[Editor's Note: Because of space limitations, we published this story in two pieces edited for length. This version is the complete story as submitted by the author.]
By Leslie Hauck
There is the slow, snaking movement of people...we enter the aircraft via a tunnel so we don't get to see how big the plane actually is, but I try quickly to count how many seats are in a row, and how many rows in each of 3 sections, and I'm never sure of my math, but I think there must be over 400 passengers. Yikes!
Finally my seat is in view, in the section in front of the tail, in a centre row of 5; it contains a pillow and blanket for later sleeping. It is 8:00 pm on a Tuesday in Vancouver; ahead of me is a 13-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean; I will arrive at 5:00 am Thursday, losing Wednesday altogether!
The idea of flying over a huge ocean wider than the Atlantic has been a niggling concern for weeks, but here I am, and I put fear out of my mind; focusing on my arrival in Auckland and seeing my daughter, my son-in-law, and my 2 grandchildren. I will be in NZ for 3 weeks from mid-September to mid-October – Nova Scotia fall and New Zealand spring
The introduction to the flight comes on our video screens performed by New Zealand's rugby team, the All Blacks (all black uniforms), and is my first “live” experience of the New Zealand accent. Kia Ora is how they say Hello! In Maori; it sounds like Kee-ora, the two parts run together as one two-syllable word. They roll their R's a bit like the Scots do.
The Maori people came to New Zealand from Polynesia around 1280 A.D., and the name Maori, meaning ordinary, came about when Europeans arrived in the 1800's and the native people wanted a way to be identified. All over New Zealand the Maori language is ubiquitous in the names of towns and cities. In their school, my grandchildren learned the Maori alphabet and numbers, and how to sing New Zealand's national anthem in Maori. They learned to perform the Haka, a traditional war dance, and get a big kick out of the last movement where they stick out their tongues with an angry-looking face, bent knees, and hands up.
My family lives in a suburb of Auckland, which is about one-third of the way down from the most northerly tip of the North Island. One-story houses are packed in a bit like sardines in a can; I only saw one small apartment building. The wealthy residents have high walls around their homes; everyone has a keypad at the door for entry. A hedge of lavender stretches the length of the family's driveway, 4 feet high and 2 feet wide, is beginning to bloom. Everyone has a range of different fruit trees – lemons, mandarins, limes, banana – and tropical flowering plants on steroids line the street side of homes. Bird of Paradise was in full bloom all over. People put excess fruit in a box on the street for any takers.
The super part of where my family lives is that a heavenly beach is just a block and a half away. Even in this chilly season, the New Zealand spring, the beach is frequented by a good number of people, out exercising dogs, children, or themselves in a meditative clearing of the mind. New Zealanders, or Kiwis, are very out-doorsy people -- and with a climate with approximately 10 months of good outdoor weather, it seems to be bred into them at birth. My grand kids would take to the sand to play, and one sunny day my grandson and I braved the ocean for a swim; coming from Nova Scotia I found the water to be a familiar temperature; my grandson wore his half wet suit. The water seemed to be saltier than the Atlantic Ocean – it seemed easier to float and swim; that was one goal of the trip checked off my “list”. For my family, going to the beach is like going into the back yard -- something that happens nearly every day, and as summer approaches as I write this, often between supper and bedtime.
After a few days recuperation from my flights, we set off North on the first leg of our travelling time. And New Zealand really does look like the travel brochures: turquoise ocean lining the beaches, ancient volcanoes, large and small, seemingly covered with velvety-green carpet; softly pointed at the top, small but very steep cone-like mountains where sheep and black cattle grazed at the base. There are 39 million sheep in the country; our first two nights' stay is at a sheep farm. My grandson is excited to be given the job of dolling out snacks for them that the shepherds called “sheep nuts”.
We are driving north, headed towards Kerikeri, and Waipapa, our first AirBnB stop, we get lunch in Waipu at MacLeod's Pizza and Brewery. The place is awash in the yellow/black/red of the MacLeod tartan, and I'm sort of mystified, until I wander around the place reading the history while waiting for lunch: this town, probably a mere village at the time of the 1850's when a flotilla of ships arrived with settlers seeking paradise, and felt they had found it here. These were 800 Scots, led by Presbyterian minister Norman MacLeod, who sailed across the Atlantic to Cape Breton to resettle, but were not satisfied and set sail again following the coast of the Americas, around Cape Horn, to New Zealand – finally satisfied they had found Paradise. Waipu holds Highland Games and dancing every New Year!
Next day, we are headed for Pahia where we will take a short ferry across a bay to Russell and have “morning tea” while we wait for the cruise around the Bay of Islands. One of the highlights of the cruise is that we might get to see pods of dolphins – didn't – but the scenery cruising around all the various islands in the bay provided gorgeous landscapes, hilly, beach-y, and dramatic. The big hit is a small island -- The Hole In The Rock is the descriptor -- and with a chilly and windy day there was heightened suspense as to whether we would be able to pass through “the hole” which looked to be not wide enough; the skilled Skipper worked the suspense till we were actually passing through!
The next day we had a “bush walk” in a semi-tropical Kauri forest. Entering the forest we have to brush our feet clean and then use a germicide on the soles of our shoes. Why? The trees are at risk, and have been beginning with colonialists cutting into them for useful sap. Overtime the trees would die from the cuts allowing foreign pests to permeate the surface. The trees were such giants, clear of branches three-quarters of the way up.
