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December 24, 2001  (Wellington, N.Z.)

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After spending the past few days in the Auckland suburb of Devonport getting ready for my two-month trip around New Zealand, I left Friday morning heading south.  I had made a reservation on the Inter-island ferry for Christmas Day, the only time that was available during the next two weeks, so I had only a few days to get down to Wellington and take the ferry down to the South Island.

 

My goal for that first evening was a town called Whakatane which sits on the Bay of Plenty, a large, crescent-shaped bay on the North Island named by Captain Cook back in the 1700s.  At first, I was pronouncing Whakatane as "Walk-a-tawny", but I soon learned that the letters "wh" in the Maori language are pronounced like "f."  Therefore, Whakatane is actually pronounced "Fock-a-tawny."  No giggling, please.

 

       

Above left:  After six days in Devonport/Auckland, I hit the road.  I like taking pictures of odd tourist attractions, such as this bottle of "L&P" (Lemon and Paeroa), a soft drink.  According to the tongue-in-cheek label, L&P is "Internationally famous in New Zealand."  It tastes like carbonated lemonade and it's pretty good.  I wish there was something like this in the U.S.

Above center:  And another bottle, also in the town of Paeroa.  This is about the size of the 7-11 "Big Gulps" I buy during my summer travels around the U.S.

Above right:  A "hotel" in New Zealand is actually a pub with inexpensive lodging upstairs.

 

  Left: With all the shops right next to each other on a few long blocks, small towns in New Zealand are a lot more interesting than small towns in America.      Left:  A swinging pedestrian bridge over the Karangahake Bridge, a gold-mining area in the late 1800s.

   

It's... KiwiFruit Country!

The major stop on my first day out of Auckland was at a place called "KiwiFruit Country" near the town of Te Puke (pronounced "ta pookey," not "tea puke").  KiwiFruit Country is a combination fruit orchard, museum, and amusement park, where for $5 you can feel foolish by riding around in a Kiwi-cart while learning about the kiwifruit.  This was definitely my kind of place.

 

As I discovered during the ride, kiwifruit originated in China and were first called gooseberries.  They flourished in New Zealand and came to be associated with this country, hence the name.  Although several other countries, including Chile and the U.S., now grow kiwifruit, New Zealand still exports more kiwifruit than other nation. 

 

I also learned the proper way to eat the darn things.  I had always tried peeling them, which never worked too well.  As I learned, though, it's easier just to slice them in half and eat them like little cantaloupe, scooping it out with a spoon.  That piece of advice alone was worth the $5.  Altogether, the admission price was definitely worth the KiwiFruit Country experience.

 

As we finished the interesting tour, I realized that I'm perhaps the only person in the world who has visited:

  •   The world's only Corn Palace (in Mitchell, South Dakota)

  •   The world's only Potato Exposition (in Blackfoot, Idaho)

  •   The world's only Vinegar Museum (in Roslyn, South Dakota), and now

  •   The world's only Kiwifruit Museum

Yeah, I know that's impressive, but I'm not going to get a swelled head over it. 

 

 

       

Above left:  Kiwifruit Country, a combination guided-tour-and-amusement-park, celebrating -- what else? -- kiwifruit.  I love visiting hokey-yet-informative places like this.  Maybe that's because I consider myself hokey-yet-informative.

Above center:  This is probably the world's largest kiwifruit.

Above right:  For $5, you get to take a tour in a Kiwi-cart.  Note how much they look like kiwifruits.  Yeah, I felt like an idiot... but at least they didn't make us wear little kiwifruit hats.

 

       

Above left:  Riding on the "exciting" Kiwi-cart.

Above center:  Our Kiwifruit guide knew more about Kiwifruit than anyone I've ever known... poor guy.

Above right:  And here's "The Kiwi That Ate Auckland."

 

       

Above left:  The girl on the left is just hanging around (har, har).  Actually, it's a mannequin dressed up as a fruit picker.  A lot of college-age kids visit New Zealand in the fall (May-June) to pick kiwifruit and earn their way around the country. 

Above center:  "Mr. Kiwifruit" again, demonstrating how the fruit is sorted.  I think he got a little irritated at me always taking pictures of him.  Little did he realize that he's now permanently recorded in my website for thousands to gawk at.  Buwahahahaha...

Above right:  The picking season doesn't start for another few months, so the packing plant was deserted.  In a few months, though, this place will really be hopping.

 

The Amazing White Island

I finally reached Whakatane (remember, no giggling) late that afternoon and checked in to the pleasant Nau Mai motel.  Nau Mai is Maori for "welcome" and true to its name, the proprietor, a genial fellow named Rod, made me feel quite at home.  After I asked about the next day's boat ride to White Island, Rod even booked me a reservation for it.  As I'm learning, this is how most New Zealanders are, although I think a lot of people are especially friendly towards me since I'm traveling alone.  

