New Zealand…sweet as. 1

Important facts about New Zealand: It was the last land mass to be inhabited by humans.  The first settlers were called Maori and they arrived approximately 800 A.D. from various parts of Polynesia.  They named the country Aotearoa which translates to ‘The Land of The Long White Cloud’ which in my opinion was a perfect name as I never once saw a day without long white clouds.  The maori are still a big part of the country today and their traditions are woven throughout the country and culture.  The first European explorers came in 1642 but it was in 1769 when Captain James Cook arrived and “re-discovered” and mapped the islands.  It is apx the size of Great Britian yet has a diverse landscape including rainforest, glaciers, fiords, lakes, rivers, oceans, volcano, mountains… All activities revolve around the outdoors and throw in some type of thrilling twist or turn.  If you can dream up a way to scare the pants off of someone, rest assured it already exists in New Zealand.  Human Population apx 4.5 million.  Cow population apx 4.5 million.  Sheep apx 45 million.  The country is split into two islands (north and south) the north has about 3.5 million people, the south about a million.  The north is warmer than the south and the south island is about a 2 hour flight to Antarctica.  It leads the world in time zones as it is 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.  The country’s national icon is the Kiwi bird which is the strangest looking bird you’ve ever seen.  It has no arms or wings and it has a ridiculously long pointy beak.  The national sports are rugby and cricket.  Due to their location in the southern hemisphere their summer is during December – February and their winter is June – August.  However, it is not unlikely to experience four seasons in one day and if you ask a Kiwi what the weather will be like the next day, you’ll most likely here Fine.  They call flip flops jandals, a Bro is short for brother but used by men to address other men, the Bush means a forest, Choice means cool, sweet as means cool, no problem.  I fell in love with the country and the people of New Zealand.  Each person we had the opportunity to meet was relaxed, unworried, unrushed and quite knowledgeable about their country on a whole and the role they played in our journey.  I can understand why New Zealand was the last country to be discovered and still today, not many people travel there.  It is FAR from everywhere, except Australia.  And this is a good thing.  It was summer vacation in NZ and Christmas and there were very few times when we saw a crowd.  We were constantly asked where we were from because I think they are just so happy that people come so far to visit their home.  We felt welcomed and taken care of every day of our two week adventure.

Our vacation began in Coromandel which is on the North Island a few hours drive from Auckland.  This is an area where kiwis go on holiday.  It is known for its misty rainforests and pristine beaches, the perfect place to relax and unwind.  Our side by side tree houses were perched high up in the mountain surrounded by bush.  We started out the first day with a guided tour through flora and fauna with a stop at a natural hot sand beach.  Tom was worried that the kids would be bored and annoyed, but our guide Doug (Kiwi Dundee) made every leaf interesting, every tree exciting, every joke he told funny and every scary dark abandoned gold mine, even scarier.  It was pure magic.  After our introduction to the bush, we drove to the Auckland area for a tree top adventure.  About a half hour outside the “big” city, we arrived in a forest of very tall trees that had varying degrees of obstacle courses woven through the tree tops.  We were schooled in carabiners and safety ropes and after a ten minute how to, we were left on our own to scale trees ridiculously high.  There were pulleys and zip lines, steps, hops and jumps, spider webs and tree surfing.  It was mostly fun but sometimes scary.  The kids had a blast.  We spent the night in Auckland and had a beautiful dinner on the harbor in Auckland, the city of sails.  The following day we set off in our mini-van (our home away from home for the next two weeks) and drove to Waitomo which is known for caving adventures and glow worms. Our guides Chris, Elliot and Jimmy quickly explained the ins and outs of abseiling (which basically means to rope down).  We abseiled down a crack in the earth 330 feet to a roaring rapid cave filled with large boulders.  Once down, we walked through the cave (from the light into the dark) with our head lamps climbing up over and through large boulders, looking at glow worms that lit up the top of the cave.  At one point we stopped and our guides “played” with eel in the running river.  The eel actually played back.  At the end of our journey, we climbed a ladder 10 stories high to exit the cave (that part was not mentioned in the guide book).  It was a fabulous adventure.  From Waitomo we drove to Rotorua where we spent three days inhaling sulfur fumes.  Rotorua is steeped in Moari tradition and is practically one big volcanic town.  Wherever you go, things are erupting.  We saw a geyser go off, walked among really foul smelling sulfur pools and took a helicopter (my first!) to White Island, New Zealand’s only active marine volcano.  It took about 1/2 hour to fly out to the island and then you land on it.  The island is uninhabited and looks like something out of The Land of the Lost.  There are so many things erupting and spitting and steaming, they give you gas masks so you can breath.  Our guide told us the last time the volcano fully erupted was in 2000 so if things started to get active we should run for higher ground (not like that would help any).  It was really creepy walking around the island.  There used to be a small mining village on the island but it was wiped out during an eruption and you can see the remnants of the mining operation.  I was relieved when we got back on the helicopter but it was a unique experience.  We couldn’t imagine letting people visit something like that back in the U.S.  Too much liability.  Actually that statement applied to pretty much everything we did while in New Zealand.  While in Rotorua, Annie bungy jumped holding onto Thomas Jr. (she is 10) and we learned to fly (well, not really but we were blown into the air by a jet engine.)  We also fed farm animals, watched sheep sheering, experienced Maori culture and ate a traditional Hangi meal and rode the gondola and luge.  On Christmas morning after a champagne breakfast we went to the airport to fly to Christchurch.  There were about 10 people at the airport.  And no security.  And you could bring on all the wine you bought.  It was like the good old days.  An hour and half later the turbo prop plane landed in Christchurch.  After popping open christmas crackers and eating one of the worst meals of our trip we fell into bed, preparing for the next day’s adventure; swimming with Hector Dolphins.  Hector Dolphins are rare and only exist in New Zealand.  They are small and very playful.  Our boat trip took us about 30 minutes into the ocean, in a protective cove and when we spotted the dolphins, we hopped off the boat and let them swim around us.  We weren’t allowed to touch them or hang on, we just floated in our wetsuits and they swam around us.  It was a lovely, spontaneous activity.  They actually wanted to come and investigate us rather than the other way around.  Our guide told us it was our job to entertain them otherwise they would get bored and move on.  Too funny!  We left Christchurch the following day for a 4.5 hour train journey from the east coast of the south island to the west coast.  The train passes through rain forest and the southern alps and had an open air car attached on the front end.  It is billed as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world and it lived up to it.  Tom Sr spent most of the ride in the outdoor car, i had my side of the train to myself and the four kids shut the curtains as the glare was interfering with their watching dvds on their computer.