Birds: My favourite was a toss-up between the Tui and Kiwi. Tuis have iridescent blue and green plumage and the cutest two white feathers that are a bit like an ascot at the neck; they had a range of melodic songs...Australian Magpie, a beautiful black and white...Pukeko – large bird; blue, green and black with an bright orange beak...Pied shags...a Reef heron...black swans in large groups on salt and fresh water...and a live Kiwi bird at an aviary! This was very exciting because I was about 12 inches away from a kiwi behind glass (couldn't see me) poking its long beak around in the soil and leaves of it's enclosure, then moving the beak along a 2X4 piece of wood frame around the windows searching for food.
Kiwis are flightless birds with long narrow feathers, and nostrils at the end of the long, slightly curved beak that serve to alert them to any predators. They live in burrows, and have large three-pronged toes good for digging! They are nocturnal, and are considered endangered, prey to other forest animal predators. The female incubates one egg at a time, inside her body, for 78 days --that's over two and a half months! The egg grows to make up 20 percent of the female's weight; after she lays the egg, the male takes over, and she goes off on vacation! New Zealanders are colloquially referred to as Kiwis.
Leaving the North we stopped at home for a check in, then headed for the Coromandel Peninsula full of beautiful scenery. Next day, across the National Forest the road was only partly paved, with frightening twists and turns and the ups and downs of tropical mountains. Our destination was the Driving Creek Railway, a narrow gauge train ride going up the side of a mountain, built by an engineer turned railway builder and terra cotta ceramicist. Sixty thousand people come through the town down below every year to take one of two small trains; they go up the mountain simultaneously, giving way one to the other at the “reversals” -- the way to navigate up and down the mountain. From then on we are going down the eastern coast of the South Pacific, with more incredible vistas to behold.
The next adventure was a hike an hour-each-way to Cathedral Cove. The landscape was stunning and wild, the paved trail running steeply up and down, and curving in and out of views of the ocean. The “cathedral” is another large hole in rock, roofed with trees and bushes, with the wide sand beach running through – beach on each side of the large space that really held the majesty of a large cathedral – well named! The “hole” was carved out of the chalky-looking rock over millions of years. Next day my thigh muscles were sore from the extremes of that hike!
At Whakatane, (pronounced Fakatanee, wh=f) our BnB was across the street from a playground and long-stretching wide sand beach with big surf. There was a zip-line, perfectly suited for me as a grandmother with my grandchildren (7 and 5) in tow.
I definitely saw lots of what I called “Lord of the Rings” landscapes with either lowland cattle, or sheep at the bases of steep “bumps” of earth, and far-off mountain ridges – the results of an ancient volcanic island. Roadsides had tall “fences” created with trees planted close together to protect vineyards from prevailing wind and rain.
In a biggish town, Rotorua, with sulphur springs dotting the town, we saw a blue and a green lake, both created about 13,000 years ago. We went to Rainbow Springs, a forest park and aviary with lots to see (birds, huge trout, ducks and eels in human-constructed streams) and do; this is where the kiwi birds live. I agreed to take the “log boat” ride that ends in a huge water slide with a big, exciting splash at the bottom. Rotorua is quite a centre for Extreme Sports of all kinds on land, water, and air; tons of people are attracted to this area all year around (remember, Kiwis are active and athletic, and so are visitors).
The highlight of our adventures for all of us was The Forest Walk beginning at twilight in an enormous redwood forest. We began by walking up a wooden incline that spiralled around a tree, and then across from tree to tree to tree on bridges made like a rope suspension bridge, but very safe and secure; each tree had a platform around it to get from one bridge to the next. At the first bridge I estimated we were about 20 feet off the ground; then we kept going from tree to tree, as the dark of the evening descended upon us, till we came to a place to go higher if we wished, and we certainly did, my grand kids leading the way. Again we traversed the numerous bridges and I estimated we were then 80 feet from the ground, looking down on the tops of other trees and tall ferns some of which had background lighting. We were maybe half way to the top of the redwoods -- these stalwart pillars, proud and silent giants.
Throughout this hour-long journey we were constantly delighted by the use of lighting to display the wondrous forest: purple, turquoise, and green spotlights ran up occasional trees; down below were tiny green lights flitting around like fairies; and hanging from high branches were wooden “lanterns” made by a Maori artist – I remember making construction paper lanterns in the same manner as a kid – and lit inside with golden light. Of course Lev and Frida wanted to “go again”! The Rotorua Forest Walk is an incredibly ingenious and stunning experience highlighting New Zealand's natural beauty.
Outside the information centre was displayed a slice of a redwood tree, maybe 12 feet in diameter! The growth rings were marked with dates the first being 3 A.D., when Jesus was born; the tree was cut down in 1953. The next morning we had a short walk through the forest, to re-experience it along with its regular joggers; Lev said to me it was like we were ants walking in between blades of grass.
Our next destination was the city of Napier. As we drove into the town, across an expanse of water were snow-covered mountains -- such a contrast to the green and rolling terrain I'd become familiar with. In 1931 an earthquake flattened the town, and it was rebuilt in the architecture of the day – Art Deco – quite delightful. The eating in Napier is very sophisticated. I had quite a divine dinner choice the first night at a place called Hunger Monger: risotto with squid ink, asparagus, mozzarella cheese and a light bubbly New Zealand white wine. The next night, our last night of our travels, we had the best thin-crust, “New York” pizza at Vinci's. I would go back to Napier for the food!
My daughter organized a fantastic and varied itinerary...New Zealand is truly a wondrous place to visit, and my family appears to be happily fitting right in.
Fun Facts: Carpenters are called Chippy; Electricians, Sparky; Construction worker, Tradie; Truck driver, Truckie; Postal worker, Postie, and Stephen Colbert on his visit called the Helicopter pilot, Choppy (not sure if that's official!)