I checked out of my motel room and left the small port town of Hokitika early in the morning and continued driving north on Highway
6, a narrow and winding road, while slowly snaking my way up the west coast of the South Island. I spent about an hour in the town of Westport and
drove along the Buller River Canyon for another hour, then I headed inland a ways to Nelson Lakes National Park. This being a Friday afternoon
in a National Park in New Zealand in January, I was expecting to see huge crowds and a packed campground.
I was surprised, however, to find only a handful of folks in the park and a campground that was mostly empty, so I enjoyed a pleasant
night there while camping near Lake Rotoiti. It felt great to finally get some use out of the folding chair, water jug and sleeping pad that
I'd bought in Auckland a month earlier, now that I've toted that stuff all over New Zealand. Nelson Lakes is a nice park
and something like a smaller version of Glacier National Park in Montana, with snowcapped mountains, pretty alpine lakes, and a great Visitor Center with a
Above left: Driving north on the West Coast of the South Island. Ferns like these are just about
everywhere in New Zealand, and some are taller than houses.
Above center: The Pancake Rocks viewpoint at Paparoa National Park.
Above right: This is why they call them Pancake Rocks. Neither scientists nor Aunt Jemima know how they formed.
Above left: The fern-enshrouded Highway 6 on the west coast.
Above center: A tight squeeze. Compared to the U.S., the roads in New Zealand are really narrow (though most are
wider than this one) and are very winding. It can take all day just to drive 200 miles. That's one reason why New Zealand seems a lot bigger
than it really is, at least compared to the wide-open states in the American west.
Above right: The Buller River.
Above left: The weather was finally nice enough to camp. This is at Nelson Lakes National Park.
Above right: Lake Rotoiti at Nelson Lakes National Park. This area was covered with ice during the last
glaciation, about 10,000 years ago.
The next morning I packed up my tent, got in the car and drove up to the vibrant city of Nelson, located on the northern coast of the South
Island. Nelson boasts that it's the sunniest city in New Zealand and, sure enough, it was warm and sunny when I got there. I checked into
a mom-and-pop motel that afternoon, then drove a few miles to Motueka where I hoped to do some sea kayaking near Abel Tasman National Park, apparently
one of the most spectacular national parks in New Zealand. Ah, but with beauty comes popularity and unfortunately all of the kayak trips for that
day were filled – that's the price you pay for serendipity, I guess. I consoled myself by staying up until midnight while watching the New Zealand
Black Caps play (and beat) Australia in cricket.
Above: On the car deck of the Interislander Ferry, heading back to North Island.
The next morning was sunny, warm and glorious, and after returning some e-mails, I drove a few hours north to Picton which, as you may
recall, is the ferry terminus for the South Island. It was good to return to Picton after my 33-day trip around the South Island.
I checked in, once again, at the pleasant Broadway Motel and got some takeout at Lord Thompson's, which is undoubtedly the best fish and chips
place in New Zealand (having eaten in just about every fish and chips place in this country, I should know). That evening, you guessed it,
I watched some more Black Caps cricket on T.V. Good thing I'm not in a rut, huh?
I had a few hours to kill the next morning before the ferry to Wellington arrived, so I drove down to an empty park near the Picton beach
so I could update my website. As I was typing away at a picnic table, the park caretaker, a friendly elderly gentleman, came by with a
broom and we started talking as he swept. We chatted for 20 minutes as he told me about New Zealand and I told him about America, then
he smiled and bid me goodbye. That's the way it is in New Zealand – people often come right up to you and start talking as if they've
known you all your life.
After writing a few more website stories, I packed up my laptop computer, drove over to the ferry landing and boarded the ferry. On
this ride I was taking the older, slower, and cheaper Inter-Islander Ferry instead of the sleek, new Lynx, which I had taken on my southbound
crossing on Christmas Day (see News: January 1, 2002). The Inter-Islander is a bit rusty and, at 20
years old, was definitely showing its age, but it has a lot more charm and personality than the newfangled Lynx. I decided that I preferred
old, slow and cheap (perhaps because I'm also old, slow, and cheap). I lounged on the sun deck while watching the scenery pass by at
20 knots and said a quiet goodbye to beautiful South Island, which had been my beautiful-albeit-soggy home for the past month.
During my 33 days on the South Island, I saw just about every corner of the island and visited every sizable town (and a lot of small
ones). Overall, my experience there was pretty positive. Yes, it did rain a lot and it was a lot more crowded than I imagined it
would be. In fact, it was more crowded than just about anywhere I've been in the U.S., even during the summers. But heck, it's a
beautiful place, the scenic variety boggled my mind, and the people were exceptionally friendly. I'll definitely come back to the South
Island someday – just not in December or January.