We arrived in Greymouth and got in our car and drove down to Franz Josef Glacier.  The town was small and reminded us of Windham, NY.  Basically the reason you were there was to climb the glacier which we did the next day.  Geared up with special coats, boots and crampons we started the long journey up the glacier.  The walk from the parking lot to the actual ice took about 45 minutes over large and small rocks.  When we finally arrived, it looked much taller and scarier than it appeared when we first started walking.  Our group was led by our guide Steve, a total bro with dreadlocks and a large ice pick.  He carefully made the journey up the glacier “safer” because I never really felt safe but it was an adventure that I am glad I had.  The kids thought it was a lot of work to climb a lot of ice but Tom and I loved it.  The next day we left Franz Josef and drove 6 hours down the south island to our final destination Queenstown.  The drive took us through the rainforest, up mountains, around curves, through valleys bypassing sheep, goats, cows, and reindeer.  We passed Fox Glacier and saw lakes so blue they looked fake.  Tom and I got out every chance we could to take photos and ooh and aah at the scenery.  The kids all stayed in the car.  They couldn’t believe we wanted to make a 6 hour drive even longer.  The resort we were booked into was called Millbrook and it was surrounded by the most beautiful golf course and snow covered mountains.  We had our own three bedroom house that had lavendar bushes growing everywhere.  The kids and i got in the habit of pulling off the leaves and rubbing them on our hands.  The smell was incredible.  Over the course of the next four days in queenstown, the three guys bungy jumped at AJ Hacket’s original Kawarau bridge, the family scared ourselves to death on the shotover jet boat, we took the gondola and raced each other on the luge, ate fergburgers (the best ever), played golf, ate lunch at amisfield winery, shopped, brought in the new year and spent new years day on the coach watching the college football bowl games on ESPN.  We loved New Zealand.  You should go. It’s sweet as…

One comment

  1. Liser:

    My mind is swimming with all the images you conjured up in your splendid narrative. OMG.
    New Zealand sounds like it is a little out of this world.
    I don’t know if you remember but when we all lived in the Lawrence Tai. Uncle Rogie and I
    became very friendly with Tami and Richie Wiener. Tami’s daughter is married and living
    in New Zealand. In fact Tami, who is remarried
    travels to New Zealnd on a bi-annual basis and thinks it is fabulous. All I can say is bungee jumping. Hmmm. Did you and Tom do it. How brave Annie and Tom Jr. are. what about Hayden and Sophie?? How far by plane is New Zealnd from Japan? Please let us know where Tom Jr. is accepted. Send our love and kisses to your family and you, of course.
    xoxo A.N.

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