A Travellerspoint blog

February 2016

Crossing the Cook Strait Circa 1845

How it might have been

semi-overcast 20 °C

A fearsome tempest swept past us in the night and we received word that as much as eighteen inches of rain had fallen over our destination of Nelson on New Zealand’s South Island. The sea looked foul as we readied to board our vessel – the good ship Kaitaki – and we contemplated retreating to our comfortable lodgings in Wellington…
’Tis barely conceivable that souls could survive is such conditions, but almost as soon as the mainsail was hoisted the weather began to improve. With a backwards glance as we cast off from Wellington quay we spied a great schooner under a leaden sky and wondered at the privations those poor passengers must have suffered being transported in such appalling conditions…
Many a sound vessel has foundered in The Cook Strait twixt the north and south islands of New Zealand so, as we left the shelter of Wellington harbour, we were relieved to find that the wind had abated and the waves declined. We were barely two hours out under a cloudless sky when the lookout cried “Land Ho!” and passengers flocked to the rails for a glimpse of the new land…
The previously cramped and claustrophobic areas below decks were suddenly deserted…
And the flocks of sheep held in wagons midst the carriages on deck ceased their pitiful baa-ings as they smelt the sweet pastures of their new home…

After two weeks of hard tack and boiled mutton on the North Island we were anxious to get ashore and try the local seafood which, we are assured, is some of the finest in the Empire. First we travelled overland to Nelson to give thanks at the great cathedral which is being built atop a hill…
Nelson is a most delightful town with many parks and gardens and already numerous traders have built attractive stores on its wide boulevards…

Ah! If only those poor souls in 1845 had the luxuries of today.
(P.S. Lest you are concerned - so far we have dodged 3 earthquakes and a typhoon in New Zealand, but can we avoid the rain on the notoriously wet west coast)

Posted by Hawkson 21:22 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

Island Highlights

overcast 24 °C

A highlight of any trip to the South Pacific is the star studded view of the Southern Cross against a cloudless black sky…
Impressive eh! But hold onto your moas for a minute. Let’s have a closer look at those twinklers…
Yup – those aren’t stars at all. They are a smattering of the fascinating glow worms that live in the caves of Waitomo near Hamilton. According to Kyle, our knowledgeable guide in the Footwhistle caves, glow worms aren’t worms at all: they are devious little critters that live on the roof of the caverns and know that when fly larvae hatch in the subterranean rivers the young flies are genetically programmed to fly high into the night sky. So, the glow worms put on a celestial light show overhead and lure their victims into a deadly curtain loaded with sticky droplets of venom…
Glow worms aren’t the only ones putting on the lights in New Zealand. Thousands of Chinese lanterns will be lighting up the trees in the Domain in Auckland this weekend. Unfortunately we won’t be there for the event but we were lucky enough to witness the preparations. This Morton Bay fig tree was a masterpiece without the lanterns…
Auckland is big in New Zealand terms. It only has one and half million people but that’s a third of the entire population. Like Vancouver, Auckland is a new city with few buildings a hundred or more years old. This is the old Custom’s House on the quay...
Auckland is the hub of New Zealand. All roads, ferries, flights and cruises land here.
But, as one New Zealand taxi driver put it: the best thing about Auckland is the road south to Wellington – if you can get through the traffic jams.
We didn’t drive to Wellington, we flew. But we could see what he meant as we drove to Auckland airport.
Wellington, (a.k.a Windy Wellington), is the capital of New Zealand and an altogether more laid back city of just 200,000. The slow ride to the botanical gardens in the cable car is a treat…
….and the gardens themselves are a treasure of native and imported flora and fauna.

The islands making up New Zealand are very new in geological terms – less than 500 million years – and because it is so far from the nearest land it evolved a unique ecosystem. Only one mammal… a small bat; and one tree…the kauri, were here before European settlers came in 1839. New Zealand has the perfect conditions for all manner of temperate plants and trees and today its primary export is timber. Here in Wellington we’ve had time to smell the roses…
Now we are heading south across the Cook Strait to the South Island of New Zealand. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 18:18 Archived in New Zealand Comments (6)

Visions of Hell in Wai-O-Tapu

semi-overcast 27 °C

Picture an Old Testament image of hell where the landscape is dotted with giant cauldrons of boiling mud awaiting the souls of the unrepentant …
Where a single mortal sin will condemn unbelievers to eternity in a lake of sulphuric acid …
Where a sinner faces eternal perdition floating in a pool of scalding water laced with arsenic…
And where simple blasphemers can be cleansed of their transgressions in a lake of boiling water bubbling with noxious gasses…
But this is New Zealand - Aotearoa to the Maoris – and there are no sinners here. The Kiwis are fine upstanding God-fearing people who are very good at sailing, cricket and rugby (amongst other things), and they have no use for the instruments of the Lord’s wrath. Fortunately, Rotorua in the centre of North Island is not hell, but it has been a tourism hotspot (no pun intended) since the Duke of Edinburgh visited in 1870. (Not Phil the current D of E – even he’s not that old). The colours of the numerous pools are simply mesmerising…
This surreal place is the active geothermal caldera of a giant volcano that violently erupted some 26,000 years ago. It was the most violent eruption on earth in the past 70,000 years

