NZ#1 - The trip begins

We are now back in Whangarei aboard Satori after 4,225 miles in three weeks time. We have been eager to start this message; however, it is quite a daunting task to write about such a gorgeous country and not bore all of you to tears. We actually got a little tired of topping a mountain and saying “Wow!” or “Ooooooh!” After much thought we have decided to break the message into six parts so that we can include the maximum number of photos.

The scenery from Lord of the Rings is not faked…the mountains, valleys and plains. It is AWESOME. We have not yet found the actual number of ‘scenic reserves’, National Parks and State Parks, but it must be a record for such a small country. Within each city there are also memorial parks and walkways. All of the treks (walkways) that we have experienced have been well marked and defined with the average walking time – from 15 minutes to days.

Punakaiki, on the West Coast of SI (South Island) represents one of the huge efforts of the Dept of Conservation (DOC). Here you will find limestone rocks that have layered and weathered with time to resemble an enormous layer of pancakes. The sea has carved large caverns beneath the rocks through which the surf explodes upwards during high tide. Clinging to the boulders are large colonies of dark kelp. As the surf moves backwards and forwards the kelp resembles hair lying on top of the sea. The DOC has done a brilliant job of building a walkway with rock wall sidings out to the area and wooden platforms to bring you close to the action (Photo #1). The cost for this marvelous entertainment is a contribution for the upkeep of the area.

South Island is a miniature amusement park in other ways. For the more daring among us, there is bungy-jumping from a suspension bridge 140’ off the river or 440’ from a gondola. All of this does not come cheaply…the cost about $100, but you get a (free) T-shirt to boast of your exploits. Add on white-water rafting, wind surfing, swimming with the dolphins, paragliding, parachuting and you have a multitude of activities to pump your adrenalin.

You can ride the jetboats down Shotover River coming within inches of the huge boulders and getting very wet. One of the most recent developments are actual mazes to wander and get lost in.

Yours truly would prefer the free botanical gardens and museums of the cities and the simple act of driving through the countryside. This is probably evident with the large number of miles we put on the odometer in such a short amount of time.

The part of our traveling way of life that we appreciate the most is the chance to make new friends and acquaintances along the way. Sometimes the meetings are the brief visits at the holiday parks over dinner. South Island seems to have become the vacation place for the world. The parks were usually full by dark and we found it necessary to make reservations ahead of time. In Dunedin at 5:15 PM a worker at the information site was amazed that we hoped to get any kind of accommodations for the night. He said the rush of tourists had gone on for the past two months. In the end we were very lucky to find a nice small home with backpacking accommodations…more on that later. South Island was not the rural empty wilderness that we had expected.

Perhaps one of the reasons is that it is one of the few places left in the world to visit that seems “safe”.

Last year about this time our brother-in-law, Tom Hamilton, was hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Kiwi fellow named John Craig. We called John when we got to Wellington and left a message for him that we were heading for the zoo and would try him later. Upon receiving the message, John came to look for us! He then drove us all around Wellington to see the best sites and off to Peter Jackson’s favorite restaurant – The Chocolate Frog for lunch. Peter Jackson is the (now legendary) director of Lord of the Rings. That night we had a lovely dinner in his home where we met his wife, Alison and mother-in-law, Marion. They insisted that we stay with them when we returned from South Island as well. If you think that is hospitality – he also insisted that we stay with his daughter and family in Christchurch on SI!

Photo #2 was taken atop Mt. Victoria in Wellington. John took us to see Peter Jackson’s home and many of the other interesting homes in this very hilly area. Some of the homes have small vernaculars built near their homes to facilitate entry and transport of goods. John assured us that if we were to knock on their doors and ask about the vernaculars, the people would most likely invite us to try them out. Kiwi hospitality is a marvel!

During the first few days of the trip we discovered the reason for the high cost of road tax in NZ. February had brought a record amount of rain to the country. Several of the main roads on North Island had been closed to traffic. We followed one of the closed roads and found that they were not covered with flood-water as expected, but had been covered with land from slides above the roads and/or had simply collapsed when the base beneath the road had washed away. As we continued around the islands we found very narrow roads cut into the hillside with the soil above the road exposed.

Sometime ferns have managed to take hold on these hillsides. See Photo #3 We can assure you that a straight and level road would always be a surprise for us. Sander built up his shoulder muscles with the practice of driving the curves. The second installment will show you just a sample of the beauty of South Island.