Monday, December 10, 2018

Back in the Water! Time for some fun around Whangarei

[Kyle]I had hoped our Going Back in the Water day would be an easy one – Splash, go to the marina a couple of miles up the river, done. Not so. The first part went pretty much as planned, but then once we got to the marina, Maryanne hinted that she wanted to go back to get the car and then get a few more jobs done so we could focus on having fun on the weekend. I opened my mouth to protest, but then she offered to do it herself while I cleaned all of the accumulated yard grime off of the boat. We both knew that even though I didn’t feel like it, I was not going to be able to stop myself from doing that anyway, so I wisely shut my mouth back up before making any sounds, grabbed a bucket and handed her the keys. She arrived a couple of hours later with a cart full of provisions to a newly cleaned boat. Now we can relax.

Back at the Marina with a nice clean boat and jobs completed, we are reminded it is Christmas time

Except that she was fed up of doing “jobs” and wanted to go for a walk in the park. Ordinarily, I’m all for that, but after a week and a half in the yard, I had gradually become so sore that standing in the park was all I was feeling up to. In the end, we compromised and settled for a slow limp through the park. Whangarei has some very nice parks and I have to admit it was nice to be out in the grass instead of the yard’s ubiquitous gravel. Plus, there are occasional ice cream shops.

Somehow, we lost our trail and ended up walking through an industrial area as a short cut home. I couldn’t help but notice there were a lot of people standing in groups outside of the various businesses, each holding a beer. Huh‽

I looked at my watch. It was quitting time on a Friday, so everyone was out at their place of business popping a coldie with the boss. What kind of a backward country is this? Don’t they know you’re supposed to flee from work, pop a coldie at the bar and then complain about your boss all night?

We spotted one place across the road that looked like a pretty interesting bar and walked over. Nope, it was just another boss handing out beers to his workers at the super cool bar he built at the back of the shop. When we tried to apologize and excuse ourselves, he insisted we come in and help him and his friends empty his fridge.

Cozy and welcoming (with a fridge full of beer) at Wayne Douglas's amazing BeerBowser factory
Last two pictures are from his website and show the great detail of just one of his creations.

His name was Wayne and the shop was his. Not only was it Friday at his shop, but Wayne just finished a seventeen day course of cancer treatment with an all clear, so there was extra to be happy about. He showed us around his shop, Beer Bowser, which he opened a few years ago after deciding he was spending too much time working for others. Now he spends all day working with his son instead of missing him.

What is Beer Bowser? Whatya mean? It’s in the name. He builds beer bowsers. A bowser is what Aussies, Kiwis and apparently some Brits call those old fashioned gas pumps from the mid 1900s. Wayne makes beautiful replicas of them in the form of refrigerators and cabinets for that perfect nostalgic addition to an upscale man cave or well appointed heated garage. He’ll even do them so that the ‘fuel’ nozzle pipes into a keg in the fridge. Any bar with a couple of these things would make their money back in a week. Oh, if only we had the means and the space…

Wayne had decorated his bar with lots of interesting things and we would have happily stayed all evening exploring it and yucking it up with him and his friends, but we were beat from being in the yard and it was all we could do to stay awake. We bid adieu and finally returned home. We just managed dinner before we were fast asleep.

Maryanne and I agreed there would be no wake up alarms of any kind whatsoever on our first day back in the water, even if it was bright and sunny and even if Maryanne just remembered a bunch of things she forgot to put on one of her lists. Well, it did turn out to be beautiful outside, but we both managed to sleep in until seven, which was WAY late for us lately. Perhaps fully was a stretch, but we were definitely better rested, so we headed off for a day of real tourism.

We started with Abbey Caves. These are three caves set on a beautiful property up in the hills above Whangarei. The walk through the woods themselves would have been worth it, just for the amazing alpine views across the meadows to the sea, but then there are the caves!

Abbey Caves, a beautiful walk in the country to three separate caves filled with glowworms

We did the route “backwards” and started with Ivy Cave. After a bit of a scramble down the entrance, we followed the course of an underground creek as it led through the cave. It was amazing geology. The creek had carved the rock into a long grotto of smooth faces. At one point, we grit our teeth and waded through cold, chest-deep water to get to a big chamber on the other side. There, we switched off our headlamps and the cave walls turned into a starscape of green lights. The lights were being given off by glowworms, which are not in fact worms, but fly larvae who emit the light to attract prey. They only exist in New Zealand. Their effect is stunning. In the otherwise perfect darkness of a cave, the lights look like the night sky on a perfectly clear night. The effect is so powerful that I instinctively started picking out constellations. I even managed to find Orion.