Above left: Since my last name is Leu, I got a kick out of this "superloo" in Nelson.
Above center: Sunbathers at Pelorus Bridge.
Above right: My roof has moss on it. This roof has mussels.
Above left: Kenepuru Sound on the northern tip of the South Island. This is near the site where
Captain Cook's crew ran into cannibals in 1769.
Above center: Heading north on a beautiful, warm afternoon.
Above right: After traveling around the South Island for a month, I returned to the pleasant town of Picton. I
had reservations here for the ferry the next morning to take me back to the North Island.
Above left: One of the two Inter-islander ferries coming into Picton.
Above right: "Three pieces of flake and one scoop, please." My first stop in Picton was for
fish and chips. This is Lord Thompson's Fish and Chips shop in Picton, which serves the best fish and chips in New Zealand. I asked
the owner (left) why their fish and chips were so good. His secret, he told me, is using hotter oil than most other shops. Whatever they're doing it really works.
Above left: The next morning, waiting for the ferry to take me back to the North Island.
Above center: Leaving Picton and the South Island, heading north.
Above right: Queen Charlotte Sound on the South Island.
Above left: On the Interislander Ferry during the three-hour ride to Wellington.
Above center: Saying goodbye to the beautiful South Island.
Above right: And saying hello once again to Wellington, on the North Island.
After a pleasant ferry ride across the windy and choppy Cook Strait, I returned to the North Island and, thanks to a tip in my Lonely
Planet guidebook, found a campground at peaceful Rimutaki Forest Park. Rimutaki is a wonderful place located about 20 kilometers east
of Wellington with a stupendous trail through a tropical rain forest, which I explored the next morning. The park is run by DOC (pronounced
"Dock," as in Department of Conservation), the main federal land agency in New Zealand. I love stumbling across hidden jewels and this one definitely
After my morning hike, I drove up the western coast of North Island, passing by the golf course at Paraparaumu near Wellington, where Tiger
Woods had played in the New Zealand Open just a few weeks earlier. Unfortunately for Tiger, it was cold and rainy during the four-day
event and, in his first visit to New Zealand, he didn't do so well. Tiger, let me welcome you to New Zealand weather. Actually it
was sunny and hot when I drove by. Call me silly (many people do), but wearing shorts and a t-shirt in January was something I quite enjoyed.
Above left: Camping at Rimutaki Forest Park near Wellington. This is a typical campground
in New Zealand: very few facilities and just a patch of grass where you can pitch your tent. On the other hand, it
cost only US$1.50 a night.
Above center: Hiking signs at Rimutaki the next morning. The Orongorongo Track sounded pretty intriguing –
especially since I couldn't pronounce it.
Above right: Hiking through the jungle of the beautiful Orangorango River valley. This was one of the
best hikes I've taken in New Zealand so far. It wasn't nearly as crowded as more famous places like Milford Sound or Abel Tasman National
Park (and no reservations required, either).
As I drove into Palmerston North (pop. 67,000) that afternoon, I decided to stop and see Massey University, one of the largest universities
in New Zealand. I really enjoy visiting universities and college towns, and I was so impressed with Massey University that I decided
to stay in Palmerston North for a couple of days to update my website. I'm not exactly sure where "Palmerston South" or just
plain old Palmerston is, but I would guess that they're somewhere south of Palmerston North. Anyway, I liked Palmerston North a lot.
Not only does it have a college town flavor but it also has, like many cities in New Zealand, a beautiful square in the middle of town with a
large, grassy park and shade trees.
Above: The wonderful Park Inn was my home
for two nights in Palmerston North while I got caught up with my website. Nita is your host.
One of the hassles of traveling on the road is having to find a place to stay every night. Fortunately, I had stopped during the
previous month at the Automobile Association (AA) office in Auckland and got some travel literature, all of which was free, since the New Zealand
AA has a reciprocity agreement with AAA (the American Automobile Association). During my travels around New Zealand, my AA motel guide
became indispensable and I opened it every afternoon and scanned the listings for the town I was in. After a month and a half of use, my motel
guide was getting pretty tattered, but once again, I pulled it out and looked for a place to stay.
The Park Inn got my vote, so I found it on the map and drove over late that afternoon. The receptionist there was a cheerful,
sandy-haired woman named Nita who was in her 40s. As so often happens when I talk to motel owners, our conversation soon turned
to the New Zealand Black Caps cricket team. After a friendly chat, Nita gave me the key to a nice room on the top floor of a two-story
building with a pleasant view of the area. Nita also directed me to the best fish and chips shop in town, so I got a large order
there along with a Lemon & Paeroa ("L & P") soft drink, which is like carbonated lemonade. There's
nothing like L & P in the U.S. unfortunately.
