Thursday, April 16, 2009

Friends visit; public toilets; weird fruit

The Gregos from S/V FREE SPIRIT (Paul, Michele, Merric and Seanna) came to visit us for a couple of days on Easter weekend.   They bought a large van to drive while in New Zealand and there was plenty of room for all 6 of us to make a couple of trips to nearby tourist sites.    This will sound strange, but one of the major tourist attractions in the Northland Region of New Zealand are some public toilets in a small town about 15 km from the Opua Marina where we are docked.

The small town of Kawakawa boasts some grass-roofed public toilets which were the last piece of artful architecture designed by Friedensreich Hunderwasser.  The celebrated eccentric Austrian architect and painter artist chose the sleepy town of Kawakawa as his retirement home.  The artistic toilets quickly became a tourist attraction.  This caused some of the shop fronts on the main street to also adopt his trademark colorful style.  Frankly, I never even noticed that these toilets were grass-roofed, but our travel guide claims that they are.  Each toilet stall is different.   I didn`t get photos of the more elaborate stalls and did not go into the men`s toilets to see if those were different from the ladies.  Must say that the cleanliness level of these public toilets was exceptional.

Speaking of which, New Zealand has the cleanest and best-supplied public toilets of any place we have ever visited.  However, I am still not accustomed to unisex public toilets.  Most of the public toilets I have utilized in New Zealand have had separate facilities for men and women.  But on 3 occasions I was surprised to encounter unisex facilities.  Now I have never encountered unisex public toilets in the States, so this is a surprise and rather disconcerting each time I experience it.  Whenever the facilities are unisex then the stall walls and doors go all the way down to the floor, so there is a bit more privacy.  But it still feels very weird to be in the same restroom with strange men.  Especially when they want to chat while you are washing your hands.

After the Kawakawa toilets we drove back to Opua and caught the ferry over to Russell.  This was our first trip to Russell because only the car ferries operate from Opua.  The passenger ferries operate from Pahia to Russell.  The car ferries from Opua land quite a distance from Russell, much too far to walk.  So taking a car ferry and walking to town is out of the question.  To get to Pahia to utilize the passenger ferry requires a car to get to and from Pahia.  So you either need a car to get from Opua to Pahia and back, or you need a car to ferry over and drive to Russell.  Without a car you are pretty much out of luck when it comes to visiting Russell as they don`t seem to have taxis in these little towns of northern New Zealand. 

Russell was the first European settlement in the area.   It is short distance across the bay from the Waitangi National Reserve and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in February 1840 between England and 45 Maori chiefs.  This is New Zealand`s most significant historic sites.  Unfortunately, the Treaty of Waitangi still has not been ratified and remains the linchpin of race relations in New Zealand today.  The native Maori had no conception of ownership of land and never agreed to give or sign over their traditional homelands to the British.  They did not read English and had no understanding of the verbiage of that treaty.  The Maori understanding of what was verbalized to them about this treaty disagreed substantively with the written version.  Within days of signing the treaty, the Maori felt they had been grossly deceived and refused to acknowledge what the British now claimed were British "rights." 

The Maori began going over to Russell at night and chopping down the British flag poles.  This went on for years.  The British would make a new pole and raise the British flag.  The Maori would swim over at night and cut down the pole and remove the flag.  Eventually the Maori obtained guns and the disagreement escalated.  Eventually the fighting stopped, but the Treaty still remain unratified today --- 169 years after it was signed.

Today Russell is a quiet, quaint little seaside town filled with artist galleries, tourist shops and little cafes and restaurants.  A lovely place to visit with whitewashed weatherboard houses enclosed by white picket fences and cottage gardens.  The town`s present tranquility belies its turbulent past as the "hell-hole of the Pacific."   Russell started out as a destination for 19th-century sailors, whalers and traders looking for provisions, rum and fun after months at sea.  Whalers plied these waters because the whales follow a route of up to Niue, westward to Kingdom of Tonga, and then down south from Tonga and down the eastern coast of New Zealand.  Extremely fertile sailing grounds for whaling in the 1800s.   Russell was well-known as a rough town filled with whores and rum and anything goes for the tough whalers.  The first Europeans to settle were not idealists hoping for a new life but largely ship deserters and time-expired convicts from New South Wales.   Neither category of person enhanced the town`s reputation.

We had lunch beneath the trees at a so-so restaurant and walked around for an hour or so.  We wandered through the 19th-century graveyard around Christ Church, which is the country`s oldest church.  This is the first graveyard we have visited that had some graves marked by large rough boulders engraved with the deceased`s particulars.  Other graves had very elaborate headstones and looked ever-so-proper British.  Christ Church is still scarred with bullet holes resulting from a clash between a groups of Maori and the British navy in 1844.

At the end of Russell`s waterfront cafe strip is Pompallier.  We did not visit because it was closed for the Easter weekend.  This French colonial building still houses the printing works for the Roman Catholic mission founded by the French missionary Bishop Pompallier in 1841.  Inside this building the missionaries would tan leather and print and bind books in the Maori language.  This craft is continued today for the benefit of tourists.  Sorry we missed that as I would have liked to buy a leather-bound book printed in Maori. 

I still find it hilarious that the pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent or white folks) say that in Maori a "WH" is pronounced like an "F" when it was the Europeans who first wrote the Maori language.  Until the Europeans arrived Maori was strictly a spoken language.  So all the peculiarities of spelling in English vs. pronunciation in spoken Maori are totally the responsibility of the Europeans.  For the life of me, I cannot understand why some European wrote down "WH" when he was hearing "F."  There are many other diphthongs that are pronounced completely different than spelled, but the most common and obvious is the "WH."

On Easter Sunday night we went out to dinner with friends at Pure Tastes in Pahia.  The presentation of each starter and entree was gorgeous but the food was only so-so to our palates.  A very enjoyable evening but not a restaurant that I would recommend.  Bill took a few photos with his phone and I will upload those later to this website.

The shop in Auckland finally called about our side panels for the cockpit.  They cannot match the zipper on the top of the side panels.  We are definitely not replacing the other half of the zipper on the bimini extension that zips to the side panels, so we won`t be getting the solid side panel extensions after all.   I told the shop to return our shade side panels.

As soon as our original shade side panels are received, we are ready to depart New Zealand on the first good weather window.   Bill has a couple of things he wants to check before we leave on this next ocean passage  (like the outboard engine that hasn`t been started in months), and we will probably will rent a car for a few days to provision a bit more.  We understand that it is a good idea to stock up on anything that Australia quarantine won`t remove because everything is much more expensive in Australia.  Sure wish stores in New Zealand sold different brands of things like cleansers, deodorant, plastic wrap and storage bags, aluminum foil, toilet paper and paper towels.  I would pay $15 USD for a bottle of Soft Scrub with Bleach right now.   They sell nothing like that here.

We are waiting to hear definitely whether our 8-yr-old grandson will fly to Australia to sail Queensland with us for the summer.  And, if so, what date he will arrive in Australia.  The answer to that question will determine whether we are sailing to New Caledonia, Vanuatu or straight to Australia.

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