Dusting and De-Rusting

Night road at Pukahu

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As I sit here in our apartment writing this I’m wearing a mint colored shirt with an owl on it that someone who’s followed our photo sets might recognize. It was my favorite shirt before we left for Iceland in May 2011 and the accompanying preferential treatment I gave it while we traveled is probably the reason I’m still able to wear it today – the only one of the four I had with me that’s really still fit for public.

I don’t bring this up because it really matters, I bring it up because every time I wear this shirt I’m reminded of our Wanders. The people, the places, the sights and sounds. I’ve been thinking about it all a lot lately for several reasons, not least of which because writing up the end of our time in NZ has, quite literally, been on my to-do list for the better part of two years now. Part of the reason is certainly wrapped up in a lot of future-inspired past-reflections (follow that?), and part is the ever present itch for finding and/or creating a little adventure here and there. But a part of it is, finally, a bit of a routine setting in. It’s been well over a year and a half since we got back to the U.S. and only in the last six months would I say it has really begun to feel like we’re in some sort of routine life again. It’s a bit strange but I find little everyday moments constantly flashing me into vivid memories of this or that place where we were but aren’t right now. It happens, literally, every day. 

We’re in Seattle, Washington, USA. I should say that because this, right now, is also an adventure and so far it’s been an up and down one with its own set of twists and turns that are all same same but different from Ban Lung or Berlin. It’s hard to say, sometimes, if we really truly live here or if it’s just an extension of Wonder Wander – a place we’ve set down for awhile to explore more in-depth. It’s sort of dreamlike in that way, when I let myself drift in the thought of it all, but it’s a beautiful city in a stunning part of the country so maybe it doesn’t really matter.
What I sat down to write about isn’t where we are, though, but where we were. New Zealand. Specifically, our final month on the north island before returning stateside. That post is coming, I promise. I can feel it getting closer. And I can feel new life stirring for this blog – a new adventure that needs its space, picking up where this first incarnation of Wonder Wander is leaving off. That’s a good feeling.

Mind The Gap

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Holy cow.

Here’s what happens when we travel for awhile – diligently blogging and uploading photos and keeping up an online presence as best we can – then land back in the motherland to some amazing familiar faces with warm hugs and homes: nothing. Nothing happens. No blogging, no photos, nothing.

That doesn’t mean, though, that we’re done with this. In fact, as far as we’re concerned, the Wonder Wander adventure is still in full swing, and we’ve been keeping notes. We’ve got the final (amazing) month of our time in New Zealand coming down the pipeline, as well as a little recap of some of the adventures the U.S. has afforded us as we make our way back to New Jersey and attempt to plan a wedding en route. So this isn’t really a post as much as it is a statement of intent to get back on our digital documentary horse just as soon as we can find the saddle. Apologies for the delay – no good adventure should have gaps like this.

Northland Bound

One of the unforeseen benefits of travel in a vintage car – or at least in OUR vintage car – is the slower pace of speed. Perhaps, also, it is just that everyone around us, in their Japanese import, is whizzing along a few (or twenty) km per hour over the limit, causing them to pass us in droves.

By the time we found ourselves on North Island roads headed towards the Waitomo Caves area, we were fully comfortable in the Sunday cruising mode. It allowed a little more time to gaze at the horizon, flora and expansive paddocks. Speaking of which were every bit as gorgeous, calm and colorful as those of the South Island. Countless mention was made to spend more time in the South Island, as it has more to offer and is more beautiful. We are not convinced of this, necessarily. Perhaps there are more specific viewpoints and vast landscapes and mountains, but there is a whole other world of worthwhile landscape on the North Island routes as well.

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In Waitomo Caves we had a much needed and incredible stay in a friend’s sister’s gorgeous home, view pictured above. Time cooking meals in the kitchen, reading while it poured for a day and an afternoon finding our way through the pitch-black of the caves the town is named after with a bunch of other adventurous folks. Picture, if you will, us at 9am, wrangling our way into some cold wetsuits, booties and helmets with headlamps, jumping in a river butt-first to test the chill of the water and clambering down into darkness to be greeted by the sparkling ceiling lit by glowworms. As our lovely guide explained, the glow which inspires such dreamy awe and wonder is really just the last ditch effort of the maggot attached to the cave ceiling, it’s bum alight to attract insects for feeding; then they mate and die. Magical, really.

Really, though, it was loads of fun. Next we headed up to Northland for our final work-stay at a permaculture residence in an eco-village in Kaiwaka. Bring on the vegetables and compost!