It was good that we did Ivy Cave first, which turned out to have the deepest water. We had no trouble wading our already wet legs through Middle and then Organ Caves. Organ cave was especially incredible. It went on and on for ages. Every time we thought we had made it to the end, we would follow the water around another corner to an opening that widened up into another cavern. At one point, when we thought we really were at a dead end, Maryanne noticed a route up through the waterfall ahead of us. It turned out we had only been about halfway. We carried on and on until we finally made it to a dead end chamber where we could wade through waist high water to stand on an ankle deep rock in the middle. There, the glowworm lights were brightest and closest together than anywhere else in the caves. After switching off our headlamps, we lingered a while to let our eyes adjust. Just like the night sky, dimmer and dimmer lights slowly revealed themselves in the dark spaces between the bright ones. The effect was actually cooler than the night sky because of the 3D effect. As we moved through the caves, the shape of the ceiling became clear. It was easy to tell which places were higher and which were lower. Around every corner, a new field of lights would emerge, showing the shape of the tunnel. While all of this was going on, there was the constant background noise of the many waterfalls echoing through the cave. It wasn’t quite bright enough for us to venture too far without using our lamps, so we would turn them on, venture into the next room and then repeat the whole process anew. The whole time we were there, we were the only ones in the cave, so we were able to take the time to really enjoy it.

After Abbey Caves, we went to the Quarry Gardens, where an industrious group of volunteers converted an old quarry into a little piece of paradise.

Whangarei Quarry gardens (and teashop)

From the Quarry Gardens, Maryanne wanted to see someplace called The Rose Garden, which was supposed to be nice as well. Our GPS took us to the Rose Garden Rest Home. That was nice, too, in its way, but we were beginning to get nervous looks from the curtain twitchers, so we left.

We still had some day left, so Maryanne booked us a couple of seats at the planetarium, where we got a very informative tour of the zodiac constellations in the night sky. I learned not to feel bad for having difficulty finding Libra. The guy said everyone has trouble with that one.

We would have called it a night, like sensible people, but then we remembered Dave’s band was playing at the Butter Factory. The Butter Factory is actually a really cool bar, but, like all things in New Zealand, it has to be named after what it was originally. It was a butter factory. Dave is the guy at Norsand who put us back in the water. His band, Mermaid Bait, was playing their last local gig before going off to be world famous super stars. Dave was on the first night of his one month vacation, just in case. He’s the drummer. We’d had a bit of a long day, so I’m sorry to say we didn’t make it until the end of their set, but at least we can say, “We knew them when…”.

Claphams National Clock Museum included a guided tour before we were able to just amble around (Note the sundial outside)

Whangarei Botanical Garden and Fernery, it was small but fascinating
It was also free, and every nook was dotted with 'free books to take' or a table with chess set setup - it was splendid.

The next day, we tried to get all of the things done we had missed the day before. We didn’t find the Rose Garden, but we found a very nice Botanic Garden and Fernery. We also made it to the Kiwi and Heritage Center. It was surprisingly empty for a nice weekend, but we did get to see Ben the Kiwi. Kiwis are nocturnal and skittish, so we will probably not see one in the wild. Ben is in a big enclosure where the day/night cycle is reversed and there’s an infrared camera in his nest box, so you can tell when he’s popped outside. That bird is just two big drumsticks and a beak, which makes him surprisingly fast. He also has good camouflage and finding him in the dark is still hard. Even with all of the help, it feels like an accomplishment to see him. I’m glad we did. You can’t go to New Zealand without seeing a kiwi!

Kiwi North and Heritage Center included an extensive indoor museum and lots of native animals (geckos, Kiwi, weta, etc) to view in real life. Outside was a large compound of historic settlement homes, prisons, workshops, etc.

After returning the car, we had time to walk the Hatea River trail from Whangarei waterfalls, and through some lovely fern forest

We had some time the next morning before the tide was favorable for the trip down the river, so on the advice of Cap’n Fatty, we went for breakfast at the Salt Café. Fatty said that if I get the French Toast, my last words would be, “Tell my Cardiologist I died happy!”. The excellent coffee they had got my heart going again, so no worries there.

A Huge, huge THANK YOU to our sailing friends David and Lyndon for providing the loan of the car and making all this crammed adventure possible and easy. It was a blast. AND next time we see you we need to get a better picture!

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