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Battye Family’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 27 Mar 2007

Location: North Island-the beginning, New Zealand

MapCrossing five time zones, I had to force Chris and Tim to tear themselves away from their in-seat movie screens and go to sleep on the long flight from Hong Kong to Auckland. We arrived in New Zealand with no plan, no car, and no hotel. This travel style had generally been working for us-keeping us flexible and on our toes. In Auckland, however, the first fifteen accomodations I called were completely booked and there apparently wasn’t a rental car to be had. We kept at it and with providence on our side, found a little motel near the airport with a room. Expecting the worst, instead we found paradise. It was a two-bedroom apartment, clean and sun-drenched, which opened with big glass doors to a pool and picnic tables. Cicadas buzzed in the trees and palms waved from the courtyard. Our luck seemed to be holding when an exceedingly friendly American ex-patriot in the next room helped us get a minivan for a surprisingly low rate. It was the last car on the lot, had more than a few miles on it, and was an uncommon shade of lime. It was immediately dubbed “the lemon squeeze” by Timmy, who has some difficulty differentiating colors and insists it is yellow. It turned out, in fact, to be the perfect car for us as it’s easy to find in any parking lot and there are only a few others like it on the road…whenever we see one, the driver madly waves at us…sort of like a private little club.

It was fortuitous that the room was so inviting because just as we were planning museum trips and beach days in Auckland, Emily started a 24-hour vomiting spree. An unbelievable trooper, Emily lay on the bed resignedly retching every quarter hour as we played house in our little apartment, cooked our own meals, and showered her with snuggles until she was finally able to manage a saltine or two. Our final day, we ventured out to the Auckland Museum and spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon acquainting ourselves with the history and culture of “the land of the long white cloud.” I was impressed to learn that the Kiwi routinely lays an egg one-third its body weight. May I just say how truly grateful I am that we, as humans, do no such thing. Looking beyond the natural history exhibits, we were amazed with the museum’s co-ed bathroom and thought it very progressive. It wasn’t until later that we realized the sign was covered and John and the boys had, in fact, been cavorting in the women’s room. After making a spectacle of ourselves in the loo, we took a tour with a museum volunteer. Chris was an expert on military history and shed light on all that we didn’t know about New Zealand’s role in the world’s conflicts. The people of this country have a long history of doing more than their fair share of showing up when needed. In World War 1, for example, fully half of the male population of the country went to war, with only two thirds of those men making it back home alive.
By Chris Battye

The Boer War, also known as the South Africa War, was fought between the British and the Boers. The Boers (sometimes called Afrikaans) were Europeans who had lived in South Africa since 1652. These first settlers were Dutch. It wasn’t until later that German and French settlers came to the area. When Britain got control of Cape Hope in Africa, they began expanding into Boer territory. In response, the Boers made a great migration farther away from the British. The names of the new countries the Boers created were Natal, the Orange Free State, and the South African Republic. Britain was able to convince the people of Natal to become a British colony but when they attempted the same with the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, the Boers in the two territories joined forces, rebelled, and renamed the area the Transvaal Territories.
When gold was discovered in these territories, British miners flocked to the area, setting up a town called Johannesburg. The miners were called Uitlanders by the Boers and were greatly discriminated against. This friction caused revolt in Johannesburg and despite British attempts at negotiation, the fighting continued. In the British Cape Hope colony, a 500,000-man army was formed. This included sixty six hundred troops from New Zealand who answered Britain’s call for help. The Transvaals threatened war if the Uitlanders did not get out of their territory. British noncompliance with Transvaal demands brought immediate action, and an alliance of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State declared war on October 12, 1899.
The Boers’ initial attack was successful, capturing three major cities. However, an offensive from British General Frederick S. Roberts successfully took the capital of the Orange Free State and forced their army into surrender, a situation that yielded 4000 prisoners. After two months of intense fighting, Roberts took Johannesburg and then Makefing, the capital of the South African Republic, on June 5, 1900. This was not the end of the war, however. Boer guerillas slowly chipped away at British forces. The Boer strikes were well organized and new British commander Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener could not defend his forces well against the tactics. These Boer guerillas were actually the first elite fighters referred to by the term, “Commandos.” Lord Kitchener devised a strategy to capture the Boer guerillas. He burned all the Boer farms where the guerillas hid and took all the Boer women and children and stuck them in concentration camps. Many people think the Nazis first invented concentration camps, but it was really the British who came up with the idea.
Negotiations began on March 23, 1902 and it was decided that the Afrikaans people would join as a British Colony and Boer men who fought in the war would be granted amnesty. Britain would also give three million pounds to the Boers for rehabilitation. ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) suffered tremendous losses in the fighting and New Zealanders honor their soldiers each year with a widely celebrated public holiday. Anzac Day (April 25) celebrates all Anzac action in the Boer War and both world wars.

