Raglan and Bridal Veil Falls

Our adventure in the rain at the Otorohanga Kiwi House left me with a cold, and after days of being stuck at home with very bi-polar weather we were both becoming a little stirr-crazy and eager to go exploring again. Even the concrete coloured clouds and threat of rain were no deterrent as we headed off  towards the West Coast of the Waikato and the small little surf town of Raglan.

Past beautiful countryside with rolling green hills speckled with cattle, we followed the windy tight roads, up and down, twisting and turning, giving our little Honda a thorough workout. Bright pink wildflowers smattered the roadside cheering up the weathers threatening melancholy. Before we knew it we had arrived at the small seaside village of Raglan. Renowned for being a surfing mecca and with a population of less than 3000 people, Raglan attracts people far and wide  for its laid back surfy-culture, and is a popular retreat for Aucklanders wishing to escape the big city. 

 The main street was lined with craft shops showcasing the amazing talents of local artists, surf shops, and cafe’s. Antique shops and vintage clothing stores fragranced with the smell of burning incense, combined with the yoga / horse-trekking retreats give the village a fun hippy vibe. I, at least, felt quite at home. Places, however, tend to shine more brightly when the weather is cooperating, and so, maybe it was the grey skies, murky water, and chilly breeze that made what otherwise might have been a beautiful village and sea inlet, seem a little haunted and forlorn.  Even the Pohutukawa trees, red flowers in bloom, seemed a little gnarly as if they’d been fighting off invisible foes. On a warmer and sunnier day I’m sure Raglan would have seemed more embracing.

A local house in Raglan - note the goat in the yard - one way to keep the lawns mowed


Raglan main drag


Beautiful mural outside a cafe


The historic Harbour View Hotel


Pohutukawa tree signage









After exploring a few of the treasure troves lining the main street, and enjoying a wonderful Indian lunch from a small cafe called Namaste, we jumped in our car to explore some of the surfing beaches Raglan is famous for. Despite the weather  it seemed almost everyone had the same idea, and finding parking on the narrow twisting roads leading down to the beaches proved to be a problem. Instead we found our way down to a coast littered with black volcanic rock rock-pools. Not ideal for swimming or surfing, it was pleasant enough for us to explore the wildlife hiding in the pools, while locals in the distance collected shellfish off the rocks for dinner.


Pathway down to the rock pools


Rock pools


Mr. Crab


There was time enough in the day for us to explore a well-known waterfall in the area. 20kms from Raglan, traversing more windy hilly roads, we arrived at the walkway to the Bridal Veil Falls, also known as Wairenga Falls. Almost immediately we found ourselves on the upper viewing platform of the falls; a spectacular gushing wall of water, falling over a cliff face composed of volcanic rock. Although an amazing lookout not only at the waterfall but also at the surrounding native bush, I was reminded again of Martin’s resistance towards heights when I was handed the camera to take the shots. We continued downward through the bush to a mid-way platform allowing for another viewing of the waterfall, then continued again, down, down, down to the lower platform. 260 odd steps between the mid-way and lower platform. Walking back up was killer, yet totally worth the small bit of exercise for an amazing glimpse of the power and beauty of nature.

Beginning of the walkway


Beautiful bush walk


View of the lower platform from the upper platform


Beginning of the waterfall


Ponga Tree


Bridal Veil Falls


Jo on the Upper Platform - Martin is standing far back!


View from the mid-way platform


View from the lower platform


Martin and Jo at Bridal Veil Falls


Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park

To complete the image of Otorohanga being the Kiwiana Capital, it also plays host to New Zealand’s largest private collection of native birds in New Zealand; The Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park. Although not being big ‘bird’ people ourselves, it was conveniently located only a couple of blocks from where we were staying, and so, with a shrug of our shoulders and a good ol’ kiwi  “why not?” we set off to explore.

Otorohanga Kiwi House housed the first Kiwi nocturnal house in New Zealand. It guaranteed visitor viewing of these rather elusive birds, while also dedicating itself to the research, incubation and raising of Kiwi birds for release. The Kiwi is the national bird and icon of New Zealand, and the affectionate term we New Zealanders like to refer to ourselves as. We are not named after the fruit. However, it is hard to comprehend how a shaggy-feathered, flightless, football-shaped bird complete with a long pointy beak to allow foraging of forest floors, is a better fit for us than a furry brown fruit, with a yummy, juicy, green inside. 

