The ancient subtropical forest of New Zealand offer dense growth of majestic trees, festooned with ferns and mosses. A walk in the woods here is a real treat as you discover hidden brooks and waterfalls. The giant Kauri trees are king of the forest being some of the oldest (over 1200 years) and largest in the world. Some reach nearly 170 feet high to the sky with a girth to match. The native plant and animal life is unique, as New Zealand was isolated for thousands of years from contact beyond its own shores. Flightless birds, such a Kiwi, have evolved due to lack of predators. There are no snakes in New Zealand!
Welcome to my window on New Zealand. I have been to both islands several times and found it to be a place of great beauty, a place that always awes me with its diverse terrain all within an area much the size of our California. From volcanoes, geysers and bubbling mud pools of the North Island, to snow covered mountain peaks, glaciers and fjords of the South Island, the spectacular scenery is always there to greet you. It is a country well suited to out door adventure. If you are an avid skier you can stretch your season through July and August when it is winter in Queenstown, New Zealand. During their summer months the mountain trails beckon to hikers.
New Zealand Travelogue - Kia Ora!
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Your first stop in New Zealand is usually Auckland, the largest city and home to the majority of New Zealand’s 4.2 million people. Sitting astride two harbors it is aptly known as the ‘City of Sails’. You might enjoy lunch aboard a Pride of Auckland yacht during a harbor tour. Some of my other favorite sights include the National Maritime Museum and Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World.
With New Zealanders driving on the left I found it to my advantage to use the excellent public transportation of trains and buses. It was a pleasure to sit back and relax while watching the landscape pass by and the driver’s commentary to keep me informed. The trains serve great tea & biscuits, with REAL butter, cream and jam. All the food is marvelously fresh and real in New Zealand, no artificial, preservative laden imitations.
North of Auckland the peninsula leads up to the Bay of Islands. You can spend some time on the beaches or perhaps a day of deep-sea fishing. One historical point of interest is the Treaty House at Waitangi. Here in 1840 the Maori chiefs and British Crown came together.
If you head east from Auckland you will enter the rugged Coromandel region. Steep winding roads of pasture and timberlands lead to the seacoast. There are many lovely beaches, some with natural spas formed as steam escapes fissure from deep with in the earth and mixes with the cooler seawater. Spend a few evenings in a small town pub and meet the locals. Warm friendly people that make it hard to say goodbye.Actually I met a number of people that came as tourist and liked it so well them became full time residents.
Traveling south from Auckland will take you to the Waitomo and the Glow Worm grotto. An underground riverboat ride takes you through caverns who’s ceiling resemble the night sky. The glow worms give off their essence in hopes of attracting insects to feed on.
Continuing on to Rotorua you can visit the Agradome to learn about sheep farming, and the many breeds of sheep. Some are bred for fine wool, as you would use for baby cloths, while other courser wools are grown for such as carpets. Then there is the ‘blue’ sheep being bred for its color. After being introduced to all the sheep you meet the Shepherd dogs and watch them put the flock through maneuvers according to signals the farmer gives by whistles. These are highly intelligent and well trained working dogs.
Rotorua is a good place to over night as there are so many local attractions. It is also a good place to experience a Hangi, which is the native Maori feast. Sample their foods and enjoy the colorful entertainment. You can also visit their cultural center and see young apprentice learning the carving trade they are so famous for. A huge wooden Meeting House is covered with the intricate carvings and studded with paua shell. The Maoris are masters of carving and ‘greenstone’ (jade) is one of their favored materials to work. Their ancestors were a Polynesian culture of proud war like people that use to practice cannibalism. (As today they like to remind their Rugby opponents!)
During the day you must visit the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve. The smell of sulfer permeates the air as the geysers and boiling mud gush from the ground. You can visit the Polynesian Spa if you care to take a relaxing bathe in the natural springs and mineral waters.
As you head south you will come to Taupo. A beautiful lake widely known for its superior trout fishing. This area also sports white water rafting and skiing on the side of a live volcano, Mt. Ruapehu (9.177 feet).
Heading east to the coast brings you to Napier, a city of glorious Art Deco buildings. Having been leveled by earthquake and fire in 1931, the city was then rebuilt in this most appealing style.
Finishing off the north island is New Zealand's capitol city of Wellington. Another beautiful harbor city where the streets climb up the hillside to provide all with a lovely view. A city of many museums and galleries, with one of the newest being the Te Papa Museum. This museum follows New Zealand from prehistoric times right into the imaginative future. A relaxing afternoon can be spent taking a cable car to the hilltops to visit the Botanical Gardens.
