“The Complete South Pacific”

Part 7

New Zealand – North Island


Short Review

One last time, we’re going to review with the tour map. 



We have been touring the South Island for about 5 days, including Queenstown, Mt Cook, and Christchurch.  We pick up the tour as we enter Wellington Harbor on the ferry from Picton. 


Saturday, March 16 (continued):  The ferry took about 3.5 hours to reach Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.  As we approached the Wellington Harbor, a cruise ship was coming out.  Wellington is a good-sized city and has a number of interesting things to see.


The waterfront and harbor of Wellington


Of course, “good sized” is relative:  all of New Zealand has just under 5 million people while the Atlanta metropolitan area has almost 6 million and the state of Georgia is almost 11 million.


We met our new bus driver for the North Island, John, and he took us to our hotel for two nights, the Novatel.  We had a group dinner in the hotel and the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc prior to dinner mushroomed into three bottles.


Some of our group enjoying dinner and some New Zealand Sav. Blanc.


Sunday, March 17:  We would spend the full day in Wellington, starting with a city tour on the coach with John being our tour guide.  Since Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, one of our stops was at the government complex parliament building, sort of equivalent to our capitol building in Washington DC.  It was somewhat interesting because it had been built in stages and they were obviously very different.    The three main buildings are:


The Edwardian neoclassical-style Parliament House (built in 1922)



The Parliamentary Library (built in 1899)


The Executive Wing, also known as the “Beehive” (1977)


It was a Sunday so there were very few people around: I think our group made up more than half of all the people I saw in this area. 


After looking around for a while, we re-boarded the coach and made the quick drive to the “Old St Paul’s Church”.  This was one of the first churches in New Zealand and was built by the Anglican Church in 1866.  The “New St Paul’s Church” is about a block away and services are no longer held in the old one, but it is used for weddings and other such events.  The outside of the church is not much to look at, but the inside is beautiful.


The wood and stained glass on the inside is beautiful.


The alter and some of the stained-glass windows



The next stop on our tour was the Botanical Gardens which is also where the cable car ends on the upper portion of its journey from the middle of the city.


It offers a nice view of the city and harbor, as well as the cable car operation.



 From here you can watch the cable car go down to the city, and then watch it come back up.  This was just a short sightseeing stop, so we did not go into the garden or hop on the cable car.


While we did not go in the Botanical Garden, we did stop and visit the “Lady Norwood Rose Garden” and connected hothouse.  There were several acres of beautiful blooming roses of all kinds and colors.


Some of our group wandering in the rose garden.


The hothouse had many tropical plants and flowers.


Ken is taking a photo of me while I take one of him while his wife Claire looks at the roses.


 At the end of the bus part of our city tour, John dropped us all off at the Museum of New Zealand, at the harbor waterfront.  It was both an art and historical museum, so a bit of an unusual mix.  There were two featured exhibits while we were there: some of the “Terra Cotta Soldiers” from china and a special exhibit about the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in World War I.

Every time we went by the Terra Cotta soldiers there was long line so we did not do that one, although some of the other tour members did and said it was excellent. 


Some of the art exhibits were a little strange and there were at least two people doing “performance art” which I had some trouble understanding and appreciating.  Some of the other unusual forms of art were at least understandable.


This item at least had some form and color, unlike some others.


The ANZAC Gallipoli exhibit featured a series of dioramas, in about twice life-size, depicting specific people and events in the battle. 


This was one of the more complicated dioramas, featuring three people.


The dioramas were accompanied by descriptions of the various battles and the conditions on the battlefield and focused on the specific individuals who were depicted in the dioramas.  All in all, a very moving and haunting exhibit.


After a couple of hours, we left the museum and walked the waterfront for a while.


Looking back at the Museum of New Zealand from the waterfront.


