Pickers Packers and PuPu Platters

850!  That’s the number of seeds that circle the core of the average Kiwifruit.  This surprisingly colorful fruit has a remarkably short history outside of Asia. Originating in the Yangtze Valley, what was once known as the Chinese gooseberry went through a dramatic remarketing scheme in the 1950’s at the hands of a few patriotic Kiwis (the people, not the fruit).  Finding that the fruit grew well in New Zealand, the furry, brown-skinned berry was renamed after the country’s most famous furry, brown-skinned bird paving the way for the kiwifruit’s dramatic rise in global markets.

The kiwifruit spread south from it’s humble beginnings on the North Island to dominate the orchards the South Island where they are planted, pruned, picked, and packed to find there way into a supermarket near you.  Motueka, capitalizing on the Kiwi boom, became an agricultural town of fruit farmers, pickers, and packers.  The suburbs are now lined with orchards of apples and kiwis, with fruit stands aplenty, and the weekend farmer’s market on Sundays is poor foodie’s dream with heaps of fruit and vegetables for a few silver coins.

Felipe and I piled up on veggies at the market and set out to prepare gourmet meals all week, supplemented by bags of fruits for snack time.  Feijoa, or pineapple guava, are grown in mass around Motueka, and have since become my favorite Kiwi discovery.  The feijoa (pronounced feh-jo-ah), of Brazilian origin, is less popular than the kiwifruit, but grows well in New Zealand and is an up-market flavor for juice and sparkling soda.  The posh Kiwi Vodka, 42 Below, even makes a feijoa vodka, which is killer over ice with a splash of soda water.

Our night in Motueka was spent at an orchard with a clan of Argentinean hippies who sang their guitar driven anthems long into the night.  We left in the morning as they headed into the fields to pick the ripe fruit and went across town to eat breakfast with a friend in a house full of Asian fruit packers.

Leaving the pickers and packers behind we drove north in a heavy rain through flooded, unpaved streets into the heart of Golden Bay.  At the end of the 11km Canaan road off SH60, we set out into the tall Canaan forest down a submerged trail to the largest tomo (cave) in the Southern Hemisphere.  At 400m deep and 70m wide, Harwood’s Hole “is a dangerous place,” or so says the sign at the entrance.  Children are discouraged from viewing this gaping abyss and I too felt as though I should not have been given such unprecedented access.  With no barriers to hold me back, I climbed over slimy rocks, through a thin stone tunnel and out onto an unnerving ledge.  My heart was racing as I attempted to inch closer to the edge and peer down to the bottom, but the slippery stones sent me crawling away like a baby.

With a few awkward twists, I removed my soaked clothes in a portable toilet at the car park and slid into some damp replacements.  Exiting the rugged road to Harwood’s Hole, we decided to head north for the night to the tip of Golden Bay to work our way back the following afternoon.  At dusk, we had arrived in Collingwood, the last town of any substance before Farewell Spit on the northwest tip of the South Island.  We hunkered down by the fire in the quirky Mussel Inn amidst a hodgepodge of antiques and oddities to sample some of the regions finest home crafted beers.  Mussel Inn was the kind of spot you could spend a night picking the brains of locals, kicking it back with some thick, hoppy beer at the family sized tables.  Still on a feijoa kick, I ordered the Lambagreeny, a “barrel aged feijoa gueuze,” and took in the ambiance.

There was a perplexing mix of rain and sun the following day, producing a sky full of rainbows radiating around each turn of Golden Bay.  In the morning, Felipe and I crossed through a private farm full of sheep to enter into the dunes of Whariki Beach.  The dunes dabbled about, the bushes bunched, and the water roared through rocky outcrops as we explored the vast sandy seashore.  A small tidal river stretched away from the beach, worming its way into the private farm.  In it, we spotted a family of active seals, swimming on their backs whilst chasing ducks.  Soon, it was as if we had stumbled upon a rehearsal for Seaworld.  The seals leapt out of the river, worked patterns into the water and swam off into the distance, nuzzling each other.  If we had come by five minutes earlier, we wouldn’t have seen a thing.

Just down the sand-swept street from the famously beautiful Whaariki Beach was the turnoff for Farewell Spit. Most people on a trip to Golden Bay will make an obligatory trip here to the tip of the island on this sinewy stretch of sand that protects the tranquil bay from the Tasman Sea.  For those like us, who were feeling a wee wet and lazy, you can sit and have an espresso at Paddlecrab Café and check out the views from above.

South of Collingwood, but just north of Takaka, was the turnoff for Waikoropupu Springs, the largest freshwater spring in Australasia and the clearest freshwater in the world.  PuPu Springs, as it is affectionately called, is a sacred treasure for the Māori and discharges an average of 14,000 liters of water each second.  It all sounded quite exciting, but had I not read any of this prior, I would have swore I was looking at a largish pond on the side of a farm.

Takaka, Golden Bay’s largest town, was an artist enclave with quirky cafes, organic groceries, and galleries galore.  Local specialties included glass art, ceramics, and metalwork along with traditional musings on the local landscape.  Takaka was the kind of town where scraggly old hippies, passionate artists, and scruffy fisherman mingled at the local pub in peaceful harmony.  Better yet, it was the kind of town where scraggly old hippies went to town in their gumboots to drop off their art and head into the bay to fish.  Murals covered most public buildings and sculptures lined the streets all the way to the doors of the public toilet.  It was almost too cute.

