New Zealand / Australia Diary
Thursday 19 April 2012

Otama beach

Thursday brought another free day - in fact the first day without teaching or air travel since my trip began. After my (by now) usual routine of an early awakening, an hour or so's blog writing and a social breakfast with my hosts I joined Catherine in the car for another outing. Today we went up & over a high ridge on a ridiculously tightly turning metalled road to reach Otama beach, yet another stretch of golden, unspoilt sand lapped by an azure sea.

When we arrived at the beach it was crowded by Kiwi standards - there was another person on it. Luckily they were leaving and within a couple of minutes we had the place to ourselves.

Walking on the beach revealed a bizarre effect. As we walked, letting our feet brush along the surface, the sand squeaked. That's exactly what it sounded like, as if there were little mice just under the surface, complaining about the noisy folk overhead. The noise came and went, depending on the dryness, density or some other quality of the sand, and often caught me by surprise when it started up again. Very odd.

We strolled from one end of the beach to the other, chatting about this, that & everything. A swing, suspended from the branches of one of the tall trees that fringed the beach, provided a delightful distraction as we neared the far end, as did musing on the actions & motives of a Mysterious Red Boat loitering suspiciously just off the rocks. Strolling through this natural beauty raised some deep, almost existential questions within me, most notably "Why have I chosen not to live here?". There are obvious answers to this - could I find meaningful work? What would I do when not strolling on the beach? What would the New Zealand Immigration Authority have to say about this? What would my darling partner think about this? - but despite this it was interesting to ponder on what I wanted from/in my life.

Pondering the Big Questions of life

One thing I wanted, or at least had a hankering for, manifested almost immediately at Kuaotunu on the way back home - a locally famous shop that sold prodigiously laden ice cream cones. The 'single' (or some other misleadingly diminutive name) that I ordered came with two scoops each of two different flavours and in the hot (for me) weather provided a complex challenge for my tongue, how to devour the yummy confection without rendering it structurally unsound. I rose to the task and ended up with a full & happy tummy without losing anything to the pavement.

hat afternoon both Catherine & Alistair were working so I took the opportunity to wander around town and get a feel for Whitianga. There were shopping opportunities aplenty with SALE signs sweeping through the retail outlets like a modern day plague but my mind wasn't really set on acquisition of stuff, especially as it seemed like most of it was made in China or somewhere in South-East Asia (as in so many places nowadays). I like buying things that have some sort of local origin when shopping for mementos & keepsakes (& gifts) but apart from paintings & jewelry there wasn't much in evidence. I dallied over some feijoa jelly (the feijoa is an tasty fruit that is very widespread but apparently not native to New Zealand) but I wondered whether a jar would survive my itinerary intact - better to get a friend to post me some if I was still keen after returning to the UK. I tried a few sun hats but didn't find one that I liked and none of the t-shirt designs caught my eye, so I just wandered around and enjoyed the sunshine.

One of the more prominent buildings on the shoreline (discounting the glass & concrete apartment blocks) was the Whitianga Museum, so I decided to see what it had to offer. There was minor confusion at the entrance when I paid my NZ$5 entry fee and was given a dollar back in change but after some puzzled looks & questions it turned out that I'd been charged the senior price. When I explained that I was still waiting for my bus pass there was an odd reluctance to accept the extra dollar, so in the end I popped it in the donations bowl and everyone was happy.

There were some interesting bits & bobs in the museum but 90% of it was geared towards Captain Cook's visit in 1769, presumably the most notable thing that has ever happened in Whitianga. I saw a film examining Cook's visit from Maori & European settler perspectives (which raised some interesting points), innumerable maps & descriptions of the event, a (nearly) full-size reconstruction of the main cabin of Cook's ship, and a huge collection of cannon balls, hooks & other nautical paraphernalia that had been fished out of the bay. Admittedly it was a small building and it looked like there wasn't a huge budget but it felt a bit over-fixated on Cook, there were small displays about logging, local education and other topics that I'd have love to have heard more about.

After a couple more hours of soaking up the essence of Whitianga I met up with Catherine & Alistair and after some down time at home we set out for a celebratory dinner at a swanky restaurant in town - my 'thank you' for being put up (& put up with) so wonderfully. In the middle of my tightly packed schedule I'd managed to have a real holiday and get a good taste of New Zealand. Tomorrow - Australia!

Abandoned shoes at Otama beach

Otama beach

Nearly sunken tree in Whitianga harbour

Whitianga shorefront

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