The Anti-Little Mermaid

(This is part two of Containment Issues. Go read part 1 if you want some background on this adventure, or keep reading if you just want to see some sea critters.)


You know that scene in the Little Mermaid where Arial shows us her collection of Whosits and Whatsits galore, and her twenty Thingamabobs? It’s generally understood, even by the particularly young audience of that movie, that Arial is fascinated with the things she collects because they represent a whole facet of her world that she knows nothing about: land. Maybe I know some things about the way oceans work a little better than Arial understood the function of a fork, but there’s still a huge difference between seeing an ocean in a textbook, and digging your toes into the sand. In this metaphor, I am Arial’s opposite- thrilled and giddy about the everyday occurrences of the tide pools, the critters that live inside them, and the way their little ecosystems survive and thrive; little havens safe from the violently crashing waves.

We’re back at Piha for the second installment of Containment Issues, and if you think I had trouble containing my excitement for part one, you have a whole other think coming.

tide pool lion rock at piha new zealand beach

The thing about all the scary, dangerous rocks at Piha is that while they’re busy endangering the lives of unassuming swimmers, they’re also harboring other forms of life in droves.

Keeping in mind that my experience with oceans prior to this trip was extremely limited- meet the first sea critter:

barnacles on the rocks in tide pools piha new zealand

(You thought I was done taking pictures of the ground, didn’t you? I’m just getting started!)

Barnacles! Barnacles are everywhere, and they are so weird. They’ll grow on anything that stays still long enough, and they look all spongy and squishy but they’re just not. They’re hard- so hard that, combined with the next critter I met, they’ll cut right through the soles of your shoes if you’re not careful. What’s the next critter, then?

barnacles and mussels on piha beach sea life

This blog post should probably actually be titled, “Taking Pictures That Could Be Desktop Backgrounds” – alternatively, “Taking Pictures of the Ground part 2″

Mussels! I’ve seen mussels before- I’m a pretty huge fan of boiling  and steaming them, and grilling them is pretty excellent too, but this day was the first time in my 22 wise years (sarcasm) that I had ever seen mussels as they are in nature. They kind of stick themselves to the rocks so that their razor-sharp lips point directly up into the unsuspecting bottoms of your feet. These particular ones are small, but the Green-Lipped mussels in New Zealand (the kind commonly eaten) are the length of my hand! The little critter inside a Green-Lipped mussel is as big as the critter and shell combined of the mussels I’m used to eating here.

Next Critter:

sea anenome in tide pool piha new zealand adventure

“Poke it!”… “I’m not poking it. It’ll bite me!”…”It won’t bite you. When are you ever going to have a chance to poke an anemone again?”

Its an anem- aneon- ame- an anemone! I totally sympathize with Nemo, nobody could be expected to spell that without a ‘proofread’ button. Apparently this is the Disney movie reference blog post… I was a little fearful of the anemone situation based on my knowledge of how they eat… by trapping and killing their prey with stinging nematocysts that emit bursts of venom to anything touching their little tentacles, and then digesting it. I didn’t feel like any of my fingers needed digesting, so I wasn’t about to go sticking them were they didn’t belong. There were several minutes of reassurance (and laughter) before I decided that maybe, maybe, it would be okay if it was just a quick poke, so I did- and watched the anemone curl in on itself until it looked like a squishy little stress ball! It may have even been worth the stress of potential finger digestion.

seaweed growing in tide pools in new zealand

Ever seen anyone get excited about seaweed before? You’re about to!

You’ll recall the previous post about the growing of Mermaid Hair- here we have a different variety which is cultivated primarily for use by younger Mermaids, as fashion trends dictate large, flat strands of hair rather than smaller cylindrical ones typically seen with the older set. These are still very young Mermaid Hair Plants, and will continue to grow until they are long enough for the Mermaids to harvest. The exact length depends on the particular preference of the Mermaid, although longer lengths are typically associated with a higher level of patience, as this type of Mermaid Hair Plant is a very slow grower. It is particularly sought after for its very vibrant spring greens.

If you see a Mermaid Hair Plant on the beach, be sure not to disturb it- the Mermaid is probably waiting for you to leave so they can come up to retrieve it at high tide.

Here, with my bright pink flippy floppies and toes as reference, you can see the danger that barnacles and mussels present for those who wish to climb around on the rocks. It’s the only way to get to more awesome sea life though!

hot pink flip flops explore barnacles and tide pools

Flippy Floppies: Commonly called “Jandals” by the Kiwi population, who will give you a funny look and ridicule you for calling them anything else

If I had planned this trip better, (who am I kidding, I couldn’t have planned for this- neither of us had any idea it was going to be so epic…) I would have worn my water shoes. They have very dense soles. I did, in fact, wear them the next time we went, but that’s another blog post.

Here’s what the mussels and barnacles look like when they’re all grown up:

mussels and starfish at low tide

Unfortunately, you can’t eat the mussels once they’ve left the water because they emit poison to keep themselves safe from predators… like pink-haired seafood loving adventurers…

That’s about the size of the ones you can buy in the grocery store. Also, you’ll note in the upper central third of this photograph- my first real life encounter with Starfish! Stay tuned, cause this adventure is about to get more Starfishy than anyone could have anticipated…

But first!

kina sea urchin submerged in new zealand tide pool

I didn’t say all the critters were cute critters… some of them are downright frightening.

Sea Urchin! This particular variety of sea urchin is called a Kina, which is its Māori name. It’s a delicacy, apparently- but I think I’d have a hard time getting past it’s prickly exterior. Kind of makes you wonder what that first person was thinking when he said, “Hey, wonder what it would be like to put one of those spiky things in my mouth! Gosh, I hope we don’t die!” …what pretty colors, though! 

Here’s another face only a mother could love:

new zealand sea crab in tide pool

One of the biggest critters we saw… Definitely not a thing I’d want to poke…

Crabs! Crabs come in all shapes and sizes, and this particular fellow was pretty large. They’re also very quick and very skittish, and so difficult to photograph. this was actually not the first crab I saw, it was just the first time one didn’t run away for long enough to document its existence. Maybe he was feeling photogenic. Maybe he was having a good….exoskeleton…day…?

