In our somewhat emotionally drained state, we had to pack our bags and, along with most of the rest of the family, head off to Wellington for a wedding! We had fortunately booked to fly, so didn't face the long drive down the entire length of the island that some of the family did.
For those not familiar with New Zealand geography, we live near the northern end of the North Island and Wellington is at the southern end of the island (there's a little map showing our location here). The distance from Kaitaia to Wellington by road is approximately 980km.
Jonathan and Char-Lien, the nuptial couple, whom we'd only seen the day before in Kaitaia, very kindly picked us up from Wellington airport and took us for a tour up Mt Victoria, for a view of the city. I think it is about 15 years since I last visited Wellington: it's a nice city and one I considered living in at one stage, when Victoria University's Women's Studies courses beckoned - then the pull of the north grabbed me instead.
We had booked and stayed at one of the two nearest-the-wedding possibilities. However, not everything with Angus in the title is of high quality and after a very uncomfortable night, capped off by a breakfast experience beneath description, we moved out.
We walked about 500 metres along to the Riddiford Hotel, were greeted and directed to our room (very impressed we were allowed to check in straight away), then set off to get our bearings, discovering we were just a short stroll from the house of Jonathan and Char-Lien and the venue for the wedding ceremony, tomorrow.
Char-Lien provided us with coffee, then drove us down to the railway station in her bright pink pyjamas! Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough to get a photo of the best dressed chauffeur of the day.
We walked from the Wellington train station along to the waterfront, heading for Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum. This Pohutukawa tree was in flower, which seems very odd, in April!
Te Papa was interesting, huge, and dangerous: full of parents of small children, with empty back-pack child-carriers on their backs, which they swung around the place with scant regard for the safety of others!
There were some very interesting sections and some which were far too noisy and "interactive" for my taste. We had a very nice lunch in the Cafe, then a quick look around the bookshop, which appeared to have a very good selection of New Zealand books, although by that stage I was rather too foot-weary to spend a great deal of time browsing.
From Te Papa, we wandered along to take a trip on the Cable Car, which I remember from my childhood visits to Wellington, back when people used to sit on the outside seats and kick against the tunnel walls with their feet! There are two cars, which travel up and down the track simultaneously, attached to either end of the cable, as counter-weights for each other, passing at the half-way point where the track splits for that purpose. The intermediate stations, of which I think there are two, are perfectly positioned so that each car will stop at exactly the right spot.
The photograph is taken from the top of the track, as we waited to catch our ride back down the hill.
We caught another train back to Lower Hutt and walked back to our new hotel, a quick bath, glass of wine, change of clothes and then went downstairs to the restaurant. We had been invited to the dinner for the "senior relatives", the uncles and aunts, elder siblings, parents and grand-parents of the bride and groom, hosted by Char-Lien's parents. Before dinner was a tea ceremony, to welcome the young people into the two families, then we sat down to a sumptuous Chinese feast.
We went out and found a café near the hotel for breakfast, Café Buzz, including a croissant which could have contained half a dozen of those I had for breakfast yesterday and still have had room for some filling! Bacon and eggs for Stephan and hot coffee and tea, all for $6 less than the dreadful Angus Inn pretence at breakfast!
We went to the wedding and the gathering afterwards, then set off to Wellington by train again, and walked to the rental car company office, to collect our very cheap, rather large car. (I was pretty sceptical at first, but later discovered the value of cruise control on a long trip on good roads! I didn't let Stephan drive at all, I was having such a good time!) A couple of the larger companies have relocation specials from time to time to get cars from Wellington or Christchurch, back to Auckland or Picton, because so many international travellers arrive in Auckland, take a car from there to Wellington, cross the straight by ferry and travel on from there and leave the country again from Christchurch.
We drove back to the hotel in Lower Hutt, collected our luggage and then headed North to Levin, where we'd booked to stay at a Bed & Breakfast for the night. The very pleasant Ardo Highland Haven had Highland cattle in the back garden! I haven't seen very many of these cattle - I know they're reputedly quiet, but those horns make me very nervous. I can imagine the possible outcome of a playful head-toss when one isn't paying attention!
We chose this particular B&B establishment because Sue, whom I particularly wanted to visit, had suggested it, being directly next door to her farm.
On Tuesday morning, after a huge breakfast, prepared for us by our host, Malcolm, we set off to visit the neighbours, Sue and Trevor. Both are very involved in the Murray Grey Cattle Society and have some beautiful animals, of which I'd previously only seen pictures over the internet. We've met Sue a number of times now, after initially meeting over the internet, but never before on the home turf of either of us.