Masterton

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In a country like New Zealand, where the population sits at somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 times as many sheep as people, it’s reasonable that there would be sheep shearers around every corner. Combine that with the natural human tendency to compete and it just makes sense that you’d also find sheep shearing competitions, which is exactly what Casey did in the Hokitika public library. Randomly perusing a book, Shear Hard Work by Hazel Riseborough, she noticed continuous mention of Golden Shears and the competition in Masterton. A little bit of research further let us in on the little secret that not only was the competition happening during the time we’d be passing north from Wellington, but the day we were reading about it was also the last day to write or fax (yes, fax) in for tickets. So we did.

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What made it a double win was that this year the Golden Shears competition (annual) was also hosting the World Championships – next to occur in Ireland in 2014. Excellent. Think World Cup. Think Olympics. Think athletes from 25 different countries descending on New Zealand to prove their abilities on the world stage. Then tone it down a bit (a lot) to a community gymnasium in a little town with not a whole lot else going on.

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The morning half of the competition included several NZ-centric rounds, all part of the Golden Shears part of the event, though no less exciting than what was to come later. We got our feet wet watching some machine shearing heats (listen above) followed by the surprisingly tense and exciting (seriously) wool pressing championships, first team, then solo men’s. In the team event, the local Goodyear brothers, Jeremy and Vinny, went against two guys from the South Island and won by a mile. In the solo event, it was 7x Champion Jeremy vs. the younger Vinny. What is a wool pressing event? It’s readying the baler, piling in 160kg of raw wool by hand, cinching it down, properly securing the bale and removing it. Typing that just now doesn’t begin to illustrate it, but watching them actually do it, there’s no question they’re every bit athletes.

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Listen in to that event here:

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And the results:

The afternoon was perhaps slightly slower paced, with only one event at a time and all eyes on the main stage, but the stakes were raised. World Championship Round One for Woolhandling (another ridiculously athletic event aimed at high speed gathering and separating of different wools), Blade shearing (the old school scissors), and Machine Shearing. We learned the ropes of the scoring and judging (speed, a judge on stage tracking mistakes made while shearing, and then another judge behind the stage to grade the end result of the sheep) from some of our neighbors in the audience who, totally by chance, happened to be the American team, including the only female blade shearer in the competition as well as an older blade shearer hailing from Boston.

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Finding events like this is like stepping into a whole alternate universe sometimes. It’s easy to think of a wool sweater that itched when you were a kid, but seeing an entire culture immersed in the art and science of raising, shearing, handling, and processing wool from sheep is something that, I would venture to guess, never even crosses most of our minds, despite the fact that it’s important and worthwhile and, in places like this, entirely entertaining.

Shipping Up To Wellington

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The ferry from Picton across the Cook Strait takes about three hours. That’s ample time, on a day as fine as the one we had, to stroll the multiple open decks, do some reading or snoozing, and in general contemplate what it must’ve been like back in the day (as they say) when ships were made of wood, food was rations instead of a la carte buffet bars, and the distance to the next island/continent, if there was one, was completely unknown. Staring at the shadow of land in the distance, with nothing but ocean in the other direction will put these kinds of thoughts in your head. Departing the South Island also left me with the distinct – and sad – feeling that we were departing for another country already, though with Wellington waiting on the other side, that feeling was soon quelled.

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To cram an entire city into three days is just not possible, and with as much as Wellington seems to have on offer, I’m not sure three weeks would’ve done justice. With time not on our side, though, we made the most of what we could and, as is our habit, hit the streets on foot just about as soon as we could. Boston trained us well in the dense, urban-walking ways and Wellington took over the reins with aplomb, offering its overwhelming amount of cafes and trendy shops for our window-shopping pleasure. We also unknowingly landed in town during the New Zealand International Arts Festival which brought out the spirit of the place, but with ticket prices just out of reach and the main attractions being a day or two late, we settled, instead, for the City Gallery (free! – including a magnificently fantastic interactive piece called “Lean” that you can see a bit more of HERE) and a never-ending supply of street art. Seriously: So. Much. Street art. That’s including, but certainly not limited to, commissioned murals, graffiti collages and a beautifully kept pop-up/pick-your-own garden located smack in the middle of the civic center plaza.

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I mentioned it before, but New Zealand just seems to really understand the value of a good city center. Wellington proved not only to uphold this standard, but showed us a city that is above and beyond when it comes to really, truly utilizing the space it has. Sculptures, walkways, museums (Te Papa, pictured below. Huge and impressive and worth three days all on its own), and landscaping all come together connecting the city and civic center area with the waterfront and beyond. Seeing it in action looked like something out of a movie with all of the background actors hitting their cues right on target: business people walking by, a couple strolling along the water bridge, skateboarders in the distance on the half pipe and a couple dragon boat rowing teams practicing by the boat shed. It’s clear that a great deal of thought and care was put into the design and development of this beautiful and welcoming space. It may also be clear, from my somewhat vague descriptions above, that Wellington, for all of its wonderfulness, is not a particularly budget friendly place. Alas, we’ll just have to start saving for a return visit. How disappointing!

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