And now for something completely different!

small blue starfish in new zealand


Starfish! Of all the critters on this adventure, the starfish were the biggest deal. I knew they existed, because I kept seeing them in far away, difficult to get to places, and I really wanted to get close enough to photograph some. Enter, our little cerulean friend! She (he?) was in a tiny tide pool- fitting, for a tiny starfish. I didn’t even know starfish came in blue, and yet there we were! I took so many pictures. Just to be sure, you know? And this- this most glorious of starfish-finding moments- was only the beginning.

constellation of eleven legged starfish new zealand

Very important fact of the day: A group of starfish is called a Constellation!

Oh. My. Goodness. Everyone. Google has just informed me that a group of starfish is, in all actual and very serious fact, called a Constellation. As far as trivial facts you’ll probably never use goes, that’s pretty excellent. I, however, really could have used that knowledge when I ran into this situation, just at the cusp of low tide on Piha:

starfish covered rock 1

first photo: pretty average looking rocks covered in mussels, barnacles, and something…orange? Also check out those sea caves in the background!

At first glance, it’s nothing more than a pretty picture… but what happens if we maybe get a little closer?

starfish covered rock 2

are those…?

YES. Yes they are, friend. Just as I though that I was done, that Piha was done teaching me about tide pools and ocean life like a grade school child learns about sentence structure, here we were. Faced with a person-height rock covered from tip to toe in starfish! I am so done. I was having such a hard time thinking of anything that could possibly even begin to top this experience. It’s like the mermaids were whispering around (because of my interest in their hair-plants) and they told the starfish what a nice surprise it would be for a poor, land-locked American if they all gathered themselves up on one single solitary rock at low tide so that said American could freak out and take lots of pictures on her first whole day on a beach. Then, they had the little blue starfish keep watch, and they waited.

rock full of starfish new zealand

Feel free to have yourself a game of ‘count the starfish’- I lost track, those legs are tricky. I’m just going to stick with ‘a lot’ if anyone asks…

Naturally, I had to document my presence at this moment:

selfie at starfish rock piha adventures

AHHH (you can even sort of see the sunburn setting in…)

While I was taking photos, the tide started to roll back in- and it rolled very quickly indeed. After a few last-minute shots, we scurried back up onto the beach via some more tide-pool laden rocks, and decided- as the sun was starting to head for the western horizon, to head home. Not before I took a few last minute photos though.

tide pool at piha new zealand.

I feel like I could fill a ocean studies textbook with all the photos I took on this trip. I just want to stare at it and count all the critters! I didn’t even talk about the limpets, snails, and mollusks!

Piha was beautiful. If she were human, she’d be flipping her hair in the wind right now. She behaved perfectly, and I have not a single, solitary complaint about my visit- (my subsequently peeling nose might have some other thoughts, but I care not. It only happened once.)- and I still basically want to live here.

piha beach new zealand

The day summed up- Tide pools, rocks, beach, ocean, and the scenic cliffs in the distance.

And finally- one last shot of the Mermaid Hair Plant forest:

piha and volcanic rocks beach new zealand

I can identify volcanic rocks when I see them now too! But we’re getting to that adventure…

It’s still really difficult for me to comprehend that everything in this photo was covered by water just a few hours later at high tide. I can’t deny it- I nearly got stranded a few times (and by stranded I mean I almost had to get my shoes wet in order to get back to dryer land…).

So there- we’ve reached the end of part 2. There’s still a whole ‘nother post’s worth of adventure to cram into this day! That’s for next week, though, and if you are a little bit tired of ocean-based photos- ( one, gasp! and two, you might consider reading about someone else’s non-island based adventures….)- don’t worry! Next week’s installment of the Containment Issues saga takes us up into the hills surrounding Piha to see my very first southern hemisphere waterfall! And no, the water doesn’t flow in the opposite direction.

In the more recent news of someone who is retroactively blogging about her visit to New Zealand, My working holiday visa for this coming year was approved this week! I’ll be traveling back to this wonderful place at the end of September, and this time not only am I allowed to work and make money- I can stay for a whole year! Piha, darling, I’m coming back for you! Let’s just hope I can get caught up with the old adventures before new ones begin!

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(Retroactive) Containment Issues

Preface: I may have kinda sorta stopped blogging because I was too busy having crazy wild fun in New Zealand… I’m back in St. Louis now- so prepare yourselves for some hardcore retroactive adventure blogging!

Here’s the thing. I went on this adventure- and the whole thing lasted, in its entirety, for approximately 8 hours. As far as adventures go, that’s just a blink of a moment in time…especially since two of the hours in question were spent driving to and from the destination. Especially since this whole 3 month New Zealand trip is an adventure. Especially since all life is an adventure.

But get this. I’m going to have to split that 8 hours up into three blog posts, because otherwise the level of grand miraculousness that occurred on this adventure will not adequately be described and that, my friends, would be a travesty.

You see, before The Void took me to New Zealand, the number of times I had personally interacted with oceans could be counted on three fingers. After just a few weeks, I’d encountered my fair share of beaches and oceans, and up until this day I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the whole situation.

But then this happened:

Piha New Zealand


New Zealand separates the Pacific ocean (east) from the Tasman sea (west)- and further along west is Australia. It’s not one of those “I can see Russia from my house” type scenarios though- it’s a bit further away than that. Piha was my first experience with the Tasman sea, all the other beaches I’d been to so far were on the Pacific side.

Sheep insisted his picture be taken before we moved on:


Sheep was so excited by the prospect of this beach that he couldn’t even wait until we actually got to the beach…

As a side note, shortly after this trip Sheep created his very own Tumblr and he’s pretty popular. Like, way more popular than me…

I took 491 photos of this adventure (part of the reason it’s getting split up into three posts)- and you’ll see why. How can you not when everything’s just so pretty?


Not sure if I’m allowed to say that the Tasman sea is prettier than the Pacific, but the odds are certainly stacked in its favor.

One of the first things I noticed when we got out of the car was the sand- It’s called a black sand beach, but really it’s a combination of normal colored sand and iron from volcanic rocks, which darkens and gives everything beautiful, shimmery effect. The beach literally sparkles, and it’s fabulous.


