Land of the Sun, Home of the Sheep (and Occasional Possum)

We’re going to take a short break from our regularly scheduled adventure-programming to talk about the things that happened during my 3 months in New Zealand when I wasn’t busy climbing mountains and romping on beaches- I’ll give you a hint… There was a lot of knitting. This little corner of the internet was originally created for the purpose of blogging about all the projects I get up to, and it seems that regardless of the mountains in my immediate vicinity, I still find myself needing to do something with my hands.

wheeler and wilson treadle sewing machine in New Zealand

Okay, but I’m a huge nerd about treadle machines is all…

First things first. I met this pretty lady at Jon’s parent’s house: I did a little research and it turns out that Wheeler & Wilson, the manufacturer of this machine, was bought out by Singer in 1905, which means this machine was probably made in the late 1800s. It’s not particularly rare, but it is a very lovely machine, and it’s an interesting combination of things I’m used to on old machines. It has the modern upper threading path, which has changed very little since its original design, but the bobbin mechanism is a different story. The first successful sewing machine was designed in 1830, and this machine used a shuttle bobbin- a long, narrow piece which slips into as bullet-shaped device. The whole mechanism moves in a curved forwards-backwards motion under the machine when it’s sewing. My treadle machine at home has a shuttle bobbin.

treadle sewing machine with blossom fabric for sun cover

I love new projects!

The shuttle bobbin was eventually replaced with a stationary bobbin, which continues to be the standard for modern machines because it’s less prone to jamming, mechanical issues, and being generally finicky. This machine was obviously made during the transition period, because it has a modern style bobbin and casing, but the mechanism still moves under the machine like a shuttle. Very weird, but very cool and clever. She hadn’t been used for a good couple of decades, but she was in great condition regardless. All she needed was a bit of cleaning and oiling, and a new belt. (ebay for 3 dollars, if you’re curious.) The most difficult part was coming up with a project for her once she was ready. That didn’t turn out to be so hard either, though- It’s unreasonably sunny in New Zealand (40% more intense UV rays than the US), so I chose to make a super simple shoulder-covering Sun Protection Device- complete with fringe!

handmade kimono sun cover sewing project

*fringe goes swoosh*

I used about 2 yards of printed rayon fabric, and a couple of yards of satin fringe in two different lengths. I think it’s supposed to be upholstery fringe for pillows and stuff, but it matched my fabric too perfectly to pass up. If you’re curious, and because nobody in the world deserves sunburnt shoulders- I’ve made a diagram:how to tutorial for simple kimono fringe sun coverup

This way I don’t have to write the whole thing out, you see. It’s very simple. You attach the sleeves to the cut slits, and then sew the tops of the sleeves and the shoulder seam all in one go. The only not-pictured step is the binding to finish the front and neck- that’s just a 4″ wide strip that runs up one front, around the neck, (which I trimmed into a slight curve) and down the other side. The shoulders and armholes are french seamed to add stability and hide raw edges, and the fringe is also encased by the fabric, so nothing unsavory is showing anywhere.

back of kimono sun cover tutorial

It’s surprisingly useful in warmer climates to have something that covers one’s shoulders while not being too hot.

See? Easy as pie. And these things sell at markets and such for something like 60 dollars. Really, you could use whatever kind of fabric you wanted- I’ve even seen some with lace. This one happens to match my swimsuit though- and my hair, apparently- which is always a nice touch.

front of sun cover tutorial sewing project


Including the fixing up of the sewing machine, that project was completed in the span of two afternoons. These next two basically occupied the rest of my down-time between adventures, given one took significantly longer than the other.

sparrow song cowl possum yarn handknit new zealand

I really hadnt considered myself a cowl person until…well, until I finished this project…

This pattern is Sparrow Song by Anne Hanson, made with some Possum-Merino yarn I got in New Zealand. Possum is a pretty uniquely New Zealand thing, and it’s very very soft, and very warm- even if the concept is a little weird. Possums in New Zealand are a totally different thing than US possums, though. As for the yarn, it’s a bit hairy and sheds at first, but only a little. Still totally worth it. In other news, I really love this cowl pattern. It’s knit top down, and then the bottom edging is a knitted-on border completed last. It’s a bit ridiculously warm.

fluffy possum yarn red cowl handknit pattern

It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!!!