 

This was my first night in a New Zealand motel, most of which are "self-contained" with a full kitchen, refrigerator, dinnerware, and small appliances like a toaster, blender, and coffee-maker.  In the U.S., you're lucky to get a microwave in a motel room, let alone plates and utensils.  After Rod gave me the key to my room, he also handed me a small bottle of milk.  I was a bit puzzled with this odd housewarming gift, but I learned this was customary when you get a room in a New Zealand motel.  The milk, as I discovered, is for your tea, which, of course, lost its popularity in the U.S. a few centuries ago after the Boston Tea Party.

 

Here's Jimmy Buffett singing Volcano.

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I got up early the next day, drank my bottle of milk, and got ready for a six-hour tour of White Island, a volcanic island which lies about 20 miles offshore.  White Island is the most volcanic place in New Zealand and the only way to get there is by permitted boat tour or, for an extra $100, by helicopter.  Needless to say, considering my Spartan budget, I opted for the boat ride.  After arriving at the dock, I paid Jenny, the pleasant young woman in the office, my $40 fee.  A moment later, she handed me a long release form and, with a smile, asked me to read it and sign at the bottom.  As I was scanning down the lengthy form, I asked Jenny about potential hazards.  "Oh, don't worry," she cheerfully replied, "there haven't been any eruptions on White Island for three months."  Jeez, that was reassuring.  

 

About an hour later, around noon, about 30 of us boarded the 60-foot boat, "PeeJay,"  then we rode for two hours across the warm and sunny Bay of Plenty until we reached the island.  During the pleasant, bouncy ride, I became a bit more apprehensive when our guides handed out hard hats and gas masks.  I was really starting to wonder about this trip.  Finally we approached the island and the PeeJay dropped anchor in a protected cove a few hundred yards offshore.  Soon afterwards our group took the Zodiac raft ashore, where we spent a few hours hiking around.  

 

White Island is about two miles across and is totally uninhabited -- indeed, it's a hostile place for any living creature.  A small volcano in the middle of the island constantly belches clouds of sulfur making it pretty difficult to breathe.  Oh yeah, it smells pretty bad, too. 

 

Although the fumes were intense at times, I fortunately didn't need to use the gas mask.  However, after walking around the island for an hour and strolling up to the edge of the crater, I could taste a sulfuric crust starting to build up on my lips, which reminded me a bit of my homemade pizza (a tip -- don't ever eat my homemade pizza).  On the way back to the beach, we passed several steaming vents and walked through a warm, acidic stream a few inches deep which, as the helpful tour guide pointed out after we crossed it, will eat the rubber off your boots.  As utterly fascinating as the island was, it was good to get back on the PeeJay again.  

 

On the boat ride back to Whakatane, I was thinking about the health of the young tour guides, because they come out here twice each day.  When I asked one of the young women guides about it, she said that she wasn't bothered at all by the sulfurous fumes.  However, after I thought about it, maybe that's not a good sign.  I just hope they're making good money, because I definitely wouldn't want to visit White Island every day. 

 

In any event, White Island is one of the most fascinating places I've ever been to in my entire life and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who's interested in volcanoes.  Or losing their lungs.

 

       

Above left:  Saturday morning in Whakatane. 

Above center:  Boarding the PeeJay for an all-day trip out to White Island. 

Above right:  Once on board, they handed out gas masks and hard hats.  Yikes!

 

       

Above left:  After a couple hours, we anchored.  Then we hopped in a Zodiac and rode ashore.

Above center:  That's not fog... that's steam from a volcano.

Above right:  The view from the beach.  White Island is about 20 miles offshore and is the most active volcano in New Zealand.

 

       

Above left:  Our first stop was a sulfur factory that operated until the early 1900s, when several men here were killed by an eruption (obviously, pre-OSHA).  We got a lesson here from our guide on how to use our gas masks.  

Above center:  As we hiked closer to the volcano, it got harder to breathe.  The whole island smells like rotten eggs from all the hydrogen sulfide.

Above right:  I licked my lips here and tasted sulfur.  This is a nasty place and I don't think I'd want to be a tour guide coming out here twice a day.  The island was totally fascinating, though.

 

       

Above left:  The fishing here is pretty marginal.

Above center:  Hiking down one of the stream beds...

Above right:  ...and crossing a stream.  Don't worry about your shoes -- it's just sulfuric acid.

 

       

Above left:  As we returned to the ship, I realized that this island is probably what the Earth looked like (and smelled like) a billion years ago.

Above center:  Rafting back to the PeeJay.

Above right:  A warm, windy ride back to Whakatane.  So long to the amazing White Island.

 

Christmas (?) in Wellington

After my lungs recovered from White Island, I drove on the next day to Gisborne ("Gis-bun," as Kiwis call it) which sits on the eastern coast of New Zealand.  Considering its proximity to the International Date Line, Gisborne is the easternmost city in the world and is the first city in the world to see the sunrise.  There are towns closer to the International Date Line, like in Tonga, but Gisborne is the easternmost "city," I guess. 

