Week two – settling in.
Rocky Bay is a quiet secluded place and we make our own entertainment here, all centred around the community hall.
I still need to make wider connections and Ive noticed in the Gulf News that there is lane swimming at one of the Primary Schools which has the only swimming pool on the island. Vicky is the person to contact, which seems a good omen. She replies to my email that there are sessions Sat & Sun from 9-10 as well as a couple of evenings during the week. I have to text her if Im coming as they need 6 swimmers to open the pool. I discover that the pool is outdoors and there is no one around. Soon a woman arrives, and then Vicky turns up.
Is the pool heated? I ask.
Solar. is the reply. Apparently on warm days it heats up to 28 degrees, but today as its been cold, its 18 degrees. My mind goes back to Chris C from Out to Swim trying to get me down to the Brockwell Lido in London for water of 13 degrees. I decide to give it a go. There arent six people but Vicky opens up anyway and asks if I would like a lane put in. After the initial shock of getting in, the water is OK and I swim fast to keep warm. There are no pool markings and its difficult to see the end so no tumble turn practice. After 30 minutes my extremities are cold and I think it wise to get out. Vicky says she has a white board and would I like her to put a set up for me next time.
Yes please, I say between chattering teeth. Ill go again as it saves a ferry ride to town.
By now Im really in need of warming up and drive off to the Ostend Saturday Market for a coffee from the Hall. Theres a stall with celery seedlings for sale ($1 each) and also Broad Beans and Silver Beet payment by donation (koha). In the excitement of seeing the Broad Beans, I leave the celery seedlings behind. Maybe they will have more next week.
Its the start of the Walking Festival and Ive signed up for the Friends of Dorothy Walk. I dont actually know anyone called Dorothy and have never been a Judy Garland Fan, but Im expecting to meet some gay people from the Island. We meet outside one of the eatery/bars which proliferate in Oneroa although no one is actually talking much to start with. Locals obviously know each other and so do their dogs, who have come for the walk as well. We all have to get our shoes scrubbed and sprayed with disinfectant to prevent Kauri die-back. This disease, which attacks the magnificent native Kauri trees on the mainland has so far, not made it to the Island and we want to keep it that way. Once we get underway, its clear that most of the walkers are lesbians with only half a dozen gay men.
Were walking around the headlands on the West end of the Island past Fossil and Owhanake bays then back to our start point through the Vale of Tranquillity. Gradually I get talking to people. They look startled when I say I come from Rocky Bay as they havent seen me around. One of the volunteers has a partner who writes film scripts. It turns out that I know of her and we know all the same people who worked in theatre back in the late 70s. The next thing I know is that Im invited to Pink Drinks which, coincidentally are happening tonight. Last time I was here, I had no luck at all finding out where or when the Pink Drinks happened; now Im all signed up.
The walk is great, with spectacular views of the rocky coastline. Theres a happy hour priced half pint in the bar at the end of the walk and I go home for a nap as its been a long day so far and I seem to have driven backwards and forth on the Island all day. The Pink Drinks are at Surfdale heights in a very posh house overlooking the whole bay. Its packed with gay men who havent been walking and quite a few of the women from the walk have turned up. The host coaches the Auckland Gay Rugby team so theyve all turned up as well. We bring our own booze but the hosts have catered. Plates of finger food are being passed around and there is a singer crooning away in the background. I find myself next to a good looking man in his thirties who turns out to be Canadian and a carpenter. I get his phone number as Im going to need a wardrobe made. (Yes I really do need carpentry done on the house). Its raining on and off but theres a gazebo on the decking and I look out over Surfdale and comment that the gentle slope of the sea-bed and sheltered conditions here make it extremely unlikely that any surf ever dumps on the beach. The chap Im talking with agrees and thinks more could be made of this along with Blackpool and Miami two other suburbs of this Island of 8,000 people which dont relate to their namesakes in any way. It turns out that this Pink Drinks is the early Christmas party, hence the elaborations.
