Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Land Down Under

auckland international airport new zealand
Obligatory Lord of
the Rings
 set piece
   We were sad to leave Hawai'i but were looking forward to our first international flight, and we were not disappointed. Air New Zealand showered us with free booze, food, and entertainment. Maybe we didn't get as much sleep as we should have on our 10 hour overnight flight, as we curled up with pillows and blankets and gorged ourselves while watching the latest blockbusters. Our flight path crossed the international date line, so we left Hawai'i the evening of March 31, and arrived in New Zealand the morning of April 2, causing us to totally miss April Fool's Day. Good one, Universe.
   We arrived in Auckland, and went through passport control and customs for the first time. New Zealanders are eco-sticklers, and do everything they can to protect their fragile mutant island ecosystem. They checked the bottom of our shoes for invasive mud, set up and checked our tent for biocontaminants, and confiscated our oranges, avocados, lentils (because they weren't "half lentils"), and a cinnamon log. Once the search-and-seizure was over, we grabbed our much lighter packs and headed for the bus. Transferring to the right buses was a little tricky, and the experience did not bode well for attempts later in our journey when the signs would not even be in the Queen's English. Ian met us at our final bus stop carrying a name card for us, though he identified us right away by our American-sized packs. We piled into his campervan, and headed for the farm. Ian was enthusiastically brimming with information about the local area; on the circuitous route home he gave us a tour, pointing out nice beaches, and properties he had owned or worked on.
wwoof workaway new zealand
New Zealand has a few sheep
wwoof workaway new zealand     We arrived at Ian and Marcia's farm, and had a snack and a brief tour. They bought their 30 acre parcel 9 months ago, and have been cleaning up and restoring like crazy. The property came with piles of debris and falling down out buildings from decades of neglect, and the progress they have made was amazing. Currently they raise about 30 cows, a handful of chooks (chickens), and yes, plenty of sheep on the hilly pasture, and are busy readying more paddocks. After Marcia arrived home from work in the late afternoon, we all had delicious lamb stew for dinner and learned a bit about each other. Ian is a retired general contractor who has constructed many of his own rental properties from the ground up. Marcia works for the Auckland council, and is currently enjoying training and raising two young cats. Marcia's mother also lives on the property, and enjoys country singing. We were a bit surprised to learn that country singing is a thing in New Zealand, as it is usually considered a pretty American genre, but there are even competitions, and she has won several of them.
wwoof workaway new zealand
   New Zealand was the perfect country to get out feet wet in international travel. Everything was rather similar to life in the US, but with plenty of subtle differences that kept you on your toes. The "yield" signs said "give way", they drove on the "wrong" side of the road, fruit at the grocery store was by the kilo, the light switches were on when they were down, and recipes called for grams instead of cups. And even though we had a language in common, some of their lingo was still foreign to us. They seemed fond of dropping the "y" on many words, saying "yum" and "flash" instead of "yummy," and "flashy." And where did those "y's" go, you might ask? They were added on to the end, or middle, of nouns, like "beersy," "skilly" for skilsaw, and "footy" for football. We picked up a bit of kiwi slang as well, "chockablock" if something is really packed, "jandals" for flip-flops, and "chilly bin" for cooler. At one point Ian mentioned that his "pot plants" needed watering, and after a long bewildered pause we realized he was talking about potted plants. As long as we spoke our respective Englishes a little slower and more deliberately, we were sure to get our point across.
wwoof workaway new zealand
Kiwi vs. pond
wwoof workaway new zealand
"S" is for eel
    There was plenty of work to do on their farm. One of the biggest projects we tackled was turning an old trash heap into a usable paddock; a task that would have been infinitely harder if Ian hadn't had a 2.5 tonne digger. Our time was mainly spent picking up cement chunks and branches, and loading them onto the trailer.
wwoof workaway new zealand
Rock tossers
Because of the amazing amount of cement debris, the only option was for Ian to dig a 4 meter by 4 meter pit, and completely fill it with random rubble. Our work day was routinely broken up by the New Zealand tradition of tea breaks or "smokos." These breaks were pleasantly refreshing compared to the American work-til-lunch mentality. One of the final tasks was tearing out an old buried landscape pond. There was not much left but slime and rotting plant matter, but while Ian was scooping the muck up with the digger, a 2 ft long eel slithered from the muck and off into the grass. After fixing the fence, and hauling innumerable trailer loads, all that paddock needed was a little grass seed to complete the cozy quadruped quarters.
wwoof workaway new zealand
How it's done
   Ian and Marcia effectively grazed their ungulates in a rotational system. Every few days we would leisurely walk behind the sheep, nudging them onto the next pasture. The cows were moved less frequently. One of the biggest moves was when they were all brought down to the most accessible pasture in preparation for the mobile butchering team who was arriving the next day to dispatch one of the biggest. The cow was destined to be divided between themselves and a friend. The butchering company had, a few days before the culling, sent a sheet listing all the possible cut options, allowing them to order some favorite unique cuts that are hard to get at the grocery store. 
