Delaware is a small state, and shrinking. I have been going to Fenwick Island since I was born, but erosion has rubbed out on a lot of the little atolls in the Bay where I used to canoe. One small marshy point I would visit was rumored to be a stash location for Blackbeard, but it’s almost gone, sunken into the waters where crabs crawl. I was thinking we could put back a little territory, just offshore – a nice complementary geographic addition, with some big trees and wildlife that are not just more geese, maybe a mountain or two (Delaware is so flat you can see across it from the firetower on the Maryland border). After visiting New Zealand, I think I found the solution – I just need a really big crane. It’s a bit like the Shel Silverstein poem about a kid who has a lamp that will plug into the sun – just a small engineering challenge with the cord.
We were on the north island of New Zealand for five days last month, on a bus tour that took us through a beautiful range of adventures. We couldn’t decide which things were our favorites – but here’s some of our highlights.
Their national symbol is the kiwi, an endangered nocturnal flightless bird with a long beak that darts around in the dark smelling for worms and insects underground. The name comes from the Maori people that described the sound it makes. Their non-functional wings are invisible under the feathers, not even good for waving. They are being bred in captivity via rescue programs because of the dwindling numbers from loss of habitat and unchecked possum populations going after their eggs. (The possum problem is so big that the utility companies have to put aluminum wraps on every single telephone pole to prevent them from climbing up and eating the wires. They were stupidly introduced by Europeans who wanted to grow them for fur and food – now it’s as bad as rabbits in Australia.) We were able to observe darkened houses where kiwis are being bred, and watched them feeding in their dim environment. The kiwi has the largest size egg as a percentage of its body size of any bird. It’s like a human trying to give birth to a four-year old. I really feel bad for them.
The beach and dune sand up at Cape Reinga is not like what you usually find on US beaches – it’s so hard-packed that our tour bus was able to drive on the beach (and in the mild edge of the surf). The steep dunes were hundreds of feet tall, and we stopped to hike up them with boogie boards – you flop down on your belly and slide down them like a toboggan, and you get up to quite a speed, slowed or steered only by dragging your toes. Unfortunately, if you don’t maintain control at the bottom, a faceful of sand doesn’t feel or taste as good as snow.
Cape Reinga has a special tree and a spectacular view. It’s essentially the northernmost point of the country, and if you miss it, sailing from Sydney, you better have enough food to reach Chile. There’s a solar-powered historical lighthouse built in 1941, but the Maori people have been worshipping there since 1250 – they believe that the spirits of the dead go to the Cape, climb the down the roots of the kahiki tree (visible down on the rocks, fused into it – it never blooms) to the underworld and their homeland, Hawaiki.
Although the Pohutu geyer in Rotorua is the largest one in the southern hemisphere, it’s not that it’s tall (maybe only 1/5 the height of Old Faithful) – but the raw power of the steam and water splashing out every few hours, and the permeating sulphur aroma, reminds you that there’s magma just a few kilometers under your feet. You can visualize something Paleolithic crawling out the the gurgling grey mud pools, and they warn you that the rocks you may sit down on are a trifle warm. There’s steam rising out of more random points around town than a New York City block – and more appear all the time. It’s not a place you want to gamble buying property. They used to allow private drilling of geothermal wells – many of the hotels run off of the energy – but it caused too many turf wars about who was stealing each other’s supply.
Keeping away from the scalding geysers, vents, and boiling mud pools, we were able to peacefully enjoy the thermal effects at the Polynesian Spa right next to our hotel, which uses natural warm mineral water from underground for a wonderfully relaxing experience. I had not been to a public bath before, but it was really well organized. You walk in and pick what you want from a menu – there’s a separate kid’s pool, group adult pools of varying temperatures (that are posted), locker and towel rentals, and some private pools that can be booked. They also have a nice juice bar and other drinks to help keep you hydrated. The spa dates back to 1878 when a missionary priest claimed his arthritis was healed by the hot mineral water, upon soaking advise of the natives. (photo courtesy spa web site – I don’t have any personal ones).
The water around the Bay of Islands is very scenic – it’s home to the “Hole in the Rock” (see previous blog photo) which is a famous and worthwhile see-sight, but the boat ride was also very relaxing and enjoyably smooth, and often a treat for observing schools of dolphins, which included a baby that we were able to observe for a while.
I’m looking forward to getting back to Delaware this summer, down on the beach, reading a good book. It’s a place you can close your eyes and still feel the sun through the lids, and taste the salt, and sink way down in your chair – though not so much that your Kindle falls in to water (I’ve done that.) Yes, it will be good to be back home in the States, but I’ll be dreaming of New Zealand.