See!? Sparkly!

The iron deposits are washed up by the waves, and sit on top of the sand. Next time, I’m bringing a magnet and science is going to go down.


I am absolutely that weirdo that spent the day at a beautiful beach and took a bunch of pictures of the ground…I mean, someone had to make sure the sparkle was adequately captured…

The second thing you should probably know about Piha is that it’s one of the most dangerous beaches in New Zealand. It’s one of few surf beaches I’ve been to, and the currents here are so dangerous that it has it’s own TV show: “Piha Rescue”. – However, the waves are pretty excellent.


Does ‘poke it thrice and call it mine’ count in this scenario? I want to live here.

The trip was mostly exploratory, though. I still can’t surf (patience, grasshopper. Next time), and the water’s a bit chilly anyways- but it’s gorgeous even if you choose to stick to dry ground. There are three sections of the beach, and it’s safe to say that the most interesting bits are only accessible at low tide. By a very lucky coincidence, our visit was well-timed.

piha beach at low tide

Looking off on the south beach

Not only did we get there just as the tide was going out, it went out much further than usual while we were there. According to Google and my middle school science teacher, this is called a “Spring Tide” and occurs during new and full moons. The more you know.

As we were looking around (read: as I was taking pictures of the ground…) Jon told me about a second beach that is only accessible at low tide (it’s a fairly common dilemma with the beaches here), and although the tide was going out, it wasn’t low enough yet. While we waited for the water level to go down, we wandered over towards another interesting landmark.

lion rock at piha beach new zealand

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the Lion sleeps tonight! (Hakuna Matata!)

Lion Rock! it looks more or less like a lion depending on where you stand, but the general idea is there. When the Māori lived here, they used Lion Rock as a lookout and defensive position, and were quite successful at defending their land from invaders for a very long time.

piha south beach at low tide new zealand

As the tide went out, it was very clear why some sections are dangerous to swim in.. I don’t think I’d enjoy an encounter with any of the barnacle-covered rocks lurking beneath the surface.

It’s a short, steep climb up to the lookout, and definitely worth it for the views. If you look closely, you can even see a few tiny surfers amongst the waves! Straight ahead you can see the extension of beach that I talked about earlier- we’ll get to that in a minute.

piha beach from lion rock new zealand

1) Check out that view, and 2) Don’t fall off the rock!

There’s a little grassy patch on top of the lion’s head for your sunbathing pleasure, and it also happens to afford a pretty fantastic view of the beach and village below. From the top, I learned a thing or two about what, exactly, makes Piha so dangerous. There’s just the boisterously breaking waves crashing up onto the beach if you look to the south, but looking over the north beach is a different story entirely. There, amongst the breakers, you can see the twisting patterns the rip tides create in the surf, and the places where the pull is so strong that it drags sand up from the ocean floor. This definitely isn’t a swimming beach- and when people don’t heed that warning, it makes for some very dramatic television.

top of lion rock at piha beach new zealand

If anyone needs me I’ll be building my house right… here.

For a bit of a reference, here’s a view of the climb back down Lion Rock. It’s a steep and well worn path, but not an issue even if you’re not very sure-footed. One thing I discovered pretty quickly is that aside from my low level of general physical fitness, I specifically have a pretty awful sense of balance. Even though I felt like I was going to fall for most of the walk, I still managed to do it without so much as a skinned knee.

descent from lion rock at piha beach new zealand

Fitness aside, maybe not a good first walk for people afraid of heights. It is a pretty long way down…

After climbing down from Lion Rock and a quick snack break, the tide was low enough for some secret-beach explorations. We climbed over the barnacle-encrusted rocks and stopped to investigate many a tide pool ecosystem, and I took some pictures to document my efforts at keeping my bright pink dye job from fading in the sunlight. New Zealand’s UV rays are, after all, 40% more intense than the ones in the US.

protect dyed hair from uv rays selfie at piha beach new zealand

I’m a pirate, and any logical argumentation concerning the actual, tangible non-piratenesss of my life is irrelevant. (I’m not saying I’m The Batman… I’m just saying nobody has ever seen me and The Batman in the same room together…)

After a bit of climbing, and some hilarious moments concerning my inability to balance myself upright with anything less than three points of contact -(I see you there. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.)- this is what we saw:

south piha beach at the lowest of low tides

Location: paradise. I’d be fine with a hut, really- it doesn’t even have to be a whole house…. I wonder if I could use the salt water for washing out my printing screens, or if my little hut would need a reverse osmosis device…

This whole ‘Grand Adventure in Three Parts’ occurred on a Monday, which is not-generally speaking- a very popular day for beachgoers, so the whole place was virtually empty. Even fewer people ventured around to this little corner, so my job as ~Official Photographic Evidence Gatherer~ was pretty easy. You’d have to actively try to take boring, ugly pictures of this place.

piha south beach in the sun

The only disadvantage of the wispy cloud cover is the sunlight. If there’s one skill I picked up in my travels, it was how to sunblock everywhere the sun might so much as think about touching,

If you walk all the way down so far that you run out of sand, this is what you see. The beach gives way to nothingness, separated from the ocean only by a rocky outcropping against which the waves crash violently (in sets of seven, I learned). Behind this is an area where, I was informed, seals and penguins might bring their young to keep them safe while fishing. Alas, it was neither seal nor penguin season, so we didn’t spot any mammals this trip (other sea life on the other hand… well, stay tuned for part 2!)

wave crashes against rocks at piha new zealand

One of the many rules of beaches is ‘never turn your back on the waves’… and now we know why.

Three pictures ago, you may have noticed a rock to the right of the beach. Here’s another view:

piha south beach new zealand

Seriously, nature. How does this even happen… Why is it so pretty and perfect all the time? Is it even trying??!

This little channel goes, obviously, all the way through the rock. Apparently people (more adventurous than myself) even swim through it! Nature is the coolest thing ever.