We made our way back to the hotel on foot and relaxed for a while until time for dinner.  Since this was St. Patrick’s day, there was an attempt among the members of the tour to get together and go to an Irish pub for dinner, but when we found out that pub was closed, it all fell apart and it was everyone for themselves for dinner.  Susan and I walked back to the waterfront and went into a seafood restaurant where we got a table next to a window with an interesting view.  There were a couple of fishing boats with people working on them and cleaning them. There was a sailing catamaran that looked like it was hosting a St. Patrick’s day party, including a dog that was not real sure about what was going on.   But the strangest thing was a block of Styrofoam floating on top of the water.  It kept moving around in seemingly random patterns, not apparently related to any wind or water influence, but it was almost always moving.  The only explanation I could think of is that someone had tied the Styrofoam to something like a crab in the water and it was pulling the Styrofoam as it moved about.


Unfortunately, you cannot see the catamaran or the Styrofoam in this view.


 Monday, March 18:  Once again, we loaded up in the coach and headed to our next destination, Rotoura, which is known for two things:  It seems to be the heart and soul of the Maori people so there are many Maori related activities here, and also the very active volcanic geography, including multiple hot springs and steaming vents. 


It is a fairly long drive from Wellington to Rotoura so we had several stops along the way.  Our first stop was in the town of Levin where a food truck was parked close to the public restrooms, providing a perfect opportunity to “let some out, take some in” and quite a few people did get some coffee.  This was also part of a small park, the sign said was an “Adventure Park” and it featured some interesting “kids rides” that some of our tour members took advantage of.


This unusual swing was tested by several people, including Bonnie and Evan.


Our lunch stop was in the town of Taihape, home of the famous annual “Gumboot Throwing Contest”.  What!?, you’ve never heard of the Gumboot Throwing Contest??  It is, as the name suggests, a contest to see who can throw a gumboot the furthest.  While we were about a month to early to see the official contest, some school children were practicing inside sort of a throwing cage.  The people who are serious about throwing gumboots use a spinning motion, similar to a discus thrower.  My extensive research on this subject for the purpose of this trip report revealed that Prince Harry and wife Megan participated in the 2018 event.


Our afternoon stop was in the town of Taupo, on the shore of Lake Taupo.  There was a nice beach area and a couple of seaplanes used for sightseeing but probably the most interesting part was the black swans, of which there were several.

This mother had a couple of chicks to take care of.


It was actually a nice lake with a pretty shoreline  when you took a good look. 


Just a little outside of Taupo we made another stop to see a lot of water rushing down a rather narrow channel in the rocks.  I believe this is the water coming out of a hydro-electric dam. 


Here is just a section of the water channel.


Hydro electric facilities provide over half of New Zealand’s electrical power with solar and geo-thermal providing the rest.  You can get a better feel for the amount of water from this video of the water rushing by..  Anyone for a kayak ride?


We got into Rotoura about 4:15 and got checked into the Millennium Hotel.  Since we had been sitting most of the day, Susan and I decided to check out the “nature walk” that ran behind the hotel and somewhat around Lake Rotorua.  The only problem was the odor.  We had noticed it coming into town and around the hotel, but the sulfur (actually, Sulfur dioxide) odor really hit us as we got close to the lake.  There are multiple volcanic or geo-thermal vents around the lake and with a north wind, most of it was being blown to where we were on the southern edge of the lake.   As we walked along the path, the vents were obvious and there were warning signs for good reason.


You can see steam rising from some vents.


After getting a good dose of the sulfur dioxide and a steam bath, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.


About half of our group had opted for an alternative to staying at and eating at the hotel by going to a local farm family’s home for dinner and the night.  About 8 or 9 people were split up between three host families for the night.  Those of us remaining at the hotel enjoyed a couple of bottles of New Zealand merlot and a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant.  After dinner, several other people wanted to take a walk, so we headed to the main street and walked most of the length of the “downtown” and then back to the hotel.


