Friday, May 24, 2013

Waihi: the town with a heart of gold

A few kilometres south of the Love Shack is a little town called Waihi, population around 6,600. It lies at the  foot of the Coromandel Peninsula and has an average rainfall of 84 inches, which is only about twenty inches less than the wettest place in Oregon. 
We paid a visit to Waihi a few days before my stay ended. The town grew up around the gold-mining industry in the late 1800's. A fact I didn't know: the Coromandel Peninsula was one of the great gold-mining districts of the world. The first prospectors discovered gold in 1878, but their samples were analysed and deemed to be not worthwhile, so they abandoned their claim. The claim was taken over by William Nicholl a year later and was soon prospering. He named his mine Martha, after a family member, and soon the Martha Mine was one of the most important gold and silver mines in the world.

Waihi was a centre of union unrest in the early Twentieth Century. One of the unionists was killed in the miners' strike of 1912 and, according to Wikipedia, this fact still causes some resentment in the town.
By the time the mighty Martha Mine closed in 1952, almost twelve million tonnes of ore had produced 5.6 million ounces of gold and 38.4 million ounces of silver. About 100 miles of tunnels had been driven into Martha Hill by this time. It closed, not because the gold had run out, but because of fixed gold prices, lack of manpower, and increasing costs.

An influx of hippies to the town in the 1970's brought in cottage industries that helped to supplement the economy of the town. It also brought in alternative festivals, which must have made life interesting!

Mining was resumed in the late 1980's, but now as an open pit over the top of the old underground mines. Several houses in the town had to be condemned and roads closed in the late 1990's as a result of damage caused by the collapse of underground tunnels. Many more properties were condemned and bought by the mine when they were identified as risks of collapse. The mining company, which drives 25-30% of the local economy, has instituted rigorous environmental procedures and shown a commitment to helping those harmed by the tunnel collapses. Nevertheless, I would say that investing in property in the town of Waihi is a dodgy business at best.

The mining equipment is humongous!

Go get your favourite little boy (or big man) and show him this gigantic dump truck.

To give you an idea of the scale of the pit, those little tiny vehicles on the left of the photo are similar to the dump truck above.

We left Waihi for more mining adventures, but I'll save those for another day.

Warning: you may be subjected to random cute baby pictures for a while.
Here is little Victoria, in her glorious chubbiness.

That is all.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Unexpected Journeys: Part II

Betcha thought I was done, huh?

After we left the pigs on the 309, we drove up the coast to Coromandel Town and the Driving Creek Railway. This railway was begun in 1975 by Barry Bricknell. Bricknell was and is a potter (an apt surname, don't you think?) and also a railway enthusiast. He envisioned a narrow-gauge railway that would climb the hills of his 60-acre property, giving him access to wood for his kilns and also the yellow clay that resulted from the weathering of volcanic rocks.

It took fifteen years and a lot of money before the railway was completed and licensed to carry passengers. The train was built at the DCR's own engineering workshop that is located next to the potteries, and today carries more passengers than raw materials. It is one of the most popular train rides in New Zealand.

Although the train ride is more profitable for the business nowadays than the pottery side of things, the whole enterprise is still really about the pottery. There are kilns and pottery everywhere, and the workshop is a Mecca of sorts for potters and glass-blowers from all over the world. Tiles and bricks have been added to the line of late and are selling quite well. My sister was eyeing the bricks pictured at the top of the page and wondering how she could use some.

I won't say the pottery is exactly to my taste, but it is prolific! 
This is also one of the largest collection of kilns in New Zealand, and here you can look into one of them.

So, after several warnings to keep our appendages inside the train, we are off!
The tracks are only fifteen inches wide and we sit two abreast.

The train gains 200 metres in altitude in the 2.6 km ride. That's 656 feet in 1.6 miles, for the metric-deficient amongst us. What is truly awe-inspiring is that Barry built most of this himself, only hiring contractors for the major earthworks. He surveyed the steep land with a homemade instrument and cut miles of tracks through the scrubby land to do it. There are several double-decker viaducts and three tunnels along the track. The feat defies my imagination. 

It was a busy afternoon, and two trains made the trip. We got some good views of the other car as we made some reversals on our switch-backing way up the mountain. 

Thousands of bottles, stabilized by dried mud, line part of the way. It is not a retaining wall, but merely a decorative way to use up the large quantities of beer bottles that were left by the workers. 

The side of the tracks are lined with decorative walls and various pottery statues and vessels.

At the top of the track is the Eye-full Tower.
Funny, I know!
The view overlooks the Hauraki Gulf and valleys covered in native forest.

Looking down on the train from the top of the tower.

The driver of the train had to hop out every now and then to change the direction of the tracks so that we could reverse into our zig-zag. He also went from one end of the train to the other several times to facilitate the same. On the way down, he sat mostly on our end and we had a good discussion about the restoration of the kauri forest that has been taking place for the last twenty-odd years.
These mountains were once covered in the magnificent, gigantic, slow-growing kauri trees, but around the turn of the twentieth century they were cut down for lumber and to make room for farmland. Fast-growing pines took their place, which have gradually been cut down and transported by the railway and used as fuel in the kilns, even as native trees have been carried back up the track and planted in their place.
The tree silhouette in the centre of the photo is a kauri. The oldest of these kauri are now twenty-six years old and about 9,000 of them have been planted. About 20,000 native trees have been planted as part of the reforestation plan.
Barry is a man of considerable forethought, and he let the National Trust take over the responsibility for his land  (although there is no public funding) with the agreement that it can never be sold. 

