Saturday, June 14, 2014

Auckland to Tauranga: June 11, 12 & 13 Wednesday, Thursday & Friday

Our Wednesday was spent entirely in transit. We drove from Port Douglas to Cairns, caught a flight Brisbane and then on to Auckland arriving at 11:30 pm.  We checked into our motel near the airport and slept until about 9:00am.

Thursday morning:  We picked up our rental car near the airport about 10:00 am and began driving south to Hamilton, New Zealand. New Zealand is as beautiful as we remembered. The area surrounding Hamilton is very heavy dairy country.  And we are talking about large dairy farms.  The cows are often concentrated in one paddock for a day and after being milked they are moved to fresh grass in another paddock.  We saw some sheep and deer, but this area is primarily dairy products.    

We arrived at our Rotary friends at about 11:30, in time for coffee/tea.  It was wonderful to see them again - after they were in Iowa in 2005.  They have a lovely home over overlooking the river.  To visit people we have hosted in Iowa, in their own settings/homes, is so interesting and enjoyable. 

After a cup of tea/coffee we were off to the Zealong Tea House. This is the first and only tea plantation in New Zealand. This Asian couple visited New Zealand and saw blooming camellia plants.  They said, “If New Zealand can grow camellias, it can grow tea”, as the tea plant is a camellia plant.  Thus began their dream 20 years ago. They grow top grade organic tea that is all hand-picked and gently process in the “old way”.  We had an absolutely special time drinking organic gourmet tea, and eating a gourmet lunch.       

After lunch the wife of the owner couple gave us a tour of the area and told us more about the operation and their dream for future expansion. 

The co-owner serving tea

Hot Water Pot

Our Group for Tea and lunch

The Tea Plantation

Also joining us at the Tea House was another couple who visited Iowa in 1997, and a gal who visited with the group in 2005.  It was wonderful to see all of them.  The single gal is now 86 and that morning had been dismissed from the hospital due to a broken hip in mid-May - she was in a wheelchair and accompanied by her daughter.  We were so glad she was able to join us and she was so glad to be there on her first outing from the hospital – otherwise we would have gone to the hospital to visit her.

We left the Tea House with the second couple who gave us a driving tour of Hamilton due to the fact that it began raining.  The weather in New Zealand has been fairly miserable the last few days – wind and lots of rain.  As we were driving to Hamilton, we could see water standing in the pastures and the creeks were overflowing.  After driving around we stopped at their home to look at the scrapbook they made after visiting Iowa.  It was interesting looking at their photos –remembering where we took them and seeing what else they saw. 

For dinner we all returned to the home of the first couple with whom we stayed overnight. The hospitality shown us is so special. This evening we also had the opportunity to look at the art work produced by these two people.  He is a water color artist, and she works with fabric and fibers of all kinds, producing very unique items.  Their creativity is unreal.   

Friday morning:
After a leisurely breakfast we are off to the city of Tauranga, which is approximately an 1 ½ hour drive from Hamilton, and located on the east coast of New Zealand.  Again it was a beautiful rural drive.  We even crossed a mountain range which we did not realize we would have to do. 

Dairy Cattle in the Padock

We drove straight to the home of Rotarians who live in the city of Tauranga, but have a farm of kiwi orchards in the country.  When they visited us in Iowa they told us all about their kiwi  fruit orchards, and we have always said that “if” or “when” we get back to New Zealand, we definitely wanted to visit their kiwi fruit orchards.  Well, the day finally arrived!!

We first had a cup of tea, followed by a light lunch, and of course were chatting the whole time.  This couple has built a beautiful home at the top of a hill overlooking the city.  At one time the area around the house was kiwi orchards, but it has since been developed. After lunch we drove to the coast (across town) to Mt Maunganui.  It is simply a mountain coming out of the sea.  There is a walking trail around the mountain just above the coastline.  This was a beautiful walk with waves, directly from the sea, crashing against the rocks below us.  This walking path is a very popular place for locals to walk – it was busy.  You are also able to hike to the summit of the mountain, which we did not do – we needed to get to the kiwi orchards.  
Walk around Mt Maunganui

Kiwi fruit orchards are totally different from other kinds of fruit. The kiwi fruit plant is actually a vine that needs to be supported, thus there is a system of wires that are approximately 6 feet overhead. The wines are tired to the supporting wire structure. The kiwi fruit hangs down from the vine on which it grows.  All kiwi fruit are picked by hand as they are a very fragile fruit.  The vines are grown in small areas surrounded by a ‘shelter belts’ or what is a row of tightly grown trees that are at least 20 ft high. These trees are trimmed so that they are a narrow row growing between areas of kiwi vines. These trees are necessary to reduce breezes blowing over the vines.  Winds would cause the fruit to be rubbed by leaves and branches which would bruise this tender fruit making it unmarketable. As you drive down the road, when you see these tall trees (shelter belts) there most likely is a kiwi orchard there. They also do plant trees around some paddocks for the animals. 

As I said, kiwi fruit is a totally different kind of fruit.  We normally see a lime green color of kiwi fruit, but there is now a golden colored kiwi that is sweeter.  The Japanese market for golden kiwi fruit is very strong. They have also developed a kiwi fruit with a red center inside the ring of seeds – these add a lovely gourmet touch when served.

These orchards finished picking kiwi fruit last week, and within a day there was a frost. Right after frost the leaves drop, so that we saw mainly stems and fruits that were too small to sell. The kiwi fruit we buy in Iowa are definitely the runts (throw aways) by New Zealand standards. 

After lunch today we tasted the golden kiwi fruit, and they definitely are sweeter.  When we left the orchard we had a whole bag full of kiwi fruit that we must eat before we leave New Zealand.  Guess what we will be eating in the next week.  In the last hour we learned a lot of about this delicate kiwi fruit.     

Weather Protection Barrier (shelter belts) with Kiwi Orchard

Fruit on the plant - too small to harvest!!

Newly picked fruit

Looking under the vines

Picking some Kiwi

Picked Fruit in Bins

Newly Grafted Vines

Newly Grafted Orchard

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