The population makeup of New Zealand is 80% Pakeha, or European by heritage, 15% Maori (down a bit from 100% at the time of the first European contact over 200 years ago,) and 5% Pacific Islanders. The museum contained a huge collection of Maori artifacts, including a war canoe and various weapons used for bashings and beheadings (bet you can’t guess who was riveted to THAT collection!) The highlight was the museum’s display on volcanoes. We sat on couches in what appeared to be someone’s living room and watched a volcanic eruption through the window as if it was taking place just down the block. Let us just say that we now know the warning signs and will not be the last to leave our dwelling in the event one of New Zealand’s many volcanoes starts spewing smoke and ash. An earthquake did happen to strike Auckland during our time at the museum, but I have to say, we never even knew it. Sitting as it does in the Pacific Ring of Fire and amidst continental plates prone to frequent shifting, earthquakes and volcanic activity are apparently fairly commonplace occurrences.

Making things up as we went along, we changed our destination as we drove down the highway and headed to Otorohanga, a dismal little town and our stopover on the way further south. At a campground, we stayed in what can only be described as a box, six beds sandwiched between four walls with only enough room to walk sideways. The cozy nature of our “cabin” backfired a bit in the night when Timmy got sick, repeatedly, allowing John and I to spend a delightful few hours shuttling between the room and the shower block. We cleaned up bedding and people, stopping now and then to pick Timmy up from wherever he had fainted.

In the morning, all was right with the world and we loaded Timmy into the car with a little airsick bag and headed to Waitomo, home of the glowworm caves. Discovered by a Maori chief, tours are run by members of his family. The tour of the caves seemed a bit of a stretch, after all, just how many stalactites shaped like animals do we really need to see? The real reason to be there was the boat ride into the underground river. As we rounded the bend in darkness, we looked up at what appeared to be the night sky. Hundreds of thousands of little lights glowed on the ceiling of the cave, covering every available surface.

By Jennifer Battye

The glowworms start as eggs. Then they become larvae and hang around in their slime nests on the roofs of dark caves. They hang sticky threads down below like fishing poles and pull them in to eat the little flying bugs that get stuck. They attract the bugs by having light-up bodies that glow in the dark like blue stars. They grow bigger and then they become flies who lay eggs and the cycle happens all over again. You can only see this kind of glowworms in New Zealand.

