Month: February 2016

Coasting

January 31st – February 12th 2016

Didn’t have a shower for a week. What I HAVE done is: reconnected with nature; bathed in some of our country’s most wonderful beaches and rivers; taken the dogs on at least one off-lead walk every day (sometimes whole days exploring new places); marvelled at some of the most untouched parts of this land we call home; and been given new faith in people. Welcome to New Zealand’s East Cape.

This was a holiday, pure and simple. Not the search for freedom this blog is about, but freedom nonetheless. With wars and poverty constantly overshadowing so many lives, it’s important to take a moment to remember that.

Did a tiny little Work Away placement for a few days, but mostly just relaxing on beaches. No mobile reception. No internet. And my solar panels weren’t really getting enough charge to the caravan battery after depleting it nearly completely in Whakatane. Pretty lo-fi. Bliss. Turns out it was perfectly timed over two long weekends (Auckland Anniversary Day and Waitangi Day) so I guess that’s as good an excuse as any.

First up: a happy place. Up there with the areas surrounding Whangarei, the areas surrounding Whakatane took my heart. If you ever get the chance, the drive from Ohope to Opotiki is one to be savoured. Beginning with the beautiful town of Ohope and its spectacular beach, you’re then treated to alternating scenic coastline and forest parklands. That’s just the beginning….

After Opotiki, you’re launched back into the past as you traverse the coastal clifftops and bays. Looking out over a deep blue ocean, the roads are bordered by a rugged mountain range as wild as any you will see in the country. You pass through small towns and as marae after marae go by the side windows, you are reminded that this land was peopled long before colonial “civilisation” came to it. Out East, it is still very much predominantly Maori.

Our first destination was to be the camping ground at Maraehako. Unfortunately, despite the picturesque setting and my desire to set up camp, the “No Dogs Allowed. Sorry” sign meant a slight change in plans. Even more unfortunately, we’d just passed an amazing Free Camping spot in a bay just outside of Te Kaha. However, it was far enough back that we weren’t about to backtrack, so it was on to Waihau Bay.

Average. That pretty much sums it up for me. To be fair, it’s really more of a fishing boat launch kind of bay and for that it seemed great. In fact, there was a fishing competition on that day and some of the catches were pretty impressive. Being a vegetarian, I wasn’t really in it for the fishing. There was a place allowing caravans though as well as a restaurant/bar and as it happens, the filming locations for the movie “Boy”. It served its purpose. Given the chance to do it over though, I’d definitely stop at the bay by Omaio/Te Kaha.

The next day was a similarly impressive time warp of a drive through rural towns and breath-taking views out from the clifftops. In particular, Lottin Point had a wee spot I’d have liked to head down to, but I didn’t back the Tauraus and the trailer to suffer the road, so we just carried on right through and past Hick’s Bay and WAAAAY out East. Nearly as East as is possible to go on land. The reward was priceless.

The East Cape Campground (fee charged by ‘honesty box’, which I love) was one of the most serene places I’ve ever been. All you will hear out there is the constant roar of the Pacific Ocean rolling in to the shore of a long stretch of sandy beach punctuated by the occasional mooing of a local cow. By chance, the new local cop, Jason was doing his rounds just in time to help me pop up the camper walls and have a short yarn about camping and rural policing before leaving me and the pups to enjoy the whole place to ourselves before a few others arrived later on.

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Enjoying the East Cape Campground

Ended up staying out there for another day and night just to enjoy the peace and quiet. Whipped out my copy of “A Field Guide to Native Edible Plants of New Zealand” (Andrew Crowe) (link to book in Fishpond.co.nz) for the first time and started taking baby steps toward paying closer attention to the living world around me. To be honest, I failed miserably at identifying much, but I did find some Beach Spinach  (link to info)-> pretty tasty actually- to try with dinner and roasted up some Native Scorzonera root (link to a similar plan root)  -> disgusting. Don’t bother- to have with breakfast. While I was at it I had a scrounge around for some Plantain, which I had recently learned was a super cure for mosquito and sand fly bite itchiness as well as for bee sting pain. Little things like that may one day add up to really understanding nature and working with what she provides. Little random side note: although I’m not overjoyed to be reintroduced to sand flies, (and maybe it’s just me) but I find I feel their bite WHILE they bite whereas, I usually only feel mosquito bites after they’ve finished. Bad luck for the sand flies.