The best way to continue to the South Island is by ferry, which operates several times a day and takes aprox 3 hours to cross over to Picton. Both passengers and vehicles can cross this way. During New Zealand summers a high-speed ferry cuts the time in half, but why hurry – you are on vacation and crossing the Cook Straits is another opportunity for great photos.
If you stay in the Picton region there are vineyards of Marlborough to visit. Great wines to wash down the superb local seafood. Nearby Nelson is also a great place to do some beach camping. A sand dune safari will take you to see a migratory bird sanctuary of international importance.
As you have traversed the country roads, beside millions of sheep, you will have seen pastures with very high fences. These are to contain the Red Deer that are farmed for venison to export to Japan and Germany. Very lean healthy meat.
Continuing enroute to Christchurch there is a great opportunity to go watching for Whales and Dolphins from the village of Kaikoura. The most commonly seen are the giant Sperm Whales. They can be found here year round, but more frequently in New Zealand’s summer months.
Once you reach Christchurch you might think you have arrived in England. Discribed as the most British city outside of England it is widely known for its botanical gardens and lovely parklands that follow the Avon River through the city center. Also the jumping off point for Antarctic explorers, the Antarctic Visitors Center is a most see.
From Christchurch you can take the famous Tranz Alpine train across the mountains to Greymouth. It is here the Maori came in search of their prized Green Stone (jade) and the Europeans came to strike gold. The restored ghost town of Waiuta will take you back in time to glimpse another way of life.
Now you are on the West Coast and the next highlight is Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. The most accessible of the some 140 glaciers in New Zealand’s alpine region.
Next stop is Queenstown. A lively little alpine village on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and the international ski capitol of the Southern Hemisphere. The streets have a myriad of shops and cafes with the cozy feel of a small town. This is the country where bungy jumping originated. You will see the bridge of the first ever jump enroute to Milford Sound. As you look into the gorges you may see a Shot Over Jet boat of dare devil people weaving through rock-strewn watercourse. Or you could take a helicopter to the mountaintops to ski on glaciers. Any type of outdoor adventure you enjoy you can do here and with the most spectacular scenery all around you.
Take a full day trip to Milford Sound, the most easily reached of the southern fjords. It takes about 4 hours to drive, and tours operate year round. These drivers deserve medals for maneuvering a double decker bus over winding mountain roads. Weather conditions pending you can opt to return by scenic flight and skim over the alpine peaks. Not a flight for the faint hearted, but the view is breathtaking. The caverns of near by Te Anau offer another opportunity to view glow worms.
After leaving Queenstown you can head north to Mt. Cook National Park and its towering namesake, some 12.317 feet high. Drink in the beauty of the terrain and fill your lungs with some of earth’s purest air. If you ever needed a place to go and restore your soul this is it. When ready you can continue back through the farmland plains of the eastern coast to Christchurch.
An alternate route would be to head from Queenstown to Dunedin, a very Scottish city. To get there you can bus across to Pukerangi and then catch the historic Taieri Gorge Railway for a very exciting journey across the southern mountains ranges. The skill of the old stone masons and engineers will amaze you as you traverse land with no other access.
Dunedin is a distinctive city of grand Edwardian Victorian architecture, mostly built from the wealth of local goldfields. One of the most famous homes you might visit is the Larnach Castle and hear the tales of family intrigue while strolling the lovingly restored castle and its gardens. Dunedin streets are laid out in an octagon fashion and radiate from city center. A harbor city famous for its salmon fishing it also a close neighbor to colonies of Albatross and Yellow eyed Penguin.
My favorite nature experience was a visit to see the Yellow Eyed Penguins. The coastal pastureland we visited had trenches dug with a wire mesh and camouflage over so that as we walked through the compound we did not frighten the birds. Nesting boxes are built along the trenches, and we could stand shoulder high in the ground and peer in to see them feed their young. Signs were posted with each nesting pair’s names and ages and statistics on their lives and breeding.
As you can well imagine at this point you could easily spend your whole life in this country and still be thrilled every day with the majesty of nature all around you. New Zealand is very proud of its ecological blessings and works hard to maintain the delicate balance of nature.
When it’s time to return home there is no lack of souvenirs to bring with you. Merchandise from the fine woolens and leathers to the ALL BLACK logo emblazoned name of the national rugby team, and wonderful arts and crafts of the native people, the Maoris.