By John

We love traveling down untouristed country roads. When we set off from Waitomo Caves we took the recommendation of a gnarled old kiwi to bypass the heavily traversed route 3 and go west through Piripiri to the coast road.
He was so right. It was a hilly and winding road through bush and fields and we made several stops: one to hike amidst the fells to reach Mangapohue, a natural limestone bridge, and another to Marokopa Falls, perhaps the most beautiful moss-covered waterfall I’ve ever seen. Amazingly, each stop was spectacular and no one was around. These would be five star attractions in America and yet here, where stunning vistas start to seem commonplace, they don’t even get a mention in the guidebook. Our last stop was to retrace our steps, an unexpected delay, to pick up Timmy’s missing sandal.
As we continued down the road towards the next little seaside town, Susan looked up from the AA map and informed me that we could expect no gas stations at that town or on the way to it. “No problem,” I thought, “we’re on a little under three eighths of a tank.” As we climbed some steep hills, I became fascinated by how the sheep could stand on those hillsides and not roll down like little snowballs. Do they have shorter legs on one side?
Once we reached the next town, I saw instantly why there was no gas station. Marokopa was a dot on the map, indicating a town of some size, but the reality was a population of maybe a couple of dozen people and nothing but a few houses and some surfers. What it did have was compelling vistas in all directions with steep hills falling into the pounding surf. Nice place. We checked out the map and made a beeline for the nearest town, 65 kilometers away along the coast road.
As we climbed a hill and the gauge headed south of empty, the focus of our journey shifted. Now it was all about getting through to the next town. I wondered aloud a few dozen times about how there could come to be 100 km of road without one single petrol station in a modern country and about how there were no signs, no billboards shouting, “Last gas until Awakino!” I realized, of course, that none of this actually changed our situation at all and I decided to begin using extraordinary means.
Being a parent forced me to take stock of our resources: water- we had about two cups for the six of us…not very good. Food- we had some dry cereal. We could sleep in the car. But then what? Amazingly, I couldn’t even remember having passed or seen a car for at least a half an hour. I certainly was not counting on one now. What was the worst that could happen? Inconvenience… or adventure? I got excited. The only choice was to keep going. Sixty five kilometers? How did we get in this spot?
At this point, we climbed a hill that went up and up. I pictured the engine slurping gasoline like a thirsty runner. We finally crested the hill, the fuel gauge frozen on E. Do I just give up? Pray? I shut down the engine, threw the transmission into neutral, and headed down the dangerously winding road without the benefit of power steering or power brakes. Do you know what happens when you do that? In my old MG, no problem. In the Lemon Squeeze the brakes felt like I was stepping on a dead cat and I needed the strength of Samson to budge the wheel. Unluckily, the road turned into dirt track and we entered a national forest. Forty km to go. At that time of day, it looked much more dark and foreboding than the sheep dotted pastureland we’d left behind.
I heaved the wheel to the right and left as the curves came quickly and sharply. The shifting gravel only added to the thrill. Susan, white knuckling the armrest, chimed in with helpful advice like, “You’re going too fast!” “Slow down!” and “We’re definitely sliding now!” The three youngest kids were asleep but Chris had long ago given up any pretense of doing homework in the car and was riveted to the experience. The braking was almost impossible. At some points, I was standing with all my weight on the pedal to keep the car from hurtling over cliffs as we went down the backside of the mountain.
When the slope finally ended and I put the engine on again, I reallized we were still in the forest and the car was just about out of gas. Hopeless. The detour back to get Timmy’s sandal now seemed clearly ill advised. I thought about pointing this out to him. We were not going to be close to making it through and I shifted my thinking to spending the night there… 2 cups of water, no pillows or blankets, very changeable weather, and a little bit of food. We began climbing the next hill. Are there bears or dangerous creatures in the New Zealand bush? We had not met a car and it was obvious that we would not. I was hoping a Park Ranger would pass by on his way home.
After several more tense and grueling miles, the hard top road came back and joy of joys, we passed some sheep in a meadow-a sure sign that a farmhouse must be nearby. We stopped at a house. No one answered the door.
We kept going until we saw a sign that indicated there was a school up ahead. Rounding a corner, we saw the town-two houses standing at an intersection, one of them the school. The other house had a car in front of it with the trunk open, kids’ toys in the yard, and a friendly dog. That looked very promising. We called out. No answer. We called again. Nothing. We went up to the door. Again, nothing. We decided to investigate the school area a bit more and heard voices. There behind the school was a playground, and a large outdoor pool. There were people in it! You can imagine my gratitude at simply seeing another living, breathing human being.
The people turned out to be a young couple named Jeff and Charlotte and their three kids aged 5, 3, and 1. They, in fact, were the schoolteachers and lived in the house across the street. The school had an enrollment of seven students. Jeff and Charlotte could not have been friendlier and brainstormed some ideas about how we could get enough gas to see us through: they had two rusty gas cans with a little bit in each, they knew some neighbors up the road who might have some, and then there was the school’s push lawnmower which we could drain for gas. Charlotte suggested that perhaps we could siphon some gas out of their car. Astounded at their friendliness and willingness to help, we apologized for interrupting their swim. Charlotte replied, “Oh, we were about to get out of the pool anyway…”

It was amazing, really, and just what we all needed. Friendly faces, children, conversation with another family, and random acts of kindness thrown in for good measure. After using a funnel borrowed from the kitchen area of the schoolroom to capture every last drop of gas from the lawnmower, Jeff suggested we take all the kids in the pool for a swim. Charlotte popped over to deliver some chocolate slice and to invite us to their house for a chat once we’d had our fill of the water. We sat sipping wine and learning about what brought them to be teachers in this very rural, and very lovely, place. When not teaching, Jeff goes surfing at the beach down the road and occasionally goes pig hunting and spear fishing with the local farmers. Charlotte, also a teacher, loves that her family has so much time to spend together. As dinnertime approached, we reluctantly said goodbye and loaded into the car for the drive to the next town, and a gas station. Just as we pulled in (we made it!) we heard the phone ring inside. It was Charlotte, calling ahead to make sure we got there O.K. It struck me that the line that separates people who are strangers and who are friends is a very fine one, indeed. What luck that we’d run out of gas as it provided us with our first opportunity in New Zealand to get out of the role of tourist, even for a short while. And it all started with Timmy leaving his sandal behind in a parking lot…

