2001 – New Zealand – Aukland and the North Island

01-auklandMarch 25, 2001

The United flight is late for a change.  Get to the airport early, take off late and rush to the International terminal with minutes to spare.  At least my United baggage curse seems to have ended.  All our bags arrived in good condition.
A small dinner, a glass of wimpy wine and a good seven hours of sleep.  I woke up with 2 hours left of the flight feeling very refreshed.  I wasn’t even bothered by the droning chatter of the stewardess as she bored me with her recollections of New Zealand. We were back on the road and it was wonderful.

The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first located the islands in 1642 and named it after the Dutch province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. But after some of his crew were killed by the Maori he reported the place was too hostile and left.

In 1768, 126 years later, Captain James Cook showed up and for the most part, the Maoris were more hospitable, trading food, water, trinkets, wood, minerals and sex for iron nails and weapons. As the Europeans came more oftern and in larger numbers, things began to change for Maori people, a change for the worse. By 1859, there were as many Europeans in the islands as there were Maori. Christian Missionaries convinced them that their beliefs were wrong. Colonial governements grabbed their land. The Maori fought back. The Land Wars between 1845 and 1872 sufferred losses to both the Colonial British and the Maori, but by the end of the 19th century, the once proud and fierce Maori had been reduced to servants and second class citizens.

March 27, 2001
Our cab driver from the airport was Maori, which is not strange; born and raised in Aukland; also not strange.  English appeared to be his second language. We later learned that the Maori language of Reo was making a strong return. His english was barely understandable, but he was more than happy to give us his history of “homeboy makes good”, Russel Crowe , who just won best actor Oscar for “Gladiator”, while at the same time, offering his itinerary on what to do in New Zealand.  In fact, everyone here is happy to offer their own itinerary on how we should enjoy their country.
The sky is really low in Aukland and consequently, the sky scrapers are pretty small, maybe 16 stories if they’re lucky.  It’s kind of a mini Sydney.  The buildings are small but they shine brightly with American logos of Sun Microsystems, Hewlett Packard, KPMG, Informix and others shining away at their tops.
We spent the morning rambling through the commercial district looking through the shop windows at the local art and searching for a good cup of coffee. We ending up in the America Cup village for a double long black and a chocolate croissant, the house specialty all accompanied by Britney Spears singing “Woops I did it Again”. Boy do I hate that song. We had to sing the theme from the Flintstones to clear it out our memory banks.
The avenues and neighborhoods of Aukland are lined with a combination of old decayed and recently rennovated colonial row houses, depending on which neighborhood you venture into. It all had a Georgian Architectural feel to it which is kind of amazing since it was all built during the Victorian era.  I guess they didn’t get the new styles way out here till much later than the rest of the world.
After walking by what seemed to be an endless run of Turkish kebab restaurants, out of fatigue and sheer exhaustion, we finally stopped at one and had a great lunch.
The War memorial museum, which indeed was a museum dedicated to war; Maori wars, World War I, world War II was open for another hour and so we decided to speed tour. Some amazing pieces of memorablilia,; a Japanese Zero and the bones of a Moa, the extinct member of the ostrich family that disappeared about 150 years ago.  I guess it was difficult for a 14’ flightless bird to hide from the Moari hunting parties.
We were pretty tired towards the end of the day, and although  Gretch stayed in the room, I went to the invitation only Villa Maria wine tasting on the 12th floor of the hotel, a local wine that was pleasant enough but nothing to write home about, even though it appears that I am writing home about it right now.

May 28, 2001
We slept 11 hours.  I always wonder if you are more tired from getting too much sleep or too little sleep.

Off to the little alleys of High Street, a stop for muesili and yogurt and then a visit to the swim suit store for an original Australian speedo.

At  some 312 meters tall, Aukland’s Sky tower is indeed the tallest building in the city, a few meters taller than the Eiffel Tower.  Great 360° views, very scary plexiglass floors and lots of school kids.  And from there it was another good walk back to the Winter Garden with it’s wild collection of potted eggplants and other bizarre vegetation, and back to the War memorial museum.  The Maori are definitley considered second class citzens here but there still is a great reverence for their culture and the museums are loaded with the mythology, history, ceremonies and war equipment, lots of war equipment, over half of the museum was dedicated to the Maori.