Tuesday, March 19:  We had a relaxed departure this morning as we had to wait for the people staying with local hosts overnight to return.  It turned out that the people taking this option had rather different experiences.  Two of the groups had excellent hosts, facilities, and food but one group fell into the result of a divorce, unmaintained house, and disappointing meals.  I suspect that third host will not be on the list for future Collette tours. 


Once everyone was there, the bus headed to the Agrodome, a fairly large facility devoted to showing visitors more about the agriculture of New Zealand.  The main activity we did there was to watch another sheep shearing demonstration, but this one was a bitt different.  Before doing the shearing, the host introduced about 20 sheep of different breeds, describing qualities each were known for. 


The sheep were used to this: they just stood (or sat) there.


One sheep got his haircut from the host,  while the other sheep watched or ate out of their little buckets of food.  Some of the sheep even went to sleep.


This guy must have stayed up late last night.


One of the best parts of these shows is watching the sheep dogs show what they can do.  There is not much room on stage to herd sheep, so in this video the dog herds a couple of ducks. 


We didn’t understand how this guy could see anything.


And finally, the dogs just had to show their mastery over the sheep.   All in all, a very entertaining show. 


Our next stop was at the Te Puia (New Zealand) Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, but it included a lot more than just arts and crafts.  The entrance included 13 (I believe) ornate poles, each with the head of a figure from Maori stories and history and they effectively surrounded visitors as they entered the complex.


Each pole was about 25 or 30 feet high.


Besides arts and crafts, there were various geothermal features that we would get a close look at.  But first, we were to see a Kiwi, the national bird and symbol of New Zealand. 


We were waiting for our turn to visit the Kiwi.


The problem is that Kiwis are nocturnal creatures and will sleep all day so we cannot see them.  This facility had constructed a Kiwi viewing center which reversed day and night so that the Kiwis would come out and be somewhat active.  The trouble is that this required us to go from the bright sunshine outside to practically complete darkness inside the viewing area.  Our eyes did not adjust fast enough for us to actually pick out a Kiwi before the people coming in behind us essentially forced us out the other end.


So, on to the geothermal features.  First was a boiling mud-bath.


The mud covered a fairly wide area with steam coming out.


When you got close enough to the mud, you could see and hear it boiling.   Walking a little further we came to several steam geysers.  Unlike some geysers which only fire off occasionally, these seemed to be continuous, at least as long as we were there.


These geysers just kept going.


And yes, there was the definite sulfur dioxide odor all over this area.  In some of the photos and videos you can see the yellow sulfur on some of the rocks.


After an appropriate number of photos, we headed to the Maori arts and crafts area, stopping to view a rather complex Maori welcome ceremony on the way.  There is a full school on these premises that focuses on teaching the upcoming generation the old Maori crafts so they are not lost.  They include topics such as bone and stone carving, wood carving, and weaving/sewing. 


This student is in the bone and stone carving area.


The students are taught a mixture of traditional techniques and the use of some modern tools, but the objective is to create finished products that are true to their culture.


There is a large area for learning wood carving.


This ended the official tour of the facility and we had a little over an hour to eat some lunch and look around more.  We got a simple lunch (split a salad and a sandwich) and still had some more time, so, back to the Kiwi!  We went back to the Kiwi viewing center and, this time, there was no one else there.  We went inside and waited until our eyes adjusted, probably 5 minutes, and we could finally see the Kiwi.  Once we knew what to look for, we could see both Kiwis as they moved around the enclosure, hunting for food. 


At the appointed time, we headed toward the bus, passing through the gift shop and picking up a couple of New Zealand Tee-shirts.  There was one early afternoon activity, a short walk from the hotel to the “Jade Factory”.  The store did not actually manufacture jade, of course, but they did make jewelry and other items from the jade.  They gave a pleasant talk about the types of jade, where it comes from and such and then invited us to look around and purchase some jade.  This time we did not help the local economy any more.