Back at the station, I couldn't resist a photo of this. 

By the station is a two-acre wildlife sanctuary, surrounded by a vermin-proof fence.
I need me one of those.
We were seduced by the sight and sound of a New Zealand wood pigeon, the kereru, so we followed the trail to the reserve. 
The kereru is a big bird and can live up to twenty years. Most years, they only have one chick, and none if food is scarce. They are important to the ecology of New Zealand. After the moa became extinct, the kereru was the only native bird big enough to eat and thus distribute the seeds of the large fruit of many of the native trees. It is the distributor of the seeds of over seventy native plants.

This kereru is feasting on the fruit of a nikau palm.
Earlier this year, there were reports of many kereru becoming intoxicated after gorging themselves on a bumper crop of fruit. They fell from trees, thus being vulnerable to predators. When they gorge themselves and sit in the sun for long periods to digest their food, the fruit can ferment in their crop and turn into alcohol. This is a fairly common occurrence in the late summer.
True story.

Kereru make a soft cooing sound, rather than a song, and because it is such a big bird, its wings make a loud whooshing sound as it flies. If you hear a bird crashing into a tree as it lands, it is probably a kereru.
You can listen to a kereru cooing and crashing here.

We finally dragged ourselves away from this magnificent bird, who paid not the slightest bit of attention to us, and kept walking. It was a nice little trail around lush vegetation and a pond.

There were a few weird clay sculptures on the way.

And by the time we got back to the parking lot...

...we were the only ones left.

We followed the Tapu Road on the way home, which was no better than the 309. Maybe slightly worse.
But we wanted to see the square kauri, and one must pay the price for such pleasures.
This iconic tree is the fifteenth largest on the peninsula and is estimated to be 1,200 years old.
We reached the tree by a short but steep track, including 187 steps.
No, I didn't count them.
Google is my friend.

The trunk of the tree, as you may have guessed, is strangely squared.

I am fascinated by the mighty kauri.

Back down again... the road, where the sign, as are all signs in this country, is defaced by graffiti.

We realised, in looking back, that we could actually see the tree from the road.

The Tapu Road was long and winding, and it took us much longer than we expected to get home. John was late for a town meeting so we dropped him off at the fire station on our way into town.
And when I say "town", I use the word very loosely.
Anne and I were exhausted. We climbed the hill to the house and went to our respective quarters. I put on my robe and went up to the main part of the house and we laughed when we saw each other. Tired sisters in their robes!

We warmed up some dinner and turned on the television, looking for something to watch.
Imagine our amazement when this came on the screen.
The opening scenes of Prince Caspian.
At Cathedral Cove.

Where, in case you had forgotten, we had been much earlier on that very long day.
Cue the Twilight Zone theme music here.
Beat that for a coincidence!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ Happy Birthday to me ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬

Victoria Bell, born April 8th to Annie and Edwin. A chubby-cheeked little cherub.
The photos are small because email is very unsatisfying, as far as proxy cuddles go.

And London Estelle, born to Charlie and Sam on May 17th.
Who has received lots of very satisfying in-person cuddles in the last two days.

How lucky can a nana be?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A birthday tribute to the little 'un

Today is my little sister's birthday.
Well, it's tomorrow really, only it's tomorrow today in New Zealand, if you get what I mean.
We were born four days shy of three years apart.
Now you're really confused, huh?
During our two short weeks together last month, we spent an inordinate amount of time laughing about our similarities, even though we only lived together for fifteen years. I actually compiled a list so that I wouldn't forget.
Of course I did!
And what better day to unveil this list to the world than on Anne's birthday?

Some of the things have developed simultaneously and we were unaware of the trait in the other. 
Some of them we have introduced to each other, like this one.

Anne is a newly-born fan of Leonard's gravelly, seductive voice, as she should be!

We both love glass objets d'art, including old bottles and jars. One of our favourite pastimes is visiting fine art galleries and, even better, buying some of it. I brought home a suitcase full of pottery and old bottles that we saved from Mum's house when we cleaned it out. And I am totally jealous of these jam jars that reside in Anne's fridge, although I tried not to let it show.

No, there are no sea shells in Anne's fridge, I was just trying to be artsy.

Our penchant for pukeko garden art, and pukeko art in general, has no boundaries.

We adore travel adventures, and luckily our husbands are happy to tag along.

We love to ride in the front of fast, bouncy boats.
But you already knew that.
We dote on our grandchildren to the point of being sickening.
But you already knew that too!

We stomp when we walk, we are the Queens of Google, we love to wear our cuddly robes in the early evening, we burp when we eat apples, we give away money to all kinds of people, we have synchronized hot flashes (only she calls them "flushes", which reminds me of toilets) and we could live on soup and nothing else. As long as we were allowed chocolate, of course.

We never met a recipe we couldn't mess with, and cook more by instinct than measurement, although Anne has taken that principle to an extreme. We love to eat leftovers and never throw away food. We are frugal and responsible and downright annoyingly RIGHT most of the time. 

We love our lives, imperfect as they are, and I am grateful that, considering I wasn't a very good big sister when we were growing up, Anne still seems to love me. And I forgot to leave a birthday present for her, even though she gave me a really nice piece of glass art for mine (which is still in New Zealand, due to my overweight luggage).

My sister bears the lion's share of responsibility for our mother's care, and for that she deserves a medal. 
But all she gets is this lousy blog post.

Happy Birthday, Anne!