Saturday, August 22, 2009

Of Wetas, and The Wallabies vs. The All Blacks


After a quick tour of the Massey University Medical Research Facilities for Ola this morning, we are whisked away by our VIG [Very Important Guide] to Karori Nature Preserve, which sits in a protected valley of Wellington Harbour.

A pest-proof fence keeps out the rodents, possums, and cats that would otherwise decimate the populations of native birds that are protected here.  Our bags are even checked for any potential stowaway vermin that may have been crafty enough to hitch a ride with unsuspecting park visitors. 

We wander off the main trail to follow a sign pointing the way to an abandoned gold mine, and are invited by a park ranger to explore the old mine shaft.  In the 1800s, the owners of this land discovered some flakes of alluvial gold in their rivers and caught some gold-rush fever; this mineshaft was the result.  

The ranger tells us that back then it was quite the spectator sport to sit around the entrance to mine, sipping tea in their Victorian finery, watching the miners pick, chip, hack and detonate their way into the hillside.  She tells us to keep an eye out for some Cave Wetas, the shy and quirky creepy-crawlies that live underground in this part of the world, and we find a bunch of them chillin’ out just around the first bend.


Further up the main trail, we encounter a Kokoru feeding station, and watch these large native parrots stomp on their food trays to open the lid and pick out some seeds, while a watchful ranger takes notes on who has come for today’s feed.  A couple hours are quickly lost wandering the trails here, stopping every now and then to snap a photo of yet another lush view unfolding at our feet.  This is a very special and picturesque pocket of Wellington that is well worth a visit, expecially on a sunny day.

Meanwhile, our guide has arranged for a hangi tonight with some friends to watch the All-Blacks play the Wallabies. His cousin is off diving for some fresh paoua, or abalone,  to eat tonight, while chicken, pork, lamb, and kumara slow cooks in the portable hangi they have built.  Traditionally, a hangi is the Maori version of the Hawaiian imu, or underground oven, where superhot rocks are placed into a pit filled with banana leaves, and the food is left to slow cook all day. 

The food is delicious - tender meat that falls off the bone, sweet kumara slow-cooked to perfection, and I can’t get enough of the paoua, which has been ground up and simmered in a rich, creamy butter sauce.  We’ve made yet more new friends, who open up their home and welcome us into their families, patiently explaining the rules of rugby to us both even as they cheer on one of the most exciting matches against the rival Aussie team that anyone can remember.  


Somehow we wind up at a pub on Cuba St, the famous stretch of bars and nightlife in Wellington for the final 10 minutes of the game, and I find myself cheering on the AllBlacks at the top of my lungs for the thrilling finale of the game.

Final Score: Wallabies: 18.  All Blacks: 19.


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