 

Here's my favorite group, guitarist Eric Tingstad & oboeist Nancy Rumbel, playing my favorite Christmas carol, Away In A Manger.

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Gisborne was also where Captain James Cook first landed in New Zealand in 1769 and, through a misunderstanding, clashed with local Maoris and killed six of them.  Deciding there weren't enough provisions in this area to replenish his supplies, Cook left, calling this area "Poverty Bay" -- and with this unappealing appellation forever incurred the wrath of future realtors.  I was looking forward to seeing the statue of James Cook here but was saddened to find it defaced.  Apparently even after 200 years, Cook still isn't very popular here among the local Maoris.

 

After eating a brief lunch of cheese, salami and crackers in a park along Poverty Bay, I hit the road again and pulled into the quaint town of Hastings that afternoon.  I was going to camp in the large campground near the center of town, but after driving around it for a while, I figured that it looked pretty crowded so I decided to settle for a motel instead and began flipping through my Automobile Association motel guidebook.  I got the guidebook in Auckland and it's quickly becoming my most valuable resource, along with my Lonely Planet Guide to New Zealand.  These two books are "Must-Haves" for anyone traveling through New Zealand.  

 

 

Above:  Highway 2, south of Whakatane.

 

A few minutes later, thanks to the AA Guidebook, I found a pleasant motel on the outskirts of town with a nice room for only US$21, self-contained, as usual, with refrigerator, stove, plates and everything else.  Such a bargain, huh?  After getting checked in and chatting with the friendly owner, I headed down to the local New World, which is one of the major grocery chains in New Zealand.  New World is also the name of one of my favorite albums (by Karla Bonoff), but that's another story.  Another big grocery store chain here is called Woolworth's, which is interesting since Woolworth's is, of course, a chain of drug stores in the U.S. 

 

As I'm discovering, New Zealand towns either have very English-sounding names, like Hastings, or very Maori-sounding names... and not much in between.  I've been cracking up during the last few days, because for some reason I can never remember the names of the Maori-sounding towns that I've passed through.  "Let's see, that town I drove through yesterday... was that Ranga-rapa-nui-roa?  No, it was Roa-papa-rapa-nui.  No wait, it was Rapa-papa-ranga-nui."  Oh well, I'm just a dumb American so they all sound the same to me. 

 

Speaking of place names, I never worked up the courage to try this real Maori tongue-twister:  Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu.  It's a hilltop north of Wellington which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the longest place name in the world.  Having only six letters in my entire name, I found this lengthy appellation quite fascinating.  The translation is something like: "The hilltop, where Tamatea with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveler over land and sea, played his koauau to his beloved."  When a friendly Kiwi told me what it meant, he didn't get past the part about Tamatea having big knees before I started cracking up, so don't even ask me what a "koauau" is. 

 

{Note:  After posting this update, I received an e-mail from an astute reader named Eric West.  Eric politely informed me that, and I quote, "a koauau is a Nose Flute, or a Maori instrument made of bone, which is played by exhaling through the nose across holes in the bone, somewhat like a 'nasal Pan Pipe.' " Thanks for letting me know, Eric -- I think.  Unfortunately, Eric was not able to explain why Tamatea had such big knees.}

 

After chatting a bit the next morning with the motel owner, followed by a quick stop at the Hastings K-Mart for more supplies, I continued heading south towards Wellington, navigating the narrow, twisting mountainous roadways at 80 k.p.h. and feeling fortunate that I wasn't driving anything longer than a Corolla.  I pulled into Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, late that balmy Christmas Eve afternoon and checked into the empty Portland Hotel where I got a room on the top floor overlooking the city.  I figured the Portland Hotel would be a good place to spend Christmas Eve, since I've spent many Christmases in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.  However, after walking into my room, I quickly decided that I preferred the small, family-run motels in New Zealand to large hotels.  

 

I celebrated Christmas Eve that night in my hotel room while catching up on e-mail, just me and my complimentary bottle of milk.  This was the first Christmas that I'd spent alone, but it really wasn't that bad, though, because with the balmy weather and sunshine, it really didn't feel like I'd missed anything.  Still, I didn't want to turn on the radio that night and listen to Christmas music because it probably would've reminded me of things back home.

 

       

Above left:  Roadside flowers.

Above center:  After driving for a few hours, I reached Gisborne, the easternmost city in the world and the first city to see the sunrise each day.  It was also Captain James Cook's first landfall in New Zealand during his exploration in the 1760s.

Above right:  I was saddened to see the James Cook statue defaced.  For obvious reasons, I guess, Cook isn't real popular among some Maoris.

 

       

Above left:  Holiday Greetings in Hastings.  However, with the 80-degree temperatures and everyone wearing shorts, it felt more like the Fourth of July than Christmas.

Above center:  The roads in New Zealand are pretty narrow and winding -- definitely not a good place to drive an RV.

Above right Spending Christmas Eve in Portland... the Portland Hotel, that is, in Wellington. 

 

 

Next News

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

 

Previous News

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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