We decided to spend the hottest part of the day in the shade by taking a short hike up into the hills to see a waterfall; but that’s part three of this little adventure. After that, and lunch under a flowering Pohutukawa tree, we tried our luck at the north end of the beach.

north end of piha beach sun and sand new zealand

The sun, sand, and water combination does such weird things that I will probably never get tired of photographing…

This end had a whole bunch of truly fabulous tide pools and sea life that we are not  talking about until next week because there is too much and it is overwhelming and even as it is I may still explode…

There was also this very cool cave.

cave at low tide piha beach new zealand

note to future self: caves that fill with water at high tide will drip on your camera if you wander in at low tide.

Below, we can see a very nice specimen of mermaid hair, which as we all learned in school, grows on the rocks until it is long enough that it can be harvested and worn by the mermaids.

The mermaids, because of this, have bright green hair which blends nicely with the green-blue of their oceanic habitats as well as the various jewel tones of their tails. Of course, some of the more rebellious mermaids have been known to dye their hair ‘weird’ colors like blonde and brunette, and some of them don’t even tell their parents they’re doing it first. Some people will attempt to convince you that this is not mermaid hair at all and is instead seaweed, but those people are wrong.

seaweed growing on a rock wall at low tide at piha beach new zealand

See? you can see on the edges the roots where the mature mermaid hair has already been harvested!

As the sun went down and the tide started to roll back in, (neither the first, nor the last time we almost got caught by the tide on this trip) we headed back to the car, I took pictures of the colors changing as the daylight faded, and we evaluated the condition of our sunburns and tan lines.

sunset at piha beach new zealand photography

Dear Piha, it won’t be the last time we meet!

Did you make it? Are you with me here at the end of this post? Did you scroll through the pictures thinking to yourself: “My, they just keep going- when will it end?” – well here it is. I’ve made it through one third of this single-day adventure. Probably less than a third, if you consider the number of photos I have for next week’s post. This is what happens when you release someone with a formal education in photography on a beach for (basically) the first time in her life and tell her to go crazy. I can, having already returned from this trip to New Zealand (’tis only the first of many!), look back on this adventure in comparison to everything else that happened and say with pretty secure certainty that it was still one of the best parts of the trip. There are so many things you don’t think about when you don’t experience them firsthand. Sure, you learn in elementary school that the ocean’s tide goes in and out- that there are seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains of sand in the world, that crashing waves carve patterns in rocks, and that a variety of sea life living in these nifty little things called ‘tide pools’- but until you see it? I don’t think you fully understand it until you’re standing in the middle of it, and it’s jumping up to nibble at your unsuspecting toes.

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A Highly Concentrated Dose of Adventure: and the Front Page News

We’re freshly back from a weekend trip up the Coromandel Peninsula, and let me tell you- it was an adventure in more ways than one. The weather was cloudy with a bit of rain, but what’s a bit of water in the face of adventure?

cloudy hazy bay at tairua new zealand

Photo-stop in Tairua. Pretty sure if you look close enough, you can see Smaug back there somewhere…

The road is long and impressively winding. Where the highways I’m used to cut forcibly through the landscape in unforgiving straight lines, this one winds gracefully up, down, and between the mountains. They’re the kind of roads you see in Bond movies, with a vertical cliff face to your right and a straight drop miles down to your left. And bonus points for the frequent scenic outcroppings complete with parking areas.


Adventure waits for no one- It’s surreal to be surrounded by mountains and oceans at the same time.

At one point, there was a narrow, overgrown pathway that led to a view that Sheep couldn’t get enough of. He even thought he heard some Kiwi birds…


Sheep’s Adventures in Birdwatching, anyone?

Upon arrival in Whitianga, we did a bit of exploring and went out in the bay for a bit of swimming and kayaking. It was still rainy, so the escapade was cut short by my worry at the level of waterproofing of my camera bag, but it was fun while it lasted. The next morning we spent a bit of time wandering around in town, where one of the local shopkeepers recognized me from the day before by my hair. It’s a good thing I’m not a spy, really- hard to keep a low profile with a highlighter on your head…

Next, Hot Water Beach!

hot water beach new zealand

It’s like a treasure map… “twenty paces in front of the rocky outcropping, you must start digging.”

Hot Water Beach has a hot spring under it, and people can go during low tide and dig holes in the sand. The holes fill with spring water from under the ground, and you get a nice hot tub effect while hanging out on the beach. It’s a great idea in theory, but there are some issues. First is people- it’s a very touristy spot, and I was lucky to be able to take a few pictures before too many came to stake their claims.

hot water beach new zealand

There’s so much nature, and it’s just…everywhere! I love it.

The second issue is that you’re supposed to start digging your hole while the tide is still moderately high for Maximum Hot-Spring Enjoyment Factor… which is difficult. You start digging your hole, and a wave comes in and washes the whole thing flat again. you try to build a barricade, the wave washes it away. You try to use a human as a barricade, the water gets around him and washes sand into his shorts. It’s sort of destined to fail from the beginning. Didn’t stop us from trying, though!

digging a hole at hot water beach

Maybe we need a different strategy? Or an earth-mover. That would work…

The boys tried a couple of approaches while I stood by with the camera. Eventually, they started trying more obscure digging methods…

digging at hot water beach, new zealand

What if we brought a team of German Shepherds to the beach, and told them a bone was buried down there?

The cool thing about it is that you can see the hot water bubbling up through the sand if you’re looking- too hot, actually, to stick your foot in. I heard surprised yelping in several different languages in the few hours we were there- like I said, it’s a very touristy place. Eventually, it became impossible to dig without fear of beaning an innocent bystander with a spade full of sand, so we left in search of less crowded adventures.

hot water beach new zealand

The areas of the beach that do not boast of hot springs are deserted. Way to show the love, guys. What if this poor section of beach is lonely?

We decided to go explore Cathedral Cove next- it’s a spot I wanted to visit and also a pretty cool hike.

cathedral cove beginning of hike

This week, on “Scenic portraits of seagulls”…

The hike takes about 30 minutes, and there’s all manner of interesting things to see along the way.

gemstone bay, new zealand

Overlooking Gemstone Bay. Sadly, no actual gemstones are present…

The interesting thing about the New Zealand countryside is that there is so much of it, and yet it’s all so different.

new zealand foliage and forest

The (albeit slightly rainy) hike to Cathedral Cove

At one point, as you walk over the top of one hill (It’s about the halfway point)- the view to the left is a perfect description of the rolling hills, rocky outcroppings, and lush greenery that seems to mark New Zealand’s summers:

new zealand

Title shot for more Hobbit movies right there- no wonder those movies were so good- with this landscape, half of your work is done from the start!