Eccentric towns like Tekaka pop up all over New Zealand.  In a country where small businesses are still important and relevant, Kiwi towns lack the presumed repetition of the American marketplace.  Each small town in New Zealand is full of mom and pops which collectively find a way to market themselves and draw us tourists in with their oddball charm.

Passing through the small towns of the South Island I am constantly amused by the country’s perplexing highway system. In the States we plow through mountains to go in a straight line to get from point A to point B by the fastest means possible.  In the South Island of New Zealand there is no getting anywhere fast, with each major roadway deemed a “Scenic Highway,” perhaps to excuse it’s rambling sense of direction.  Roads here take time to explore the landscape and loop back on themselves more often than they go straight.  Yet, there is hardly a second that goes by that I don’t find myself ogling the scenery on these oft-flooded one-lane highways, whose bridges only accommodate cars from one direction at a time.

The last winding road we took in Golden Bay led us to the holiday home hotspot and most popular resort town in the area, Kaiteriteri.  Some seasonal towns weather the winter with a solemn grace.  Kaiteritieri is not one of them.  Sitting on a bench at sunset under the amber glow of a streetlamp, I stared down the long beachside walkway at forty other lonely benches.  Kaiteriteri was lost without its summertime revelers.

As the sun set on Kaiteriteri, Felipe and I drove back through Motueka, the town of planters, pickers, and packers, and around the Tasman Bay towards the premier plots for planters and pickers of another sort, entering into the heart of Marlborough, New Zealand’s world renowned wine country…


Of Seals and Signs

“Kiwi’s love signs.  They will put signs up for every fucking thing on the side of the road, but don’t believe them or you will be driving down a dirt road for an hour just to look at another sign.”  Desiree warned me against my natural tendency of seeking out the possibilities behind every turn. “Don’t be too curious.”

I tried to believe her and keep my eyes straight ahead, but I saw a sign for a seal colony and my excitement clouded my judgement. It was a clear morning and the immensity of Fox Glacier glistened against the green mountains of Westland / Tai Poutini National Park.  I had taken a windy, dirt road 26 kilometers west out of the tiny service town of Fox Glacier, past a small old cemetery, towards Gillespies Beach.  Looking back east as I arrived at the coast, puffs of white tucked themselves into the deep crevices of the Southern Alps as the atypical sunny morning gave way to a familiar, brooding haze.  I drove past the remains of a former bustling miners settlement to a small car park at the beach.

The sign read, “Seal Colony Walk: 3hr 30 min walk to the Seal Colony at remote Galway Beach.”  I had never seen a seal colony before (that I can remember), and the thought conjured up an assortment of wild images.  I grabbed some food from the car and started the trek on a path just above Gillespies Beach through the prickly bush.

Ten minutes into the walk, I came to a lagoon.  Behind me lay the bush, ahead of me the rainforest, and to my left the beach.  In a moment of disoriented wonder, I lost the track and went bumbling through the rainforest.  Retracing my steps, I made my way back to the lagoon, which housed the rusty remains of a mine dredge, a relic of Gillespies Beach’s history as one of New Zealand’s first gold mining settlements in the 1860’s.

The trail, led me to the windswept beach as I headed north towards a distant cliff.  Above the gray ironsands lay a striking natural wasteland of driftwood and beach stone.  The rough waves of the Tasman pounded the shore as a pair of oystercatchers stood at watch from the comforts of their rocky post.  After thirty minutes of beachcombing, I reached another lagoon and a system of bridges ushering me away from the beach and back into the rainforest on an old miner’s track.

Not far into the rainforest, I came across more evidence of this area’s golden history.  Entering a tunnel cut to offer easy access to deposits on the northern side of the headland, I was offered a spectacular panorama of the rocky shoreline and the vast Tasman Sea.

I stepped out of the damp tunnel and back into the rainforest to the pitter-patter of a soft drizzle.  The track went on for another hour-and-a-half uneventfully until I caught my first glimpse of the remote Galway Beach.  By this point, I had sprinted down the path, stopping only to calculate muddy crossings.  I was so excited to set my eyes on the massive colony of fur seals, but all I saw was a deserted beach.

Upset, but undeterred, I assured myself that this clearing in the forest did not give me the necessary scope I needed to assess the entire beach.  Climbing down a ladder to the shore, I walked away from the cliff towards the pounding waves of the sea.  I looked to the right, to the left, in every direction… nothing.   Using my camera as a binocular, I made use of the 12x zoom, scanning the sea until I saw a hint of gray flailing about on a distant rock.

It was no colony, but I had found a solitary seal.  I pleaded with him to show me to his family, to take me to the colony.  I tried to talk seal (making noises similar to those used to call another kid a retard in 6th grade) but it was hopeless.  Eventually, one friend emerged and the two seals flopped around on this solitary rock, 25 meters from the shore.

I walked down the lonely beach towards the cliffs on either end but could see no sign of further life.  I considered rounding the bend of each cliff but, taking into account the late hour, turned back, climbed up the ladder, and walked through the rainforest, wet and disappointed.

Desiree could not stop laughing having heard I fell victim to the lure of the Kiwi’s signs.  “In New Zealand, there are more flyers and signs than there are attractions.”   I vowed to do more research and consult my Lonely Planet before falling for these traps again.

That night at the pub, I shared my disappointment to a group of Kiwi’s and poked fun of them for conning all of us foreigners with false promises.  This comment both amused and confused them.

“What are you talking about?  There are heaps of seals down there.  I have pictures of me in the middle of hundreds of them.  Did you go around the cliff to the left of the beach?  They’re all there, you just have to go around the cliff a bit.”

“Sorry we didn’t put that on the sign for you!”