Monday, April 28, 2008

Too much travel, not enough SOUP!

Is this what I hear you saying? Could the distant rumble I hear be the combined voices of my ever-loyal readership (of two or three) humbly beseeching change? Does the bread-and-water diet of travel tales I have been feeding you leave you hungry for something with a bit more bite? Something you can sink your teeth into, perhaps? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that your cries have not fallen on deaf ears, my friends. I concur with your findings, and I second the motion for a shift of subject matter. To that end I shall dispense with the camping chronicles (for a limited engagement of one post only) to bring you a delicious, simple, and healthful recipe! =) Hooray! =) (Don’t worry- it’s easy to make, and it goes quite well with bread and water.) Have you ever wondered what to do with all of those pesky broccoli stalks once you’ve stripped them of their tasty florets? Do you hesitate to throw them in the trash (or have a small, broccoli-obsessed child who picks them out of the garbage and demands that you cook them)? And celery- the celery here can be HUGE! What am I ever going to do with all that celery?! It doesn’t even fit in out refrigerator! It turns out that the simple solution to this surplus of stalks is a scrumptious and savoury soup! =) I took the recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks, Cook Vegan by Richard Youngs. It has been tested on both Gordon and Gretchen (my friend Jess’s ex-housemate Amy’s sister who’s staying with us) who gave it two (or four?) happy thumbs up! I hope you will, too! =) If you try it, let me know what you think! =)

Broccoli & Celery Soup

1 ½ tbsp. sunflower oil
1 small onion
2 handfuls broccoli stalks
3 small stalks of celery
2 ½ cups water
2 ½ tbsp. soy sauce

Roughly chop all the vegetables. Over a medium heat, briefly sauté the chopped broccoli and celery in the sunflower oil. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil, cover, turn down heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Liquidize and serve. Yum! =)

Sunday, April 20, 2008


There are all kinds of small (and not-so-small) landmarks dotting the East Coast of New Zealand, from painted caravans on the beach to giant, rusty, 660-metre piers. One of our favourites was this sweet little Anglican church in Raukokore. It was built in 1894 and sits right out by the water on its own little promontory, all by its lonesome… (You can get a better idea of its isolation and picturesque setting from this beautiful photo by Don Smith.) Actually, I suppose it’s not all by its lonesome, as there are penguins who live under it, possums that stop by to inflict damage (go back to Australia, possums!), a steady stream of tourists dropping in, and surely people who go there regularly to worship. But when we were there, we were the only ones around. We didn’t see (or smell) any penguins, and the space was just lovely and clean and sunny and quiet. =) The little church may be standing there all alone, but it doesn’t seem lonely- just peaceful. =)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Big Big Tree! =)

They've got some big trees in New Zealand! This one is special- it's the country's (and most likely the world's) largest pohutukawa tree! It’s 350+ years old and lives in the schoolyard in Te Araroa. It’s about 22 metres high and 40 metres across and has 22 trunks! Here’s a picture of our car underneath it when we visited- it’s massive! They flower from November to January, so if we’d been there a few weeks earlier, it would’ve been covered in bright red flowers and looked like this, only bigger. That's why they call the pohutukawa NZ's Christmas tree. I'll bet this guy would look pretty spectacular all decked out in his finest stamens for the holidays! Pohutuhohoho! =)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Camping a la Kiwi

How awesome is camping in New Zealand? Let's just forget all of the beautiful scenery and wildlife for a minute and focus on the actual camping. First and foremost, New Zealand campgrounds have KITCHENS. That’s right, kitchens. Anyone who’s ever camped in the US and Canada can tell you that it’s strictly BYO if you’re looking for a stove on which to boil your broccoli, but not here! They have kitchens! Not to say that they're all spectacular- some are fancy and newfangled with all the amenities, while others are less impressive, i.e. crooked burners, a fridge, and a kettle. But there’s always a stove, sink, and fridge, and usually far more than one of each (depending on the size of the place), so you can take cold stuff like milk and butter (or soymilk and Olivani!) on the road without having to buy ice for your cooler every other day, and there’s plenty of room for cooking and clean-up without having to step on other campers’ toesies. Some places even supply dish soap and towels, and some will lend you pots and pans if you don’t have any. Awesome. The coolest part is that these things are very standard. We never once had to resort to peanuts and bananas for dinner. Not once. In addition, you can take showers for free. In most places showers are included in the price of the campsite, which, by the way, is generally lower than what you’d pay stateside. None of this inserting another 50¢ when you're wet and cold and your 3 minutes are up! All of these things and more: coin-operated internet and laundry facilities at most campgrounds, prime, close-to-all-the-good-stuff locations, wandering pukekos, and the occasional (but awesome) hot mineral pools and geothermally heated campsites, make it all so easy... It's a pleasure to go camping here in NZ! So come and try it! =) You can even borrow our tent. (Tent offer valid for a limited time only. Some restrictions may apply. Due to high demand Tent may not be available at peak times. Blackout dates apply. Offer not valid outside Australasia. Void where prohibited by law. Help control the pet population; have your pet spayed or neutered.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The East Cape, Part 2

