose from to bring about unity, denote a collective government and denote an independent nation in what were turbulent times. The Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was selected.

Following the Treaty of Waitangi (in which James Busby was also involved) and New Zealand becoming a colony of the United Kingdom it was the Union Flag which became the recognised flag of New Zealand despite it being burnt down four times when flown over Russell.

The current flag was adopted in 1902 with a rise in patriotism following New Zealand’s involvement in the Boer War.

Today there has been a call for a new flag in a show of patriotism and a move away from a colonial past. This move has been muted as a distraction from more serious political issues.

So there it is. When asked ‘Do you have a flag?’ New Zealand can proudly claim to have three as all are still recognised and fly proudly over the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi.

 

Whakatane

Whakatane is the kind of place where people out walking along the river greet you and when the fire siren sounds everyone stops, looks at each other and scans the skyline quizzically. It has only one ‘dollar’ shop (which is having a sale) but more coffee shops, hair and beauty salons and clothes shops on it’s high street than I have seen in a very long time.

According to Maori oral legend the area around Whakatane has been a fortified village since the first Polynesian settlers arrived around 1200. It was an incident which happened some 200 years after these first settlers arrived which gave the settlement it’s name. When the Mataatua waka (sea faring canoe) arrived bearing the first kumara the canoe was left on the shoreline but began to drift in the changing tide. One of the village woman had gone against tradition and lead the other woman folk in paddling the canoe to safety calling out ‘Kai whakatane au i ahua’ – I will act like a man.

After European settlers arrived Whakatane became an important centre for ship building and trade in the 1880’s. In the 1930’s a paper mill opened which along with beer production is still part of the local economy alongside agriculture, forestry and tourism.

In the 1990’s a few North Island brown kiwis were found in the scenic reserve on the hill. The Kiwi Project was set up to protect these endangered birds leading to Whakatane being more recently known as the Kiwi Capital of the World.

I have only just got the smell of sulphur out!

Perhaps there is a clause in microscopic sized lettering at the bottom of every travel insurance document which invalidates it whenever you enter the air space of New Zealand in the assumption that the majority of people who come here will do something which has an element of danger – is there something in the air? It is after all the home of bungy jumping and a myriad of other gravity and nerve defying outdoor pursuits in some pretty rigid countryside. I may not have thrown myself off a bridge or a plane but I have done some things which may have pushed that some may argue are on the boundary of danger: kayaked to the Tasmin Sea on Milford Sound, driven up the West Coast, stayed in Wairoa, driven the Pacific Coast Highway and stopped en route, freedom camped. Tomorrow’s trip does come into the ‘edge of danger’ and ‘slightly mad’ category in anyone’s books – walking into the crater of an active volcano amongst roaring fumaroles, glittering crystals, bubbling pits of mud (oh no, not more bubbling mud!) and hot thermal streams. From the large and expensive boats the company I am going with operates this is clearly a popular trip and that they do have a more ‘formal’ approach to safety. Their advert does say that all safety equipment including oxygen masks are included – and lunch. I have been waiting two days for the trip to run due to high swells and gale force winds making leaving the safe harbour of Whakatane and it’s infamous sand bar too difficult and landing on White Island itself impossible. Not least of all a rather uncomfortable ride for those on board.  However, tomorrow is looking much calmer so we are good to go! White Island here I come.

Known by the local Maori peoples as Te Puia O Whakaari (Dramatic Volcano) and named by Captain Cook as White Island (he did not realise it was a volcano, just an island with its head in a cloud) has been documented as smoking since 1769 and must have been doing so long before that as its been building for the past 15,000 years. It is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano and is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone which I have been driving through. The volcano is a classic conical shape with only 300m of it’s 1600m showing above the waters of the the Bay of Plenty just 48km off shore. Its last major eruptions which decimated the pohutukawa forrest and changed the landscape were in the early 80’s although there have been many minor eruptions since then. The easy accessibility of this active volcano ensures that there is a steady stream of volcanologists monitoring it’s every tremble, bubble and puff of steam. Of course this ease of accessibility also means that those who have a desire to see the Earth’s innards at close range can visit too – weather permitting!

