Monday, October 27, 2008

Adventure on the High Seas

Just so we're up front about things, this is Chad - Hi! I do write once and a while, but leave the majority of it up to my lovely wife and her creative talents. However, this particular occasion did not involve Charity, so it's up to me to keep you in the loop....

One of the great Kiwi pasttimes would have to be fishing. Some Kiwis fish for trout in fresh-water, but largely fishing to Kiwis would be salt water - either from the beach or from a boat. I grew up fishing, both from shore and from a boat, but in pretty calm waters and relatively small fish (if any at all ;-) Since coming here I've always wanted to tackle the high seas... I just needed a boat, a rod, a reel, some bait, and even a vague idea of what to do on the open ocean!!! Enter Schneider Electric - our company buys quite a bit of gear from Schneider, so now and again they pass on a choice opportunity to a few guys from Concord (my company). In this case, Schneider hired a charter fishing boat out of Raglan to take about 10 guys out snapper fishing for the day and invited 2 lucky Concord employees to join in the fun - me and Sean. =) So Sean was able to provide the general expertise, including what bait to purchase and from where, as well as provide me with a spare rod and reel. ....NOW we're getting somewhere!

We met down at the wharf at 6:30am to get loaded up and were headed out to sea by about 7:00am.

The forecast for the day was chance of rain and 2-3meter swells.... not so good... but hey, it beats work right! (we went on a Friday =) ....considering the swells and my inexperience with travelling the open ocean a fairly small boat I was a bit nervous about being sea-sick the whole time and frankly I think that work WOULD be better than that! I mentioned it to Sean, and again his experience proved valuable as he was able to recommend some tried and true over-the-counter drugs that would see me through - "SeaLegs" by name.

So with a dose of SeaLegs, some lunch for later and the buzz of excitement on the boat we headed out!

Turns out that the weather so far was looking pretty good considering we kinda expected to be standing in the drizzly rain all day. There was a peek of blue sky and the wind was reasonably calm as we left the sheltered waters of Raglan harbor. We all stood and talked as we trudged on further out to sea - all of us gauging our stomachs for any signs of un-ease in the rolling swell. So far so good for me!

Our parking spot for the day was about 12 miles from shore and at a depth of approx 56m.... not quite the fishing experience I am used to! You could still see land, but if it had been a drizzly day I'm sure you wouldn't be able to see anything but water! To start the day the swell was "only" about 2m. Which basically means that there were times between big waves where you couldn't see the horizon because it was blocked by the crest of a wave. Yeah, neat. With the anchor down we were particularly prone to pitching with the waves, I'm guessing the deck was pitching from about +40 degrees to -40 degrees constantly all day. Sure makes walking around the deck a blast... and don't even get me started on trying to go to the bathroom! In the end I survived the whole day without getting seasick, which was a HUGE blessing, and there were only two guys who did have trouble finding their feet - but they still managed to pull in a few fish which was fully admirable. Here's a few shots of life on the boat:

My workmate Sean who was STOKED to come on the trip and only happy to help me out with gear and advice as the trip progressed.

Aaron, the boat's skipper, carving up a shark that was caught early on. He filleted a few of them for eating, but most of them he just cut to bits and threw them back - nuisance fish I guess....?

One of my catches of the day - Barracuda! They aren't good for anything, but they're GREAT fun to catch!!! ....and they have massive teeth!

I wish I had a better picture of one of these, but this is the best I managed - this is a Gurnard. I think this particular one is the biggest of the day. I caught 3 and two were keepers, and there were another 6-7 caught by others on the boat. They are quite prized for eating and have BEAUTIFUL fins in addition to being bright orange.

....and these guys were the target of the trip - Red Snapper! (the ones on the left....that are kinda bloody) I realized once I got back that I didn't really get a good pic of a live one, so here's a shot of the ice bin where we were loading them all in. The green/white fish on the right is a Kahawai - we kept a few (obviously) but threw back just as many or more. They are decent eating, but basically just get in the way when we're trying to catch snapper!

So here we are back at the wharf with our haul. I'm not sure what the total was, but we just took all the fish that were caught and divided them equally among the guys who came on the trip. I came home with 6 snapper and a gurnard.... which, come to find out, I had to clean myself... always an adventure. =) but I did it and it went pretty well!

