San Francisco to Auckland was a 12 hour flight. We landed on the North Island where the botanical gardens were of primary interest and the the main ones in Auckland and Wellington were both beautiful and informative. Then there was the natural beauty, oh my. Think of the most beautiful place you know and then add ferns — little ones, BIG ones, tree ferns, silver ferns, black ferns . . .
Too much greenery? Add New Zealand Christmas trees with red flowers on top, and enormous rhododendrons.
Drape the hillsides in jasmine, nasturtiums, lupines, and cineraria gone wild. There were subtropical plants in the same photo as snow capped mountains. Some trees couldn’t be identified because there were so many other species growing in their limbs. And in the background, fantastic bird calls. The trees were full of birdsong and some birds even came to their call on the iPad. Cheap thrills!!
More Wildlife? Indeed.
We saw orca whales, fur seals, dolphins, eels, wild parrots, glowworms . . . We did not see a kiwi. It turns out they are rare and endangered, a flightless bird threatened by almost every mammal that has been introduced to New Zealand: dogs (“Shot on Sight”), cats, rats, possums, weasels . . . and there is a huge effort underway to eliminate the predators and reintroduce declining bird-life. On a zip-line tour of a forest canopy we were introduced to efforts to prevent extinction of native birds by rodents. We were shown a very effective CO2 powered trap that Tony now lusts . . .
Seagulls were protected . . . although cafes provided self-defense.
The architecture suited and expanded our contemporary taste.
We stayed in some beautiful, architecturally significant B&B’s at the price of a Holiday Inn, with hosts that felt like friends. They enthusiastically shared their local knowledge by emails even before we arrived. Gail cooked a lamb dinner, Paik made us green-lipped mussels, Angie spoiled us with fabulous breakfasts. Woody took us out on his boat to empty his rock lobster traps and Rose cooked the lobsters for our dinner.
The population looked fit (we only saw one person with a cigarette), quick with a smile, and generally gave eye-contact and a ‘G-day’ to us. The food was more varied than California (seafood, shellfish, venison, lamb and pork belly too). Springtime fresh fruits and veggies more diverse than typical of California restaurants, and also colorfully and generously garnished, picture-worthy.
More diversity? Maori culture.
The Maoris are active in tourism opening historical villages and glowworm caves, for example, cooking traditional feasts, selling carvings and weavings. They seem to have been treated correctly from the beginning with land disputes settled by treaty and payment. Attempts to integrate them into schooling are sometimes veering back toward separate schools and language, with either choice being acceptable.
We declared the Bay of Islands the ideal place to live and New Zealand the cleanest country we ever visited, and the most civilized. One of the most curious aspects of our adventure was pondering the differences between people in New Zealand and people in California. We decided over many coffee lattes and a few beers/wines that New Zealand people seem to treat each other and their surroundings with more respect than we observe at home. What that says about people in the US, we are still debating.
A major observation in comparison to California is the preponderance of “Public Spaces“. Town budgets allocate plentiful spaces enjoyed by all generations that are well maintained and considerate of needs. These include elaborate playgrounds and skateboard ramps, hi-tech sealed stainless steel BBQs, bowling greens, racetracks, walking trails, and obvious public toilets (with extra toilet paper) exactly where they should be when they were needed, e.g., in every town and park; next to a few parking spaces on a remote road leading to the largest kauri tree; and on a hiking trail, halfway up a mountain. Civilized.
Beautiful beaches, snow-capped mountains, fern laden hillsides, waterfalls… oh yes, volcanoes and thermal springs — bubbling steaming, nasty smelling mud pools but also crystalline blue bathing pools. We stayed in Rotorua where the motel pool was subterranean-heated to 95 degrees, naturally. We went to volcanic Hanmer Springs with its assortment of pools of varying degrees of warmth and by the way, a waterslide. We 70 year-olds elbowed our way up the platform among the kids, and whizzed down and up and around and dropped into the pool at the bottom. Then we picked the shortest line and did it again. That tunnel was DARK inside and way faster, out of control, and scary! It dunked us, splashed water up our noses, and ejected us at the end coughing and spluttering and laughing.
Bungee jumping? No…
We ran out of time and did not get to the glaciers or the rain forest or Milford Sound or Queenstown or Dunedin or …
maybe we will go again someday.