We opted to miss the cultural Maori dance recital but  did catch the docent tours and got a very in depth explanation of the meeting house,  the roof is the backbone of the ancestor, the walls are the ribs of the ancestor and the lodge poles were the heart of the ancestors.  The Maori believe that all of outdoors is ruled by the god of war and the inside of the meeting house is ruled by the god of peace.  Therefore, since our shoes had the soil of the god of war, we left them at the door. It’s a nice custom.
We learned that all the statues of the ancestors had their tongues sticking out either in defience, as if they were great warriors, or they were great orators.  Some had 2 tongues which could have meant they were both or said one thing and meant another.  Who knows.
We went to the waterfront and had a nice dinner at the Harbourside Restaurant. The Bluff Oysters, kind of like mini Belons from the south island were delicious.

03-hukafallsMay 29, 2001
It was a long drive from Aukland to Havelock North and it was pretty easy for Gretch to get used to right hand drive.  I did not drive yet.  The Hyundai Sonata is a big car and comfortable enough but a rattle trap.  New Zealand is a very green country.  They get a lot of rain here. We thought we arrived after the rainy season, but we were wrong. It rained s lot but we were warm and dry inside the car and for most of the next five hours we listened to the classic rock oldies station on the NZ radio and laughed and sang along to some old memories.

We did make a brief stop at Huka Falls outside of Taupo, a man made rapids that looked it was funneling glacier water.  It was that blue.

And then to the Mangapapa Lodge where for a minute we didn’t have our reservation.  This seems to be a general theme when we travel; misplaced reservations and misplaced luggage. It was a bit confusing, but they were basically empty and we ended up getting upgraded with our choice of room.
We sat out on the porch and had a few glasses of wine and then went into the cocktail hour and tried the local reds.  This time they were delicious.  We are in the heart of the NZ wine district, Hawkes Bay, which is usually known for white wines, but the Te Mata Coleraine red we had last night was surprsingly good and went fabulously with the meal of NZ lamb, quail and chicken.  We stumbled back to the room and had a deep night’s sleep. We are eating very well in New Zealand.

06-newzealandMay 30, 2001
Napier is the Art Deco town on Hawkes Bay.  There were still a bunch of two story very cute art deco buildings although most of them were destroyed in the 1931 earthquake. However, the town was rebuilt using the same art-deco design. It’s very goofy, almost like walking out into a movie set. In fact, we were greeted on the street by some people in full art-deco costume. We found out later we had come at the end of the annual Art-Deco festival.
On the way back to Mangapapa, we stopped at a liquor store and picked up a bottle of 1998 Coleraine, supposedly the best vintage ever and a bottle of the Stoneyridge Cab ’97, also one of the legends of NZ reds.

We drove up to the top of Te Mata peak and had a good look around and then went back to the Lodge for another great meal and relaxation. The rain stopped and the view was amazing. This is the land of “Lord of the Rings”.

May 31, 2001
A long drive back towards Hamilton on the same road we came down on.  There aren’t too many roads in NZ but then again there aren’t too many people, and the people who are here don’t really go anywhere. Traffic was not a problem but the road turned and twisted and took an amzingly long time to get a short distance.
11-jrgvh_pohutugeyserWe stopped at Te Whakarewarewa.  This is one of those places where the earth’s crust is very thin. You can almost imagine you’re at at the geothermal core of the planet; boiling mud leaping like frogs, hissing steam pockets, warm mist, the permiated smell of sulphur and the grand geyser Pohutu geyser exploding up to 30 metres in front of you.

Pohutu blows several times a day, but we were lucky yo catch it as soon as walked up. It was a very spooky place. You could feel the heat rising through the ground, right through our shoes.
On the way back to the car, we stopped into the first of our Kiwi House experiences and caught two of them running up and down what appeared to be a kiwi run, keeping their little legs in good shape. They do look like big furry eggs on two toothpicks with a needle beak. Kiwi feathers are important to Maori culture. They can’t fly and the love the dark. I don’t know why the Moari find them so spiritual.
Down the road (and it is just one road) is the town of Rotorua. The locals we’ve met refer to it as Rotor-Vegas because it’s a tourist mecca and it’s so glitzy. I guess you have to put it all into perspective and realize that these people have never been to Las Vegas. Actually between the two, I’d take Rotorua. It was a pretty touristy stop; Maori Village souvenirs, t-shirts shops, sheep and rabbit shearing exhibitions, thermal baths and the countless strip motels dotting up the one road that leads through the town.
And after another 2-3 hours of the nauseatingly winding road, we finally arrived at the Brooklands Country Estate, way out in the middle of no-where, but then everthing in this island is in the middle of no-where.
We were met by Leah, who over the course of the next two day entertained us with her constant blabbering in her very Kiwi accent.  We settled into our room, which was nice enough.
All the guests (pronounced geests) met in the lodge for before dinner drinks and snacks and then sat down to dinner. The specialty of the night was New Zealand beef cooked in scotch whiskey. It was inedible. The tables were set family style and we were seated next to Colin, a transplanted Canadian high school English and Drama teacher and his girlfriend Sarah, a picture framer who had reframed over 200 pictures in the lodge and received a free stay as part of the payment, and Graham, an Aukland bar owner and his girlfreind Charlotte, a police woman from London.  He went to London and met her and three months later she left London for New Zealand and moved in.  She is now a fraud investigator in NZ.  They were a lot of fun and we chatted away the night and the next morning.

