One of the great strokes of luck we have encountered on our travels so far is an old co-worker of Courtney’s, and all around good human, Alex has family here on the North Island. We were able to talk him into coming out and this has allowed us to spend our first two weeks both traveling and visiting with people who have spent their whole lives here in this magical land. Inside info and a free place to crash are both hugely helpful to us budget explorers.
With this in mind, we headed south to the zone near the center of the north Island known as King Country. The name comes from a time in history when the local Maori banded together and appointed a King. His job was essentially to deal with the British and do what he could to protect their land from the colonials. It is now the agricultural heartland of the north island. The drive through the area is beautiful. Rolling green hills stretch for miles and miles. Sheep and cattle dot this beautiful atolls, and numerous patches of darker green, densely wooded forest break the endless sea of emerald. It was a wonderful place to drive around, even in the grey and rainy weather.
Our destination was Alex’s cousins house down in the dairy country near Otorohanga. On our way south we stopped in the lovely town of Hamilton fo a walk and some sight seeing. There is a lovely little river walk that runs through down town, and we spent a nice hour or so stretching our legs and enjoying the beautiful scenery. We stopped in at a free art gallery near the Hamilton museum and spent half an hour or so appreciating the wonderful pottery and numerous other art pieces on display. There were some fantastic pieces, and as is always the case when I visit such galleries I wished I had the disposable income, or the priority with what I do have, to buy some of it. But alas, such is not the case.
Hamilton is the birth place of the creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show; a fact I was blissfully ignorant of until Lonely Planet provided the knowledge. On the site where the small theater where first dreamed the idea up used to sit now stands a eight foot tall bronze statue of Riff Raff, the time traveling alien from the planet Transsexual. We took some pictures of and with the statue and marveled at our good fortune in coming across such a unique piece of theatrical history.
If you do nothing else in Hamilton, stop by the Hamilton gardens. This particular gardens was easily one of the best I have ever been to. Now I love these sorts of places and we usually make a point to visit them when we can so when I say this it is not just fluff. There are multiple gardens within the grounds, each of them dedicated to a different culture and time period. The Maori garden was dedicated to their agriculture. The raised storage sheds decorated with Maori art were quite cool. The Chinese garden was the most fun to walk through, not because of the plants but because of its design. The Indian pleasure garden was by far the most brilliant. It had four square plots bursting with brightly color flowers with a lovely little fountain in the center. It was very aesthetically pleasing. The place was big and due to time we only got to see part of it, but even the small bit we saw made it well worth the visit. Amazingly enough it was also free, though they have a donation box, which we put a little into on our way out.
From Hamilton we made out way down to Otorohanga to the lovely home of Alex’s cousin Rachel and her family. The family owns a few dairy farms, and they live on and run them for a living. The country is quite beautiful. Green pastures and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Even with the rainy and grey weather following us south, it was beautiful.
The area is all part of the Wataimo area and is most well known, at least in tourism terms, for its numerous caves. After a lovely dinner and a night spent with the family, we spent a bit of money ($139 NZ) to experience the a rather unique feature of the local area. Black water rafting, as it is called, consists of gearing up in a full wet suit, grabbing a helmet with a waterproof light, and inter-tubing through an underground river, with a guide of course. The water was a bit chilly, but other then that it was quite fun. The caves are full of glow worms which makes the cave look a lot like the night sky. The trip through the cave only takes about an hour, but it was a fun adventure. There are numerous companies that do tours through different caves, and they are all comparably priced.
The Rachel and her children took us on a rather nice little tour of some of the local attractions. Most of them are short walks through caves or to other interesting geological features. The walks were all gorgeous, winding either through beautiful, moss covered forests, or through open pasture land. Make sure to bring a torch with you into the caves so you can really check them out.
Beyond a great place to say and some wonderful meals, Rachel and Tim provided us with one other cool experience. The morning we were going to leave, we got up early and helped them with the milking of their cows. The milking area looks something like a car garage, with two cement walkways down either side and a lowered walkway in the middle. We occupied the lower area, and the cows the higher. Food troughs lined the outside of the higher paths, and the cows would walk in and turn to eat from the troughs leaving their rears facing us. We then would attach a milking device to their udders, which required reaching under the cow with one hand and attaching the suction cups while holding the body of the device with the other. Cows being nasty creatures, this was not exactly a clean process (it is always amazing to me that a creature that eats nothing but fiber can have such liquid poops). When one row of 34 cows was done, we would remove the devices, turn around, and attach them to the cow on the other row. This process went on until all 300 cows were milked. Once that was all done, we cleaned everything up and hosed every thing down. The nice thing is that these cows get handled frequently, so they are much more docile then the ones we dealt with in Australia, and there are bars across their laneways so they cant kick you. They also know where they are going, so very little directing is necessary. We are still waiting on the pictures, so they may get added later.
It was an experience that I am extremely grateful for. It has been wonderful getting to experience a bit of the farming industry and learning a bit about where all our food comes from. It is also wonderful learning a bit more about the lifestyle these farmers live and, in the end, how little they actually make to do all this (which often times comes out to enough to break even in a year). Now when I go to the store I am certainly a lot less inclined to complain about the prices, and much more thankful for what is available.