Standing in the same place and looking to the right, however, reminds you that there is in fact an ocean surrounding this place, and you’d do well to pay attention or risk falling off the edges of the earth.

new zealand

Views to the left of me, views to the right- here I am, stuck in the middle with you!

After the 30 minute hike to Cathedral Cove, which may have been slightly longer on account of all the breath-catching that had to be done because ‘lung capacity’ is not on my list of strengths… we emerged:


Sometimes, trees get the best views.

Cathedral Cove is exactly as beautiful as they say: times about a million. Because of the weather and the time of day, there were only about 12 other people there with us, so I took advantage of the photography. The wave sounds that can be heard echoing through the cavern are haunting and beautiful, and the water is so clear that you’d swear you were the only other human on the planet.

cathedral cove

I can see why Macklemore filmed his music video here…but I know he didn’t hike 30 minutes through the bush to do it…

I’m having this problem with the scaling of everything- there are no words, and no photos that can accurately describe the intense largeness of the cavern- or the feeling of smallness you get from standing inside it.

catherdral cove

just going to sit here and contemplate the smallness for a while…

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is what the start of the return hike looks like:

cathedral cove hike

“…and then, they disappeared into the jungle, never to be seen again…”

On the way back, we met this dapper fellow and his lady friend- at first they were afraid, but I crouched down to take photos while Jon made some whistling sounds, and our new feathered friend came over and posed on a rock so I could take his picture.


Too bad his lady friend wasn’t interested in the photography…

By the time we got back to the house it was dark, which turned out to be just fine considering the sunset. Although it was cloudy and rainy for most of the weekend, the skies cleared up enough for a night-shot of the view from our front porch. Off to the left is Shakespeare cliff, which was on the list of things we would have done had the weather improved.


It’s supposed to be ‘red skies at night, sailor’s delight’…don’t trust the wives tales, kids.

The next day, we went on a new adventure to see what apparently has been voted “New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Beach”- It’s another one that you have to do a bit of hiking to get to.

hike to new chums beach

It starts with a rocky beach that is absolutely full of the most beautiful shells and rocks- you walk around the edge until you think you’ll run out of land, and then a path appears to lead you into the brush. Hinky.

After getting distracted looking at seashells for a good half hour, we went inland where I was surprised to discover an area that looked like it was the hand-built set from a Jurassic park movie. Everything was still, and you could hear but not see the ocean through the undergrowth. It was beautiful, and creepy all at once.


you just expect to see a cameraman on a little track waiting to film our reactions to the monsters that jump out…

It was, actually, a beautiful beach. Another stroke of luck with only 10 or so other people around, and this little lean-to constructed out of palm fronds and tree bark:

lean to shelter at new chums beach

Ah yes, I’ll move in next Tuesday if that’s alright with everyone. Look at those pohutukawa trees blooming in the background!

Far enough up the beach, there are even sand dunes that look out over the water. Birds nest on the dunes, which is cool as long as you abide by the natural order of ‘you stay on your side of the rope, I stay on my side of the rope’ -Otherwise, eyeballs get pecked out.


Just realized I spent an awful lot of time taking pictures with my back to the beach. That might be considered somewhat backwards by some…

Here we are: the sun sets over New Chums beach…

new chums beach

…except you can’t really see it because of those pesky clouds…

And walking back, we could see the beach from between the trees:


never really considered myself to be a beach person, but this is pretty excellent.

You’ll forgive me for saving the biggest adventure for last.

After all the adventure we crammed into the ‘annual camping trip’ this weekend, I figured we were about finished with it all when we packed the kayak and everything else up and headed for home. Sheep was more than happy to stand guard while we put everything else into the car and took off- after a quick pit stop for fish n’ chips, of course.


As you can see, a very securely tied, properly attached, and correctly facing kayak. This is the ‘before’ part of the story, you see.

Unfortunately, about an hour and a half into our return trip (and stops every 15 minutes or so to let people pass us and make sure that the kayak was in fact secure- it was) we drove around a corner and a gust of wind hit us so hard that it shook the car. There was a loud clap and a bang, and I watched as the nose of the kayak swung around over my window. We pulled off the road, and Jon started working on assessing the damage. I, meanwhile, was trapped in the car by a twisted piece of the roof rack which had levered itself against my door. About a minute after we pulled over, a police officer found us and pulled off. She saw the twisted pieces of metal that remained of the rack, and Jon told her that it had snapped in the wind, and we were trying to fix it. She helped to twist the kayak back to its proper position, which partially freed the piece of metal against my door, and then apologized because she was on her way to an accident further up the road, and left.

After Jon pried me out of the car, we set to disassembling the wreckage and reattaching the kayak facing, once again, front to back. It took about two hours, one tarp, a duvet, a bungee cord, and 20 feet of rope to get it tied back on, and by the time it was tied, the car battery was dead from the hazards and headlights. When we attempted to flag down an officer for help, he refused, laughing, and drove away.

I was a little miffed that nobody else stopped to help us (considering the eight other police cars that drove by), but I counted it as a win because the only major damage was to the roof rack. I figured that was the end of it, until this popped up on the NZ National News two days later:

windblown kayak sideways

Thank you, good Samaritan who stopped to take this picture and didn’t bother offering any help at all. On the other hand, it’s cool to have a picture…

According to the original article, police pulled over an Irishman who told them he though that was how kayaks were supposed to be transported- and was ‘unrepentant’. Basically, the story went viral, and even more viral when they found out that the driver was actually about as close to being Irish as a bottle-nose dolphin. The police ended up having to actually apologize to the entire Irish nation -Foreign relations and all. They are, however, still claiming that they pulled us over for driving with the kayak sideways like that. First, nobody pulled us over- the car pictured pulled off to try and help after we were already stopped- and second, at no point were we actively driving with a sideways kayak on the roof. Someone who “was not there to comment on the situation” appears to still be commenting on the situation.