The backpacker’s eco-lodge that we spent the night in would have been a great choice if we were on the younger side of twenty and not lugging around Polly Pockets, Legos, and assorted kid paraphernalia. Not wanting to tarry, we got up early to drive to Mt Taranaki and the Wanganui River Region. Long overdue for another eruption, Mt. Taranaki’s massive snow-covered cone is visible from miles away. As we approached the mountain, we moved from bright sunshine to misty rain and fog. After a rather sad-looking picnic lunch (there is simply nothing quite like wet cheese,) we hit the trail and promptly lost ourselves in the beauty of what the mountain guides aptly call “the goblin forest.” The twisted trunks of the trees were covered in moss and when we emerged from the under story and spied the spectacular Dawson’s Falls, we thought we must be in a most sacred spot. The kids amused themselves on the walk back through the forest by defending themselves against Orcs and Wargs that most certainly lurked behind the trees. These creatures from the Lord of the Rings books have been a theme throughout our time in New Zealand, as all three movies were filmed here and the scenery lends itself beautifully to tales of fantasy.

Wedged back into “the lemon squeeze,” we crossed the mountain valley and skirted the sea, making our next stop the town of Wanganui. It is the river that most travelers come to see as it winds for 329 kilometers from its source on Mt Tongariro through nothing but wilderness. We drove up the Whanganui River Road, which clings precariously to the mountainside through a multitude of twists and turns. It was a mixture of fun and fear as we alternated between taking in gorgeous views and noting alarming drop offs and sections where parts of the road were washed away altogether. Our destination was Rivertime Lodge, a little house rented out by nearby farmers. It was set in the most enchanting spot at the base of a steep hill with views of the surrounding mountains, the swiftly flowing river in front, and the sheep grazing all around. There was not another dwelling in sight.

We spent an idyllic few days playing house: cooking proper meals in the kitchen, pegging washing on the line, and watching magpies in the fields.

By Timothy Battye

When you first look at the hill in the backyard of the River Time Lodge, it looks like a simple and easy trek up, but when you attempt to ascend, you notice the challenges. We decided to climb it to see the sunset on our first night at Rivertime Lodge. Dad had to carry Emily in his arms the whole way, which was hard and dangerous because it was so steep. Some of the fences surrounding the fields were electrical. There were many sharp thistle bunches along the hillside. When we came upon some steep drops, we found out it is easiest to grab a fistful of grass and pull yourself up to the next level. When we got to the peak, we could look down over the whole river valley and the farms and fields. From the top, it is much easier to plan a safe and easy route downwards on the dirt patches. Going down is much quicker because you look forward to warming up in the cozy lodge at the end.

Since John and the kids were so successful in their trailblazing endeavor, we decided to spend the next day on a bush walk. After hours of fantastic hill and valley views and the fun of dodging cow pies along the farm tracks, we arrived at a riverbed dotted with boulders. It was here that the kids got their first experience with New Zealand rock hopping. To successfully compete, you must travel up the river without use of the banks, hopping from rock to rock in the middle of the water. A more difficult endeavor in seasons when the rivers are swollen with rainwater, it still provided a decent challenge for the competitive amongst us (namely Emily.)


By Emily

I like to hop on the rocks. Timmy falls in the water all the time, but I don’t. I don’t need Dad to hold my hand because I’m big and I don’t need helpers on rocks.
When we hike, I walk most of the way in my hiker boots. We play games like Would You Rather. Mom says, “Would you rather eat silkworms or crickets?” and I say “Crickets!” Then I say, “Would you rather live in a leaf or in a donkey house?” and you decide what to say.

The highlight of the day was a post-walk tub soak under the stars. Back at the lodge, the farmers had an old cast iron tub in the garden next to the lavender bushes. Plumbed with cold water, the system was simple and ingenious. We filled the tub halfway with water, lit a wood fire underneath it, and once the water got hot, topped it off with water from the tap. Unfortunately, we got our fire quite to the roaring stage and John was convinced we had adopted cannibalism and were trying to boil him alive. Despite that little incident, we were feeling quite at home there and it was with some reluctance that we moved on to the city of Wellington and our ferry to New Zealand’s South Island.