A large, flightless mass akin to a colorful heirloom chicken scuttles across the yard, pausing every few feet to investigate a potentially edible morsel. Cliff and I emerge from our apartments at the same time to watch, which only serves to increase the velocity of its scampering and nibbling.
“It’s a weka, I reckon,” opines Cliff.
Swans, geese, ducks and gulls congregate in multiracial harmony on a beach that adjoins the Matiatia ferry wharf. Neither begging food from passersby nor twitching in fear from same, they bask in the sun, preening and squalling as the ferry noisily chugs, groans, and squeaks into its berth. Our guests have arrived.
A not-so-stealthy and rather ridiculous-looking black, blue, and white bird with a vivid orange beak and grossly un-proportionate legs stumbles around the roadside, occasionally veering onto our already too-narrow road. Were there ever need for a visual link between the bird and the dinosaur, this sight would settle all doubts. We slow down, then swerve as best we can to miss it, but it seems not-at-all put out by the cloud of dust that now encompasses it. Neil Courtney, concise as ever, answers my unspoken query: “pukeko.”
New Zealand is for the birds
It’s a sunny, hot day on Waiheke Island, though cooling ocean breezes keep the temperature just a shade short of uncomfortable. We’ve picked up Auckland-area wine writer Sue Courtney and her husband Neil for a day of wine tasting, a reversal of our usual arrangement (in which they cart us around mainland wine regions), and definitely some sort of payback for Sue’s guidance on our previous visit. That is, assuming the Americans’ driving on remote gravel roads through the wilds of Waiheke doesn’t give them both premature heart attacks. I do note that Sue’s breath seems a little quicker than usual, though Neil is his usual stoic self.
Sue’s arranged for us to start our day with a tour at the reclusive and remote Stony Batter winery, and it’s impossible to turn down the opportunity. Built on the massive expanse of an historic reserve better known for its old gun emplacements and tunnels, Stony Batter is less a winery than a all-encompassing agricultural project that covers a rather large percentage of the northeastern quadrant of the island, a project unlike any other on Waiheke. The owner, apparently an unimaginably wealthy gent, has an obvious desire for privacy (the entrance to the reserve is blocked by a forbidding gate, though through apparent negotiation hikers are once more allowed on the property as long as they don’t touch, look at, smell or otherwise offend the vines), but has equally obviously spared no expense in covering the area with a crazy-quilt of experimental vineyards.