New Zealand has mild temperatures, moderately high rainfall, and many hours of sunshine throughout most of the country. Its climate is dominated by two main geographical features: the mountains and the sea. While the far north has subtropical weather during summer, inland alpine areas of the South Island can be as cold as 14 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. The average days with rainfall for the cities we visited is: Queenstown-97, Rotorua-118, and Auckland-135. In the Queenstown area, some of that water falls as snow which gives it a prosperous winter sports industry that generates a great deal of tax money for the country.
New Zealand, however, is so much more than just the weather. In my opinion, it’s one of the most scenic places I’ve ever visited. Also, everyone I’ve talked to who’s visited told me the people are exceedingly friendly and I must agree. Besides vacationers, people from all over the world go there to live and work, attesting to the accepting nature of its citizens.
The original inhabitants, the Māori tribes, unlike the Aboriginal People of Australia, shared a language and were able to unite when the early settlers arrived. They found ways to live in peace and profit from these new arrivals. Their standard of living is lower than Non-Māori and they’re still victims of discrimination as are many native people all over the world. However, they’re encouraged to learn about and embrace their culture and language in school and out in the community.
There’s so much to like about Queenstown, New Zealand. You can see why it’s the country’s top vacation spot. We were there in time to enjoy the vibrant fall foliage and see the sites in what a Minnesota native like me considers a comfortable temperature. My Floridian neighbors would disagree. Rain was an inconvenience that canceled some of our trips and optional tours, but we ventured out to enjoy the historic sites and scenic Lake Wakatipu. We did see a dusting of snow on the Remarkables Mountain Range one day and it added to its beauty. More snow would be arriving soon to welcome the beginning of the ski season, a multitude of tourists, and exciting festivities. Young people from all over the world come to Queenstown during the winter season to work and spend their free time on the slopes. Living in a tourist town makes me enjoy the off season, so I like to travel then. In other places it’s called the ‘shoulder season’ and a less expensive time to book a trip.
On a rainy Day 9 we sailed to Walter Peak Station (https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/experiences/tours/walter-peak-farm-tours/#Overview) on the historic coal powered steam ship the TSS Earnslaw for a tour of the station whose inhabitants include deer, cattle, sheep, and energetic herding dogs. We watched the dogs follow their master’s commands to round up the sheep, lead them into a pen, and with total control of the herd, put them through various maneuvers. We warmed up with some hot beverages and desserts before we watched a sheep shearing demonstration and heard about the history of and current use for sheep products. We browsed in the gift shop and watched wool being spun into yarn until we boarded the steam ship. Some of the group sang songs around the piano and enjoyed a glass of wine as we steamed back. We had the evening off, so I enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner with my fellow travelers before heading back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. Except for the nights on the plane, I slept better on this trip than I do in my own bed.
On Day 10 our coach ride to Milford Sound began under a blue sky with The Remarkables topped with snow. During the ride the rains arrived and we watched the deer farms, forests, and mountains through rain streaked windows. Since this road only goes to the sound, we saw several tour buses and a few cars. According to “Wikipedia”, Milford Sound, located in Fiordland National Park, was first discovered by Captain John Grono in 1812. He named it Milford Haven after his homeland in Wales. Captain John Lort Stokes later renamed Milford Haven Milford Sound. “The Māori named the sound Piopiotahi after the thrush-like piopio bird, now extinct. Piopiotahi means “a single piopio”, harking back to the legend of Māui trying to win immortality for mankind – when Māui died in the attempt, a piopio was said to have flown here in mourning.” The sound averages 252 inches of rain a year with 183.9 rainy days. We arrived on one of those days and were welcomed by rain blowing sideways and hail. Our Program Director, David, said it was the farthest he’d ever traveled for a meal, but it was a delicious meal that catered to the tastes of the tourists who were aboard waiting to sail. With our bellies full and sleepy, we boarded the bus and drove back through the Southern Alps which were covered with hundreds of waterfalls, stopping at The Chasm, a series of raging falls in the Cleddau River. The Chasm has cut intricate sculptures in the granite as it carved a path that snaked down the mountain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KaAIFrhUmg. We viewed a video filmed by one of our Program Director’s colleagues on the building of the Homer Tunnel which was dug to gain access to the sound. We also watched one of David’s productions about the early explorer, Thomas Brunner, and his exploration of the Buller Gorge and the West Coast of the Southern Island. I enjoyed hearing his personal anecdotes about the filming of the production which was one of a series on the explorers of New Zealand.
Day 11’s destination was a short drive away at Arrowtown, an old gold mining town on the Arrow River, where we were given a guided tour of the historic sites and a visit to Lakes District Museum. (http://www.newzealand.com/us/arrowtown/) After a hardy lunch at the Old Postmaster’s Residence, we rode to the Gibson Valley Winery where we tasted their fine wines paired with chocolate. I didn’t know chocolate and wine tasted so lovely together. Then it was off to AJ Hackett Bungy, the first commercial bungy jump site, where I was denied a jump due to health reasons but enjoyed our sole young person’s leap from the platform over the Kawarau River. All of us cheered for him and as I watched him dangling by his feet flopping like a mackerel on a fish line, I started to think my old bones may not have endured the jolting as well as his limber limbs. Back in Queenstown, I shopped for my New Zealand souvenir before I indulged in an Affogato (Italian for “drowned) at the Swiss Mövenpick Ice Cream Gallery. Mine was made with a scoop of Dulce De Leche and Double Cream and Meringue ice cream drowned in hot espresso. I had to walk off the calories before joining the group for dinner and then it was back to the hotel to pack for the next morning’s flight.
Day 12 and we’re off to the airport and Rotorua on the Northern Island. A beautiful town on the shores of a lake by the same name, it’s the home of the “Taupo Volcanic Zone, a geothermal field extending from White Island off the Bay of Plenty Coast to Mt Ruapehu far to the south. Rotorua’s array of geothermal features – volcanic crater lakes, spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, hissing fumaroles, and colorful sinter terraces – This volcanic activity has drawn visitors to Rotorua since the 1800s…” according to http://www.rotoruanz.com/visit/explore/geothermal. Before arriving at our hotel we stopped at the Greenstone Centre to learn about Greenstone, the nephrite jade, that comes in several different shades from the South Island of New Zealand. It’s also called Pounamu by the Māori who used it for tools, weapons, and jewelry. The jewelry designs on sale are a modern interpretation of historical accounts of Māori life and the rich mythological and spiritual beliefs they held. We had the rest of the evening off unless we wanted to go on the Māori TePuia Cultural Experience. See http://www.rotoruanz.com/visit/home.
The sunshine continued on the morning of Day 13 as we toured the Ohinemutu Māori Village on the banks of the lake. We were greeted with the traditional pōwhiri, the ritual ceremony of encounter, and learned about their culture from a Māori man who exchanged a hongi greeting with our appointed chief. Then we were off to the Government Gardens and Museum for a visit and a film about the Māori Battalion in World War II. The museum is the original site of the Bath House that opened in 1908 for therapeutic treatments and bathing in the rejuvenating mineral springs and mud baths. See http://www.rotoruamuseum.co.nz/visit-us/taking-the-cure/tourism-and-the-rotorua-story/. I treated myself to a soak in the thermal mineral pools and enjoyed a luxurious Manuka honey facial massage at the Polynesian Spa (http://www.polynesianspa.co.nz/polynesianspa/home/) followed by a nap. Rested and rejuvenated, I joined a group of fellow travelers for a tasty meal prepared by a local Māori family at their home. We had a lively conversation over dinner, gained insights into their life, and shared some of our stories with them. I had two servings of the famous dessert, Pavlova, a creamy treat featuring meringue, whipped cream, and fruit. See http://www.joyofbaking.com/Pavlova.html for the history of the dessert and recipe. Before the meal, some of our travelers toured the Hobbiton Movie Set used for the filming of “The Lord of Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies. (http://www.hobbitontours.com/)
We were back on the bus on Day 14 and on our way to the Kaitao School, a middle school for ages 11-12. The students, teachers, and principal greeted us with another pōwhiri, this one included a speech, singing, and finally the hongi. We toured the school led first by the principal and then the head boy and girl. By 10:30 we were back on the bus and off to Auckland, The City of Sails, where we enjoyed some time off to explore the city and rest up for our next big day.
On Day 15 the City of Sails lived up to its name. The harbor was filled with sailing vessels of all sizes. We were repeatedly told by our Kiwi Program Director that New Zealand won the America’s Cup in 1995 and 2000, so we were excited about our sailing cruise in Waitamata Harbor. I was lucky enough to go on two cruises, one where I was able to pilot the vessel under the Auckland Harbour Bridge and another which featured a race with another boat. Rain and winds made the water choppy, but I was in my element on the water and hardly noticed. We boarded the coach for a guided tour of Auckland City, which included a ride around the bays to the inner city beach at Mission Bay, and then to the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial at Bastion Point to learn about its controversial history from David’s colleague, Ray Waru. See http://www.mch.govt.nz/nz-identity-heritage/national-monuments-war-graves/savage-memorial and http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/keyword/bastion-point. We were given the option to visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum or explore on our own. Some of us returned to the hotel and went to lunch at a nearby pub where I was given several samples of the local beer so I could decide which one I liked the best. Since I was tired of shopping, I set off for the hotel alone, tipsy and a bit disorientated. After circling the Sky Tower, we were told was next to our hotel, I finally went up to someone, pointed to the hotel’s address on my map, and set off in the right direction. Back at the hotel, I packed for our 3:30 a.m. departure for home. That night we all enjoyed a farewell dinner; sad this will the last time we all had an opportunity to be together.
Day 16 we again boarded the coach for the trip to the airport. After he made sure we were all checked-in and pointed in the right direction, David bid us a final farewell. Most of us were on the same flights, so we had about 20 more hours together before we departed to our various U.S. destinations. They were a wonderful, adventuresome group of travelers. I hope they have as much fun reading about our adventures as I had writing about them.
There was only one minor misstep on my way home. In Dallas, while charging my phone and texting the friends who were meeting me, I almost missed the final boarding for my flight. As I listened to the flight attendant finish the pre-flight safety demonstration, I noticed I didn’t have my jacket, so I raced off the plane and down the jetway as the door was closing. Luckily, I was allowed to retrieve it from the neighboring gate. I dashed back and collapsed breathless into my seat happy this was the last leg of the trip. I was delighted to see my friends and extremely pleased to spend the next 15 hours sleeping. Even after that, I was worthless for the next few days. Yes, the flights and connections were difficult. No, I absolutely do not regret it. It was worth every moment of discomfort and lost sleep on the planes. Whoever said travel is broadening is right, especially when it comes to the waistline, but it also makes you broaden your perception of our planet. If you’re able, spend your money on experiences, not material things you tire of and discard. It’s been said “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”, but I’ll take an adventure any day.
Continue the adventure!