We never did wake up in time to see the sun rise in Gisborne. (You won’t be seeing it, either, as none of the photos here are actually from Gisborne…) As New Zealand’s most easterly city it sees the sun first, so apparently it’s the thing to do. But we’re just not morning people, so we had to settle for enjoying the city’s other fine attractions (at a more reasonable hour). Though put off a bit by its short hours (we had to go back three times- how do they sell anything?!), Muirs Bookshop has a nice selection of new books and a lovely café upstairs. But, seeing as we can’t afford new books (and even if we could it would be tough to buy them from a closed shop), we looked for pre-loved ones. (Seriously, it’s $30-35 for a nice new paperback here!) We were thrilled to find a great used book shop down the road that had everything half price. (They wanted to get all of the extra books off the floor so they could clean the carpets.) Plus it was open, which we tend to like. (I wish I could give this place a decent plug, but I just can’t remember what it’s called! If I ever find out I’ll post it here!) It was a great little place and supplied us with ample reading material for the trip around the Cape. =) Other Gisborne attractions included several close beaches- some rough and great for surfing, others calm and nice for swimming, of which we took full advantage, as one of my summer projects is to maintain a skin tone that suggests I am alive… After a couple of days of city stuff (grocery shopping, hunting down a suitable coffee press for the road) and lazing around on sandy Waikanae Beach, we headed north on Highway 35, the route around the stunning East Cape. =) We stopped at various bays and beaches, most notably Tolaga Bay, where we walked down New Zealand’s longest pier (660m) in all its rusty and deteriorating glory, and finally pitched our tent at Brian’s Place (backpackers accommodation) in Tokomaru Bay. (This is where the photos come in.) The bay is 7km wide and very sheltered; the water is the same surreal turquoise you see all around the Cape. There are only about 465 people there now, down from 5000, most of whom left town when the freezing works (slaughterhouse) closed down in the 50’s. The mass exodus left dozens of buildings unused, falling gracefully into a state of disrepair (some falling more gracefully than others). “Romantically crumbling” says the guide book, and really that’s the way it feels. I don't want to give the wrong impression- the place isn't abandoned or anything! There's still a lot going on there- a thriving arts and crafts scene and that kind of thing. Brian’s Place was awesome. =) It’s not "romantically crumbling," which I say is a plus for accommodation. =) It’s a lovely, big house with lots of beds accessed by a gravel driveway up a steep hill. As you might imagine, the view from the top is great. (Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Here’s a picture.) There are adorable cabins hiding in the hills around the property, as well as an odd, but totally sweet camping patch. Brian is a really cool guy who keeps bees in his van and has his mysterious kiwi appliances (electric kettle) mutilated by American tourists. He has a cat named Nelson (after Nelson Mandela) who couldn’t decide whose lap he liked better- mine or Gordon’s. In the end we both got a lot of cuddling and kneading. =) I love kitties! =) We spent the evening playing cards and drinking beer (soda for me) and played a little table footie with the two other guests (it was a slow night- the night before we got there there was apparently a whole busload of people). The next day was hot and sunny and beautiful [much like myself ;) ], so we spent a good part of the morning soaking up the sun before heading further north to Araroa. Wonderful, relaxing place. If you ever visit Tokomaru Bay, say to Brian for us. =)

Friday, April 11, 2008

The East Cape, Part 1

I love the East Cape. It may very well be my favourite area of New Zealand. Don’t get me wrong, there are no bad areas of New Zealand! This one just stands out in my mind as having some of the most spectacular scenery, as well as a very relaxed feel, friendly people, and unpopulated, pristine, sandy beaches with clear, turquoise water. There aren’t too many tourists wandering around this part of the country, as it is far less accessible than other bits and thus not very practical for those with limited time, but it’s well worth the effort if you have a car (preferably a small one)! There’s really only one way to get around the Cape, which is via the winding and quite narrow Pacific Coast Highway which, as the name suggests, follows right along the coastline, affording breathtaking views of bay after sparkling bay. Around virtually every (hairpin) turn there’s something beautiful to be seen, whether natural (driftwood-strewn beaches; lush, green mountain forests) or man-made (old rusted-out vehicles with flowers growing out of their every crack and crevice). This is the area of the country where Whale Rider was filmed. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean about breathtaking. (If not, go put it in your Netflix queue. It’s fantastic.) The whole place just feels relaxed, laid-back. It’s not something I can explain, really. Maybe it’s the lack of tourists (or people in general)- there’s nothing more sizeable than a small town or village between Gisborne and Opotiki. Maybe it’s the way the sea and sun have slowly taken their toll on the houses and buildings, their paint stripped away, exposing bleached planks of something not far removed from driftwood… Whole villages that look as if they’ve been washed up by the waves basking in the sun, waiting for an evening tide that seems like it could just carry them back out to sea… Maybe it’s just the quiet- the way you can find a place where you’re all alone (without even looking for one) and the only sounds you’ll hear are the crashing of the waves and the calls of seabirds... Whatever it is that makes it so special, it’s an awesome place, and definitely one I wouldn’t mind revisiting someday. =)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Touched by a Dolphin