The two-man butchering team showed up in their mobile butchering truck, and quickly and efficiently killed, skinned, gutted, and quartered the cow. To skin it, they first manually skinned the legs and around the head, and then hoisted the carcass up on hooks. Then they attached the neck skin to a winch, and with a press of a button it steadily peeled the hide (to be tanned for a rug) up and off the carcass. Marcia was a fan of tripe, but the butchering company did not have tripe as an option, saying it was too difficult to process. 
wwoof workaway new zealand
What a load of tripe
We'd never eaten it before, so Randy decided to try his hand at cleaning and preparing the yards and yards of stinky, greenish stomach folds. While salvaging the stomach from the butcher's gut bin, we also scored the pancreas and the caul fat! Randy spent hours washing out the stomachs, and then stored them in salt water in an attempt to de-funk them. While waiting for the tripe to mellow, Randy breaded and fried up the pancreas, also known as sweetbreads, which turned out quite scrumptious. We wrapped the caul fat, which is a thin, lacy net of fat that holds the stomachs in place, around potatoes and baked them. This fat tends to have more flavor, and went well in the dish. Unfortunately the tripe did not fare so well. Instead of cleansing in the salt solution, the cow stomachs fermented and the whole fiasco was hurriedly buried in a shallow grave out back.
   Ian and Marcia made it a point to introduce us to distinctly New Zealand cuisine. "Kiwi pies" were personal-sized versions of what we would call chicken pot pie, except they had a variety of fillings such as beef-bacon-and-cheese, or steak and kidney. Ian treated us to a pie and a doughnut for lunch one day. A kiwi doughnut is a delectably delicious long, bar doughnut cut in half like a hot dog bun and filled with whipped cream and an optional filling (we tried apple). We even got the chance to sample some strange new produce; the kumera and the feijoa. A small green fruit the size of an egg, the feijoa tastes like a cross between strawberry and guava, and is ubiquitous throughout New Zealand. The kumera is a sweet potato variety introduced early 1800s by American seafarers. On a side note, in New Zealand, kiwis are people, not to be confused with kiwifruit. If you happen to ask "are the kiwis ripe?" you will answered with some strange looks, and quickly corrected.
wwoof workaway new zealand
wwoof workaway new zealand
Kahawi on a homemade smoker
Soon to be dinner
   Ian is an avid fisherman, and wanted us to try a few of the local varieties. And this was a good a reason as any to spend a day out relaxing on their boat. His friend Rod came along, and at 5 am we set off for a day of fishing. It was a windy day, so we stayed in the harbor instead of going farther out. First we laid two set lines with 25 hooks apiece. On each hook was a small bait fish we had caught with nets the day before. After setting the lines, we went and took a leisurely break while waiting for the fish to find our hooks. We liked this method of fishing, a little work punctuated by extended smokos. After setting and hauling in the lines twice, we came back with 8 snapper. We had caught a few more, but they were below the legal size limit, so we threw them back, and a nearby "shag" (cormorant) enjoyed a snack.
On the way back we passed through a small bay, and did a little rod fishing off the end of the boat. We could see the kahawai jumping, and within about fifteen minutes we'd both caught two. Feeling that our trip had been successful, we headed back to port with our soon-to-be delicious catch. Ian and Marcia beer-battered the snapper, and smoked the kahawai for our supper the next day; no fish is more delicious than the fish you wrestled in yourself.
wwoof workaway new zealand
Smell that dairy air
    Lucky for us, Ian and Marcia enjoyed taking us out on the town, and we got to experience a variety of excursions. When Ian learned that in all our farming travels we had never seen a rotary cow shed, he quickly called around to fill this gaping hole in our farming knowledge. A few days later we got to see morning milking. Due to the unusually warm season and lack of rainfall, the cows were being milked on a 16-hour schedule, so the morning milking was at 11 am, rather than the traditional 6 am. As the milking began half the herd, some 300 cows, are herded into a circular pen attached to the milking shed. A rotating gate kept the flow of cows moving through the milk shed. As a cow entered the shed, it moved into a stall on top of a giant rotating disk that held about 40 cows. The disk turned slowly providing an open spot for each new cow to stand. Then a person quickly rinsed the teats and attached the cups. By the time the cow returned close to the starting position, the milking was completed and it was shuffled off the disk, providing an empty space for the next cow. The whole operation was ran by a sharemilker, a farmer who owns his own herd of dairy cows, but leases land from another farmer to house and feed his herd, hoping to eventually save enough money to have his own land.
wwoof workaway new zealand
Old cement works
wwoof workaway new zealand     The marina where Ian and Marcia keep their boat is a close-knit community of friendly boaters. While we were there they had a party down at the marina, and we enjoyed an evening of delicious food and good company. The boatyard is adjacent to an abandoned cementworks factory, which had a rich history, ending in it being used as target practice during WWII. Although the actual ruins were fenced off due to safety reasons, the factory's old lime quarry is now filled with water, and is a popular swimming hole.

