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big ol’ circle

From Turangi to…Oban Station.  Again.  The Richmonds, take 2.  A much shorter stay this time, just four nights.  Wasn't planning to go back, to complete the circle, but as I was ending my stay with the McGregors, George sent me a text asking when/if I'd be passing through Hawkes Bay again.  As my plans for Wellington had to be pushed back, and I didn't really have a place to stay, I decided to kill a few days where I could get a free room, good food, and excellent company.  Derek even found work for me for a couple days, so I managed to make some money off the whole thing!  It was lovely to be back with the family, though different.  There's a big lull at the moment with the grapes.  It's just a waiting game now until they're ripe enough to be harvested, so the days were more of a practice in passing the time rather than working hard to complete essential tasks.  George has gotten work on another vineyard (meaning I only saw him at the end of the day, after work), so I spent most of my time with his father, Derek, who is a wonderfully laid back, soft spoken and intelligent man of the land.  Tuesday morning I rode with him to the freezing works in town.  It took two trips to move the twenty steer into the back of the truck (smaller than an 18-wheeler, but still huge) so that they could be brought into the slaughterhouse.  He offered to get me into the works themselves so that I could see the whole process (from loading, unloading, herding, then killing), but I decided that it would be a lot better if I could continue to pretend that the yummy roasts and steaks I'd been eating were not connected to the twenty brown-eyed steer I'd helped herd into the truck.  On another morning I helped to haul an old cow out of the bog where she'd become stuck, and in between I went to work in the grapes again, this time just cruising the rows on the 4-wheeler, scaring birds as I drove and pinning up the smaller holes in the nets that had been missed in the initial rush to get them on the vines.  They've acquired an enormous, ear-shatteringly loud gas-banger that is set up to go off at random intervals to keep the birds away from the ripe grapes.  At least twice an hour it would go BANG and echo off the hills, louder than a gunshot, startling me every single time.

Wednesday George got the day off so that we could spend some time doing something fun.  Hiking!  It was a two hour drive to the inland mountain ranges, and on the way we made a couple of short stops, one at the Puketitiri (Poo-ka-tea-ah-tree) Museum and another at some natural hot springs.  The museum is less of a proper museum and more of a giant collection of stuff.  It's on the property of this old man who's been hoarding and collecting for the better part of his life – amazing things, too.  Not the classic pack-rat's junk, but incredibly valuable and interesting items, all crammed into a shed that's been added on to again and again to accommodate the acquisitions that hang from the walls, the ceilings, and are piled into display cases.  The best things: the cars.  Wow.  1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost – never restored, entirely original, and still running.  Several old buicks, (not a single car from later than the 1930s), two Studebakers, a black Humber that was used for a Royal tour in the 20s, a Model T, an old white Napier, and other makes and models that I can't remember or didn't recognize, including one British beauty from 1910 that still has the original kerosene headlamps.  All in perfect, original condition, and still running.   The hot springs were a bit of an accidental find – we took a wrong turn – but we couldn't resist the sight of the steaming water flowing down a rocky hill and collecting in a small fiberglass tub set up for the purpose.  Entirely natural, entirely beautiful, and so divinely warm and comfortable, I think we could have easily spent the afternoon soaking there.  But, the mountains were calling.  I think I had more fun than George did, but I've been hiking almost once a week in the last month, if not more, whereas he's been doing less exerting sorts of things, and wasn't quite up for the steepness of the trail we chose.  Still, we made it – we climbed to the top of the Kaweka Range!  1724m.  And a gorgeous day for it – warm, with clear skies and surprisingly sharp views from the top: Mts. Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro to the west, and the entire Hawkes Bay coastline to the east.  MAN I love this country.

It's been a refreshing and relaxing few days.  It was good to be able to touch base with the family here – in a way it was a little bit like coming home, because I'd grown so familiar with the landscape and the people and the surroundings.  I've spent more time here in the Hawkes Bay region than I have anywhere else in the country.  But now I've got my head back together, and have had time to take some deep breaths and get myself organized, and am ready to bid farewell to the North Island.  First, though, I'll head to Wellington, collect my mail, say hello to a couple of friends (Kate from New Year's and Pete from the Egmont Eco Lodge), and hopefully get a job lined up – funds are getting dangerously low.  I'll need to do some work before I can jump into all of the wondrous things the South Island has to offer.  That's the news for now!  Stay tuned…

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