While the main volcano may have blown itself to smithereens it has left a crater where the earth’s crust is only a few kilometres thick. Intense heat from the earth’s core boils the water in the underground aquifers and, with a little persuasion from a park guard, the Lady Constance Knox geyser blows off steam at precisely 10.15 am every day…
Tourists flock from all over the world to see the phenomena as superheated water is shot sixty feet or more into the air.
The Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland offers a truly unnatural natural palette – it is a paintbox for surrealist artists. Even the silver fern – New Zealand’s iconic plant – grows here…

Posted by Hawkson 01:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (5)

Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud

sunny 30 °C

In the past week we have driven well over a thousand kilometres and have arrived in the centre of the North Island - known as the Land of the Long White Cloud by the Maoris. We are staying by New Zealand’s largest lake – the pristine Lake Taupo – where we took a cruise on this replica steamboat…
Driving in New Zealand is easy. Most motorists are courteous if not downright cautious – although these may be foreigners unused to driving on the left or scared of the many roundabouts, (which James loves). However the roads are generally quite narrow.
If the Canadians, Romans and Sicilians had built New Zealand’s roads they would be wide, straight and peppered with tunnels and bridges – but they didn’t and they aren’t. New Zealand must hold the record for the world’s twistiest switchback highways – no hill is too small to weave around and no mountain too high to climb. The roads are well marked, but there are unusual signs like: “Report falls, slips and spillage.” Another sign saying “Watch For Kiwis” could refer to either locals, birds or fruit, however we are sure that “New seal” means that it has recently been re-surfaced and has nothing to do with a cuddly young seal pup.
This is the famous Huka Falls at Taupo…
The Lake Taupo shoreline is a favourite holiday area for locals and foreigners alike and is very similar to the lakeside resorts in central British Columbia. In fact, West Coast Canadians will find little here that is unusual. The houses are largely timber framed with wood siding, (albeit predominantly single story), and while prices fluctuate due to age, condition and location, it seems to us that they are less expensive here. However, lakeshore properties with sunset views like this aren’t cheap…
Logging is a major industry along with fishing; power is produced by hydro dams, (together with geothermal generators); pretty much all the goods in the stores are instantly recognisable, even if some of the brands are different. However, we’ve never seen a Canadian store giving free fruit to keep the kids quiet while mum shops…
Prices here are quite similar to Canada in general, although books are probably twice the price as is gas (petrol). At nearly 2 dollars a litre it is closer to European price.
Some tourist attractions seem to be expensive. On the other hand, prices include taxes, car parking, toilets and, sometimes, even drinks and cookies. The Mountains of the Moon park at Taupo cost only $8 each and gave us our first close up look at the active fumaroles that spew superheated sulphurous steam. ..
Next stop: Rotorua to wallow in the natural hot baths.

Posted by Hawkson 23:42 Archived in New Zealand Comments (8)

It’s a Green, Green, Green, Green World

semi-overcast 27 °C

We recently visited the onetime home of English captain James Cook in Whitby, Yorkshire, and have now tracked his voyage to the ends of the earth – to Gisborne, New Zealand, where he first landed in 1769. His statue on the promenade commemorates that event…
Cook and his men understandably mistook the fearsome Maori greeting, (the Haka), as aggression and killed one of the welcoming party. Cook’s sailors then fled fearing an attack and named the place Poverty Bay because they were unable to replenish their stores. Somewhat strangely, Canada celebrated this inauspicious event on the 200th anniversary by erecting this ‘Indian’ (sic) totem pole near the landing place...
The James Cook observatory which overlooks Gisborne harbour is one of the first places to greet the rising sun each day and Queen Elizabeth II has twice visited the observatory during her reign…
However, they wouldn’t let us mere mortals in because the building fails to comply with the latest earthquake codes. (We bet they’d let Liz in if she came back).

The warm sunshine, moist South Pacific winds and volcanic soil makes this land one of the most fertile places in the world and we have never seen such a varied agriculture anywhere. In addition to the ubiquitous kiwi fruit, there are orchards of oranges, lemons, tangerines, peaches, plums, apples and pears. There are vineyards galore producing world class wines, and there are fields of corn, tomatoes, cauliflowers, potatoes and all manner of vegetables.
Trees and plants from all over the globe flourish here and many can be seen at the national arboretum in Ngatapa…
Huge flocks of sheep and herds of cattle graze the lush pastures (and frequently wander
onto the roads) and it is a treat to have fabulous local lamb and delicious cheese at a fraction of the price we pay at home. There is also an abundance of fresh seafood and green-lipped mussels are a speciality. They are sold in Canada but never like this…
We could only manage four monstrous mussels apiece – but that was enough reason to visit New Zealand on its own.

Green is the predominant colour in New Zealand. With only four and half million people in a country bigger than Great Britain it is not surprising that we can drive for hours without seeing more than a handful of people. The cities are small, the towns are tiny and rural communities are just a few scattered farms – the rest is just a field of green as far as the eye can see. Even the sea is a perfect shade of turquoise in Hawke’s Bay at Napier…
Next time on Blissful Adventures - New Zealand's famous volcanic geysers. Congratulations to Samchow who knew that folks dig into the sand at Hot Water Beach at low tide to reach the hotsprings.

Posted by Hawkson 00:44 Archived in New Zealand Comments (6)

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