The weather did start to pick up later in the day and the ride back towards the harbor was spent riding out 3+meter swells..... yeah.... fun.... =) We also got a glimpse of the maui dolphins that used to frequent the west coast of NZ, but aren't seen as often anymore. They swam right alongside the boat for a mile or so just leading us in to home.

All in all it was a GREAT day - lots of fish, not much rain, and a reasonably settled tummy!

Road Trip! Part Four: The Lighthouse

On our last day we made a point to make the trip out to the East Cape lighthouse, which sits on the Easternmost point of mainland New Zealand, and carries the distinction of being the most Easterly lighthouse in the world. We considered making it a dawn run so we could be among the first people to set eyes on the sun on October 21st, but really it just wasn't that important to us, so we didn't get up until 8 or so.

The way out looked quite promising for adventure from the start: gravel road hugging the cliffs, threatening to subside in places, narrowing to barely one lane in others. It's hard to believe with those conditions that it's such a touristed (nice word, I think I'll keep it) place, but that's New Zealand and the East Coast in particular for you.

Our first glimpse of the lighthouse indicated pretty quickly that there would be something like 700 stairs involved.

It was probably good to work out our stiff surfing and riding muscles from the day before, though it didn't feel like it at the time.

It was built here on East Island in 1900, where the keepers lived in a small settlement of cottages with their families.

22 years of difficult of island life took it's toll on the keepers, and cost three of their children's lives. The danger of cliff erosion finally convinced the government to move it to it's current location (part of East Island is visible in the bottom left corner of this photo).

A lighthouse keeper manned the mainland site until 1985, when it was fully automated and hooked up to a computer in Wellington, at the very bottom of the North Island.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Road Trip! Part Three: Adventure Day

After the relatively sedate day of swanning about the mansion, we decided to liven things up on Monday with some outdoor pursuits.

First on the menu was surfing! While Raglan is known as a top surf spot in NZ for it's consistency and accessibility, Gisborne is certainly no slouch in the waves department. The day dawned bright and warm with an offshore breeze, and the uncrowded waves were gorgeous even close to the sand - less paddling out!

After a stellar session it was time to say goodbye to Gisborne and head up the coast to Tikitiki, and Eastender Horse Treks.

EHT is a small operation run by Reg, a Maori fellow who was quite stoked to be having horse-savvy people coming in.

It was awesomely rough around the edges - my horse's bridle was a bit held on with braided bailing twine - and he encouraged us to ride the horses like they were our own, and that meant pretty much doing whatever we wanted with them. Aww yeeah...

Reg and I racing half-sisters Yokie and East As down the beach

Chad managed to ride a galloping horse and film with his old point-and-shoot at the same time - very talented.

Me with East As and Chad riding Troy

Riding up the river -IN the river. Only limited to how wet you wanted to get (it got deeper later on).

Up on the ridge looking down at the beach where we rode earlier - quite a climb.

Jumping stream beds, all-out sprints, playing tag with the waves, and doing our best impressions of a wild west posse in the hills meant it was way more like a day "horsing" around with a friend than a guided tour. I highly recommend it if you like that sort of thing and are out that way :)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Road Trip! Part Two: Gisborne

The lap of luxury...

As it was my birthday weekend (and I mean that literally - I celebrate October the 19th according to local time in both NZ AND the States), Chad booked us in to a fancy bed & breakfast for two nights in Gisborne.

This elegant, 5-bedroom house was originally built in 1912, and has since been fully and beautifully refurbished by the current owners.

The entryway

Staircase with original stained glass windows on the landing

I opted for the upstairs turret bedroom

Complete with sitting area

and a small gas fireplace.

This came in handy as it was chilly and rainy the second day and most of downtown was closed since it was Sunday. We coped by taking naps, and reading in front of the fireplace. Rough, I know.

We rounded out our bad weather day with a DVD in the lounge:

It was hard deciding which tan leather overstuffed couch (not visible in this pic, obviously) to curl up on.

Both mornings, we were treated to the breakfast side of things:

The crepes and three different kinds of fruit and whipped cream and syrup and lemon honey and juice and tea were a lot to handle between the two of us, but we managed.
(It was a good thing the rest of our trip was a lot more active than the first part.)