13-waitomocaveApril 1, 2001
It is a cold cloudly day, but we were going to the caves of Waitomo so it really didn’t matter much.  It was about a 90 minute drive from Brooklands through Waingaro Hot Springs, through Ngaruwahia, down route 1 and onto route 3 to Waitomo. It’s always the same roads and the same hills and the same tree ferns.

According to legend, about 500 years ago when the Chief of Kawhia took a war party to attack the local Ngati Hau Tribe, a hunter was sent out for food discovered the entrance to the cave. Unfortunately it guarded by a pack of wild dogs that attacked him and made him drop his catch. But soon after, he returned to the cave with more hunters, killed the dogs and ate them for dinner. It turned out to be a very good omen and the Kawhia chief won the war against the Ngati Hau.

With the battles behind him, he used cave entrance (the old dog house) as a burial ground.

The caves were set up as a very big tourist location in the early 1900’s after local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace rediscovered the cave entrance They built a raft and with the aid of lit candles, they were able to see the amazing glow worms that nested inside. This is one of the natural wonders of the world and well worth the vist.

14-glowwormswaitmoThe Waitomo Cave tour now includes rubber rafts and a chaperone. There were about 20 of us in the raft, riding down the black river, through the display of stalagtites and stalagmites, through the catherdral cave, where celebrities from Kiri te Kanawa, to Sting to U2 have performed, and finally we arrived to the glow worm cave.  “You must be quiet in the cave” the guide told us. “The worms will dim their lights if they get startled by noise.”  Unfortunately their were a few young children. We almost left one of them on shore until the mother promised she would keep the child quiet.  And so we all pulled ourselves back into the Black river and into the belly of the glow worm cave.  It was magical, an eeire blue glow of thousands of little worm tails lighting the chamber ceiling like stars in the sky.  The guide flashed a light beam up to the ceiling and we could see the threads hanging down from each worm, attracting bugs who would get caught in the web and slowly (I mean very slowing, sometimes taking days) lifted up to the little worm mouths. And then, as the boat made it too the mouth of the river entrance to the cave, the tour was over.

On to Otorohanga and yet another Kiwi House. The Kiwis have shifts of 4 hours  until they are relieved by another pair,  kind of a Kiwi union.  But we did get to see the feeding hour where they were fed a mixture of tofu, nuts berries and strips of ox heart; it’s much different than the diet of bugs and worms and berries in the wild, but it seems to work. At least they came out for it. And then they went back into the dark and we lef them alone.

Back to the Brooklands Estate where we are now the only people left.  It is as if we are Lord and Lady of the Manor with a wait staff of 6 people.  We played some pool in the pool room and then had another of Ian’s bizarre dinners, this time it was smoked salmon marinated in whiskey, yikes!!

18-coromandelpeninsulaApril 2, 2001
Another long drive to the Coromandel Peninsula; more beautiul rolling hills, more sheep, more tree ferns, more hairpin turns and more rain.

We arrived to the Puka park resort around 5pm and made it to our little chalet, a charming place with a tin roof that resonated the rain so loudly we thought we were in a hail storm.

After a mediocre massage, the house specialty comprised of a long rinse in the hot tub and then 30 minutes of light dancing fingers on our backs, we went back to the room (through the rain) and over to the main lodge for a good meal of NZ green mussels. They are the size of a small squab hen and they are firm and fabulous. It’s one of the best eating experience in these islands.


April 3, 2001
A good night sleep, a good breakfast and though the weather looked like it might clear up for the day, we looked at the weather repor in Sydney, bright blue skies and no rain.

We said good-bye to New Zealand and hello to the sunshine of Australia.