Well, I am safely back from the land of Kiwis. Truly a unique place. Its variety of geological phenomena is exceeded only by the number of Kiwi draft beer brands we tried, or maybe the number of syllables in a typical Maori place name:
Within a couple hours of arrival in Auckland, one thing that struck me was how multicultural New Zealand is. I should point out that this is after a year in Korea, the most homogeneous culture on the planet, where 97 or 98% of the population is Korean. The whole of NZ is like Itaewon: plenty of Europeans with English and Aussies, of course, but Germans, Dutch and the like, as well; but also Middle Easterners and Asians, from Turkish to Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and of course Korean. The native Polynesians of New Zealand are the Maori, whose language, we were told, is similar enough to, say, Hawaiian, that they can understand one another. They all speak English, and it is distinctly odd to encounter exotic-looking people who talk as if they are direct from Jolly Olde!
Andy and I criss-crossed the North Island in Mitzi, a two-door subcompact with 1000 cc's under the hood and the steering wheel on the wrong side; everywhere we went, the scenery was simply amazing. Below is some footage I took out of the window while traveling from Matamata, the center of sheep country, to Auckland, whose 1,300,000 people represents one-third of the total population of 4.3 million. The population may be small, but the countryside itself is deceptively large--and mountainous, which makes travel a little more time-consuming. Still, the roads are in good shape, and well-marked, except for certain symbol signs that neither of us were familiar with. This sometimes made it feel like a foreign country ...
Geological riches abounded. We saw the remnants of ancient basaltic lahars and rhyolitic domes; glacial features like eskers, moraines and drumlins ...
... lagoons, arches and stacks formed by pounding ocean waves ...
... moist subtropical rainforests ...
... rolling meadows spotted with sheep ...
... and even a geyser.
It is winter right now in the southern hemisphere, but temperatures on the North Island during the week were a pretty reasonable 8-10 C (46-52 F). However, it was windy pretty much all week, and rained on us off and on: the dolphin discovery tour we arranged for Friday morning was cancelled due to the downpours in Paihia, with little promise of improvement for the rescheduled booking on Saturday. Luckily, the clouds parted for a while, the sun came out, and this is what the Bay of Islands looked like during our island walk at about 11:30 on Saturday morning:
I took about 380 photos during the week I spent in NZ, and I expect I'll upload one-sixth to one-fifth of them over the next several days, along with my inimitable commentary. My traveling partner Andy will be uploading his photos and comments as well, over at the fine Literaryhero blog; but while he typed up his stuff on a daily basis for a blow-by-blow account, I will be organizing my reminiscences by topic. I will be pre-dating the posts and linking them below, so they will appear underneath this post which serves as an introduction. You can tell when a post is completed because the link will turn blue and be underlined. The topics I plan are something like this:
- Rotorua Geothermal Area
- Hobbiton, aka Matamata
- Bay of Islands
- Flora & Fauna
- Backpackers & Beer
- History & People & Stuff
Be that as it may, I'm sure you'd like a few more photos of the lovely land before I sign off, and I'd love to show you a few more. So, here is Andy in the Rotorua Domain, which is what we believe is Kiwi for city park, either interfering with a kinetic sculpture or playing on a new-fangled jungle gym. Either way, New Zealand is a well-developed nation that rates highly in quality of life and education, human development, literacy, and so forth:
Speaking of sculptures, here is one I liked outside the Rotorua Museum (more on that later), called 'Waitukei' by artist Lyonel Grant:
Below, two photos of very different bucolic scenes on the North Island:
After our boat ride, we were headed back to Auckland (for the third night) when the heavens smiled upon us in the form of a rainbow--as we drove along, we could almost see where it ended, just over the hedge: