On New Zealand
By Robert Ross



When George Bernard Shaw visited New Zealand, a reporter asked him his impression of the place and, after a pause, Shaw is said to have replied: “Altogether too many sheep.”

New Zealand has sheep. A lot of sheep. In fact during our three-week visit we saw more sheep than one could hope to see in a lifetime. But, we also came away with a realization that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, full of adventurous things to do and wondrous sights to see.

We landed in Auckland, a twelve and a half hour flight from Los Angeles. Auckland is in the northern part of North Island. New Zealand is essentially divided into two islands, North Island and South Island. Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand with more than a million residents and the unofficial capital, since most international flights use Auckland as a major hub. It is, in general, a very cosmopolitan city, attractively situated on a bay. Picturesque as it may be, Auckland is merely a jumping off point for the real New Zealand.

After checking into our hotel and spending the next twenty-four hours recovering from jet lag, it was time to set off on our adventure. We originally planned on renting a car, but after observing the traffic in Auckland, coupled with the fact that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road, the fear of having a “senior moment” and turning into oncoming traffic led us to “Plan B,” public transportation coupled with professionally led tours.

We hooked up with a tour company and headed south for a day trip to the Rotorua volcano. On the drive I quizzed our tour guide about the term “Kiwi.” He responded: “the national bird of New Zealand is the Kiwi, subsequently New Zealanders often call themselves Kiwis and are frequently referred to by non-New Zealanders as Kiwis. Also, on international currency markets, the new Zealand dollar is called the Kiwi. And, finally, the Kiwi fruit is grown in New Zealand, although it is not native to New Zealand.”

Rotorua is the North Island’s most popular tourist destination. It is often referred to as a “thermal wonderland,” with its hot mineral springs, geysers and volcanos surrounded by lush green forests and fertile dairy lands. Rotorua also has the greatest concentration of Maoris in New Zealand..

The Maoris migrated to New Zealand in the 1300’s from Polynesia. To study the history of New Zealand is to study the interaction between the Maoris and Europeans. When Captain Cook landed and explored New Zealand in 1769 the Maoris were well established with many tribes and large family units scattered throughout the country. The Maoris were a warrior-like people who had often engaged in intertribal warfare.

With the introduction of European settlers and the musket, this Maori warrior-like spirit intensified in nature. In 1840 the treaty of Waitangi was signed between some fifty Maori chiefs and the British government. In spite of the treaty, over the next thirty years various conflicts between the Europeans and the Maoris were more often than not settled by armed conflict. Today, Maoris make up about 13 percent of New Zealand’s overall population — which is approximately five million people.

After Rotorua, we took a three-day tour of the northernmost parts of North Island — specifically the Bay of Islands and up to the northern tip of New Zealand,  Cape Reinga and “the ninety mile beach.” The tour included hotels and transportation. The Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga tour gave us another opportunity to view the beautiful countryside of New Zealand with its sheep farms, rolling hills and lush greenery. Or perhaps it was the herd of wild horses we saw grazing off the ninety mile beach, or the pristine coastline, whatever it was, the real new Zealand was beginning to shine through.

We returned to Auckland for a night’s stay and then on to The Overlander railway which took us from Auckland down the middle of North Island to Wellington, which is at the bottom of North Island.

There are three main rail lines in New Zealand, the Overlander, Tranzcoastal and the TranzAlpine. Over the course of a week, we would be taking advantage of the excellent public transportation in New Zealand and riding on all three of these railroad lines.

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, a port city, lush and green, located on an inlet. Wellington also boasts one of the more beautiful botanical gardens in all of New Zealand.

The ferry from North to South Island takes about three hours and docks in the village of Picton, a charming little port town nestled in a cove with a mountainous hilly backdrop. From Pic-ton we hopped on The Tranz-Coastal train for another breathtaking train ride down the eastern coast of New Zealand to the city of Christchurch.

Utilizing the trains in New Zealand afforded us the opportunity to view the country side (more sheep farms, of course) and read up on the history of New Zealand.

New Zealand became an official colony of Britain in 1840, with the signing of the treaty of Waitangi; a treaty that is still being contested by the Maori to this day. It wasn’t until 1947 that New Zealand became fully independent of Britain. Over that one hundred-year time period New Zealand grew, prospered and participated in many world events. One of the more bitter moments in New Zealand’s history was their failed attempt at Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula during World War I. Each year on April 25 (during our visit) Kiwis soberly acknowledge this day, referring to it as Anzac Day.

Today, New Zealand has a thriving economy with the export of dairy products and tourism as their top income producers.

After visiting Christchuch, our last train ride was The Tranz-Alpine railway which leaves Christchurch and crosses the southern Alps to the western side of South Island — about a four-hour trip. From there we utilized the intercity bus system for a journey down to the Franz Josef glacier. This area is one of the more spectacular sights in New Zealand, with a very tropical looking coastline (pine trees and lush ferns) abutted against towering mountains. Add a glacier that has, from time to time, made its way down the mountain almost touching the sea and you have what can only be described as an awe-inspiring sight.

While in Franz Josef, we visited the local “i-site” visitor information center. Each city of any size in New Zealand has an i-site, for booking flights, hotels and tours. We were heading for Queenstown and wanted to book bus transportation and a hotel. Within a few minutes we had our reservations and were ready for our next adventure.

Queenstown is the crown jewel of tourist destinations in New Zealand. Located on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is the jumping off point for various activities in the area, from bungy jumping, skiing, river rafting, to touring the magnificent fiords of Milford Sound.

From Queenstown we headed to Te Anu for some tramping, the Kiwi word for hiking. Then it was on to Milford Sound and a boat ride out into the fiord. Milford Sound is a hiker’s and photographer’s paradise, with its dramatically chiseled cliffs covered in lush greenery descending down to the Tasman Sea.

From Te Anu we took a leisurely bus ride to Dunedin for a few days of exploring. While in Dunedin, we toured an albatross sanctuary which was fascinating. A two-way mirror hut is set up so tourists can get fairly close to the nesting area, observing them feeding and rearing their young.

From Dunedin, we took a flight to Auckland and then back to Los Angeles.

Some thoughts on New Zealand Travel
New Zealand is expensive. Even though you will get about 1.25 New Zealand for each American dollar, food, transportation and hotels are all on the high side. Any one of the many areas we visited could have been a trip in itself. Bring a current tour guide book with you — Lonely Planet, etc. Most hotel/motels have a kitchenette provided. This came in quite handy, especially up north when we dug for clams on the ninety mile beach and brought them back to our motel, cooking them up for a delicious dinner. The best time to travel to New Zealand is during our winter months, which is their summer.

New Zealand is a jewel, for those with an adventurous spirit there are endless things to do and see. We’re looking forward to our next visit. G’day!

Robert Ross can be reached at:    

Copyright  2005  by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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