'Welcome' in a variety of languages


Regardless, you can’t really say you’ve been to New Zealand until you’ve seen a Kiwi, and as soon as we entered through the reception/ gift shop area we were ushered down a dark corridor to the Nocturnal Kiwi House. A huge enclosed viewing area with floor to ceiling glass allowed us to look into a makeshift forest. Special nocturnal lighting cast an eerie green glow but allowed for surprisingly brilliant viewing of the large Kiwi’s digging and foraging for food on the forest floor. Seemingly oblivious to us, or maybe just use to having bystanders ‘ohh-ing’, and ‘ahh-ing’ over their normal night-time activities, the Kiwi’s went about their business  just being Kiwi’s. It really provided for an amazing up-close and personal experience with these birds who in the wild excelled at being almost completely inconspicuous.  Unfortunately glass viewing screens and eerie green light does not a good photo make, and so it is just one of those things you’ll have to make the trip to New Zealand to see for yourself.

 As we left the nocturnal house and readjusted our eyes to daylight, it seemed the weather had taken a turn for the worst and had begun to pour buckets.  The staff at the Kiwi House were well prepared for this with a generous back up of umbrella’s, (or ‘brollies’ as the locals call them), for visitors at the center to use. And so, grabbing one each, and donning rain jackets over our otherwise summery apparel, we set off, map in hand, to follow the winding paths through the native bush of Kanuka trees, Ponga, and an assortment of  ferns complete with unfurled fronds in the shape of koru’s; classic New Zealand bush beauty.

Fern with a unfurled frond in the shape of a Koru


Dancing in the rain


Bush walk with a Weka of the path


One of my favourite things to do in New Zealand was to go for bush walks where, unlike Canada, you never had to worry about the possibility of a bear mistaking you for lunch, and so it felt wonderful to be amongst native bush. Man-made environment or not, the staff had done a wonderful job of creating a beautiful natural showcase of New Zealand flora, accented by the chirps of our native birds. Even the rain couldn’t spoil the beauty; the birds were hardly bothered by it, the ducks in fact seemed to revel in it,  the flora glowed even more green and lush than before, and the air smelt wonderfully fresh and earthy.

We had planned our tour to fit around the feeding of two native New Zealand parrots – the Kea’s and the Kaka’s. Being rather early and the weather the way it was, for quite a time we had the feeding of them all to ourselves. With a staff member doling out walnut halves to us, we held the shells up to the wire fences so the birds could use their beaks to peck at and eat the meaty part of the walnut.  Definitely the highlight of the Kiwi House tour.  Kea’s and Kaka’s are known for being very cheeky birds, and they definitely were not shy of us! Predominantly found in the South Island I had heard the horror stories of the birds destroying parked vehicles, in particular by pulling at the black rubber that surrounds the windows of the vehicle, or dismantling car aerials, while unsuspecting tourists were off  enjoying picnics or bush walks. These birds do like shiny things and nothing is safe!  They don’t have the vibrant colouring of what we normally associate with birds of the parrot family; their beauty is much more subtle. But in saying that, when they open their wings in flight, the Kea’s in particular, have the most beautiful iridescent green feathers. Trying to catch a photo of them doing this is though, is near to impossible.

Martin feeding a Kaka


Martin feeding another Kaka


Jo feeding a Kea


Jo feeding the Kaka


The Kea


With umbrellas in hand we continued our way around the park, following the winding pathways past the Gecko House, complete with the Tuatara, one of the view remaining descendants of the Dinosaur family, past New Zealand owls including the Morepork, named after its chilling call in the depths of night; “more…pork…, more…pork…”. Past waterfronts and wetlands, Heron’s, an assortment of ducks and other water fowl. Past creeks filled with native eels, past Kingfishers, and Keruru, our pretty and plump native wood pigeon. Often we would find we would be followed on our path by the odd Weka who, on seeing us notice him, would scoot into the bush again. Despite the rain and damp we still saw a variety of native bird species, and both enjoyed the native bush walk in itself. Both Martin and I reflected on the beauty of the place, maybe not so obvious in the photo’s we took, but in the feeling of experiencing nature up close.

Keruru - Native Wood Pigeon


Wetlands - made wetter by the rain






Pukeko's walking the plank


Playful Pukeko's




Waitomo Woodlyn Park Kiwi Culture Show

New Zealand was not putting on quite the Kiwi summer we were expecting. Although almost always hot and humid, days would flux from being sunny with brilliant blue skies, to drizzly, wet and miserable. Today was one of those types of days. We were going stir-crazy. It was time to explore a little of our surroundings. After a quick fifteen minute drive we left Otorohanga for Waitomo. 