We started with the cows, Sue feeding them some hay when we arrived. It was great to stand and actually assess some live cattle together, in the same place, rather than online with only pictures. In a nearby paddock was Sue's very nice herd sire, along with a couple of her young bulls. Next stop was the first-calf heifers and late-calving cows (above right), along with the weaned heifers. As you can see, some of Sue's Murray Blacks wouldn't look amiss in our herd here and a couple of ours would quite easily pass muster there!
Last stop, below, was with the young bulls, where Trevor joined us, then back to the house for an early lunch before Stephan and I left to begin our journey north.
I really enjoyed this part of the trip, along the Desert Road through some extraordinarily barren-looking surroundings. It's a very cold part of the country, being high above sea level and the road is often closed during the winter, even though it's the No.1 highway. Despite the chill in the air, the colours here were so warm - browns, pinks and yellows all the way; very beautiful.
Stephan kindly opened all the windows, so we could really expose all our senses to our surroundings. I think cars oughtn't to have controls where passengers can reach them!
The day was pretty cloudy, but suddenly Ruapehu was mostly visible through its cloud cover.
We stopped beside Lake Taupo, to collect a couple of bits of pumice for scrubbing our feet. As we drove around the shores of the lake, I wondered why loads of people want to live in the township of Taupo, all crammed on top of each other, when there are miles and miles of lake-side, many small settlements, where there are less people, better views ...
Trevor had suggested a nice place to stop for refreshment in Taupo, so at 4.30pm we had our afternoon-tea/dinner in what must have been an apostrophe sanctuary! There were apostrophes in Latt'e and tea's but the one from the name of the establishment had obviously ducked out for a break. Good food though, and my latt'e was great.
Leaving Taupo we spotted the sign pointing to the Huka Falls, of which both of us have heard, but neither had seen, so I did a quick turn and followed the signposted directions.
The light was fading, but the falls were fantastic! So much crystal-clear water, straight out of the lake, rushing through the narrow channel it had formed over time, then over the edge and off on its way North, forming the Waikato River, which joins the sea just to the south and west of Auckland.
After spending the night in Auckland with my sister Jude, Roger and the three (!) children, we made an early start and drove out to the airport, where we left the hugely extravagant car and caught a plane home to Kaitaia. Our neighbour, Jane, picked us up and we were greeted at home by a very excited Pukeko.
The first job after time away is a wander around the farm doing the roll-call to ensure that everyone is accounted for, safe and happy. Walking down one of the hills in the big back paddock, we spotted this tree and I had an anxious few moments while we checked that no cows had been beneath it at the moment it fell! The twenty weaned cows are in this paddock and had obviously spent a couple of days tramping around in the branches, browsing on what leaves they could reach. Puriri must be extremely tasty, for it is an obvious favourite with nearly all the cattle.
There are Tui in the trees everywhere around the farm, but they're generally quite hard to photograph, since they usually sit high in the branches of the trees while singing. This one conveniently sat for some time in one spot, in clear view from the ground.
Tui have an extraordinary vocal range, much of it outside the range of human hearing, but the bits we hear are bell-like in their clarity. Tui are also very territorial, so much of my observation of them includes high-speed chases through the trees, with much shrieking and fluttering!
The only time I've seen a live one up close was in the Auckland zoo, with my nephew Issa, on a rainy afternoon. That particular bird looked very unhappy - sick, perhaps - but well able to apply it's very long bill to an extended finger in a very menacing manner! They are nectar feeders, so I suspect the bill looks more fearsome than it really is.
Later in the afternoon, I went out to take photos of the little bulls, since I need to send pictures of them to interested potential buyers. After a while, most of the cattle (fifteen of them in the mob at present) gathered up near the gate in the sunshine. Twins, Ingrid and Ida are in this mob, Ida having a bull calf and Inger being there because - well, look at the picture; how could I separate these two? They'd just spent several minutes standing together, Ida with her head in the air, eyes half closed, as Ingrid licked her neck.
The cattle often lick each other and spend close time together; sometimes it is unrelated individuals who do so, but more often than not, it'll be mother and daughter, or maternal half-sisters. I notice the twins together more often than any others on the farm.
In between short bursts on the floor for a bit of preening (and some other, less palatable things) the Pukeko spends her evenings in her usual place, on the couch at my side.
I really like this picture. Often when cattle are moved into a new paddock, they go completely silly and race around, kicking up their heels (literally, to about my head level!) and challenging each other to fights. I delight in watching this sort of thing: seeing the cattle so gleefully active tells me they're healthy and happy!
I had just moved this mob, the cows and bull calves, along the lane from an adjacent paddock and they were all quiet and well behaved, as usual, until they turned in through the gate.