So far, I love New Zealand, and I’m happy to be able to call it home for another two and a half months. I love everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and I’m jealous of this fine place they call home- especially this summer in December thing, that’s awesome. That said, a little grey rabbit once told me “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”- and I think Thumper would agree that spreading lies for any reason isn’t nice, no matter the intent.

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Jet Lag, Doorknobs, and One Pair of Socks: The New Zealand Mission Begins.

Do you remember when I said that thing about how I was going to get all nice and caught up on my blogging by December, so that I could switch gears and tell you all about New Zealand when I got here?


I’m most of the way through the screen printing post, and still have to do my moccasin boot post as well. I’m going to save those for a rainy day- and let me tell you, those seem pretty hard to come by in my current corner of the Pacific…

North Head, New Zealand

A beach below the old Navy base at North Head- My very fist New Zealand Adventure!

But first, a bit about travel (in case you’re interested in visiting little old me)… The flights were fairly uneventful- a good thing when your total travel time is 26 hours. It gets to the point where you give up on trying to keep track of what time it is. My layover in Los Angeles was 6 hours, which went by really quickly because, as it turns out, the most interesting people you’ll ever meet can be found in the international departures wing of an airport. We bonded over a singular need for electrical outlets and talked for hours. I met JD and his twin brother Sam who are travelling around the south island for 3 weeks (mostly hitchhiking, and I am very curious to know how that’s working out for them), and Ashley who studied fashion design and now would like to start a business with her twin sister who she’s meeting in Australia, and last but not least Tim and Mary- who told stories of their grandkids and offered us all a place to crash if we ever found ourselves near Wellington. Mary was astounded to hear that JD had only brought one pair of socks for his entire trip, and even went so far as to find him another pair (so he can wear one pair while the others are drying)- which I believe she gave him as we were boarding the plane.

boeing 777 airplane landing

This is my plane landing in Auckland! WHEEEEE!

Tim also told us that in New Zealand socks do not come in pairs, and that we would get callouses on our heads because of the waking up upside down- and managed to keep a straight face while he said it.

new zealand pohutukawa tree

the Pohutukawa tree- which flowers in December and is bright red and green. It’s symbolic of Christmas here, and- bonus points- has really tasty nectar.

We landed at about 8am local time and my jet lag had not yet set in- so we went on an adventure, of course! There is an old navy base on a mountain near Auckland called North Head (I say mountain. It is a little mountain, but big enough.) It’s very park-like, with flowers and trees everywhere, and at the top there’s a great view of the city and surrounding beaches.

north head auckland new zealand trees and nature

It’s December and everything is so green!

The old Navy barracks are here, along with some very cool, very large cannons. New Zealand’s Navy is currently located one mountain over, this stuff is circa World War II. Part of what makes this place so interesting, though, is that most of the stuff that goes on here is underground- the barracks, ammunition storerooms, and even the places the cannons are stored- are built into the mountain. Some of it is open for wandering, and some areas are closed off.

north head underground tunnels new zealand

Little Hobbitses must watch their toes in the darkness!

After a thorough exploration of the above-ground areas, we ventured inside the mountain.

north head underground tunnels

What even is real life? Tunnels and rooms inside of mountains? I feel like Bilbo Baggins is going to come running through here yelling while Smaug tries to fit his head through the little corridors…

It’s a very interesting combination of manmade and natural structure inside, this little room, for example, was right off one of the hallways and yet held no trace of ever having been effected by people.

nature and rocks in new zealand

Let me just stay here forever, please and thank you.

When the base was in use, this cannon used to fire and then flip down inside the underground room for storage. Sneaky.

north head navy base cannon

A cannon with a hidey hole, is pretty much what this is…

By some other cannons, there was a plaque that talked about how the locals were upset that the sonic boom from the blasts would shatter their windows, so the Navy planted trees to dampen it…but by the time the trees were large enough to make any difference, the cannons were obsolete.

There were a lot of ways in and out of the tunnels, and we tried to explore all of them. A lot of them are covered in graffiti, and some were more overgrown than others.

north head explorations, new zealand

Hobbits, I keep telling you…

It would have been a great place for a picnic if I hadn’t been utterly and completely confused about what time it was. Feels like dinner time, looks like lunchtime? Even at dinner time here as it turns out, the sun is still bright in the sky. It doesn’t go down until nearly 9:30.


It all just sort of screams ‘adventures!’ doesn’t it?

We emerged from the tunnels at a perfect vantage point- overlooking Auckland on such a beautiful day. Everything is so blue!

auckland CBD from north head new zealand

The pointy thing is called the ‘sky tower’ but I keep forgetting that and calling it the ‘space needle’. Jon is less than amused.

If cityscapes aren’t your thing, feast your eyes on the aptly named ‘fire poker’ flower.

new zealand fire poker flower

If I were seven, I would definitely be having sword-fights with these…

Travelling to other countries is so interesting- the people are still people, and the important things are the same, but then there are these weird differences that you sort of notice along the way, like all the trees and flowers are different, or the doorknobs are located at least a foot higher on the door… or that you drive on the left side of the road. Still not comfortable with that last one… I’m trying to practice deciding which lane I would turn into when I ride along in other people’s cars, and I keep getting it wrong…


Let’s just take a minute to realize how large this tree is, shall we? and think about how long it has been there in that sandy soil, watching over the bay.

It’s been five days now since I got here, and I think it’s safe to say I’m over the jet lag. It took about four days to wear off completely. The second day (before I got super sleepy like a 90 year old lady at the ripe old hour of 7pm) we went to Parnell rose gardens, which turned out to be a lot more than roses (though also a lot of roses)

pohutukawa tree at parnell rose gardens, new zealand

Another Pohutukawa tree. I absolutely climbed around in it, and it was excellent.

Long stalky flowers are difficult to take photos of when it’s ridiculously windy outside, but I managed..

new zealand flowers

Sorry, I don’t know the name of this one. Pretty speckled bell flower? Let’s go with that.

