Down Under - Winter/Spring 2009 travel blog

proud Bryan

Ken and Bryan

Mt. Taranaki

Pukeiti Park

Taranaki countryside

another view

our milk cow neighbors

one tree hill


A tourist can only learn so much about a country by seeing the typical tourist sights. We have been very fortunate to spend the last two days with a retired dairy farmer and classic car aficionado from Hawera, a town in the southeast of the Mt. Taranaki area. We have an old friend, who we first met when he was our student, whose family had a long standing friendship with Bryan’s family in New Zealand since World War II. He insisted that we stop by to visit Bryan who kindly volunteered his paddock (field) as a camping spot for our rigs. When we came out the door we had to step carefully to avoid the cow pies, because our paddock has recently been the cow dining area.

Bryan lives in the home his father built on a farm that he began to assemble in the 1930’s. As a retired farmer he has a share worker who does most of the physical labor for a 29% share of the profits. Because the climate is so mild here, the cows are outside all year and never spend any time in a barn. When the weather is dry, the grass stops growing, so Bryan accumulates cut grass (silage) to tide him over until the rain returns. Unfortunately, the rain returned yesterday and we drove through incessant downpours much of yesterday to get here. As a retiree Bryan has time to devote himself more fully to his avocation - restoring old cars. He took us in a large shed and pulled back tarps to reveal one classic car after another. Most of them were in great shape, but a few were still projects to be completed.

Taranaki fascinated me since the first time I looked at a map of New Zealand. It was clearly formed by a volcano, which is still standing tall, having last blown its top 300 years ago. The entire circumference of the mountain is laced with rivers flowing downthe slopes and roads built up the slopes. It looks like a wheel with spokes coming off of it. The top of the mountain is a national park; Taranaki is the most climbed mountain in New Zealand. The slopes below are full with dairy farms like Bryan’s and Hawera has a large dairy factory which collects the fresh mile every day and sends it out in tankers and refrigerated train cars..

Bryan spent the day taking us around the peninsula formed by Taranaki’s last explosion. On one side the land was full of grass covered hills, formed by the mud slides and detritus that flew out during that cataclysm. It was amazing how hungry cattle were motivated to climb up the steep sides of these hills to graze. As we drove around, the weather cleared and we were able to see Mt. Taranaki in all its glory.

Bryan’s tour included a variety of stops to appeal to the varied passengers in his car. We stopped at a quilting shop in the large town of New Plymouth so Barb could purchase some unique and attractive Maori fabrics for a distinctive quilt that will help her to always remember this wonderful country. We also stopped at Pukeiti Park, a botanical garden. It is the end of the summer here so many of the plants had already bloomed, but there was still plenty to photograph. The flora here fascinates me greatly, since I recognize so little of it. For the men we stopped at a refinery. These days New Zealand is fortunate to be self supporting when it comes to petroleum products.

Bryan was so kind and patient. We peppered him with all the questions that have built up in our minds these past two weeks. He also helped us plan the itinerary for our remaining time here.

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