02 August 2007

Northland, New Zealand

We arrived in Auckland at midday (noon) on Monday. After renting a mobile and very basic car, we met up with George's best mate, Pierre, for a coffee and bit of lunch. Soon after, we headed north to Whangarei.

We spent nearly three days in and around Whangarei. We were booked in to dive the Poor Knight Islands on Tuesday, but an unexpected swell postponed the dive trip to Wednesday. So, we spent the morning and early afternoon checking out the sparkling bays and phenomenal seaside views around Tutukaka and the Whangarei Falls. The best way I can describe the scenery is a combination of the best parts of many places I've visited: green pastures of Ireland, sheer cliffs of central California, sparkling water of the Caribbean, glowing sun of coastal Spain, and ever changing weather of Costa Rica and tropical Ecuador. You get the picture - it's gorgeous! In the afternoon and evening, we had coffee with a dive friend from the UK and dinner with George's best mate's in-laws, Jenni and Rick.

On Wednesday, our diving came through. We went out on a charter for two dives. Since it's winter here, there were only six divers, one non-diver, and two crew. The visibility was somewhere around 12 meters, and the water felt warmer than the air. The first dive was mainly a wall with reefy areas on either end. We saw so many eels that we lost count. While these eels were much smaller than the wolfies we see in the Puget Sound, they're certainly less shy. A favorite moment was when George signaled to look at the two eels. I signaled back asking where the second eel was hiding. When George nudged the one I saw, it disturbed the second, and a bit of an eel fight ensued. I laughed, and of course my mask flooded.

The second dive was Blue Mao Mao Arch, supposedly rated one of the top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau. We let the surge carry us through the arch and into a sparkling underwater extravaganza. Ok, maybe that's a bit much, but we did see schools of blue mao mao fish, various types of colorful perch, a carpet shark, colorful nudibranchs, a bunch more eels, and a whole lot more. We were able to go through the arch, circle around the outside of the island, go back through the arch, turn around and go back through the arch in the reverse direction, and look around the channel before surfacing. This may well be my favorite dive to date.

Yesterday morning, we caught up on well-deserved sleep and enjoyed breakfast with Jenni before heading into Whangarei for some shopping. Even in the relatively small town of Whangarei, the shopping overwhelmed me. It's so hard to choose between the beautiful paua shell, NZ jade, bone carvings, kauri wood, and wool products that are available just about everywhere. I made some selections, George had a short black (espresso), and we headed for Auckland via

In Matakohe, we stopped at the Kauri Museum on recommendation from Rick and Jenni. Unfortunately, we only had an hour before closing to check out the museum. Fortunately, though, we managed to skim nearly the entire thing. Kauri is a huge, native tree that has been growing in New Zealand for the last 190-135 million years. The wood is strikingly beautiful, and gum from the tree is a resin similar to amber used for jewelry, varnish, and other practical means. These days, only 4% of the kauri population remains, so very few kauri trees are allowed to be cut. Because the wood is so hard, kauri trees that were cut many years ago have survived in swamps and are now being recovered for use as furniture and the like. The museum and shop were well worth our small detour.

We finally returned to Auckland last night in time for dinner with Pierre and Anna. They're graciously hosting us for the next few nights. I'm enjoying getting to know Pierre and Anna after hearing so much about them over the past year and a half. I think George and Pierre are pretty happy to be reunited as well.

Thus far, I am thoroughly enjoying New Zealand. The people are unforgettable, food superb, and scenery gorgeous. Oh, and the coffee isn't bad either. I'll have a flat white, please!

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