I spent a few days in Palmerston North updating my website, then I checked out of my motel room and had another pleasant talk at
the front desk with Nita. Just before I stepped out of the office, she handed me a piece of paper. She knew that I liked cricket
so she'd written down for me the remaining schedule for the Black Caps cricket team so I could watch them on television. Once again,
it's typical New Zealand hospitality.
Above left: Massey University in the city
of Palmerston North is the second-largest university in New Zealand. And
it's the prettiest campus I've seen here so far.
Above center: A town square in Palmerston North
Above right: And another town square in Palmerston North. It's a very pleasant town.
After giving Nita a cheery wave, I headed up the coast to see Mt. Taranaki. If you've seen any pictures of New Zealand, you've
probably seen Mt. Taranaki, which resembles Mt. Fuji in Japan and is one of the most picturesque mountains in the country. Unfortunately
though, it was shrouded in clouds during most of the day, though the clouds did part briefly enough for me to take a few pictures of it.
Above: Wanganui is one of the oldest cities in New Zealand. It's a bit run down but has a pleasant
and vibrant downtown area. That's the Wanganui River, the longest navigable river in New Zealand.
I drove all the way around Mt. Taranaki that afternoon and then headed to the historic town of Wanganui on the coast, where I landed at the Aeroplane Inn,
another small, cheap mom-and-pop motel. Wanganui seemed like an interesting old port city, so the next morning I spent a couple of hours strolling
through the vibrant downtown. Wanganui is like a well-used couch down in the basement: not real flashy but comfortable and with a lot
of charm (and, it seemed, a lot of stories to tell).
From Wanganui, I drove north to Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's oldest national park and the home of several dormant volcanoes, the
largest of which, Mt. Ruapehe, erupted just a few years ago. This area of the central North Island, including Tongariro and the cities of Taupo and
Rotorua, is the most volcanic area in New Zealand.
Taupo (pronounced "TOE-poe") is a pleasant resort town on the shores of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand and one of its most
picturesque, so I thought this would be a good place to settle in for a couple of days and continue updating my website. Taupo is also one of the
more pronounceable Maori place-names that I've run into so far, and it was a welcome relief after dealing with hundreds of names like Whangirangiparanui
or the like, none of which I can remember for more than five minutes.
Along with updating my website during my two days in Taupo – and, yes, eating more fish and chips and watching more Black Caps cricket – I also got
a chance to see some of sights here. With all the geothermal activity around Taupo, including geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles, this area reminded me
of Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately though, and unlike Yellowstone, the most spectacular geothermal sites here are privately owned and charge
admission. Nevertheless, it's an interesting area and I wish I had more time to see it, but I'm leaving New Zealand in a few days and still have a
lot of traveling to do, so it's back on the road.
Above left: On Highway 3, north of Palmerston North.
Above center: Mt. Taranaki, also known as Mt. Egmont, is 7,500' high and resembles Mt. Fuji in Japan. It's often covered with clouds so I was lucky to see it
– well, part of it.
Above right: New World is one of the largest grocery chains in New
Zealand. I'm restocking here in New Plymouth with kiwi fruit, "Bulk Chips" (the
closest thing here to Doritos), and "tomato sauce" (i.e., ketchup). They don't have canned chili in New Zealand, though,
which is one of my staples. And, sad to say, they only have Coke here and not Pepsi.
Above left: Driving down Highway 3 on the west coast of the North Island.
Above center: Downtown Wanganui has an abundance of charming architecture. It's a fascinating old port town.
Above right: Although the roads in New Zealand are narrow, winding and slow to drive on, they're kept
in very good condition. I've seen road crews everywhere during my travels.
Above left: A kiwi crossing in Tongariro National Park. That's volcanic Mt. Ngaurohoe in the distance.
Above center: I've been in New Zealand for nearly two months but this is the only Kiwi bird I've
seen – stuffed and mounted in the Tongariro Visitor Center. Kiwis are endangered and their survival is uncertain.
Unfortunately, domestic dogs and cats and weasel-like stoats kill a lot of kiwis while they're still chicks. New Zealanders really love their kiwis,
the same way that Americans feel about bald eagles.
Above right: Beautiful Ruka Falls near Taupo, a few miles from where I'm writing this.
February 7, 2002 (Auckland, 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)
United States (2001)
Dec. 3, 2001 – Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
Dec. 3, 2001 – Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
Oct. 18, 2001 – Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
Oct. 18, 2001 – Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
Oct. 18, 2001 – Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
Oct. 6, 2001 (Ft. Lincoln St. Park, North Dakota)
Sept. 30, 2001 – Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
Sept. 30, 2001 – Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
Sept. 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)