Produce here is expensive, especially at the big grocery stores. We look for it at smaller fruit & veggie shops when we can, where things are generally much cheaper. A little while ago I popped into a small Indian grocery to see what they had and happily scored some inexpensive garlic, dates, a little turmeric, and something I had never seen before: fresh coriander. I thought cool, I've only ever seen this in a spice jar! It looked and smelled familiar, but I didn't make the connection until I saw a post from an Aussie friend about all the food names she gets tripped up on in the States: it turns out that what they call coriander here is actually cilantro. If you're thinking, "That's confusing. Those are two different seasonings," you're right in my head space. So I googled it, and it turns out they're not! They are the same plant. It was like discovering Bruce Wayne had been Batman the whole time. In Australia and New Zealand they call the whole plant by one name. For whatever reason, in the U.S. we call the fresh leaves cilantro--a Spanish name that doesn't exist over here--and the seeds coriander. Add a shady mask, it's still the same sly character. So there you are. We've all been duped.
This is a far cry from the winters we're used to, but it's still cool enough to tempt you into your blankets for longer than is probably good for you. Most houses don't have heat, so during this time of year it's about as cold indoors as it would be in a conservatively heated New England home, where layers and warm socks are paramount to comfort. It will trigger all your laziest impulses if you're not careful to push yourself outdoors, where it's not actually any colder than your bedroom and everything is green and beautiful. There are oranges growing in our driveway. Oranges.
The other perk of getting outside this time of year is that not many other people are doing it. You'll meet a few people hiking or at the beach, but never a crowd. We've hopped in the car to go a few interesting places since purchasing it, starting with the Waiwera hot springs, where we waded through the hot water until we couldn't stand it and then returned to shivering in our swimsuits almost the moment we got out. This is the exact opposite of some experiences I've had swimming outside of Boston in the summer.
There are pools that run at all different temperatures. The hottest one, the lava pool, was so hot I could barely get my foot into it. We hunkered down in one that was cooler, but still hot enough that we sometimes felt like part of a big stew. There was an older woman who came within earshot of us while we were saying how funny it would be to show up with a giant wooden spoon and sit on the edge peeling carrots and potatoes. And that if somebody peed in the water they'd leave a cold spot. She must been afraid we were serious about peeing in the pool, because she edged away from us fast. Or it might have been the cannibalism.
On Tuesday we bundled up to go to Piha beach. I don't need to tell you it's gorgeous, look at it. I've always loved beaches in the winter for how quiet and bare they are, but this had the extra perk of looking like summer. (Still didn't feel like summer though.) It was a really gusty day. The beach was mostly empty, just a few people out walking their dogs. We doffed our shoes to get our feet wet in the Tasman sea, but it wasn't long before our toes were completely numb. I climbed lion rock partly to get away from the wind! There were some nice protected spots on the far side where the cold blasts couldn't quite wrap around and the sun was warm. Those are the sweet spots. Go to them.
Thursday we headed east to go hiking in the Hunua Ranges. It's a healthy area of Kauri forest, so they're really cautious of contaminants on the trails. You have to spray your shoes and use a boot scrubber before entering protected areas. Normally when I'm hiking I leave things like apple cores and banana peels in the bushes to decompose but New Zealand is so intense about bio-contamination I have a feeling they'd frown on that. I have to find out for sure at some point, but until then I guess I won't be sprouting any apple trees. :)
We misjudged the amount of time our trail would take to do and didn't wind up getting back until dusk. Part of it involved crossing a river by stepping from stone to stone; thankfully we made it back over the river before it got completely dark. Knowing me I would have definitely fallen into the river, and I was really enjoying dry feet. If your shoes have been soaked recently, you know what I'm talking about.
We originally thought we'd stick to the bus, but it only took a week or so to come to our senses. I wouldn't try to live in Vermont without a car, so why would we want to do it in New Zealand, where the population density is even lower? (I'm a nerd, so I checked: 44 Kiwis per sq mile vs. 68 Vermonters.) There are too many remote places to explore, and when traveling in rural areas a car is nothing short of freedom. So we chose freedom, in the form of a '97 Nissan Pulsar we've named Our Lady Waka. Traditionally waka means canoe, but the word can be more broadly used to mean any vessel/vehicle, including a car; we thought the idea was too poetic not to take advantage of.
Car fairs are a great way to buy or sell a car here, although you do have to be on the lookout for cars that might be stolen. (We're pretty sure we saw at least one. You could see the old paint color in some spots and the guy was super sketchy.) We did some research on what to look out for and wound up having a really good experience. People show up on a Sunday morning and exchange cars, money, and sometimes friendship (awww).
We came close to buying a car from a French couple we met there, Stephane and Cynthia. We liked them right away because they were easygoing and they made us laugh. Stephane came along with us while we took it for a test drive, which also happened to be the first time we'd ever driven on the left side of the road. Josh had the wheel; I sat clutching the back seat. Once, Josh reached for an imaginary gear shift on his right side; another time he meant to use the turn signal and got wipers instead. If you've never driven a car built for the opposite side of the road, the best thing I can compare it to is looking in a double mirror and trying to touch your left eye with your right hand: it requires a lot of extra concentration. Despite some (literal) bumps in the road, Josh handled it beautifully. Still, we couldn't let it go without a few jokes about having narrowly escaped death. Then we realized none of us knew how to get back to the car fair, and it turned to jokes about how we'd just steal the car with Stephane in it, maybe go to Wellington. We told him he should call Cynthia and let her know he was going to stay with us.
We looked around the car fair a little longer after we found our way back. In that time someone else agreed to buy Stephane and Cynthia's car, but our "near death" experience together bonded us enough that they invited us to dinner at their house later that week. There are a million Nissans in Auckland, so by then we had already bought Our Lady from a small scale dealer we met at the fair. We promised we'd give him a shout out since we (lovingly) twisted his arm into giving us such a good deal. So, if you're ever in the Auckland area and in need of a used car, Edgar Munro (021 024 52968--NZ phone numbers sometimes have a extra digits, because why not?) proved to be an honest and reasonable guy. He was really helpful with addressing our concerns, and he hooked us up with a mechanic who gave us a great deal on our oil change and a few other small things that needed to be done. And if this sways you at all, his granddaughter is pretty darn cute.
Buying a car in New Zealand requires some different paperwork than back home, but we found it pretty easy to navigate. We just stopped at the Post Office to pick up a change of owner form. (By the way the Post Office, as a government entity, also serves as a hub for official tax and automobile related doings. No DMV! Just one of the magical things this country has to offer...) The car was also due for a new registration, which is independent of ownership. So we handled that, made a spare key, and joined AA (NZ equivalent of AAA). Cars over 4 years old also need to pass a WOF (Warrant of Fitness) every 6 months to make sure everything is still in good running order. We had a pre-purchase inspection done to make sure our car was in a condition to pass, but it will be several months before it's actually due for a new one.
Another fun fact: here cars are only recommended for an oil change every 6 months or 10,000 kms (6,213 miles), which makes me wonder if Kiwis are just really lax or we're being overzealous back home? And gas here is way more expensive. It's about $2 a litre. That's $7.40 a gallon, for all you non-metrics out there. Our Kiwi friends were amazed when we told them how cheap gas is in the U.S. (Thanks, Fracking! Bwa ha haaa!)
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