In a problematic and cruel twist of fate, however, I have only been able to wear it about twice because it is very warm and, because New Zealand’s seasons are opposite from ours, I’ve essentially had two summers in a row with  about 3 weeks of winter in between. By the time my next trip is completed, I will have had four consecutive summers without a full winter in between. I probably won’t get much use out of this cowl in that span of time, but I’m certainly going to try.

Here’s the next (and significantly larger) project:

IMG_3590Leaves of Grass by Jared Flood. The pertinent information for both of these projects can be found in more detail on my Ravelry page, if you’re interested in making them. This is a circular shawl knit from the center out, and has yet another knitted on border. I think knitted on borders are my favorite technique in knitting. The only other thing that comes close is gusset heels…

circular pi shawl knitting new zealand

Because I’m (not so) secretly a huge nerd

IMG_3599The other particularly exciting thing about this shawl is that it’s an Elizabeth Zimmerman Pi Shawl. There are only four increase rows in the whole project- in between each lace pattern. This allows you to substitute in any other lace stitch if you’re not feeling whatever’s written in the pattern, since you aren’t limited by needing to match increases. I didn’t make any changes to this one- maybe next time.

I cast on for this shawl a day or two before I left for New Zealand, and I finished it in the Los Angeles International airport on my way back home. Not that I was working on it constantly, but it took basically the whole three months. It was actually pretty great travel knitting. The only awkward part was when I dropped my ball of yarn behind my seat on the return flight, and had to employ the gentleman sitting behind me to retrieve it. He was a good sport, though.

The last part of this crafty little side note is more of an in-progress sneak peek, because it’s getting a blog post all to itself later on. One of my favorite things to do on warm summer evenings (in December, I’m actually still not over that weirdness)- was hunting for sea glass on the beach. We’d drive to the beach after dinner, stop for ice cream, and walk along the beach looking for pieces of sea glass.

new zealand sea glass beach pottery shards

I still can’t believe I finally got to hunt for sea glass. No beaches in the midwest, you see…

This is a photo of what we gathered after the first ice-cream laden evening. I wanted to make myself a necklace, but ended up finding enough pieces on the trip that I decided to share the love a little bit more than originally intended. We found so many pieces that I had to leave most of them behind, but the others- well, you can find some of them here if you’re curious, but the details will come later.

You’ve probably noticed that not everything in the picture is sea glass- there are also ceramic shards, although they’re a much rarer occurrence. According to the all-knowing interwebs, they’re called ‘beach pottery’- and I will let you know as soon as I figure out what I’m going to do with them.

I’m a material person. I like stuff, I like projects, and I am the kind of person who needs to have something to do with my hands, pretty much all the time. I may have been in New Zealand to see the sights and climb the mountains, but I had just as much fun with my projects and I’m especially happy knowing that I can still get my materials and work on things there, since I’ll be going back for a whole year in a few months. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to wear my knitting around even though summer’s almost here…

(next time, mountain-adventures. I promise)

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In Which Hell Bubbles its Greetings, and the Trees Say Hello.

Hi again! I’ve got lots of excitement coming up, and I want to make sure I tell all of you about it, so I’m holding myself accountable to you guys: If I don’t post twice this week, you have permission to bop me on the nose. That is all.

New Zealand turned out to be beautiful in a lot of different ways- and this little adventure proved to be beautiful in the sort-of-scary, definitely-stay-on-the-path sort of way.