In the late afternoon, we boarded a different bus, this one sent from the Maori Cultural Center at the Tamaki Maori Village.  (Yes, it is definitely a commercial enterprise, but very much in the spirit of and supporting the Maori people and culture.)  There was a second tour group on the bus and on the way to the village, our Englishman, Brian, was selected to be our bus’s “Chief” in the upcoming ceremonies and activities. 


After arriving we were escorted to a circular arena and the occupants of about 6 other busses came in also. 


Brian and the other chiefs were getting their instructions for the ceremony to follow.


Once everyone was there, the ceremony started, and it was rather involved.  One important instruction for the chiefs and everyone watching was to not laugh or smile at any time as that would imply a lack of respect for the village chief. 


After we had been accepted and welcomed by the village chief, we broke up into our tribes, lead by our chiefs and went through various Maori activities, doing each for about 10 minutes before rotating to the next activity.  Some of the activities were games, some were musical, some serious, but even the games had some educational or conditioning value, such as this game of listening and quick reactions.


At the end of these activities we crowded into a little shelter for a few minutes to watch as our evenings dinner was removed from the cooking pit.  In some parts of New Zealand the Maori would have used a pit heated by geothermal sources to do the cooking, but ours just used wood charcoal and heated rocks


The food had been removed from the pit.


We then filed into a sort of theater where the staff performed some Maori songs and dances. 


Not exactly a professional group, but interesting.


While some of the staff were doing the singing and dancing, others were getting the food ready so we were soon led into the dining hall where each tribe had our assigned tables. 


Our table before it was our turn to get food from the buffet.


After the meal there was some more singing and dancing but these songs were mostly ones in which the Maori words and movements had been adapted to more western (northern hemisphere??) tunes.  These actually reminded me very much of Hawaiian music.  See if this music and song sounds familiar.  We called it a night and headed back to the hotel.  As we got out of the bus I looked up and noticed we had a full, or very close to full, moon overhead.


If it is not full, it is very close.


Wednesday, March 20:  Some of the group got an early start to take an excursion visiting the Hobbit Town which was created for the Lord Of The Rings movies and the rest of us had a relaxed and delayed start.  Since we had a couple of hours, Susan and I took a walk along the nature trail, but going the other direction this time.   There were several colorful Swamphens (or pukeko in the Maori language) hanging out in the area.


Swamphens do not fly very well.



The sulfur dioxide smell was not quite as bad as before, but still objectionable.  We could look across the lake and see steam rising from some of the vents around the shoreline.


The wind was blowing the steam and odor away from us this time.


After a nice walk we headed back to the hotel, packed up and loaded on the bus, this time heading for Auckland.  We stopped for lunch and to meet up with the part of our group which had go to the Hobbiton.


Bilbo and Frodo’s home, (photo courtesy of Eleanor )



Susan and I wandered around a bit before settling on an Italian restaurant and it turned out to be a very good choice and several other tour members soon came in also.  After lunch, with everyone back on the bus, we headed on the last leg of our tour, going to Auckland.


As usual, we did a quick city tour by taking a rather round-about route to the hotel, including going over the Auckland Harbor bridge and then back again and a tour around the harbor area.  This gave us a good chance for some group photos, although there would be more later.


Almost all the ladies


And almost all the men 


Tonight was our grand “farewell dinner” as it would be the last time we were all together.  It started informally in the hotel bar area with several bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and even a little dancing. When the hotel was ready for us, we moved into the dinning room where dinner was served and the noise and good times continued. 


As usual, the ladies had their own table.


Another table of our group


And our table


After dinner We had each couple or group pose with Evan and I took photos for each.  Someone even used my camera to snap our photo with Evan.


Susan, Evan, and myself


After these photos, we moved to the hotel lobby where we could use a staircase for a full group photo.  This is the photo you saw at the beginning of the report, but here it is again.


One last photo of all of us


Everyone said their good-bys, exchanged email addresses, and called it a night.