So, I am basically in love with the whole Edwardian-era bed and breakfast experience, and Chad got multiple rounds of applause for his charming choice of accommodation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Road Trip! Part One: The Drive

As we approach the two-year mark of living in New Zealand, we decided to revert to behaving like tourists once again by taking a long weekend holiday to the East Cape. This somewhat isolated region is home to fewer people but still chokka with natural beauty and adventure without all the fuss and bother of having to share. It's the first place on the first major land mass to see the sun each morning, as the international date line lies only a few hundred miles to the East.

The relatively long drive was just as much a part of the experience, as Chad and I love road tripping anyway, and in NZ there are always an amazing amount of things to see on the way to anywhere.

A falling rock sign:

And they are not kidding around - Land Transport NZ runs road checks morning and evening from both ends of the Gisborne highway to make sure its not blocked by landslides.

The river that accompanied us partway on our drive, making for some prime and ridiculously scenic sheep farming country.

A tom turkey parading around in front his unimpressed girlfriend.

Strange, suddenly I'm craving seasoned breadcrumbs and pumpkin pie...

Then we suspect we took a wrong turn somewhere near the Indian subcontinent.

Yeah, there's cows on the road. It's how they roll here in the East.

A spot of off-roading. Why? Because we can.

Following the highway along the coast.

An historic church gives evidence to the long history of the area. East Cape is where both Polynesian and European explorers first came ashore on Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I've Been Assimilated

Resistance is futile...

So you may or may not be familiar with the classic 1982 hit song "Down Under" by Men at Work, where we hear the lines :
I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.
While the song has to do with the things and people of Australia, New Zealand has a similar product known as Marmite:

As you can see from the label, it's a "yeast spread". Sounds appetizing already, yeah?

So in brief, back in the day (1870), Napoleon III ordered a million cans of beef from England to feed his starving army. At the time, England was not possessed of this much livestock, so they whipped up a little substance called Bovril - a thick, salty beef extract - to get the soldiers their much-needed protein instead. As it proved to be quite nourishing, a vegetarian version was eventually produced from yeast extracts (a by-product of the beer brewing process, thriftily enough) and christened "Marmite". It's strong, distinctive flavor is reflected in the marketing slogan "Love it or hate it", as people usually fall firmly into one of the two categories. While New Zealand used the original British recipe for a number of years, in true Kiwi style they began fiddling with the ingredients such that NZ Marmite is now its own unique product.

I've tried Vegemite and Marmite occasionally over the years, and always fallen into the "hate it" camp, because frankly, it tastes wretched. Our original Kiwi friend Tim assured me that this was because I wasn't eating it properly: with the thinnest possible scrape across bread, and combined with butter, cheese, and sometimes complimentary toppings like avocado and tomato. But seriously, why you would eat anything that is only marginally palatable in a quarter millimeter proportions?

Especially since it looks like industrial lubricant,

and smells about as good as it looks.

Weeeeeeeell, over the last few months I've been helping out with our church's Mainly Music program, a twice weekly sing-a-long for preschoolers and their mums. We provide snacks for the kids which often include little butter and marmite sandwiches. I figured that was the secret to liking it - infant indoctrination - since most Kiwis quite prefer it to peanut butter (go figure on THAT logic. Weirdos). Since we often work hard and rather near to lunchtime, sometimes I'd have a nibble of whatever might be left on the snack tray, including the aforementioned sandwich monstrosities. This was mostly to test myself to see if I still found them awful, which I did... until a few months ago.

Apparently, like coffee, Marmite can also be an aquired taste. Though I've never actually acclimated to coffee, I began to regard Marmite as less and less horrid over time, until one day I found I was actually craving a marmite-butter-cheese-tomato-and-avocado sandwich for lunch. So the next day I went out and did the unthinkable: I bought my very own whole jar of Marmite. Funnily enough, I found it in a nice tiny size that was probably made for people like me, in case we should come to our senses again, sooner rather than later.

So while I can truly claim to be someone who neither loves nor hates Marmite, I can actually appreciate what a savory smudge can do to liven up a cheese sandwich.

So, your challenge this week is this: I double dog dare you to try it. Oh yes, they do sell it in the States, though Vegemite is easier to find as it's made by good ol' American company Kraft Foods. And while British Marmite, Kiwi Marmite, and Vegemite all look just the same, apparently they each have their own distinct flavor, though you couldn't prove it by me; I haven't gone that native.

Marmite, anyone?