Those who know me will testify that boats are not my favourite mode of transport but in this case a necessary evil to get to this unique island. Hopefully I will not need the sea sickness pills – I survived a recent fishing trip on Lake Taupo and a very rough whale watching trip off Icelancd so perhaps the desire to get there will be the cure in itself?

 

 

Our Boomerang’s don’t come back!

28th January – Another early start to the day and the irony of it was that after a week of waking at 2am with the residue of jet lag this was the first night had slept through. However, the sunrise waits for none so on the bus at 445am to the viewing area to witness Uluru come awake with the first rays of light. When we arrived the first golden yellow colours of dawn were already brightening the sky and the residue of last night’s clouds gave extra dimension with pinks, lilacs and oranges seeping into the dark blue.

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And then a gasp of awe from all around as there was the realisation that the sun was only the support act when behind us Uluru began to awaken with the curtains of shadows moving aside to reveal the hues of the sandstone beneath. As the sun rose the rock glowed quietly with light chasing the shadows into the curves, caves and crevices.

 

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The purple clouds of night were slowly tainted with the morning glow as Uluru yawned and the light stretched into all but the very deepest fold.

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Now the rock was awake the surrounding landscape began to take on the morning glow with trees and bushes highlighted as the sun once again stole the night from the moon and stars.

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For those of us who were now going to learn more about Uluru and it’s significance to the native Anangu peoples breakfast was a welcome sight. Within the cultural centre where photographs are strictly forbidden ‘for cultural reasons’ in one of the snake shaped buildings we ate with a view of a the now wide awake Uluru. Her highest point is 348m and is described by geologists as a smooth inland island mountain. The first European to view this island mountain was William Goss who named it after Sir Henry Ayers. It is made of pure grey sandstone which, due to it’s high iron content, has oxidised forming a red protective layer. Today it lies within the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park which has been recongnised by UNESCO for both it’s beauty and cultural significance. The ‘ownership’ of the whole area has now been returned to the Anangu who have in turn leased it to the parks authorities. Our Anangu guides gave our small group of six a guided tour of the hunting and gathering tools that have served their people for what may be 30,000 years. In many ways it was like stepping into a time machine and looking back on stone age life where only those materials available to you were your only option. The environment has changed during this time span with the climate much hotter and drier. Yet the availability of fruits, roots, game and water made this a harsh but sustainable life for this deeply spiritual community. Uluru has many stories related to the ancestral beings who created shape out of a flat world so long ago. From the shapes of the rock formations to the hollows and caves there are links to times gone by. Creating stories with moral endings form their oral history which they do still adhere to but allowing some of the benefits and comforts of modern life to seep in. The young guide spoke very passionately about his parents and grandparents experiences and his own hunting adventures – all this while puffing on a cigarette, sipping coke and checking his phone. As we walked around the base of the rock tasting the desert figs and plum swatting away the moisture hungry flies the calm and quiet was almost oppressive. The feeling of awe and majesty is tangible and it is easy to imagine how such a structure could influence a peoples belief and culture. Around Uluru there are areas which are sacred to either men or women. In Anangu culture men and women are equal but have distinctly different tasks to fulfil. From the very basic hunting and gathering to the preparing of medicines, making tools and performing ceremonies. In these sacred areas the plants and materials for these ceremonies are to be found such as the Mulga Acacia which provides the hard wood for hunting sticks and the world renowned epitome of the Australian Aboriginal peoples: the boomerang. However, contrary to common belief, not all boomerangs come back. As it was explained, there are different boomerangs for different jobs. For those Aboriginal people who live at the mouths of rivers and hunt ducks were a low trajectory and less of a hit is needed then a returning light wood boomerang is just the thing. However, for knocking out a kangaroo a much heavier boomerang is needed and you don’t want it coming back!  It was a lovely morning full of sights and sounds. To spend time with the Anangu itself was an honour. They are friendly, keen to share their culture and some of the secrets of the surrounding environment yet are somewhat aloof and in some ways are bewildered by our travelling of vast distances.

