After we've seen the kiwis, it's time for our departure
There are a couple of things that you really should do here in New Zealand before you leave again. We have already visited the South Island, but we still haven't seen any kiwis. A dive near the Poor Knights, a rock formation off the coast of Tutukaka, is also still on our must-do list.
Rainbow Springs is a park in Rotorua which offers a so-called Kiwi Encounter. Here you can admire kiwis, not in the wild, but in a hall in which their natural environment has been copied and which is almost dark, because they are nocturnal animals. Here kiwis are bred to be released into the wild. From Pukekohe it's about 2.5 hours by car, so we drive there and back in one day to experience our first and probably our last kiwi encounter.
On a beautiful day, we leave early in the morning and the beautiful New Zealand landscape puts us in a good mood. Once you arrive in Rotorua, you can hardly miss Rainbow Springs, as a stone kiwi several metres high betrays the park's location and a bright yellow road sign warns you for crossing kiwis. At last it's going to happen: our encounter with New Zealand's national symbol.
First we are shown around the breeding centre, where all the special characteristics of this flightless bird are explained. One remarkable fact is that the female lays an egg that is almost as big as her whole body. She has two ovaries and lays a second egg six weeks later. They are actually antisocial animals, because the male has to hatch the eggs while the female doesn't show her face again. As soon as the egg hatches, the father leaves the chick and the hatchling is left to its own devices. Another striking fact is that the kiwi is the only bird with bone marrow and that their fur is a mixture between feathers and very soft hair. A bit like a transition from a bird to a mammal.
After everything had been explained, we were finally allowed to see them. In the semidarkness we can see one kiwi at arm's length digging in the ground with its beak. It's funny to see them shuffle back and forth, rooting in the earth in search of tasty little worms, beetles and other snacks. Their nostrils are situated at the tip of their long, slightly flexible beak, which allows them to smell delicacies from several metres away. They are very cuddly and we have trouble restraining ourselves, because we are obviously not allowed to touch them. Afterwards we feel the feathers they have collected; they are so soft you'd want to sleep on them.
The rest of our day in the park we enjoy watching other birds and the New Zealand landscape. We are enjoying beautiful winter weather with lots of sunshine, but it's freezing cold.
Our life continues quietly. Dory works five days a week, two of which here in Pukekohe at five minutes' walk from home in a beautiful new clinic. Two days a week she drives one hour to Thames to work in a tiny little clinic in a health centre. Especially in the beginning, this trip was a real treat. A beautiful landscape with palm trees and fern trees, alternated by flat, Dutch-looking areas, but always with mountains in the distance. The fifth day of the week she works in a health centre in Papatoetoe, where a physician has surgery in the morning. In the afternoon, there's nobody there, even the physiotherapy room is usually empty. There's only one session a week and the paperwork is done in another clinic. It's a lonely day without phone calls, without colleagues, and with only clients, and sadly even they sometimes don't turn up. Fortunately, there is a possibility to surf the internet via a wireless connection and to Skype with Hans.
Hans stays at home, does some household chores, does the shopping and cooks a meal every day. And he spends a lot of time with his new friend: his new laptop. Apart from staying up to date with all the news in the world and the latest developments in web development, there are fortunately also times when he has some work to do. Sometimes he gets assignments from the Netherlands and sometimes from New Zealand. He has long given up looking for a real job.
Our Happy Monster is safely anchored in the river, between the poles. When the tide is very low, its keel is stuck in the mud, but it starts floating again as soon as the water rises. Almost every weekend we go and see whether everything is still alright. One morning, the news is full of an earthquake near Samoa and of a tsunami which has completely wiped away several villages on the coast. A strange idea, considering we walked around there a year ago. Every half hour, we watch the news about the tsunami, which is racing towards New Zealand. Everyone is advised to stay away from all the beaches. What should we do? If we get in the car now, we will never reach Happy in time to let the dinghy in the water, go to Happy, cast off the lines and sail into open water. Or are we going to watch Happy get damaged from the shore? The idea to be in an inflatable boat while seeing a three-meter high wave approaching didn't exactly put our minds at rest either. The first reports about the tsunami reaching the coast talk about 40-centimetre waves. That is an enormous relief! The islands before the mouth of the river where Happy lies broke down the waves even further and in the end the waves near the coast of Auckland weren't more than 10 centimetres.
In May 2010, Happy must be completely ready for long trips on the Pacific and this means that we need to draw up another list of chores. Sprucing up the saloon table has been on our list for a while, so we buy loads of sandpaper and order high-gloss paint. We take the table home and after a couple of days of sanding and painting, Dory is not entirely satisfied with the result. We put the table in the boot of the car and drive to a specialist. He's a furniture maker and fills his days restoring antique furniture, so we take his advice to heart for applying a layer of paint without brush marks on our table. We are not satisfied with the result, we think the paint is too thick, even though it says in the instructions that the last layer should be applied undiluted. We sand off the layer and try it again, but this time we dilute the paint slightly. This is better and we are finally pleased with the result. When we are on the boat during the weekends, we sand the woodwork around the saloon entrance and the red line around the structure is finally redone as well. Since there is still a lot of rain for the time of year, we postpone the painting for a bit.
Hans is planning to buy a large jigsaw puzzle as a birthday present for Dory and there's still a large box from our garden table in the hall closet. The box is perfectly suited to put the jigsaw puzzle on.
Because we are planning long trips on the Pacific, visiting islands where people hardly have enough water for themselves, we want to install a water maker. With a water maker, we can turn salt water into drinking water, which means we won't need to depend on others for water. After a lot of studying and advise from several sailors, we decide it has to be a Spectra: a simple design and easy to maintain. The question is: where are we going to put it? Dory suddenly has a brilliant idea. We still have a large box in the hall closet which we can turn into a small box the size of the water maker. We can then take this box to the boat and use it to fit and measure. There goes Hans' box... He obviously doesn't want to give away that he is going to buy a jigsaw puzzle and that he wanted to use this box to put the puzzle on. He tries to convince Dory that there is no hurry. There's enough time. But unfortunately Dory is as brash as ever and she starts cutting up the box. Hans sadly looks on how his box is being cut into pieces. It eventually turns out to be a good idea, because now we know that the water maker will neatly fit under the bed. The accompanying pump and filter can be installed next to the fridge engine. To make up for the extra energy consumption, we will replace our two five-year old batteries with three brand new gel hybrid batteries.
And that is how we are slowly but surely preparing ourselves for new trips on the Pacific, maybe even in the direction of Hawaii. So it will take a while before we will return to the Netherlands.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)