And of course, roses. So many roses, in so many colors.

pink and yellow rose bud at parnell rose garden in new zealand

And not a single sneeze was sneezed that day: I understand the appeal of flowers now…

Sheep also made an appearance once he saw some flowers he liked.

adventures of sheep at parnell rose garden

Sheep was less than impressed with the flowers, but posed nonetheless. He was worried about getting sunburned, and weren’t we all.


As if by magic, as soon as I said “I wonder if any of these roses match my hair”- there they were!

pink hair matches pink flowers

I am a princess, and I am flowers.

Those were the two big adventures this week. It was nice to have a few relaxing days around to adjust and talk to home and stuff. On the list of things not covered however, we have:

  • Ate octopus (eh), squid (yum!), papaya (nope), and green-lipped mussels (yum, but want to cook with them myself)
  • Tasted the nectar of the Pohutukawa tree (yum!)
  • Went to two night markets (full of Asian food and trinkets- the kind of place that makes you want to hold on to your wallet…but the kind of place with the best mango smoothie ever)
  • Went to the Largest Shopping Mall in New Zealand- which is roughly equivalent to a smallish shopping mall in the states.
  • Experienced unrefrigerated eggs, and solved that mystery: Eggs in the US are washed which strips them of their protective coating, making them more likely to absorb contaminants. Eggs almost everywhere else are not washed, which means the protective coating stays intact,and also gives farmers more incentive to keep their chicken’s environments clean, so that the eggs stay cleaner anyways.
mission bay, new zealand

Mission Bay: That little land mass in the distance is North Head, where all the tunnels were. If you want a beach in this country, you’ve got options.

So far, New Zealand and I are getting along excellently. Now that I’m here getting acquainted with things, it’s a lot easier to do my travel planning, so I’m working on my list of things to make happen before I leave. The exchange rate works in my favor, which is helpful, and once I get a bus card in my hand I’ll be unstoppable!


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Wax on, Wax off

Questionable Karate Kid reference aside- one of my favorite parts of this new-found freedom I seemed to have developed (read: I had never realized how much creative energy school sucked out of me….) is the opportunity for new projects!

Batiking, for those of you yet unaware, is a traditional Indian technique for creating colorful patterns on fabric using wax as a resist, and multiple layers of dye.I’d always wanted to try it, but hot wax kind of scares me a tiny bit, and I could never really think of a project I wanted to do badly enough to bother with buying all the supplies. However, once I came up with a project, I did a bit of research and it turns out the tools you need aren’t all that expensive!


batiking fabric completed

I love it when a plan comes together!

I’ve so far spent two weekends batiking- It’s kind of an all day affair because of the waiting time while fabric is dyeing, and then drying. I set myself up a nice little workstation (on my handy-dandy-all-purpose-worktable-that-is-mostly-for-screen-printing) and put on some tunes:

batiking supplies

The fixin’s of an excellent day!

The Supplies:

  • Test Fabric (I used some scraps of muslin I keep on hand for days like this)
  • Dye (Fiber Reactive dye. You can’t use acid dye because the heat needed for that chemical process would melt the wax. sigh.)
  • Fabric (for your actual project! Stick to cellulose based fibers like cotton or rayon- not too delicate, and not too tightly woven, or the wax won’t penetrate.)
  • Batiking Wax (a blend of paraffin and beeswax. It’s available premixed, or you can buy them separately and mix them yourself!)
  • A wax melting pot (Not for food! choose one that’s as small as you can find, but deep.)
  • An electric burner (for obvious, wax-melting purposes. With a fairly accurate adjustment knob)
  • A clip-on thermometer (of the non-digital variety)
  • Tjantings (the copper tools for drawing wax onto your fabric)
  • Large wax pot (Not for food! Your project must be able to swim freely in this pot)
  • Wax tongs (Also not for food!)

There! That’s a start. We’ll get to the why’s of some of those specifications momentarily. None of it’s very expensive- the most expensive item was the electric burner, which I found on amazon for $17, and which I can totally use for other things. It’s handy. Even the Tjantings are hardly a budget breaker. I bought all my supplies at dharma which I love and would be nowhere without. Also, if you have questions about anything fabric-related, the nice people at Dharma will probably know the answers.

Here’s a closeup of the tjantings- I bought three different sizes- the holes in their spouts are different sizes so the molten wax will come out at different speeds, allowing for thicker and thinner lines. That said, I definitely used the thinnest one about 95% of the time, after I played with the three to get a feel for them. The largest one deposited so much wax so quickly that it dripped through the fabric straight down onto my hands, which was fairly unpleasant. Wax at this temperature will probably hurt a bit if it drips on you, but it shouldn’t burn or blister. It’s about the same as a low-temp hot glue gun. I’m a bit more sensitive to temperature extremes than most people, so I was careful. That one’s best used for thicker fabric, I suppose.

Don’t stick your fingers in the wax pot. Did your mother teach you nothing as a child?

tjantings for batiking in three sizes

note the copper,which is actually surprisingly thick and retains heat very well.

Wax On:

As to how one physically goes about the task, there are a few ways to do it. A lot of tutorials I found have you pin the fabric so that it’s suspended above your workspace, but if you look at most videos of Indian women batiking on YouTube, they’ll just be holding the fabric in their hands, suspended using their fingertips underneath and drawing lightly from the top with the Tjanting. Tjaps (the copper stamps used to make repeating and intricate patterns for batiking) are a different story that I’m not talking about because Tjaps really are out of my price range. By a lot. Which is unfortunate given how beautiful they are.

When starting to draw in each color, or when switching tools, hold the Tjanting’s head submerged in the wax for a few minutes so that the copper can heat up; your wax will flow more easily that way, and you’ll be able to draw for longer without a refill. Anyways- this is how I ended up holding my Tjanting- you, should you choose to batik as well- should obviously play around with it and decide what works for you. Especially if you’re a leftie.

tjanting proper holding technique

You can also see the wax lines on the fabric! Squiggles are good. Squiggles are easy. Nobody can tell when you mess up squiggles.

The wax burns at 245 degrees (Farenheit!)- and the internet tells me that it erupts violently in flames and is very difficult to put out once it ignites. This is why you need a thermometer and a burner with a fairly accurate adjustment knob. You need your wax to be around 23o in order to be hot enough to flow easily, but don’t let it get above 240! Also, don’t put water on a wax fire- use baking soda to extinguish infernos.

