Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16th, 2009 - Awaroa Lodge to Punakaiki, New Zealand

Leaving Abel Tasman, we stopped for breakfast in a cool town called Moteuka. The northern end of the island is the “fruit basket” of New Zealand and the towns are based around agriculture. At the same time, they've attracted an “artsy” crowd (read: hippies). The result is a nice mix of a real functioning town with a lot of cafes and studios, although it sounds like the ideologies of the more traditional locals and the more liberal newcomers don't always line up.

From there we drove south down the west coast between the Kahurangi National Park (huge compared to Abel Tasman but for some reason not on the list of attractions for our trip) and the Nelson Lakes National Park. Every 20 minutes or so, John would pull down the gooseneck driver's microphone and flip a switch on the radio to mute the iPod to tell us some information or a story that the scenery had reminded him of.

On another drive, we had learned about the Moa, a 3 meter tall (try to keep up, Americans, that's around 8 feet) relative of the ostrich that had been hunted to extinction by the Maori. Compared to the chickens they had brought with them when they settled the island, when the Maori saw the Moa, they thought they'd hit the jackpot. At the time there were literally millions of the giant birds and the Maori started hunting them like there was no tomorrow. In the process, it seems they brought another bird species to extinction as well, a huge eagle with a 3-4 meter (I'll let you figure that one out) wingspan that legend said would swoop down and carry Moas away by the neck, that is if they couldn't find any unattended children. Fear of competition and responsible parenting demanded that they were killed.

We took some nice hikes along the coast on the way down with John often walking in halfway with us only to run back and move the bus to the end of the trailhead to meet us from the other side. Cush. Saw some more seals playing in a pool that would churn and boil every time a big wave came in. They'd ride it around like a washing machine, having a great time. Saw a Weka, around a foot tall and solidly built but flightless like a large number of New Zealand's native birds. Actually, somehow there was only one mammal (a bat) and no snakes when New Zealand separated from the main southern landmass leaving the fifty-something bird species pretty much without predators. The result is a lot of flightless birds and birds with, as John would say, “pretty lax nesting habits.”

From 2009-01-18 Australia and New Zealand

From 2009-01-18 Australia and New Zealand

Question: Why don't they sell all these sweet 4x4 Toyota and Mitsubishi vans in the US. A lot of them are set up as campers and would be the perfect festival/roadtrip vehicle.
At the end of the day, we set up a BBQ in a turnout in front of one of the small, deserted beaches which appear around every turn. Very nice except that it was also our first west coast welcome from the sand flies. Apparently, the Maori word for sandfly translates to “bastard.” We were told that the bite doesn't hurt immediately and if you didn't scratch it, it would pretty much go away. Well that's easier said than done and in no time, we were swarmed by the tiny black bugs and each doing our own unique swatting and evasion dance. Back on the bus and scratching already, it was easy to see why it's said that these things have driven people insane.

From 2009-01-18 Australia and New Zealand

From 2009-01-18 Australia and New Zealand

In the hotel that night, we saw the news reports from New York about the pilot who had hit a flock of birds, lost both engines, and put the jetliner down safely in a river with no deaths. Pretty amazing.

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