New Zealand

February 25, 2010 by Julie Perry Nelson

Pat Hess, a friend from San Francisco, and I spent two weeks in New Zealand in February.  We flew from Los Angeles to Auckland which took a little over 12 hours.  We toured both the north and the south islands. In Auckland, we visited a marvelous museum with many Maori artifacts.  We had a talk by a Maori woman which started with a traditional Maori greeting.  Our “chief” (one of our group) responded with complimentary comments. This was followed by our chief and the Maori touching noses and foreheads twice.

We drove through beautiful country with dairy and beef cattle, sheep, and blood stock (race horses).  We stopped for lunch at an organic dairy farm with 150 jersey cows and learned that New Zealand produces 40% of the milk consumed in the world.  We were given a talk about organic dairy farming and learned that milk from New Zealand organic dairies goes to Trader Joe’s in the U.S.   McDonald’s obtains its beef from New Zealand.

In Rotorua, our hotel was next to bubbling mud and steam geysers.  It reminded me of the geysers in YellowstoneNational Park.  A grove of California redwoods was nearby. The trees are just over 100 years old but are very large; they grow faster in New Zealand than in California.  A most interesting experience was Te Puia where we had a Maori experience with a traditional greeting and a musical performance of singing and dancing.  Afterwards we went to a boiling pool used for cooking and had a snack of sweet corn, shrimp, and green-lipped mussels that had been cooked in the pool—a traditional Maori way of cooking.

One of the most memorable experiences was driving up to Mt.Tarawera, a volcano.  Four of us walked down to the volcano bottom.  The downhill part was through scree—very fine, loose stones.  We walked slowly and carefully down the trail.  Our feet sank into the scree with each step and we slid several inches.  One man stepped off the track, slipped, and fell onto his back.  He then slid about a third of the way to the bottom.  Fortunately, he was not injured, but it was difficult for him to regain his footing and make his way back to the trail.  The footing on the walk up was much firmer and we made it without difficulty.

We visited a middle school that is 70% Maori.  Again a welcoming ceremony, the men touched noses and foreheads, and the children sang a couple of songs for us.  We then sang two songs we had prepared (Ghost Riders in the Sky and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands).  Our guide was fond of old western songs!  The school has an innovative curriculum and strongly encourages parent involvement.

We flew from Rotorua to Queenstown in the south island.  We checked in and went through security as a group.  No one checked our IDs and there was no screening of us or our luggage–an unusual experience for travelers from the U.S.

From Queenstown we drove to Milford Sound on the west coast and had a delightful sail in the Sound and out to the TasminSea.  We saw New Zealand fur seals, a school of bottle-nosed dolphins, and many sea birds.  We saw a number of glaciers on the mountains and several waterfalls—just beautiful. This is the part of the country where “Lord of the Rings” and many other movies were filmed.

At Franz Joseph Glacier, a few of us went on a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier.  We flew near Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest point, and landed in a snow field where we threw a few snowballs and made a small snowman.  It was a spectacular ride with stunning views of the mountains and glaciers.

On our way to Christchurch, we visited a high country sheep station.  The farmer raises Merino sheep which live high in the mountains and produce very fine wool, black-faced Suffolk sheep which have good meat (their wool is used for carpets), and a Suffolk/Merino mix which produces meat and wool.  We watched the dogs work the sheep.  An Australian pushaway barked to encourage the sheep to gather in a group, then the border collie brought them in.  It was fun to watch.  We were each given a whistle like the farmer used to direct the dogs.  I still haven’t figured out how to make a sound on it!

Christchurch is the place from which the early explorers of the Antarctic “jumped off.” We stopped at the InternationalAntarcticCenter and experienced a summer storm and learned about living and working in Antartica.  The U.S. program is based there.  That evening we had dinner at Bailie’s Irish pub where Shackleton, Scott, and other explorers had their last dinner before leaving for the Antarctic.

We drove to Akaroa which is a peninsula where Maori lived.  We had a lovely sail out to the Pacific Ocean.  We saw New Zealand fur seals, little blue penguins, Hector’s dolphins which are the smallest dolphins, and many seabirds.  We also saw where salmon and mussels are farm-raised.

During our travels, we were introduced to pounamu, a native greenstone that was sacred to the Maori.  We visited a shop and watch artisans make beautiful jewelry from it.  We also visited the Blue Pearl Gallery and learned how these pearls, unique to New Zealand, are raised and harvested.

Some memorable hikes were in the Te Puia Thermal Valley to see the geysers and mud pools, a walk in the redwood forest where we also saw some glowworms, a glacier valley guided walk, a walk along the Cape Foulwind coastal track to the Tauranga Bay seal colony and the Punakaiki Pancake rocks, and an Alpine Forest walk which was quite difficult.  I was able to get my feet wet in the Tasmin Sea.

This was a wonderful, entertaining, and educational trip in the company of some interesting people from various parts of the U.S.  We saw beautiful country and experienced some of the Maori culture. If you have a chance to visit New Zealand, seize the opportunity; it will be well worth it.

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