Waitomo is a well-known tourist attraction town (?) / village (?), I’m not really sure what you would call it, but its fame as a tourist attraction arises from the glow-worm caves in the area and the assortment of tourist activities available, from abseiling, black water rafting in caves, to cultural shows. It is a must-visit destination to anyone new to New Zealand. Today, however, was not a wonderful showcase for the area. The heavy rain, although making everything look lush and green,  was also rather cold and not inspiring for a day in the cold damp depths of the ground such as exploring caves. That, we decided, would be left for another day. Instead we made use of the local information center, or the i-Site Center, as it’s referred to here. While there we stocked up on brochures on attractions and things to do locally and all over New Zealand, and grabbed the free maps and novel-sized accommodation guides we thought might come in useful in the future. But we still wanted to do something now!  And so we decided on an inside cultural show five minutes up the road. In truth, I decided… and twisted Martin’s arm. The cultural show was a bit of a celebration of New Zealand farming culture, and as I was brought up on a farm, a very, very, long time ago, I wanted Martin to experience a taste of it while  I saited my nostalgic cravings.
The Woodlyn Park Kiwi Culture Show was a one man show performed by Billy Black; the picture of a true Kiwi Farmer bloke. Driving up to what reminded me of a classic woolshed, we entered into Billy Blacks domain, and with time to spare before the show began we explored. Not just looking but also smelling like a woolshed; wood, oil, dust, damp, and sheep poo, mingled together to fragrance the place as we explored what looked to be both a bar and a large dining area. Long wooden tables capable of seating large groups spread out in the center of the large room where an assortment of old and odd furniture, tools, and farming equipment, stood against or hung from every wall.

Entrance to Woodlyn Park Culture Show


Billy Black's Office Hours


Price List - note the special Aussie pricing


The Dining Area


The Bar Area


Random antiques in the dining area


The second room we entered was stranger still, and obviously where the show was to take place. A makeshift stage complete with handmade curtains, obviously sewn together by a farmer and not a seamstress, lined one wall. Almost all of the rest of the room was mix-matched tiered seating for the audience. Very filthy and dusty with spider webs and bird poo everywhere, it seemed to only enhance the organic experience awaiting us.

The Stage


Rather dodgey seating


And so the show began. Dressed in classic farmer attire Billy Black graced the stage as comedian, and farmer, and former Sheep Shearing Champ. As he shared the history of forestry and farming in New Zealand he brought kids from the audience on stage to cut wood, me to blow wood up, and Martin to be his muscle as he demonstrated old-time sheep shearing, (before electricity was used to power the shearing piece). And then there was an introduction of some of his friends. With the ingenious use of levers and pulleys to open gates outside to allow particular animals to march their own way into the building, (saving him getting wet as it was still raining), we were introduced to a donkey,  trick-performing pig, a renegade chicken, a demonstration of sheep-herding by his dogs on stage, and a Kiwi Bear.

Slave labour from the audience - in a log cutting demonstration


Jo nervous on stage as Billy Black explains to me how I'll be blowing up the log before us


Steadying the log as it's pumped with explosive black powder


Lighting the wick - Martin at this point was in the audience beaming at me!


Billy Black getting ready for an old-time shearing demonstration


Martin muscle power - making the shearers work



Billy Black and his pig


Billy Black and his donkey and chook




I had never heard of a Kiwi Bear before and wouldn’t have put it past him to have invented a strange hybrid creature to entertain us. But as the audience’s ohhs, and ahhs began it was obvious that the Kiwi Bear he referred to was a possum. I had seen pictures of American opossums before, and to all those people reading this who haven’t seen a New Zealand Possum  before – they do look quite different, and extremely cute. Similar in size and looks to a cat with a slightly bushier tail and narrower face, it is easy to forget they’re considered rather destructive pests here. With Billy Black holding him like a baby it was rather hard to comprehend this.

The Kiwi Bear - i.e. possum


And for a climatic finale Billy Black graced the stage on the back of a giant steer, (for you non-farmer folk – riding a castrated bull). What he hadn’t counted on was the fact the bull seemed to be suffering from explosive diarrhea and as the audience in the front row fled for their dignity, a straggling middle-aged man narrowly missed what could have been an unfortunate intimacy with a bulls backside. Martin and I remained safe, being smart enough in the beginning to have chosen seats a few rows back, but the ending hilarity made the show all the more memorable.

Before the steer turned around and things turned bad!

A very organic, interactive Cultural Show, Billy Black had been both an informative and highly entertaining host. Despite some precursor misgivings, primarily by Martin, we had both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with a taste, and for me a reminder, of the country we’d chosen to call home.

New Zealand – And so it begins…

Rolling green hills, strange accents and unpronounceable place names; yes, we were in New Zealand. After a three-hour flight from Sydney to Auckland, we gathered up our luggage for the final time and made our way out to the visitors lounge. Having not been back to New Zealand for almost seven years it was an emotional and heartwarming experience to be welcomed with hugs by my mother and her husband who were waiting to pick us up.