It is forecast for rain but the day starts brightly. Theres an email confirming that the walk will go ahead and I set out from the house along my road to the track down to Whakanewha. I have to detour around the endangered Dotterel colony nesting here. They are fairly careless about where they lay eggs and there are signs purporting to be from the Dotterels themselves saying they need our help. Their territory has been fenced off and dogs are prohibited from the area. Theres quite a crowd gathered as theres a photography walk happening at the same time. Just as we set out on the coast to coast trail, it starts to rain seriously. Just as well Ive worn my bright yellow raincoat. We are partly sheltered by the bush as we pass through stands of Nikau Palms and tree ferns. Its a gently climb up to The Cascades a series of pools and rocky falls through which the stream flows. Last time I was here in the height of summer, it was little more than a trickle. We stop to admire a few of the giant trees but its too wet to do much standing about looking up. After an hour and a half we are early at the Peacock Sky Vineyard for lunch. The owner welcomes us into the clear plastic sided atrium which has a gas fire burning. We can take our boots and waterproofs off before padding through to the counter and paying for our pre-ordered lunch which includes a glass of their wine. Were all a bit cold and while we wait for our wraps filled with either smoked chicken, cheese or vegetables to arrive the rain drives against the atrium sides in torrential waves. Im sitting with a retired couple from the mainland and a young German guy from Saxony. When asked why hes come to New Zealand, he makes us laugh with.
To escape the European winter.
Hes just arrived in the country, bought a bicycle and will tour around until March. Theres a discussion about abandoning the second part of the walk as the driver of a local bus, who will take us back to our starting point, has anticipated that some people may want to opt out at this point. Just as its decision time, the rain eases off so the bus driver has only a few passengers and we set off, this time in open terrain heading for a reserve boasting a stand of precious Kauri trees. Theres a platform and we estimate that the huge ones are around 500 years old. Theres a sign saying If you are lost, keep going downhill and you will come to Onetangi beach. We do this and walk along the rain drenched sand to Charlie Farleys Bar for a coffee. We pay the bus driver $5 to get back to Whakanewha and I wend my weary way along the beach and up the hill to home.
There is no mains water on the Island so we have to manage with what we collect from our roofs. I notice that the agents have installed a meter on the tank and with all the rain, its full. This does not excuse being complaisant as during the dry months it is essential to manage water. Therere a few litres in the pipes before the hot water from the boiler gets through. Water from washing vegetables and rinsing out the teapot can also be reused watering pots or the garden. To avoid blocking up the soak pipes down in the garden, crumbs and other solids are thrown on the garden for ants or other creatures and grease and fat, soaked up with paper towels and put in the rubbish. Theres reasonable mixed recycling here and I have a compost heap. The urgency now is to get rid of the foreign weeds choking the bush trees and do some planting before the summer hits in.
I have to guess how long it will take to get to my next walk at Orapiu further along the Island. Theres road-works going on, which are much needed, particularly now that Waiheke is such a huge tourist destination. Im there in plenty of time, but Ive got it wrong. The walk is tomorrow and Ive put it in the wrong day in my diary. Just as well Ive got a fancy phone with 3G and can check these things out. Its back to the garden for the afternoon before trying out the alternative ferry service to swimming training on the mainland. I have fifteen minutes to shower, get changed and then run for the 8.15 return service. I make it.
Its going to be one of those driving backwards and forth days. I need petrol and stamps so have to go to Oneroa where I can also spend some time with the amazing Eileen at Waiheke First my letting agency. I have some improvements to run past her and she has time to chat. My lettuce seedlings have failed to germinate, so need to buy some plants and then its on to the Native Plant nursery where I buy Kauri trees and several other plants, including a Kowhai. This has a pendulous yellow flower much loved by the nectar eating Tui.
Kowhai can these days be spotted in London gardens along with Pittosporums, Cordyines and Phormiums (flax) all native to New Zealand.
Ive had an email from the Walking Festival with instructions of where to meet its all highly organised and when I get to Orapiu, there are a couple of volunteers already there. By contrast, the day is beautifully sunny but we have to wait for a bus to arrive with participants who have come from the ferry plus some who have done a morning walk at Man 0War Bay all of which is complicated by the road works and the fact that the bus cant do the Island loop road and has to go back and through the road works twice. Its all OK and we are only 30 minutes late starting.
This is Waiheke, its a lovely day and no one is in a hurry. Our leader, one of the conservation officers has a loud voice ideal for outdoors and we follow him up the road and over private land (by arrangement) down to Pearl Bay.
Access to this beautiful secluded bay is supposed to be by boat, but there is an unofficial track over private land at the bottom of which is a collection of 4WD vehicles. Some of the batches are very old and derelict; others are modern, pristine and grey. The whole bay is a reserve and is home to an oyster farm.
We walk along a paper road (put on a map in planning stages years ago but the terrain made it impossible to build) to the beautiful Otakawhe Bay.
Here the locals have been weeding the bush and planting Pohutukawa trees which have bright red flowers at Christmas.
We see examples of before and after weeding. The ubiquitous Agapanthus, which UK gardeners struggle to nurture, self seed here rampantly taking over the countryside. Contrary to popular belief, they dont stabilise banks and here they have been removed. We end our walk back at Orapiu where we started.