Now that we’ve gotten through the setup, the rest of it is pretty straightforward. Draw on your white fabric, with the wax, in whatever areas you would like to be white. Then, pop that sucker into a dye solution (cold water only, or you’ll melt the wax!) If you’re using a soda ash solution, which you should be if you’re using fiber reactive dyes, you’ll want to make sure to take your fabric out after no more than 30 minutes, because the soda ash has a nasty habit of eating away at the wax.

batik in progress

Here’s a tester after two dye baths- you can see the yellow and white areas that are protected by the wax!

Rinse (literally) and repeat: Draw more wax in the areas you want to remain that color, dye, rinse, draw… you get the picture…. The most awful part of the process is waiting while the fabric is in the dye bath, and waiting for it to air dry once it’s out (Can’t put waxy fabric into mom’s dryer. Would probably be disowned…or yelled at…)

In the above photo, you can kind of see the cracking in the waxed areas where the darker colors are coming through. That’s because of the wax mixture. Beeswax is very flexible at room temperature, but it gets gummy really quickly on its own. Parrafin wax is very flaky, and also doesn’t adhere well alone. The combination of the two produces the crackling, while still keeping the wax adhered. People who do this a lot make their own mixtures with more of one or the other, depending on how much or little crackling they wish to occur. I happen to really like it just how it is, so I’ll keep on keepin’ on with my 50-50 blend.

batik project in dye bath

Dye from lightest to darkest! I shouldn’t have to tell you guys this, though- I feel like you’re pretty smart cookies.

Eventually, you’ll either fill up your fabric with wax or run out of darker colors to dye your fabric. If you haven’t already, you’re probably wondering how to get all that wax out of there.

batik example fabric

My final color order went yellow->blue (for green)-> red (for red-orange)-> purple (for maroon), and black (for slightly darker maroon.)  We’re working on that last one. I wanted it darker.

Wax Off:

This is why I said not to choose anything delicate. The definition of that, in this case, is don’t choose anything that wouldn’t like to be boiled- because that’s how you get the wax out. I found my pot at goodwill for $4.50- it’s a canning pot, and will be just large enough for my dress when it’s time to make that.

This is a pretty fun part of the process- you fill the pot with enough water that your fabric is completely submerged (the more wiggle room the better), and boil the living daylights out of it. I don’t mean just bring that pot to boiling and then shut the stove off, you have to boil it and agitate it while you’re boiling it for a good 10 or 15 minutes, so that all the fabric that is caught in the folds of the fabric is dislodged and melted. Then, take your pot off the heat, and use your tongs to carefully drop some stones into the pot. These will weight down the fabric so it doesn’t float up and touch the wax layer while it’s cooling. I used some smooth river rocks that I stole from the garden in our front yard. If you get rocks from outside, give them a good scrubbing first, your fabric will thank you. You could also use any other object as a weight, as long as it’s heavy and rust-proof.

The wax will cool in a skin on the top of the water (Science!) and the fabric will remain safe and wax-free underneath. Now, you have to wait for the pot to cool entirely….

batiking wax pot cooling

The wax layer sometimes fractures as it cools- that’s alright, it won’t effect the awesomeness that’s about to go down.

Impatiences sparks ingenuity- I didn’t want to wait for it so I filled the sink with cold water and ice cubes so that the water inside the pot would cool faster. After you’re sure it’s completely cool (this next part won’t work if it’s not) it’ time to remove the wax. Take your wax-only tongs, and pinch the wax at one side of the pot, pulling up and around slowly. This bit reminded me of peeling Elmer’s glue off my fingers- it comes  off like a layer of skin. there may be some pieces stuck in a ring around the pot, but that’s okay, The water is cool so the wax can touch the fabric without anything bad happening.

wax removal from batiking pot

Voila! Wax off!

Put the wax on a paper towel to dry- the great thing about Batiking is that there’s very little waste! After you’re sure there are no more water droplets adhering to your wax, you can drop it back into your small wax pot and use it again! Then, get your stones out of the bottom of the pot so they don’t scratch it, pour the fabric out, and give it a good washing. If you can still see spots of wax, you didn’t boil it for long enough. and Voila! your batik project is complete!

finished batik sampler

Seems like I’m king of the blurry photos lately, but they’re the only ones I have…

After the test swatches, I made a head scarf using some of the rayon fabric I’m eventually going to make my dress out of, so that I could make sure it handled the dye adequately.

batik headscarf in progress

I got really good at those flower motifs…they look a tiny bit Hawaiian but I’m okay with that.

It dyed a little lighter than I was anticipating, and it seems like a lot of batikers have this problem. If you want to get dark colors, especially after multiple previous layers of dye have gone into the fabric, try some of Dharma’s after-soak. Basically, it sets some of the dye that’s still bonded to the water in your dye bath to the fabric,and you end up with richer, darker shades without having to soak for longer and risk having your soda ash dissolve the wax.

batik headscarf in progress

two more colors to go! The rayon was more tightly woven so the thicker Tjantings were necessary. They’re also excellent for filling in large areas.

After the batiking was done, all I had to do was hemstitch the edges and I had a brand new handmade headscarf! I’m so looking forward to this dress….

headscarf selfie

yay for grainy selfies!

There are a lot of applications for wax-resist color techniques- I sort of thought the most popular was batiking but that idea bubble was popped as soon as I started telling my friends what my plans were that weekend: “I’m Batiking!”… “You’re what?”… “Batiking!”… “That’s not a real word. You made that word up. What is that?”

India uses wax resist for batiking, the Ukraine uses it to make multicolored and beautiful eggs called Pysanki- something we used to do around Easter every year as a family before we ran away to college. China uses something called Guetta in place of wax to draw on silk, because part of the silk dyeing process involves very hot water (wax is no good melted!) There are some countries in Africa that do something very similar to batiking, but with different designs and usually earth tone colors.

This project was an incredibly good time, and I’m excited about more like it in the future. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t particularly matter what I’m doing but I’m happiest if I can learn something from it.



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