 

 

Colours of a Country

If you haven’t flown to Australia from Europe or the Middle East then you have not experienced jet lag. Despite the real treat of being upgraded to first class and all the pampering one receives (perhaps the vintage champagne may have played a small part) I still felt as if had been hit by a truck when I arrived in Brisbane. It was early morning when I arrived and pouring with rain with rain forecast and more rain hanging around. Perhaps if the hotel had not been able to give me a room at 730am I might have adapted quicker or more likely I would have been asleep in their foyer – I had already noted some comfortable chairs in a secluded area. However, they did have my room ready and I was asleep by 8am and did not feel human again until late the following day. Not that the residue of travel had left as despite staying up late and dozing off I was wide awake at 2am. This was actually a bonus when it was time to leave Brisbane as I was on the 630am flight with a pick up of 4am. I set the alarm just in case but I was wide awake and ready to go.

Flight was to Ayers Rock Airport in Australia’s Norther Territory. A dream destination for I don’t know how long. From that first glimpse from the plane coming in to land I was in awe. I did not meet Uluru up close and personal until the following morning, early morning. First it was time to look up into the sky and to the stars above in the unpolluted night sky.

Look through the open eye...

There was still a lot of cloud around when the sun set and the astronomer was dubious about how much we would see but the cloud stayed away enough for the panorama of sparkling suns, planets and nebula to stun us with their collective beauty and individual wonders through some very nice telescopes. The moon, stunning as it was, did have an impact on the viewing as it’s reflected light outshone some of the objects in the sky. However, the iconic Southern Cross was clearly visible just above the horizon with it’s to pointer stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri drawing attention that this was the real cross amongst the many pseudo crosses in the heavens. Alpha Centauri at such a low angle above the horizon displayed the rainbow spectrum of the atmosphere visible when such a interrupted view is possible. Much to my surprise there was Orion’s belt, the whole formation upside down but there non the less. I had expected a whole new vista of stars here in the southern hemisphere but in reality there is only 15% of the night sky which is different. That is at this latitude, it may all look different again at the tip of New Zealand’s south island. Within the consolation of Orion we were able to see the Orion nebula where stars were once born and looking at some of the newest celestial bodies in our visible universe. The red super giant Beetle Juice shone bright reminding us of it’s immense size despite being so far away. Jupiter looked incredible with bands of colour and her four moons all in view. The just visible glitter effect of another distant galaxy was a reminder of just how far we are looking into the past, the very distant past where in this present moment these very stars with their planets and moons may no longer even exist. The thought of just how far space goes has always made my mind go into a panic of lack of comprehension. After having seen the movie of Stephen Hawking’s life I have started reading his book about time which talks about space, the formation of the universe and singularities. Seemed fitting that I should be standing looking at time itself here in the middle of the Australian outback.

 

Colours of Uluru and Kata Tjuta

I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend a silk painting workshop with Ayers Rock Resort’s resident artist Heather Duff. Inspired by the colours of I had seen around me my local design scarf tells the story of sunrise to sunset over Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the landscape surrounding these incredible geographic and spiritual landmarks.

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Transfixed on the sunrising and the colours of the light as it hit the remaining clouds over the red centre of this vast continent drawing attention away from Uluru as she came to life.

IMG_2983 IMG_2985 IMG_2987The gasp of awe as the shadows and light played with brilliant golden reds and scarlets took away from the sun rising itself. The reds to bright oranges as the shadows began to change shapes hiding in curves and retreating into crevices as the angle of light increases. And then all is light, glowing a bright orange, shimmering in the early morning glow. Shadows of trees shorten, shrinking. The colours of the surrounding landscape begin to show: a myriad of greens and browns against the blood red sands. The sky still pale reflecting the rose reds gradually fading into the palest blue.

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The early light shows off the yellow greens of the lush new grasses, the product of the recent rains against the bleeding sands. Contrasted against the darker leaves of the desert oaks and the silver grey of the spinifex. Splashes of different greens come alive as the sun continues to rise bouncing off the many facets of Uluru.

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The blinding reflected light of the gorge lowers and the shadows of the oaks lengthen around Kata Tjuta and attention turns back to Uluru which is a warm deep red soaking up the last rays of the day. As the sun drops the colours deepen, deepen into rich reds and browns.

IMG_3042 IMG_3046 IMG_3047 IMG_3048 IMG_3049 Glowing agains the deepening blue above. As the sky looses blue tinges for delicate lilacs and purples with no clouds to distract the eye Uluru burns in the final rays before succumbing to the black night.