Hey- isn't Touched by a Dolphin a tv show on some b-grade tv channel like Pax or something? (Geez, Pax! How many reruns of Mama's Family and Highway to Heaven could there possibly be?!) Well, if it isn't a show, it should be! Touching a dolphin is awesome! =) How do I know, you might ask? Well... After Lake Waikaremoana we headed to Mahia Peninsula, a small peninsula on the east coast of the North Island. The drive to our campsite was gorgeous! I was amazed by how beautiful and turquoise and crystal clear the water was! We got there and the people in the camp office told us that there had been a friendly dolphin swimming around in the bay lately. I was thrilled at the possibility of seeing a dolphin, but tried not to get my hopes up. After setting up camp Gordon and I headed out to the beach, where, as luck would have it, we found the dolphin! =) Her name is Moko, apparently, and she likes to hang out in the bays and play with people. =) It was hard to get any good pictures of her because she was so fast- this is about the best we could do. =) The water where she was playing was quite shallow- about waist-deep, so we waded out to meet her and got to pet her a little! =) She even accidentally whacked me in the hip with her tail as she was swimming by! (Usually I'm not a huge fan of being whacked in the hip by big, grey things, but when it's a dolphin it's okay!) Before we arrived she had been playing with a ball and tossing it around with people, but by the time we got there the guy with the ball had left and she had moved on to playing with sea kayaks. She would get up behind and underneath them and push people around like some kind of crazy outboard dolphin motor! (See photo of nice girl we met named Kyla being motored around. We don't know the kid in the red boat, though I'm sure he's also nice.) Moko seemed to be having a great time and was very gentle with everyone. It's amazing to be able to just go to the beach and play with a dolphin!! I love New Zealand! =) It's so much better to meet animals in the wild than to pay to go on some touristy swimming-with-dolphins boat... (But I would've done that if I'd had to!) Sooo... A month had passed since we'd met Moko when we saw her in the papers! She's a hero! =) She saved some whales who were stranded in the bay! You can read all about it here. She's one cool dolphin, man! =) So now I've met (and played with) a wild dolphin! What could be next... penguins?!?!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Waitangi Waikaremoana!

Roadtrip 2008! =) Gordon and I set off for our big camping adventure around New Zealand on the 6th of February- Waitangi Day (a big public holiday that commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and the Maori Chiefs in 1840). Our intentions of an early start were slightly unrealistic- there’s always a lot to do before a big trip- and we couldnt miss one last lunch with Gordon’s folks, so we didn’t get on the road until well past one… We passed through Clive, where the Waitangi celebrations were in full swing (big party and people out on the river in wakas), and after a brief stop in Wairoa for bread and coffee (the local dairy and delightful Café Nina being the only things open on Waitangi Day), we enjoyed a scenic (yet drizzly) drive on the winding, wild-goat riddled, partially-unsealed road to Lake Waikaremoana, inside Te Urewera National Park. (The name Te Urewera, by the by, actually translates to “burnt penis,” referring to the story of a Maori chief who died by rolling over in his sleep while lying a little too close to the campfire. Just a bit of trivia…) Though the main industry in the district is forestry, the mountains around the lake have never been logged, so it remains surrounded by lush, green, ferny native forests- home to many native bird species like the New Zealand pigeon (pictured here) and the morepork, a cute little owl who has a very distinctive call that sounds like he’s asking for more pork, when actually all he’s trying to do is keep the pesky humans from sleeping. (These claims may be completely unsubstantiated by conventional ornithology, but circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that depriving tenters of much-needed beauty sleep is the morepork’s raison d’etre.) By the time we arrived at the lake the sun was about to set, and it was so overcast that the lake was very dark and quite eerie. Though its name is Maori for “sea of rippling waters” there were no ripples to speak of; it was a big, black, mirrory cauldron- amazing. The rays of light that did manage to slip through the clouds made it even more spooky- stunning, really. The first night was a good test of our sleeping bags and thermals- it was raining and COLD. The second night was more of the same, but owing to our uphill hike into the bush and to our previous night’s experience enjoying the pleasing calls of the local birdlife (“We don’t have any more pork!!! We’re vegetarians!!! Go to sleep!!!”), we were well-nigh asleep on our feet, so we slept like babies. =) The weather was never great during our stay, but the dark and damp made the lake look weirdly spectacular, the creepy effect only intensified by the group of black swans we observed gliding around after an afternoon shower… By the time we were ready to make tracks on day three, the sun had come out just in time for us to hit the road, and we got previously unimaginable views of what was actually a bright blue lake in the sunlight as we made our way out of the park... It's fun to be camping again, and Te Urewera was a great start to what promises to be an awesome adventure. =)