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February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

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My Last Days in New Zealand

In my last entry, I had just arrived in the pleasant tourist town of Taupo in the central part of the North Island.  I spent most of Saturday in Taupo working on my website and that evening watched television as the New Zealand "Black Caps" lost to South Africa in cricket. 


It seems that all of the New Zealand national teams contain the word "Black," a tradition that apparently got started with their national Rugby team, the "All Blacks" (so-named for the color of their jerseys).  Rooting for New Zealand Black Caps in cricket is a bit like rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers in baseball... or rooting for Brooklyn back when they had a team.  The Black Caps are perennial losers against stronger teams like South Africa and Australia but they have a lot of class and character.  Besides, I always like pulling for the underdog. 


This area is the most volcanic region in New Zealand, so after leaving Taupo Sunday morning I checked out a few geothermal areas.  With all the mud pots, geysers, and fumaroles here, this area is similar to Yellowstone National Park and is about the same size.  The major difference, though, is that each little geothermic area is privately owned and charges its own admission, so your wallet starts taking a hit after a while.  


After leaving Taupo, I stopped at a place called "Craters of the Moon" and, while the numerous steam vents weren't that impressive and although it's much smaller than the like-named National Park in Idaho, at least it was free.  After that, I headed on to Hidden Springs which received rave reviews in my Lonely Planet guidebook.  The colorful geysers and mud pots were interesting but, at US$8, it was also pretty expensive by New Zealand standards.  Still, I thought it was interesting and I'm glad I saw it.  If you want a real volcanic experience, though, go to Whakatane, fork over US$40, and ride out to White Island (see News: December 24, 2001).  


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Above left:  Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand, in the volcanic highlands of the North Island.

Above center:  At Hidden Springs, you ride a boat across the Waikato River to visit the geysers.

Above right:  Geothermal formations at Hidden Springs.  This place is kind of like the Mammoth area of Yellowstone.


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Above left:  Bubbling pools at Hidden Springs.

Above center:  Back on the highway, this is quite possibly the world's largest dog... and tongue.  

Above right:  Back in Auckland after driving around New Zealand for two months.  This is Waiake Beach on a Sunday evening.


The Super Bowl:  New Zealand Style

I got back to Auckland Sunday afternoon after a congested 3-hour drive from Taupo and got a motel room north of Auckland where I spent that evening packing up.  My plane for Sydney didn't leave until Thursday, but I wanted to get packed up and ready to go a few days early so I could spend some time visiting the northern tip of New Zealand called, not surprisingly, The Northland.  I stayed in the motel room the next day, as well -- which happened to be Super Bowl Sunday (or, because of the time difference, "Super Bowl Monday" in New Zealand) so I watched the Patriots beat the Rams Monday afternoon while packing two big boxes of camping gear to send off to Sydney and another box to send back to the U.S.  


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Left:  In an Auckland motel room, packing up for my trip to Australia and watching the Super Bowl.  They didn't show any commercials, though, darn it.


Unfortunately, as I discovered, New Zealand television stations broadcast only the "European Version" of the Super Bowl.  They're the same video feeds as the American version, but they use a couple of second-rate American announcers and some hyperactive Scottish guy  (folks in Europe apparently understand football better if it's translated by a guy who sounds like Scotty from "Star Trek.") 


Throughout the game, the announcers painstakingly described many of the game's intricacies, such as the subtle difference between "Holding" and a "First Down," since football is, I'm sure, a mystifying sport in Europe, just as cricket is in America.  The biggest disappointment, though, was that they didn't show any commercials -- undoubtedly the best part of any Super Bowl broadcast.  Frankly, without the commercials the game was pretty bland, despite both the close score and the sputterings of the lone Scotsman:  "Captain, the Patriots have lost their dilithium crystals!  They can't take much more of this!" 


Despite the announcers, it actually turned out to be a pretty good game, which is unusual for a Super Bowl.  Still, though, it just wasn't the same without the ads.


Dashing Through the Northland

I headed out of Auckland the next morning and spent the next few days exploring the Northland.  There are some pretty amazing places in the Northland, including the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga, and I really wished that I had more time to spend here.  At first, I wasn't sure if I wanted to drive all the way up to Cape Reinga on the northernmost tip of New Zealand, especially since the last 20 miles of the drive were on a dirt road, which my car wasn't insured on.  However, since I had driven to the southernmost tip at Bluff four weeks earlier, I figured I better make it up to Cape Reinga, as well.  I'm glad I did, too, because this is one of the most spectacular parts of the country.  Standing by the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, you really feel like you're at the end of the world.


On my way back to Auckland that afternoon, I dropped by the town of Waitangi, one of the oldest European settlements in New Zealand.  As luck would have it, this was February 6, also known as Waitangi Day, New Zealand's national holiday and similar to the 4th of July in the U.S.  As I discovered, being in Waitangi on Waitangi Day is a bit like being in Philadelphia on Independence Day, or in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day.


I've already touched on the Maori situation in New Zealand, but I'll fill in some of the details here.  On February 6, 1840, the English and the Maoris signed a treaty in Waitangi bringing the Maoris under the protection of the English.  By signing the treaty, the Maoris didn't give up any land, but they did allow English agents to act as intermediaries to buy land from the Maoris and then sell it to English colonists -- not at all like the land-grabs that took place in North America between the American settlers and Native Americans. 