Meet Hell’s Gate:

hell's gate rotorua new zealand hot springs

Looks super-friendly, doesn’t it…

The first thing most people notice when they drive into Rotorua is the smell of sulfur. I have some interesting scent-related handicaps, so I could tell that the air was a little different, but I didn’t think it smelled too bad. I was, however, very thoroughly educated on just how bad it smelled to all the other humans.

Hell’s Gate (it’s non-touristy Māori name is Tikitere), was so-named when George Bernard Shaw visited the area in 1934 and declared that, if his colleagues though he was going to hell for his atheism, these would be the gates of said hell.

rotorua hell's gate new zealand

The thing I found most incredible was the literal line you could see where the landscape turned from lush greenery to burnt desolation.

The science is even cooler, though. We all learned about plate tectonics in middle school, and most islands (especially in the pacific) are volcanic either in their recent past, or in some cases (ahem- this one)- in their present. Tikitere’s existence is present-day evidence of ancient volcanic activity, and it is so cool. 10,000 years ago, an eruption caused the water from this ancient lake to drain- forming two other lakes in the area. The absence of water pressure on this now-dried up lake bed caused faults in the ground below, and steam and gases are still slowly escaping 10,000 years later.

sarcastic funny sign ast hell's gate

Congratulations, person who made this perfect signage. Let’s be friends.

Tikitere has a long history of being used by the Māori as a sacred site, and sometimes for medicinal purposes. More presently, it’s become a tourist attraction and a spa. You have to pay to get in, but it’s worth it to get to see some of these things up close and personal, and to learn about its history. It takes a little over an hour to walk around all the paths (if you take your time and read the informational signage) and it’s a great, flat walk but there’s no shade so bring your sunblock and reapply frequently or you’ll be as toasty-burnt as the bits and pieces of wayward organic matter scattered around the edges of the hot pools.

steaming hot pools at rotorua hell's gate new zealand


Apparently, the Māori took a pretty immediate shining to George Bernard Shaw (maybe something to do with his atheism vs. the Christianity and literal come to Jesus talks they were getting from pretty much everyone else at the time?)- so many of the pools and ominously bubbling cracks in the ground were named by him. These names are displayed alongside the Māori names, which makes for a truly unique mesh of Māori and European values and interests. The signage also displays the average temperature of each pool, and what sorts of gasses come out of it. One reaches temperatures of 252 °F, and another has a pH level of 1. One of the pools (don’t scroll down yet, but it is down in the pictures) could even cook a pig in two hours.

hell's gate rotorua new zealand geothermal hot springs

Again with the terrain shift. This place is full of polar opposites. If you didn’t know any better, the burnt-white ash would look like snow.

Apparently, if you feel the need to cook yourself a pig, this is the place to do it:

cooking pool at rotorua hot pools hell's gate

There was an initial debate as to whether the debris around the edges of the pool was related to the cooking, but I’m fairly certain it’s just leaves and such.

Amidst low ropes and a very liberal dusting of “Danger, Don’t Step Off The Path” ( if you value your feet) signage, the walkways wind through two areas separated by some very welcome shade and green space- and something pretty awesome sits nestled in the trees:

tallest waterfall southern hemisphere new zealand travel

a little oasis in the shade!

Fine Lords and Ladies of the Internets, I give you: The tallest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere!

Okay, It’s not that tall. or big, or whatever- but it is bathwater temperature as opposed to the usual frigid river temperatures, and that’s pretty cool. The Māori tribe who lived here believed that the water in these falls had strengthening and healing powers, so their warriors bathed in the waterfall before going into battle. They weren’t far off the truth- The falls are laced with minerals which, while they may not be able to heal a severed limb, have been proven to speed up healing and help with some skin problems. Kind of like the Roman Baths in England.

new zealand rotorua hell's gate

I can honestly say this is maybe the first place in New Zealand I probably wouldn’t want to build a house- but it’s still really cool! Or hot… really hot…heh…