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East Cape Lighthouse- (Nearly) The most eastern point in New Zealand and the first place to see the new day as the sun rises

Next was the obligatory stop off at the East Cape lighthouse. It’s a nice view and a good walk… up several hundred stairs but I didn’t feel like hanging around for long. The drive along the south side of the cape was a lot of farm land and winding roads. Nice too, but I just kinda ploughed through until the first camping opportunity I felt like taking. That was Waipiro Bay. Along the coast in the Gisborne District Council area, there is apparently a permit system for ‘free’ camping… of which I was not aware until after travelling all the way down the hill to the beach. Luckily the council office was right at the top of that hill in Te Puia Springs, so it wasn’t that bad. But save yourself the hassle and get yours online at their website. To be honest, if your conscience allows, you could easily just not get one. No one was checking. Great spot. Waipiro Bay was a quiet and relaxed beach far from any real settlements which has a local dog in attendance throughout most days (“Miss Pitty” to me). Very friendly girl, who got along really well with my dogs and a great ambassador for bull breed dogs everywhere.

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Piccolo checking out the beach with his friend “Miss Pitty” at Waipiro Bay

As we passed the next few freedom camping sites, I decided to keep going. Nice places, but just a little too close to major roads/towns for my current feeling (and my dogs’ safety). Tolaga Bay was a nice surprise. We stopped at the Kaiaua Bay camp site which was also nice. Great view across the bay at Tolaga Bay’s famous pier. It is indeed a very long pier.

www.discover-the-world.co.uk
Photo Credit: http://www.discover-the-world.co.uk

The highlight for me was the really friendly local attitude toward me as a visitor. Now this is significant. There are a few places in New Zealand, which seem to have developed a reputation for local Maori being hostile to visitors and white visitors in particular. The East Cape is one of these. For what my two cents is worth, I’d just like to put it out there that this was the absolute OPPOSITE of what I experienced on my trip. Tolaga Bay especially, was one of the most welcoming communities, I’ve come across. The local pub’s Friday night entertainment, a bilingual jazz band called ‘Wakakura’ (link to their Facebook) was also a treat. I went to bed feeling optimistic about the world and people in Tolaga Bay- and it wasn’t the beers I had either, as I only had two 😉

Gisborne was a WWOOF at a rural “Cattery”. I was under the impression I was going to a cat boarding facility. I was wrong. Turns out this was a cat (Bengals and Maine Coons) “breeding” operation also “breeding” working dogs (Bearded Collies). As many of those who will read this know, I come from an animal welfare/shelter background, at which a fairly high proportion of animals arrive in some part due to irresponsible breeding practices (although there are many, a good yard stick would be whether a breeder has buyers for the kittens or dogs BEFORE breeding the animals- a responsible breeder does). I put “breeding” in quotation marks because I think of it more as animal “pimping”. I wasn’t particularly impressed. However, my hosts were nice and I decided to give it a try since I was there anyway. To cut a long story short, I courteously enjoyed my hosts’ hospitality, completed my WWOOF jobs and took what I could from the experience. This included lessons on how to milk, dress and butcher a goat. I also took the opportunity to watch DVDs about a currently popular school of thought on working/herding dog training that they happened to have on hand at home. Ultimately though, I felt it best to leave as soon as I could find another placement, more suited to my interests. So that’s what I did.

On the way to my next placement, it seemed a waste not to use the last couple of days on the freedom camping pass. So, off the dogs and I went to Donneraille Park. What an awesome decision! This place is about halfway between Gisborne and Wairoa and it is magical. After dropping off the main state highway at the top of a hill, you descend into a river valley with sheer white cliff faces and dusty gravel roads. Two days were filled with near silence and bathing in surprisingly warm river waters. The one downer was that I realised that “Yes, my caravan battery IS stuffed”. (Le sigh). Turns out if you let a car battery run dead, it can’t be revived (or at least I don’t know how- please get in touch if you have any tips). Still, that wasn’t gonna get me down. A relaxing wind down period, well enjoyed.

At Wairoa, although I was only passing through, it was striking how pleasant the atmosphere was. It’s a nice little spot. Well worth a visit if you like that small town vibe. In fact, it may be a place to return to when I have a little more time. For now though, I bought some lunch, a new 12V battery for the caravan and a new a ukulele. And now on to Turangi, to experience one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had of life and how it can be.

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Whakatane

January 23rd – 29th 2016

The following is a chronicle of the time I walked into the crater of an active volcano, had a major revelation in my TinyHouse future and just might have found my new home.

Like many medium-sized New Zealand towns, Whakatane has all you might need but if you blinked, you could miss it. Steeped in rich Maori history, Whakatane speaks of the very troubling story of our young Commonwealth nation. Ancient disused Pa sites and ‘confiscated’ land exist side-by-side with the modern version of life set out by a colonial society. Impressive Maori engineering beside modern day tourism ventures designed to profit from nature’s loss.

