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Home : New Zealand 2003 : Of Alpacas, Sheep, Gannets and Nasty Weather

December 11, 2003

Of Alpacas, Sheep, Gannets and Nasty Weather

Since my last entry we’ve been doing a lot of travelling - about 1,500 kms worth to be exact. The nice thing about driving in New Zealand is that there are no busy super-highways (the only controlled-access, divided highways seem to be near Auckland and Wellington), just two lane roads which meander through the countryside from town to town and encourage the traveller to explore and see the local sights. The not-so-nice thing about driving in New Zealand is that there are no busy super-highways! It’s a two edged-sword, really. There isn’t much traffic to speak of except around Auckland at rush hour, but you quickly realize that it will probably take much longer than you think to get from point A to B when planning out your route on a map. All the slow logging trucks coming down from the mountains don’t help much either.

To catch everyone up on where we’ve been: On one of those aforementioned twisty, two-lane roads near Tutukaka up in the Northland, we decided to take a turn down a gravel lane at a sign marked ‘Rocky Bay Apacas, Store and Accomodation’. This sounded intriguing enough, and as it turns out, Rocky Bay Apacas is a beautiful seaside farm with plenty of Alpacas, those South American llama-like creatures with expensive, luxurious fur, and beef cattle. An American family owns the farm - they stopped in New Zealand ten years ago while on a round-the-world sailing expedition and never left.

Rocky Bay is situated among a series of green hills which drop down to the ocean below and even though it was foggy and rainy for much of our time here, the property was still stunning. It was fun to tramp around the paddocks with the alpacas. Mocha, a chocolate-brown female took a liking to Nicci and kept nuzzling her shoulder and bosom.

The dive trip to the Poor Knights Islands, which are about 1.5 hours by boat from the Tutukaka marina, was quite an experience as well. The water here is rather cold so we had to wear full, 7-mil wetsuits including hoods and even with all that rubber on we still got cold by the end of each dive. The cold waters, however, provide a very nutrient-rich soup for sea creatures around the small, rocky islands. There are huge kelp beds and rock walls covered with all manner of weird and colorful plants and creatures. It is very different from diving on coloral reefs in warm, tropical waters, and just as fascinating.

After leaving Tutukaka and the Alpaca farm, we drove south intending to visit the volcanoes near lake Taupo in central North Island. Unfortunately, the wet weather worsened to a downpour by the time we reached Taupo and didn’t let up for the next day and a half. When we woke the next morning we couldn’t see across the lake, much less the mountain range and volcanoes at the other end of it, so we decided to pack up and drive to Napier on the east coast. At least we could go wine tasting at the vineyards around Hawke’s Bay if it didn’t clear up.

The soggy drive to Napier wasn’t a complete loss since the impossibly green mountains and hills along the way were actually quite beautiful swathed in wispy fog and clouds. Though I’ve never been to Ireland, I imagine the sheep farms of the North Island look pretty Irish. And speaking of sheep, it seems the further south we drive the more and more of them we see. They are literally everywhere, simply ubiquitous.

This morning we left our B&B in Napier and drove a few miles south to Cape Kidnappers to join a Gannet Safari. Translated, we rode in a comforable minibus through a huge sheep and cattle farm, and soon to be controversial, but world-class golf course and lodge, out to the high cliffs about the cape at the end of Hawke’s Bay to visit the nesting colonies of gannets, a type of booby with a large wingspan, clumsy landing technique and a bright, yellow skullcap. Thousands of these squawking sea birds migrate here every year in August to breed, nest and rear their fledglings. By the time we made it to the end of the cape the sun finally burned through the clouds. We really weren’t expecting too much from this outing, but it actually turned out to be quite fun watching the male gannets strut around and challenge one another or the fuzzy white, and freakishly large, chicks cry for food or the graceful sailing parents make decidedly ungraceful landings on the cliff top.

We’re in Wellington tonight after a nice vineyard lunch and a four-hour (but purportedly three-hour) drive south. We’re only staying the night, thankfully, since our hastily chosen B&B is rather grim (but cheap, at least) and has a surly host. We turn in our car tomorrow morning and will take the 8 am ferry across to the South Island. We’re praying the good weather will last. Cheers.

Posted by Scott at December 11, 2003 11:27 PM

Can I just add that it doesn't always rain here... the unsettled early summer weather usually lasts until early January and then start the long, lazy and hot summers days - and goes through into early April. Down here in the South Island however today (as with the past couple of days) we are enjoying clear days with warm-hot temperatures in the mid-late 20's (thats the early 80's for you Americans!). Here farmers are busy making the most of the dry hot days bringing in hay before the grass dries off completely.
We do however desperatly need all the rain we can get(here and in the North) as very soon the land will become parched and dry with drought conditions and very little to no rain until Autumn - thats Fall for the uninformed!)
As to Kelly Tarltons - yes, it is overated and definitely overpriced for what it is however its the only thing like it here. It doesn't even compare with your National Aquariaum in Baltimore.

Posted by: Bronwyn at December 12, 2003 10:24 AM

I think we were just unlucky with the rain while on the North Island. I can say that the countryside is magnificent even in the rain and mist. We have had fine weather much of the last few days on the South Island and here in Wanaka, it is definitely much more arid than on the coast. I actually got up before dawn today to see the sunrise on lake Wanaka this morning and it was glorious indeed.

Posted by: Scott at December 17, 2003 10:31 AM

Hey Guys! I just had breakfast with your folks and my Dad, Karla, James and Tara. They stopped by BWI Airport to see me and my office. My job title is Deputy Director of Communications for the Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA). The State of MD owns and operates BWI. My office is the liasion to the media and all the airlines here. I really like it!

How is New Zealand? I really like your website Scott and clicked on several of the photos. Very nice. Well enjoy the rest of your stay there. Merry Christmas!


Posted by: Holly Ellison at December 20, 2003 06:13 AM
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