wwoof workaway new zealand
A relaxing day on the beach near Goat Island
   As everyone knows, it takes out-of-town visitors to motivate you to see the sights of your home town. Our presence was as good an excuse as any to check out the Warkworth Museum. After an afternoon perusing the menagerie of eclectic relics with hand-written captions, we had a sense of the history of the area. The displays included everything from local flora and fauna specimens to life-sized dioramas of shops and houses in the 1800s; the mobile dentistry unit used in the early 1900s was particularly horrifying. The museum grounds included a short "bush walk" showcasing the magnificent kauri tree. The kauri tree is an impressively massive tree, growing up to 150 ft tall with a 12 ft diameter. Praised for its long straight trunks, it was logged almost to extinction by 1900.
Randy, Marcia, Holly, Ian
   One night we all went over to their friends' house for dinner. Greg and Mandy lived in a converted box truck, with a trailer addition. Despite how this sounds, inside was a cozy, nicely furnished home which gave no inkling of its previous life. We enjoyed a delicious meal with some of their own sheep sausages, and had a quick soak in their hot tub after.
    When we weren't working or taking in the local sights, we enjoyed watching old American sitcoms with Ian and Marcia, and of course plenty of rugby.

wwoof workaway new zealand

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mahalo, Hawai'i!

wwoof hawaii usa
View of the crater trail from the Crater Rim Trail.
Can you find the tiny people?
High on our list of things to see in Hawai’i was an active volcano. Even though the locals assured us that our expectations of volcanic explosions and lava geysers were woefully inaccurate, we still decided to take a few days off and camp at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Tane generously offered to drive us the two hours to the park, and even stopped in at the Southernmost Bakery in the United States to let us try their famous malasadas (a Portuguese doughnut). On the way to the park we were amazed at the variety of terrains we drove through. We had heard that the earth has 12 distinct biomes, and the Big Island of Hawai’i has 10 of them, but driving a third of the way around the island really showcased that fact. We passed grasslands with stunted trees reminiscent of the African savanna, rolling green hills dotted with farms that looked like the Scottish highlands, rocky desolate lava fields that looked like a black moonscape, and rainy forests that reminded one of the Pacific Northwest
wwoof hawaii usa
Fur from the giant tree fern, used to be cultivated and
exported for mattress stuffing
wwoof hawaii usa
Giant tree fern
Once we arrived at the park, Tane gave us a quick tour. First, we went right to the active crater, and saw what lava there was to see, which was none. The crater was billowing sulfur dioxide, but the molten lava as 300 feet down in a pit and impossible to see. Inside the nearby museum we learned about the geologic history of the area, saw beautiful paintings of Pele, the Hawai’ian goddes of fire, and jumped to see our weight affect a seismograph. The next stop was the Thurston lava tube, which seemed like a good place to check out since it had started raining. The hike down to the tube entrance plunged us into a tropical rain forest, complete with tree ferns 30 ft tall. The tube itself was roughly 12' in diameter. 
wwoof hawaii usa
Lava field
wwoof hawaii usa
As active as the volcano was
Randy was prepared for a caving adventure with his headlamp at the ready, but there was a paved path with overhead lights leading the way. A lava tube forms when a lava flow travels underground. Lava frequently travels in underground "rivers," but for a tube to form a "skylight" needs to occur. This direct opening between the tube and the outside allows the lava to drain out of the tube rather than simply solidifying where it is. After our trip through the tube, Tane dropped us off at the backcountry camping office, and wished us well before heading home. At the office we picked up a map, a permit, some water, and a sense of the enormity of the park. 