It is impossible for me to describe the odd feeling of being back. Familiarity and foreign-ness fought with each other as I observed my surroundings, and took in the accent that seemed so strange and yet I had been accused of having for all my years in Canada. Martin, on the other hand, was battling a myriad of other emotions. The journey/vacation we had been dreaming and planning, and dreaming some more about, was over. Here we were in New Zealand, home for the next who-knows-how-long! A jolt back to earth; we had jobs, and houses, and lives to find. But then…there was also a wave of relief that washed over him. After an unnerving experience of trying to understand a fellow Kiwi poker player while on the cruise, he had become a bit concerned that I had lied about New Zealand being an English-speaking country. His fears, however, fell away as he adapted fast to the Kiwi colloquialisms and Kiwi-isms, with only a little bit of translation from me.

To find our feet a little we stayed with my mother and her husband, using their place as a base so we could explore, play tourist, and get a feel for where we wanted to live. They lived in Otorohanga; a small rural town located in the central North Island area, 2 hours from Auckland, in the Waikato district. Otorohanga is celebrated as the Kiwiana town of New Zealand; ‘Kiwiana’ meaning anything distinctly New Zealand. As New Zealander’s we like to refer to ourselves as Kiwi’s, affectionately named for a native flightless bird roughly the size and shape of a rugby ball. And so this little Kiwiana town was the perfect place for me to reunite with my Kiwi roots, and for Martin to discover a little of our Kiwi culture.

A cute little town nestled against fertile farmland, and rolling green hills, there did, however, seem to be something very ‘Kiwi’ absent from the scenery; Sheep! It was amazing how few sheep we saw. Cows, however, were abundant. The center street of the town boasted Kiwi souvenir  and gift shops. Quaint baskets of brightly coloured flowers hung outside the shops where periodic signs greeted you from above as you walked down the street, illustrated with symbols of true New Zealand culture; the kiwi bird, the children’s buzzy bee toy we all remember from our childhoods, Pavlova cake – our christmas specialty, and of course a hokey pokey ice-cream cone – a favourite summer treat. Beautiful murals celebrating the Kiwi way of life covered exposed shop walls, while sculptures of giant Kiwi birds stood proud outside the library.  A small walkway dedicated to the iconic Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary boasted displays in showcases of true Kiwiana; the history of the All Blacks – our world-famous Rugby Team, Marmite – a black, tar-looking delight usually smothered on toast, a dictionary of common Kiwi lingo, and our native Maori culture, amongst many other things.

A cute Kiwi shack we came across while exploring


A meeting house of some sort with pretty Maori designs above the entrance


A mural in town


Otorohanga - The Kiwiana Capital - Mural on the side of a building


Maori carvings in front of the Library


Giant Kiwi bird sculptures outside the library


Downtown Otorohanga - note the mini Christmas trees


Even the local McDonalds embraces Kiwiana


The Ed Hillary Walkway


The Ed Hillary Walkway with displays of Kiwiana





Kiwi Slang


Martin playing with the big guns in a local park


Martin embracing his inner hippy


Beautiful big trees


There's silver ferns in them there hills...


But as much as we would have loved to have lost ourselves in just ‘being’ in a new place, there was some mundane details we needed to take care of. And so we set up bank accounts, and cell phones,  familiarised ourselves with the unfamiliar shops so we would know where to go when it came to buying furniture and supplies, and what was a good deal and what was the equivalent of being ripped off. I reacquainted myself with the Kiwi lingo, all-in-all amazed that Martin was getting a better grasp of it than myself; while I got blank steers when I offered to pay with Debit, Martin quickly caught  on to always calling it Eftpos.

Martin at the Base in Hamilton - a major shopping complex


The Kiwi version of the Santa set up in the middle of the mall


Note the blue Pukeko birds, native to New Zealand


Santa Pukeko's sawing a log in the Santa display - no elves in this part of the world


And then of course, was the driving. Getting use to driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, getting into the right side of the car instead of the left, and reversing a good deal of Canadian road rules – and before we knew it we were driving. Fortunately finding a vehicle was almost effortless – a cute little blue Honda CRV complete with 3 years warranty with plenty of room for the boogie boards, and wetsuits, and tent, and chairs, and a roof rack for all the things we imagined we would buy one day to complete our true Kiwi summer experience.

Our new set of wheels - affectionately named 'Rhinox'


And with wheels we were set! Set now to explore a little. Get a feel for New Zealand. So much had changed since I had been here last. I couldn’t wait to immerse myself back into the culture, and share it with Martin, and I was anxious for us to find the place that we would know as being “home”. And so began an entirely new type of adventure…