As we wandered around between the pools in the second, larger area, things started to heat up even more. Larger than the first, and with not one single solitary shady patch in sight, I began to wonder if we would melt like the mud in the bottoms of these pits. You see, the sun was heating us from above and the ground was heating us from below, and between those two things the usually temperate New Zealand summer became…well… Hell’s Gate.

hot pools rotorua new zealand

Swimming? Bad Plan…

Such steam!

steamy geothermal hot pools rotorua new zealand

It’s hard to believe this is within driving distance of the unbelievably green space that is Piha. See those trees looking in from the edge? That’s fear in their branches- you can feel it. Standing around hoping the sulfur doesn’t get to them.

One of the most interesting parts of the whole walk was seeing this area, where a small, freshwater stream met the sulfuric hot pool in steady little puffs of steam. The cool freshwater has allowed for grassy growth, perhaps the only green within the otherwise desolate circle of land.

hot pools new zealand geothermal

It’s like a literal game of ‘the ground is lava’

After our near-melting experience, and learning that our ticket price included getting to soak our feet in some of the mineral water from one of the more hospitable pools, we once again took to the road to continue the apparent volcanic theme of this trip- Meet Lake Tarawera:

A pretty landscape that once looked a bit like Hell’s Gate does currently.

Lake Tarawera didn’t always look like this. In the early 1800s, this area was home to the Pink and White Terraces- hot bathing pools  formed with silica deposits from volcanic activity in the area. Eventually, Mount Tarawera erupted (you see that flat-looking mountain a little to the right of the middle? Yeah. That’s Mount Tarawera, and it wasn’t always flat…) and the Pink and White Terraces were buried in the fallout. The scarred landscape turned from pink and white to green, and now it’s a beautiful, quiet place for some freshwater swimming (The first time I’d experienced that in New Zealand, actually).

On the way back from our volcanic sightseeing, we stopped off to say hello to some very old, very tall trees.

california redwoods in new zealand

I’ve never been to California, but I’ve met California Redwoods! A bit far from home, aren’t you fellas…

Whakarewarewa Forest is just outside Rotorua, and it’s a staggeringly large forest full of staggeringly tall trees. The redwoods aren’t the only species around, but they’re plentiful nonetheless. We didn’t spend too much time in the forest- it’s a place I really enjoyed and would like to see more of, but it had been a long, hot day- and I think everyone involved was ready for naptime. Not before I hugged some trees, though…

Just a bunch of tree huggin' hipsters, that's what we are...

Just a bunch of tree huggin’ hipsters, that’s what we are…

What an adventure! I love the ones that have a little bit of history involved, and volcanoes are a pretty huge part of New Zealand’s history- It wasn’t the last we saw of them, either.

Alright, like I said. I’m posting twice this week. To avoid nose-bopping, you see. I assume you’re curious about what sorts of crafty, projecty things I got up to while I was between adventures, so I’ll tell you all about that, and then we’ll be off on a three-part (probably? I might need four…) series of mountain climbing escapades! That’s right- I climbed multiple mountains. There’s even photographic evidence that this thing happened.

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In Which the History of Gold is Deceptively Rusty (but still pretty awesome)

The next New Zealand weekend adventure found us driving down winding mountain roads on a day that seemed unbearably hot in the sun, yet just the right side of chilly in the shade. It seemed the former wasn’t much of an issue, because the place we were going had plenty of trees- not to mention some other pretty wonderful things:

Karangahake gorge river new zealand

After I was done being completely taken aback by the abruptness of this view right around the corner from the parking lot, I was taken aback by how big this sudden open area in the mountains was.

Welcome to Karangahake Gorge! Aside from its position as a truly spectacular piece of nature, this area is filled with the rich and ongoing history of its own: Gold. I’m used to elementary school stories of men heading west to California to pan for gold in the rivers, but this venture was a little bit more subterranean. You’re looking at a turn of the century gold mine, and although mining here was suspended decades ago, there is still as they say, gold in them there hills.

beautiful mountains new zealand gorge

New Zealand isn’t all sub-tropical rainforests and beaches. I learned pretty quickly that the variety of scenery in this place was pretty astounding, given its size.