In general, the relationship between the Maoris and the whites was (and is) much smoother than the situation in American between whites and Native Americans.  Overall, one of the things I've been impressed with in New Zealand is how much better the native tribes have assimilated into the white culture compared to how Native Americans have been treated in the U.S.  Maybe "co-exist" is a better word than "assimilate" though, since, although more evident in the north than in the south, the Maori culture is very strong throughout New Zealand and Maoris are treated much more as equals than Native Americans are in the U.S.


After driving over 500 kilometers (300 miles) that day on narrow, winding roads out to Cape Reinga and down to Waitangi, my one-hour drive to the Auckland airport the next morning was downright leisurely.  I filled up the Corolla's tank and dropped the car off with Sigit at Easy Rental who was happy to see me, and his car, back in one piece.  After we had a nice chat, Sigit drove me out to the airport where I said goodbye and bade farewell to the trusty Corolla, which had carried me 8,000 kilometers around New Zealand without a lick of trouble.  Sigit's a good guy, he runs an efficient company, and if you want to rent a mid-1990s car in New Zealand for a few weeks or a few months at a much better rate than you can get from Hertz or Avis, I'd recommend contacting him at www.easyrental.co.nz  

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Above left:  Heading through the Northland (the peninsula north of Auckland) the next day.  This is near Dargaville.

Above right:  Check out the license plate:  "Dels V8".


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Above left:  Typical vista in the Northland.

Above center:  Heading up to Cape Reinga, near the end of Highway 1.  

Above right:  Looking west from Cape Reinga, the northernmost point in New Zealand.  That's the westernmost point in New Zealand off in the distance.


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Above left:  The lighthouse at Cape Reinga, on a beautiful, windy afternoon.

Above center:  The signpost at Cape Reinga, and as far north as you can go in New Zealand.  I've now been to the northernmost and southernmost points of the country.

Above right:  Cable Bay near Kaitaia.



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Above left:  I visited the Bay of Islands and Waitangi on Waitangi Day, New Zealand's national day.  There were LOTS of people there, including New Zealand's very capable Prime Minister, Helen Clarke.

Above center:  Filling up my Corolla in Auckland, just before I flew to Sydney.  My faithful friend carried me over 5,000 miles to all parts of New Zealand without any problems. 

Above right:  At the Auckland Airport, waiting for my flight to Sydney.


Putting It All Together

While waiting in the Auckland airport for my plane to Sydney, I thought about my two-month trip through New Zealand.  Although it was pretty rainy during my first month there and was pretty darn crowded up until late January, I had a good time overall and I'm really glad I saw the country.  I did a lot of driving and saw a lot of the country, having visited every large city in New Zealand and every town with more than about 10,000 people.


Here are some trip stats:

  • Days Traveled:  53

  • Miles Traveled:  5,523

  • Geographic Extremes Visited:  Northernmost point, westernmost point, southernmost point, easternmost city. 

  • Kiwis Seen:  0 (well, o.k., one stuffed one in a museum)

  • Sheep Seen:  Countless

The trip was more than statistics, though, because despite the rain and all the crowds that I dealt with, I met a lot of really terrific people.  I've said it before but I think New Zealanders are, for the most part, the friendliest folks I've ever met.  They're more courteous, honest, and trusting than most Americans.  They're also more naive -- but in a good way, perhaps the way Americans were 30 or 40 years ago before they got so damned rude and suspicious. 


Not every person here greeted me with a smile and a handshake, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of rude Kiwis I ran into during my two months there -- even if my hand were missing three fingers.  And during all my travels, I encountered only one rude driver:  a bumper-riding truck driver north of Auckland.  Looking back on my trip through New Zealand, I'd say without a doubt that the best part of it was meeting the people, even more than eating the fish and chips!  Even though I was 8,000 miles from the U.S., just about every Kiwi I met during these past two months made me feel like I was home.


I also saw a lot of amazing places.  Trying to describe New Zealand to someone who has never been there is difficult, but I'll give it a shot.  As I've said many times, the scenic variety in New Zealand is incredible and there isn't any single state in the U.S. that New Zealand can be compared to.  If I had to choose, though, I'd say that in terms of vegetation, climate, culture, attitude, and geography, New Zealand is like a combination of Oregon and Hawaii.  It's not like Oregon and it's not like Hawaii, but it's somewhere in between.  As I've said before, though, you also have to throw in parts of Alaska, California, and the Midwest.


Although New Zealand is only as large as Oregon, it seems much bigger because of the variety of scenery and because of the narrow, winding roads, which makes any trip long and slow.  Believe me, you can't see all of New Zealand in a few weeks -- or even in a couple of months.  I know because I tried, and as much territory as I covered (over 5,000 miles worth), I still don't feel that I saw it all. 


The number of activities here, if your budget allows, is also incredible, and much more so than anyplace in America.  I didn't go on as many adventures as I wanted because the main goal of this trip was to see as much of the country as possible in two months (the rainy weather and the crowds didn't help either).  But if you like adventure activities, like hiking, bungy-jumping, jet-boating, helicopter rides, or just about any other imaginable amalgam, like bungy-jumping-jet-boating-helicopter rides, New Zealand has it.


As far as when to visit, don't make the mistake that I did by visiting between mid-December and early February unless you enjoy crowds or have lots of reservations.  Next time I come, I'll visit either before or after the summer peak, such as November or March.  The weather during those times is still pretty nice and the crowds are gone, so from what I've heard, it's a great time to see the country.  Even the winter here (June and July) can be a good time to visit because you'll have the place to yourself, although some accommodations and activities will be closed then.


Will I ever come back to New Zealand?   Yes, definitely.  But now it's on to Australia.


Next News

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)


Previous News

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

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

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

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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