It’s a Big Country

The last five days have been a blur. Too much activity! After all that talk about pacing you would think we would have figured it out, but no, we keep trying to pack too much in.

Part of this is coming from our realization that this is a big country! I know that’s the opposite of most people’s impressions, but just in terms of size it’s as big as Japan which is the world’s 2nd largest economy. It’s almost as big as California and a good deal larger than Great Britain, Germany, Spain, etc. It’s also divided into two pieces separated by an unbridgeable distance. The ferry takes about four hours as I recall. On top of the sheer size, New Zealand is very rugged. That’s where a lot of the scenic beauty comes from. Lots of forest, mountain, and jagged coast. Finally, the relative lack of people here means the infrastructure is lighter. No multi-lane highways.

Since we’re interested in the relatively unpopulated scenic parts of the island, we’ve been spending a lot of our time in areas where the going is especially slow. Not counting stops, we spent five hours today driving around the Coromandel Peninsula covering just 150 kilometers (90 miles). Lots of ups and downs, hairpin turns, and a good amount of unsealed (gravel) road, yet the base of the peninsula is an easy hour to hour-and-a-half drive from Auckland, a sprawling city of 1.3 million people. Coromandel doesn’t look so large on the map, but it’s plenty big in person.

The magic was working again today. A chance encounter with someone at the Thames organic food co-op turned up loads of information on the organic scene in Christchurch. Later, Kathy and I met two friendly, mid-fifty’ish, retired people from Massachusetts, Chuck and Purr, who are doing what we fancifully talked about doing, except, of course, for our busy schedules. They were full of useful information and a great positive attitude. They’ve spent four months on both North and South Islands alternating one week of WWOOFing or other work for room and board arrangements ( with one week of tourism. Kathy and I need to do that kind of research to really get a feeling for the different areas of this large country and you would think that we would have time to do this, but no, our schedule is still quite full!

Our tenants leave the Clyde Road, Christchurch house the 4th of April where it will begin to start burning mortgage money. Our wonderful friend and potential New Zealand recruitee, Ken, is arriving in Christchurch the 16th of April so we absolutely have to be there by then. Sometime hopefully not long after the 28th of April our container will arrive, and we need to be on hand to get it through customs and receive delivery of our household. Then we need to set up the household in time for our June 15th departure for a three month trip to Iceland, Paris, the south of France, and the US, from San Francisco to Colorado to Burning Man, and finally back to New Zealand. I know, our life is so hard!

While in Christchurch we also need to make the arrangements for the hopeful rental of our place, hopefully furnished, for the time we are gone. Furnished rentals are a different market and in our ideal world we hope to get more money with tenants that want to stay a shorter time so that we have somewhere to return in September. On the other hand, if we can keep it rented out longer at a good rate we might just put off setting up our lives there and do more exploring, Chuck and Purr style, of course neglecting all the other things we have to do, like working on the Clyde Road development plans, learning how to do our now already complicated and now multinational taxes, exploring Christchurch, taking organic farming and bee-keeping courses at the highly recommended Christchurch Polytechnic Institute, developing a social network, and starting a garden. Surely we should have a little bit of our own gardening under our belts before buying a big whopping wannabe organic farm/artists colony, shouldn’t we?

And of course there’s the need to have a regular real life somewhere where we can relax, not have to pack everything up every couple of days, and work on our various personal development projects from Reiki to home distillation to Nei Gung. Hmmm. When I put it that way, maybe we need to just settle in Christchurch for a while, at least a nice chunk of eight months or so before Kathy’s sister Joy is likely to be getting married, it becomes winter down here, and it’s time for Burning Man season again. While my life here is getting quite Burning Mannish, perhaps enough to satisfy my jones for such things and even make a now-suddenly-much-more-expensive-trip to the desert perhaps not mandatory, but maybe as the new co-regional representative for Christchurch (whatever that means), it will be more compelling for other reasons (like helping develop our social network).

It’s all rather overwhelming, but I suppose it’s par for our course. The last few days leading up to today have seen me get exceedingly cranky and grouchy. A lot of the food back here in the world really seems to lack flavor. The posh shops and hipsters in Ponsonby, Auckland seemed somewhat comfortable if unapproachable when we first got here, but the second visit after being out in the country just sees them as JAFAs (a kiwi acronym that I hesitate to explain because it is somewhat nasty. if you must). The hours spent at the cheap and high speed internet café which may have been the main purpose of our visit aside from breaking up the drive seemed draining rather than fulfilling. Even after arriving in the pleasant little (somewhat big for NZ, 10,000) town of Thames, aside from a soothing stop in a bird hide (built with reparation money from France for their sneaky sabotage of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior) I still felt ungood. Maybe it was the stroll past the new Warehouse (like Costco) and Pack n’ Save in areas that had been obviously recently drained and cleared of mangroves (Similar large scale clearance of mangroves increased greatly the scale of the recent Indian Ocean tsunami disaster). And all this travel without any rest days has helped me neglect my Nei Gung practice (process, as I prefer to call it, since I have bad associations from an early age with the word “practice”).