Karangahake Gorge is now a reserve space with some truly fabulous walking trails that I will get to in a minute, but also some pretty great informational signage about it’s history. I may or may not be a huge nerd about informational signage- it’s just nice to see a thing, and then learn about the significance of that thing, is all. Example: this is the view looking over the main battery. Excavated dirt (with the gold ore mixed in) was brought  to this building using water from the river, where it was pulverized (“battery” like “battering ram” not the kind you stick in flashlights. This was before widespread electricity was a thing) -so the gold could be extracted. At one time, this area was responsible for more than 60% of the gold production in New Zealand.

victoria battery karangahake gorge gold mine new zealand

I love the smell of history in the morning!

There are a few trail options around Karangahake Gorge, but I was informed that the underground pump house and windows walk were going to be our best options. The walking path here follows what was previously train tracks: used to carry gold ore out of the mountains. It’s carved into solid rock at the edge of the gorge with a very solid railing to protect curious types from the 50- to 75- foot drop into shallow, rocky water below. In some areas, the tracks have themselves experienced that fall. The twisted, mangled remains of steel and the occasional rail road tie or pipe have settled in the water below, and a new trail has been carved deeper into the gorge next to the washed out area.

karangahake gorge walkway new zealand travel adventures

Can’t you just imagine a little train coming around that corner full of gold?

Although it’s a reserve, and meant for exploration- some areas of the mine are still dangerous and closed off to the public.

karangahake gorge mine shaft door

I particularly enjoyed this very official looking amalgamation of bits of scrap steel to keep pesky youths out of the mine shafts.

Gotta keep those hobbits from sneaking through the mine shafts, you know. Pesky Bagginses and their shortcuts and invisible gold rings. I wonder if there’s invisible gold in these mountains!?

But what’s this ahead? Could it be? My first ever real live swing bridge?!

swing bridge at karangahake gorge new zealand travel

(it’s the small things. The swing bridge may or may not have been the reason that this place was high-visiting-priority in the first place.)

We paused for a photo-op, of course, because- let me ‘splain you a thing’-when you’ve spent the majority of your life (and all of your independent adventuring life) smack in the middle of the Midwestern United States- there are no swing bridges. This is because in the Midwestern United States there are no hills to connect with bridges. Everything is flat. Flat and ocean-less and full of farms with corn and cows. Swing bridges and oceans were two things I wasn’t really sure I needed until I had experienced them, and let me tell you, swing bridges are pretty awesome.

swing bridge at karangahake gorge walk new zealand adventure travel

I just really like swing bridges, okay?

Say Cheese!

swing bridge selfie karangahake gorge new zealand

Yes Hello, I am a huge nerd and I like to document stuff.

The swing bridge took us up a path to a sign that said the underground pump house walk was currently closed- disappointing, because that just sounds pretty awesome. We hypothesized that there were structural issues and hoped they were temporary. Karangahake Gorge is a day-trip’s drive from Auckland, and I intend to go back to see if it’s open. We did, however, get to experience the famous ‘Windows Walk’.

windows walk new zealand adventures karangahake gorge

Still pretty cool even if this was partially closed too…

After a great many stairs (so many stairs…) we follow a dark tunnel cut into the side of the mountain. From the main tunnel, several auxiliary tunnels are carved both right- further into the mountain, and left- out to the steep cliff and overlooking the river. These left tunnels end in ‘windows’ which we use for light as we wander through, and which the miners used to deposit whatever they dug out of the mountain into waiting train cars below. From one of the windows, we looked down and saw the swing bridge we crossed to get to this point:

windows walk karangahake gorge new zealand

*selfie but don’t look down*

About halfway up the left side of this photo is a little dark spot- that’s the entrance to the Windows Walk- at the top of the stairs. Unfortunately, this area was also plagued with some structural issues. Only half of the walk was open, after which a barricade forced us to turn around and head back. Usually, the carved tunnel goes all the way back to the beginning and deposits you in the parking lot where you started, but hey- another reason to go back, right? We took a little detour to follow that train track from before in a new direction- here you can see the old path falling away and the new path next to it.

karangahake gorge walk new zealand gold mines river

What a pretty place this becomes as nature takes back what it’s owed.