Whakatane’s homestay is a Work Away placement (as opposed to a WWOOF). It was helping a semi-retired person do a renovation on an investment property she’d just bought… in short, it was supporting just the kind of venture that creates the economic sieve of the ‘rent trap’ as we know it. It’s the type of venture which we have made ok so that people are left with no option but to throw their hard-earned wages into someone else’s retirement fund and making it near impossible to create any financial wealth/equity in their own lives.

Despite that little rant though, I’m actually not bitter about it. It was a great chance to watch someone’s creative vision become a reality and to actually be part of making it happen. That is the way I chose to experience it. It was a chance to enjoy some of the quirks of our little, young country too. Like how things like this gem still exist in people’s homes not as an interesting character addition, but in line with other oddities bygone era. Things that are simply there because they’ve not been updated.

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Would’ve definitely bought this and scrubbed it up if I had a place to put it… and a way to get it there.

Alas, it was due to be updated now. Along with some simple removals, substitutions, groundwork and rearrangements, the property looked like a whole new place by the time I left and they were still only about halfway. It’ll be interesting to see how it looks when it’s finished. It inspired me and reminded me of my goal to develop a permaculture property some day. Geoff Lawton inspired me in a similar way with his production “Designing 5 Acres for Abundance”. Worth a look if you get a chance.

While it was not ideal ethically, there’s no point denying that is the reality of how people are buying their freedom these days. The rich DO get richer. May as well use that. Logistically too, the dogs didn’t have much chance to stretch their legs at the house we stayed at, we were just parked up on the nature strip out the front of a footpath, rather than in a yard. However, they were able to come out during work times to the renovation site, so they still got to be involved and active.

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The massive benefits were definitely my host and her son being awesome. Very welcoming and friendly. It makes all the difference when you feel like a welcome house guest rather than the hired help. The food too was amazing. We delicious meals that Janet just threw together out of random health foods she likes to add/mix. It all tasted great and was very nutritious to boot.

On that note, food actually inspired a paradigm shift for me. During the latter half of the week, a French couple came to join in the work. One of whom is vegan. She mentioned a vegan cheese she could make out of cashew nuts which was quite nice. Having tried other vegan cheeses and being less than impressed with the consistency (especially when melted), taste and/or price, I was keen to try it. Turned out that it more of a cream cheese but there were variations to make hard, cultured cheeses too (If you’d like to try it, all you need do is ask. I have the recipe). It also tasted AMAZEBALLS and was relatively affordable. PLUS the required ingredients keep really well without refrigeration. This last part is the key point.

Tasty cheese (or ‘Cheeze’ as the recipe put it) which doesn’t do harm to other beings in its production is pretty cool by itself. Not being one for fad diets, I’ve never really given the ‘raw food movement’ much time or thought. Nutritionally, I still won’t. If it works for you, that’s great. Doesn’t seem like a bad thing… it’s just not for me. Practically however, there is a lot to be said for it in a life downsize and reduction in dependencies, consumption and spending.

I can only speak for myself on this really but for me, this whole thing is about rethinking habits and assumptions. The root of it all comes down to questioning beliefs and asking oneself what it really required or important. Freedom is really about making those things a priority and shaping a life around them.

Here I got thinking how I could incorporate a blender into my very low fi electrical set up. Even changing a blender over to DC power would still draw far too many amps to be practical. So I looked toward manual options. Why is this a revelation? Here’s the thing, it got me thinking about how we create flavour in our foods. A blender opens up a whole heap of options for combining flavours and changing food consistency without the need for heating or cooling. It also therefore means less need for energy consumption and spending. If we can learn to make flavoursome, varied foods without the need for external energy sources, we both become more connected to the process of making food and considerably reduce our need for consumables. Those sound like key principles of sustainability to me.

Failing to secure an onward WWOOF/WorkAway, I decided to take a regular holiday after Whakatane. So I put my tourist hat on before I left and went out to White Island… because, you know, that’s the best thing to do when: 1) a cyclone has just blown through; 2) the area (a neighbouring town, Edgecumbe, being to one of New Zealand’s largest quakes) has had a couple of earthquakes over the last few days; and 3) the week before, the company you’re travelling with had a boat burst into flame, fully evacuated mid-sea and sink to the sea floor (these things all actually happened too- no exaggeration).

There were a few bumps in the road on the boat ride over causing several people to relive their breakfast (not me, although I’ve felt better). But the payoff was pretty spectacular. It’s a pretty surreal thing to walk inside a volcano knowing it has erupted during your own lifetime (some might say a bit dumb). And the water out there! Man, it was beautifully clear and not as cold as I’d expected. I decided to have a cheeky wee swim off the side of the boat while we waited for the others to get ferried back and it was wonderful. With that, I shall leave you with a photo form the trip