We realized we wouldn't be able to get to any of the backcountry sites that night on foot, so we just headed for a campground in the middle of the park. The Crater Rim Trail was a beautiful hike through lush rain forest, which occasionally gave way to vistas of barren rock-strewn plains in the Kilauea crater. Five hours later, when we finally arrived, exhausted and hungry, to the campsite, we couldn't get our stove to work. So, we ate cold canned beans, rice, and avocado, and went to bed. While staring up at the crystal clear night sky, we realized how complete the silence was, without the familiar coqui frog obnoxiously serenading us to sleep.
wwoof hawaii usa
wwoof hawaii usa
'Ohi'a Lehua tree, one of the first
plants to grow out of new lava 
wwoof hawaii usa
Sea arch
wwoof hawaii usa
Holly embracing her dorky homeschooler heritage
The next morning we woke up slightly sore from our hiking expedition the day before, and were perfectly ready to sacrifice a few sights for the sake of our legs. Luckily fate had other plans, and we ended up catching a ride with a friendly family of Wisconsonites, who let us tag along as they toured the park. First we got to see a fissure from a fifty-year-old eruption, which was a yonic, deep, narrow chasm with pink and purple walls dotted with ferns. Our inner geology nerd was further excited by our next stop, where we hiked out onto a lava field and saw "tree molds," these are the formations left behind when lava flows around a tree killing it, and it later decomposes, leaving a hole, sometimes several feet deep. Then our impromptu tour guides went all the way down the Crater Rim Drive to the ocean, where for centuries lava flows have terminated at the sea. We saw a pretty impressive sea arch and caves, both formed by the waves eating away at the lava cliffs. While we were watching the sea, we turned around and saw some of the elusive nene, Hawai'i's endangered state bird. The nene are a naturalized relative of the Canadian goose, who have lost the ability to fly through cushy island living. There are many signs around the park explaining that the nene are wild animals that should not be given handouts, proclaiming that "a fed nene is a dead nene." Holly thought that this was unnecessarily macabre "propagander." 
wwoof hawaii usa
Crazy lava colors and formations
After a long day we thanked our Wisconsin friends, and got dropped off near the campsite. Holly relaxed and read while Randy roamed around the nearby lava fields. That night we enjoyed our rice, beans, and avocado while watching the glow of the crater in the distance.
wwoof hawaii usa adaptations oceanfire cinnamon
Cutting down the
cinnamon trees
The next morning we woke up, broke camp, and started our epic hitchhike home. Some of our neighbors at the campsite kindly drove us to the park entrance, where we started walking down the highway. Four rides and six hours later, we finally arrived at the mile-long hill up to Tane's. We dreaded walking up the steep incline, but luckily a friendly neighbor picked us up. He worked at a B&B next door, which was started by the artist whose paintings of Pele we had admired the day before at the volcano museum! He dropped us at Tane's just in time for us to grab a quick shower before heading to the beach for a barbecue. While enjoying a potluck sunset dinner, a whale graced us with its presence, only about 100 feet off shore.

wwoof hawaii usa adaptations oceanfire cinnamon
Scraping off the outer bark
wwoof hawaii usa adaptations oceanfire cinnamon
Ceylon cinnamon drying
wwoof hawaii usa adaptations oceanfire cinnamon
Pounding the inner bark to
loosen it
Tane has a few cinnamon groves, and is beginning to expand the production and marketing of delicious organic cinnamon. On a few occasions we were able to help harvest and process the cinnamon. First, Tane would choose a good branch and cut it into foot-long pieces. Then we used a knife at a 90 degree angle to the log to scrape off the thin outer bark. 
wwoof hawaii usa adaptations oceanfire cinnamon
Raw inner bark
Next we pounded the inner bark with a hammer to help it separate from the wood, which enabled us to peel off the cinnamon bark with a knife. Then the cinnamon was dried, and shipped to the mainland to be ground up and packaged. The rhythmic tones of people pounding on wood coupled with the sweet cinnamon aroma was reminiscent of some forgotten primal communal handicraft.
One day Tane and Maureen were heading south to check out a friend's new farm, and they kindly invited us to tag along. The farm happened to have the distinction of being the "southernmost organic farm in the US." The farmer had only had the land for nine months, and already had an incredible amount of produce growing. He was even planning on implementing an impressive aquaculture system. After our visit wrapped up, we all decided to go check out the southernmost point in the US, since it was so close. As we approached the coast, we noticed that all the trees were bent almost double from decades of relentless wind. The spot was marked with an official sign, and a platform positioned over the cliff's edge for daring jumpers.
wwoof hawaii usa
Southernmost point in the US
Once you've seen one southernmost point in the US, you've seen them all.
Holly and Mary
Honey the puppy enjoys watching
Scrabble from a comfy vantage point
When we weren't gallivanting around the island, we enjoyed relaxing evenings of dinner and board games with fellow farm worker Mary and her husband Jared. It's always exciting to find other board game enthusiasts to play games with. Their game of choice was Scrabble, and many nights were spent joyously reviewing the two-letter words of the English language while eating bowls and bowls of guacamole.
On March 31st, we said goodbye to our big-hearted Big Island friends, and set off for our next stop: New Zealand.

wwoof hawaii usa adaptations
Bak choi with oyster shell and sand
wwoof hawaii usa
The rainforest in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
wwoof hawaii usa adaptations
Tane and Maureen, our super kind and knowledgeable hosts