Some of you may recall that I did a semester-long black and white film photography study on the process by which nature constantly attempts (and  succeeds) to break down and take back the byproducts of human intervention. This place was ripe with exactly that- old, rusty bits of machinery abandoned by anxious entrepreneurs on to the Next Big Idea, the worn train tracks and water pipes still in place amongst new growth of trees and shrubberies. As soon as we humans turn our back on something, nature begins the slow reclamation process.


I changed my mind. I want to build my house into the side of this cliff.

There are some opportunities to climb around on the old machinery-  or if you’re a huge nerd like me, to take pictures of it. It seems in every capacity like the miners rushed out as quickly as they rushed in- leaving the slowly rusting detritus of their trade wherever it happened to land.

karangahake gorge new zealand adventures travel

Old rusty stuff- what’s not to love?

I wonder if the miners appreciated the views they had in these mountains while they were prospecting. Probably not, deep in the belly of the mountains, but maybe when they came up for air. This place is nestled amidst mountains and is a beautiful thing all it’s own. Maybe it was less so when the miners were uprooting it for minerals but nature has had the better part of a century to take it back now, and she’s done an admirable job softening its hard edges.

karangahake gorge new zealand

The remnants of a second battery overlook a particularly beautiful area of rolling green mountains. Everything here is so stinkin’ green!

After that healthy dose of green, and the positivity that is nature reclaiming land after the mines were abandoned- we drove a little further to an actual, real-live present day mining town with an active pit mine.

open pit mine in new zealand

Everything is just so big… and unhappy looking…

Things happen a bit differently these days, with open pit mines instead of tunnels and shafts. There is a building down there, a house-sized office of some sort- and heavy machinery for the digging of the gold, but everything is miniscule in comparison to the size of this hole in the ground. There were guards patrolling the top of the mine (five, by my count)- probably to keep hooligans and activists from causing problems. I wonder if they get that a lot. The Kaimai ranges (Where the Karangahake Gorge Mine was located) are still filled with gold, but the protected land status means it can’t be mined. Currently. This area wasn’t so lucky, but given enough time after it’s abandoned in search of more lucrative ventures- I have confidence that nature will take back this pit and make it once again beautiful. With our back to the pit mine buzzing with activity, we were met with a very interesting site: at the end of a pair of tracks was a suspiciously old looking building with a suspiciously new looking foundation.

cornish pump house new zealand waihi

Are you suggesting that buildings…migrate?

The Cornish Pump House was a relic of bygone days when water was used to power the mines. It fell out of use when it was replaced with electricity, but was preserved because of its historic significance. The informational signage here was a little sparse, but between that and the internet we figured out the basic story: In 2006, surveyors realized that the ground the old pump house stood on was unstable because of the mining operations right next door, and a very large effort was made to relocate it. The tracks are teflon-coated concrete pads which the pump house was slid along on for 300 meters to its new resting place as you see it today. Visitors can wander around inside and see how the operation worked (and which spots are now the best places for bird’s nests as they flit about above…) and if you’re a huge nerd like me, take pictures of the architecture.

cornish pump house inside new zealand gold mine historic

It’s pretty. It’s a different kind of pretty, but it still is.

