December 6, 2012
Heavy rains during the night have us stuffing a soggy, drenched tent into its cover before setting off on a pastoral ride towards the ferry dock. Thick mists shroud the hills in floating veils of opacity, sheep dot steep slopes, and every bend in the road reveals unexpected, splendid views. The hills look small and hobbit-like, but climbing them on heavily laden bicycles is unbelievably strenuous. We’re late, and have to rush to the other side of the island because we underestimated the amount of time needed to climb Waiheke’s steepest hill, riding faster than our wildly beating hearts can comfortably manage. No time for water breaks or a more leisurely pace.
Just past the steepest hill, we meet the Canadians Vanessa and Evan, who moved camp yesterday so they wouldn’t have to do the whole ride this morning. Twenty years younger, and just starting out, they easily pass us on a hill, saying cheerily as they breeze past:
– We’ll catch you at the ferry!
A few minutes later, we find Vanessa bent over her bicycle, which she obviously dropped on the side of the road in a hurry, panting heavily. Evan, a true gentleman is patiently waiting for her to recover. Continuing at our usual tempo we pass them, and like turtles in the French fable of The Turtle and The Hare, we’re the ones waiting for them at the dock!
Orapiu is nothing but a deserted wooden pier in a quiet cove. We wait for fifteen minutes unsure since there is no sign of a weekly schedule and no boat anywhere in sight, if we are even in the right spot. Christof and I sprint back up the hill to see if we’ve got the wrong cove, but there is no other road.
On the pier, with no idea of what else to do, we wait with the Canadians until the ferry appears fifteen minutes later than scheduled, traveling towards us with unbelievable speed.
– You have reservations? the captain yells over the wind and the waves.
It’s obvious we don’t.
– This isn’t a regular stop. Be quick if you want to come along!
The idea of waiting another half week has us hurriedly bumping our bikes down the wooden stairs, tearing off the panniers, sleeping bags and tents, and heaving everything over the edge of the wildly rocking boat. We’re barely in before the catamaran, races off. Away from shore, the water is choppy and rough. The boat hits the waves, bouncing up and down and knocking a passenger to the floor. I spend the journey on the bench fighting back my nausea. Others, feeling worse, run outside and hang over the side of the boat. Our bikes and panniers are instantly covered by water spraying up from the back of the boat.
In the harbor an hour later, two fishing boats stuffed with mussels are being lifted by a crane into trucks with trailers, waiting to distribute the daily catch.
Withianga, our goal, is only forty-five k’s away, but because the climbs are steep and difficult, we take the rest of the day off.
In town the four of us have a sandwich and exchange stories before looking at a campsite on the bay. Vanessa and Evan met in a private Montessori school, and are grateful to their parents for the freedom and ease this gave them. Evan invested his childhood and youth in competitive ice-dancing and now has a job in IT that is flexible and can be done from his laptop anywhere he has an internet connection. This is why he could so easily be here for two months. Vanessa, who studied Physical Education, is planning to spend half a year in New Zealand combining work and travel, with cycling and mountain climbing. She travels extensively, getting jobs wherever she is, and recently spent two years working in a bar in Anchorage, Alaska, which she says is a dynamic and adventurous place.
The campsite, a large field of empty campers and concrete block, sanitary houses, is too great a contrast to the bucolic field we camped in on Waiheke for us to even consider staying. Our Canadian friends are happy with the location.
We look for something better, and find a hostel closer to town with thick green grass that looks like a golf course. We set up our tent under lemon and lime trees, snacking on sun-warmed ripe plums from a tree close to the bay. The afternoon is spent drinking coffee and using the (free) wifi at a cafe where we meet our friends again. Evan is the only one working. We watch a torrential downpour from inside the cafe before riding out to The Mussel Kitchen for dinner. I just have to try fresh green-lipped mussels.
This $200 million industry is dependent on the wild spat that wash up in sea weed on Ninety Mile Beach. Harvested and attached – with quickly disintegrating cotton stockings – to lines in nurseries, the spat grow until they become too cramped. Similar to thinning rows of carrots, the mussels are then removed and hung onto new lines with more space, where they can continue to increase in size.
By the 1960’s the wild mussel population was practically extinct, after fifty years of intensive scrapping, the ocean beds have still not recovered from last century’s decimation. Today almost all green-lipped mussels eaten world wide come from aqua farms.
Although they are the largest mussels I have ever seen, they are soft, tender and delicious, especially when dipped in butter and garlic! Christof, not one for culinary experiments, has Italian pasta. We share a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
High storm winds and heavy rains during the night.