What happened to the pacing I was blabbering on about in previous posts? I seem to be forgetting my life lessons as soon or faster than I can learn them. Maybe my brother’s recent comment was spot on-maybe I’m just an “if a job is worth doing it’s worth doing poorly” kind of guy.

We went for what was supposed to be a 7-8 hour hike in the Coromandel Forest Park yesterday and I thought it would be regenerating, and it was in some ways, but something was still missing. I think a better term for the park, despite heaps of greenery, would be Coromandel =Forested= Park. Just 75 years ago they finished logging virtually all of the Kauri forest there, trees that can live to 4,000 years of age. The trail we followed was full of informative displays describing the engineering feats required to get at the last big swathe of Kauris up in an especially inaccessible part of the countryside. They tried building dams, letting the cut logs accumulate, then opening up the dams to let the flood of water carry the logs down to easier to reach sections of land, as they did in many other parts of New Zealand. No dice-the logs smashed to splinters from the steep, high drop. I forget what else they tried. Eventually they built a three part wooden (from Kauri, of course) elevated railway, the longest stretch 160 meters (175 yards) and hauled the logs out with horse drawn carts and later a steam winch. Hooray! It’s not that they did these things, which of course humans have done throughout history and right around the same time in the San Francisco area, but more the somewhat cheerleading attitude of the displays in the park. I seem to have become quite a tree hugger. Or maybe it was just the overcast and drizzle that blotted out the best views.

When we were thinking about, and later had decided, to move to New Zealand and were all starry eyed about its virtues, we were told by many folks that it was still a typical western developed country with nonsustainable resource management practices, a gas guzzling, weight gaining, indebtedness loving populace, and poor relations with their indigenous people. It wasn’t until these last few days that I have come to understand some of these points at a gut level. It’s true, these are problems here as they are anywhere else. But it’s still clearly and significantly better here than the United States. Just simply by having been at these typical human behaviors for less time and with fewer people means the impact has been less, and the change of the way of thinking about these things that is going on now worldwide meets less resistance here. The relatively low population density still allows us to try to find a hunk of land and do things the way we think best, and there are lots of pockets of like minded people doing the same things, which makes a world of difference.

After the nice but oddly unfulfilling hike, cut short because the last leg and steepest climb of the track were closed for maintenance, it was a blaze of errands to get a form printed at the slowest internet connection yet (5 minutes per web site) for automatic dividend deposit to my bank account, a matter that was supposed to have been attended to by my broker before we left. Then to the post office, the Pack n’ Save for water and wine, a miserably short trip to a fabulous gem and rock store (there were closing and we were running late), and finally on to a really wonderful thermal mineral water park that, were it not for the lack of water slides, would have Hanmer springs (outside of Christchurch) beat hands down. All the hot soaking finally started lifting my mood, but the day was just way too full.

And finally, today was a good day, again. Perhaps it’s the easily comprehensible name “Bay of Islands” that makes that area better known than the Coromandel Peninsula, but Coromandel has it beat flat out in my book. You still get the snaky coastline and beautiful multi-island vistas, but it’s just much bigger here so that there’s room for places more remote. North of Thames and the Forest(ed) Park there are small towns like Colville (more like a hamlet, population probably around 100) which has the most charming and well stocked organic food store I’ve seen in the whole country, yet is remote enough not to have broadband access yet. On the east side of the peninsula we came across “Little Bay,” a stunning beach and island filled seascape that gets good surfing waves and seems right in the strange gray zone between rapid subdivision and development and middle of nowhere. Kathy likened it to a Stinson beach of 20-30 years ago. I like it here in the Coromandel. If we found the right piece of land this could be the place to settle, but I can’t put the cart before the horse and start talking crazy ideas that will get Kathy upset at me (grin).

And tomorrow? We’re at a nice upscale backpacker just sharing a kitchen and toilet with one other couple: two nice older folks from Alberta, Canada who are busing and biking all over the country. They’re gone tomorrow morning and with any luck we will have the place to ourselves, this being a Sunday night in what is starting to be the off season. As part of our continuing research we had planned on following the remote east coast of the North Island all the way down to the highly touted art deco town of Napier with two necessary stops along the way due to the ruggedness of the coast and the slow driving. We’ve cut that off the schedule and will take the straight and well traveled shot across the interior of the island, giving us two days of rest to pad out the schedule somewhere. One tomorrow, and perhaps an extra one in Wellington, where we will recoup before what promises to be a lot of fun socializing with the hub of the NZ Burning Man community. On the schedule for tomorrow? Nothing at all.