It’s sort of nice to see the old parts standing watch over the new things, as if to say that everything will settle back into its rightful place eventually. I love adventures like this- and it’s not often you get to see the progression of history right up through present day- even if the present day part isn’t exactly all warm and fuzzy. Who knows what these places will look like in a century- they’ve certainly changed a lot in the previous century. It might just be that I have a soft spot for historic places, and you know how exciting the Piha adventure was- how am I supposed to pick a favorite, though? Was Piha better than Karangahake Gorge? I’m refusing to answer that question. On principal.

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Where there’s a will, there’s a Waterfall. (Part 3)

Welcome to the third and final chapter of Containment Issues! As promised- although I don’t know why you’d be specifically interested in such a thing- there are no beaches to be seen in this post. There is, however, a variety of other cool stuff to make up for it, so I don’t feel too terrible about the beach deprivation.

We took a break in the middle of the day- when the sun was at its most intense, to take a short drive away from the beach for a bit of a hike. It was welcome respite from the sun, as well as an opportunity for some great pictures!

tropical river new zealand

I’m not sure if it’s within my capacity to explain just how clear this water is. New Zealand has had some environmental issues lately (basically with tourists not respecting the natural places they’re visiting) but it doesn’t seem to have effected this little oasis at all.

Sheep of course wanted in on the action, and insisted on taking some photos before we got too far. He’s decided to opt out of the usual selfie instead for a game of hide-and-sheep. I do love a good game of hide-and-sheep, though, so I was willing to partake.

adventuresofsheep and a giant kauri

Sheep admits, he has a thing for precarious perches.

Sheep learned that much of this area was a forest of giant Kauri trees- as soon as the Europeans settled in New Zealand, they discovered that big trees make awfully nice big boats, so most of these ancient Kauris are gone, and what few are left are endangered. Regrowth attempts are being made, but these fellas are slow growers. They can do in 50 years what a white pine tree does in 10. There are plenty of remnants of the huge timber business that marks the beginning of European residence in New Zealand- Piha sits near an old mill, and the wilderness is littered with pieces of Kauri like this one that were too large to be moved.

As we walked further into the forest, I soon suspected that I had secretly been teleported to the Amazon and was currently wandering around somewhere in South America. Beam me back to New Zealand, Scotty!

rainforest new zealand piha

New Zealand isn’t so hot and humid as people say that rainforests are, but it certainly still sits in the same climate zone. Also note that I actually had to tone down the green in this photo. The camera didn’t know what to do with how vibrant everything was.

It was a beautiful day outside- low humidity and an ocean breeze, and a temperature in the mid-eighties made for perfect exploring weather. (I’m back in the States now, I get to use Fahrenheit again!). Basically, it was a pretty common December afternoon. As this was my first time on a walk in the woods (“the bush” if you’re keen on picking up any isms) I was paying close attention to the differences in plant life. This, for example, is a Spleenwort:

spleenwort new zealand

The birds all make different noises too, but they don’t tend to sit still for photographs as well as the plants do…

Early Europeans, in their infinite wisdom, were of the opinion that if a person consumed the above-mentioned Spleenwort, they would be- you guessed it! Cured of any spleen-related afflictions. Now, they’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly what those afflictions were, because nobody really knew what a spleen was at that point, but I guess they thought it was worth a try. Eating strange spotty plants in the forest never killed anyone, anyway…right?

As it turns out, the only thing Spleenwort does is taste gross. No effects on spleens, positive or otherwise.

Here’s a more common sight- a palm I saw frequently around New Zealand for the rest of my time there:

new zealand nikau palm

Science! Bet you didn’t think you were going to get a biology lesson this week!

This is the Nikau Palm: the only palm species native to New Zealand. Besides my initial awe at palm trees in general, this one has a more specifically cool aspect: While most trees have growth rings for every year, Nikau palms have growth bands- every year, a new set of palm fronds grows and falls off, leaving a new 2 or 3 inches of trunk growth. You can see this starting to happen at the top of my photo. The process, therefore, of dating a forest which contains Nikau Palms becomes much easier and less harmful to the trees-since all you have to do is count the bands on a few Nikau palms. No trees were killed while determining the age of this forest.

