Posted by: scribe9 | April 5, 2010

Easter weekend

Just after lunch on Thursday I went grocery shopping. I was surprised at how crowded the store was at that hour until I got to the checkout counter and saw the big sign that the store would be closed Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Everyone was stocking up for the weekend. I knew the weekend was a four-day holiday–Rick had all four days off, and it’s the start of a two-week school vacation–but I hadn’t realized that all retailing except gas stations and small food stores are closed for two days in this secular country.

I had planned to ride the bus downtown to participate in a Good Friday pilgrimage, but had to drive because the busses weren’t running. The event started at a church north of downtown. The first service, at a Baptist church, was readings of and meditations on the first three of the last seven words of Christ, each followed by a verse of “Were You There.” I was surprised that such an American hymn was so well known.

The second service, for the next two words, was at the Salvation Army church nearby. I’d never been in one before, but it looked like every other modest modern church. One of the readers was from the Anglican church, which was several blocks beyond the Baptist church. Then we walked down the main street–being honked at by many cars, whether in encouragement or discouragement I don’t know–to St. Andrew’s, where the last two words were done, one by a couple from the Catholic church that was even further north than the Anglican church. All then repaired to the social hall for Hot Cross Buns (split, toasted and buttered–they do that a lot here) and tea.

The afternoon was nice and we decided to go for a hike. We stopped at our Cambodian friends’ bakery, and they had Hot Cross Buns, too–they don’t make them until Good Friday, and then sell thousands over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We bought half a dozen to get us through to Easter.

Southwest of town is a peninsula sheltering the harbor from the Pacific.

On the ocean side of the peninsula, surf was up:

Our hike was above the mouth of the harbor, and included an old gun emplacement from World War II. I’m not sure whether shots were ever fired, but both Germany and Japan sent ships to New Zealand waters.

On the other side of the harbor is an oil refinery, and there are viewpoints for it on both sides of the harbor (I don’t know whether anyone stops to look at it), but we’ll spare you.

We saw several tractors pulling boat trailers–that’s very Kiwi. So is making one’s own mailbox out of what-have-you (DIY is big, big, big). We’ve seen microwaves, propane tanks, plastic buckets, and milk cans turned into mailboxes, but on a road along the harbor’s edge this was especially fitting:

Saturday morning we hit the growers’ market and were delighted to find local limes–we’ve resisted buying American ones–as well as the usual assortment of fruits and vegetables, including juicing oranges. Then we headed further south, to check out some of the little towns near and on the beach north of Auckland.

That was a mistake. It seemed as if most of Auckland had headed north. (We now know that they didn’t–a fair chunk went south, where a one-lane bridge caused delays of up to ninety minutes. Great for the gas mileage, or whatever it’s called in kilometres.) There were crowds almost everywhere, but we followed our friend Dick Cherry’s admonition, “Drive to the front,” and found a parking space every time.

We knew we weren’t in Northland any longer. There were far more, larger, and fancier SUVs on the road, along with plenty of Jaguars, Mercedes and BMWs. The people were generally slenderer, better dressed, and with nicer haircuts. And they were determined to make the most of their day trip. We stopped at one bay that offers “glass”-bottomed kayaks and snorkeling equipment, and even though the big glass-bottomed boat wasn’t going out because the water was murky, dozens of people rented the full kit of wetsuit and snorkeling gear and plunged into the water.

We skipped the big wineries and stopped at a tiny one at the end of a road, and were the only ones there to chat with one of the owners. She and her husband had bought the winery when they retired from the city several years earlier. We liked the chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and port, and bought some.

We kept heading north. We’d come south on Highway 1, but wanted to return as far as possible on other roads. We were pleasantly surprised with well-graded gravel roads–it was a much easier drive than the highway.

When we were about halfway home we stopped at Mangahai Heads, volcanic remnants guarding a small harbor.

These rocks sticking out of the sand look as if they’ve been topped with gunite. The beige rim at the bottom is thousands of tiny barnacle shells.

Easter Sunday there was only one service, although otherwise there are always two, and I noticed in the church ads for Easter most of them mentioned that there would be just one service, and no evening service for the churches that generally offered one. I guess it’s such a big holiday weekend–the one four-day weekend of fall, like Thanksgiving–that lots of people leave town or otherwise skip church. My Icelandic friends said that, as in the US, more people than usual came to church on Easter.

In the afternoon, we took a hike along a local river to the waterfall. We’ve been meaning to do this ever since we moved here.

Part of the walk was through a canopy of trees:

We ran into a couple from church. This is a very small town.

Monday we left home early, and were on the trail around a rocky headland by 9 am. The first part of the trail was steep but pleasant, leading to a World War II radar station site with great views. (Sorry, we forgot the camera.) Then the path climbed up and along the ridgeline. It was damp, steep, and full of roots and rocks. It was a jungle version of some of the Adirondack trails we’ve been on, which were built in the 20s by a bunch of young men who clearly would rather go almost straight up and straight down that hack out switchbacks. By the time we got back down to sea level, we were exhausted, damp and blistered. Check that one off the lifelist. The best part of that hike was a bumper sticker on a car in the car park (a parking lot to you), in this country where there are very few bumper stickers or decals (people don’t brag about their or their kids’ schools on their cars): Grace Happens.

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