At this point, it is possible that I was complaining slightly (only slightly!) about the amount of hill-climbing that had been occurring, but- and let me tell you, this became a recurring theme on this trip- the view ahead more than made up for it.

view of mountains at piha new zealand

Remember how this was supposed to be a beach trip? Do you see a beach? Me neither. I’d think it was Colorado for all these mountains, except I don’t think it ever gets this warm in Colorado. And there certainly aren’t any palm trees.

And then, impossibly, the view got even better:

kitekite falls new zealand piha

But soft, what yonder water falls?

Meet the Kitekite falls (which is pronounced kitty-kitty. In my opinion this makes the whole experience much better, but that’s just me.) This was my very first ever southern hemisphere waterfall! It’s actually three waterfalls in a tier, with swimming holes at the top, one tier down, and at the bottom. And no, it does not swirl in the opposite direction.

The first view is actually just a lookout and is still a fair distance away- after 15 or so more minutes of hilly walking, we reached the base of the falls. (Note: if you are reading this as a potential traveller to New Zealand, first- yay! Do the thing! and second- I recommend good walking shoes that won’t skid. You’ll be fine until you get to the falls but the rocks there are slick when wet, and part of the path goes underwater. Expect to get your feet soggy unless you take your shoes off.)

kitekite falls new zealand base

If I could take home waterfalls… If I could take vertical pictures, really.

Let me just… okay. I know about waterfalls. I learned about tides and starfish in school and it was still weird to see them in real life, but I had seen waterfalls before. Big ones, too. Niagra falls. But really, there are so many waterfalls in New Zealand, and every single one of them is beautiful, big, and fabulous and they all tell such stories! I will never get tired of waterfalls, especially New Zealand waterfalls. I ended up seeing so many waterfalls here, in fact, that the rest of them are going to get their very own blog post- that’s how many there were. Each one is so very different and unique from all the others.

base of kitekite falls new zealand adventures

The Intrepid Adventurers on their quest for beautiful things.

Sheep, not to be left out of the picture taking fun, also decided to take a waterfall selfie- his first of many. He was the luckiest anyways, he got to be carried up. I had to walk.

adventuresofsheep at kitekite falls new zealand

Sheep doesn’t even have to worry about sunburn! He is the luckiest. All he has to worry about is getting dropped. That could be pretty bad, though…

I stuck my toes in the water, but we didn’t go swimming. After a few more pictures, and some general staring-with-my-jaw-figuratively-on-the-ground, we headed back. Chronologically, the Meeting Of The Starfish happened next- but you already know about that.

I know, after the Beautiful Thing that was meeting all the Piha sea life, this seems short by comparison, but this was such a different feeling, wedged neatly in between the black sand and the starfish. See, we don’t have beaches in St. Louis. At all. Like I said, I could count my beach-related experiences on three fingers before New Zealand. But we do have forests- I’ve spent a lot of time surrounded by trees, I’ve seen waterfalls, watched little steams flow lazily under my feet. This was my first experience with New Zealand as the same, but different– my first taste of the New Zealand bush, and all its native plants and animals. It was as if I was coming back to something I knew very well, but that something had shifted one step left in my absence. A parallel universe, almost. I was in a familiar forest, but I was surrounded by unfamiliar plants, and the sounds of unfamiliar birds. Here, it was like I was looking around at something I thought I knew for the first time. There are so many forests all over the world, and they’re all the same but different. Some have palms, some have pines- some have young Kauri regrowth just starting to peek up amongst the canopy, trying to grow an empire that was lost to loggers decades ago.

I would like to visit more forests, and every time I do I’ll be in search of this same feeling- the feeling that everything I thought I knew about a thing just took one step sideways, and that I’ve learned to expand my horizons just a little bit more.

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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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