Thursday, March 21.  As mentioned at the start of this report, our schedule gave us an extra day in Auckland and we planned to make good use of it.  I had done a little research into winery tours in the Auckland and it seemed the best choice would be a tour on the island of Waiheke, about a 35-minute ferry ride from the Auckland ferry terminal.  Our sister-in-law, Lisa, had recommended Phil Parker (Fine Wine Tours) as a guide, but he was booked solid and recommended Waiheke Island Wine Tours and they did have space available for two people. 

The ferry terminal was a shorter walk from the hotel than I expected and we got to the boarding area quickly so we ended up getting on a ferry running about 45 minutes earlier than planned.  It was a pleasant ferry ride with good weather and nice views of the Auckland Bay area.


A view of Auckland from the bay


There were not many other boats out on the bay yet and it was a clear, sunny day with very comfortable temperatures.


Not exactly the “White cliffs of Auckland”, but close



 We knew that we would not be eating lunch until late, about 2:00, so we had brought a light snack with us.  Since we were about 45 minutes early to meet our tour guide, we decided to go ahead and eat our snack prior to the start of the tour at 10:45 and this worked out well.  We found a bench close to the ferry dock and enjoyed our snack while watching the birds and activity in the harbor.  A little before our appointed time, we found our tour guide, Graham, with the aid of a competing wine tour company.  It turned out that there were two wine tour companies:  our tour was with “Waiheke Island Wine Tours” and there was also “Waiheke Wine Tours”.  That could (and did) get confusing.  Anyway, we connected with Graham and the other 9 people on the tour and loaded into the tour van.


Looking over a bay on Waiheke with Auckland in the distance


Graham combined the stops at the three wineries with a rather complete tour of the island, describing the various parts of the island and unique aspects of each.  The island has about 10,000 permanent residents and over a thousand of them commute to work in Auckland via ferry each day. 


Our first stop was at Kennedy Point winery and it was probably the smallest of the three we would visit.  One of the owners provided a nice tour of the vineyard and facilities and then led the tasting of several very nice wines.  I was a bit surprised to learn that the favored varietal on Waiheke is Syrah. 


Entering Kennedy Point Winery: you can see some netted vines on the left.


We left the winery and rode around some, seeing other parts of the island.  Graham pointed out a number of beaches and, like many places in the world, they have a “Palm Beach”.  While the beaches looked nice, they did not have the bright white sand we are used to in the Caribbean, rather various shades of gray, and the sand is sometimes rather coarse.  We soon arrived at out next Winery, Casita Miro, and it was unique in several respects. 


Susan looks ready to try some wine.


For the tasting, they have wooden wine glass holders and for several of the wines, a small dish on top of the wine glass with a taste of some paired food.  Our hostess led a very nice tasting of the five wines and they were all peasant, with the Sauvignon Blanc having less acid than that from the South Island and the Syrah having nice, but not overbearing body.  The other unique thing about this winery is that the owner is apparently fascinated with ceramics.  He has personally covered much of the buildings with ceramics in all kinds of designs.


This use of ceramics was throughout the buildings of the winery.


His current project was to cover the concrete wall along the entrance driveway with ceramics.  It seemed to me to be a little too much of a good thing, but I guess it is harmless and probably keeps him out of the winemaker’s hair.


After a further tour of the island and noticing several vineyards as we passed by, we arrived at the Te Motu winery.  For the tasting, our group was seated at a large picnic table and this actually gave us the opportunity to get to know the other wine drinkers. 


Some of the wines we tasted at Te Motu



The tasting was fine, although nothing really memorable, and the wines were all good.  Our lunch place was essentially part of Te Motu, or at least, right next door at “The Shed”.


The Shed used the bottom of a cast iron skillet for their sign.


We had some good sandwiches and, of course, a bottle of wine to accompany them.  It was relaxing in their outdoor garden environment.  About 3:00 Graham picked us up (we were down to only 6 of us touring at this point) to head back toward the ferry dock.  Along the way, one couple got out and wanted to walk the rest of the way (probably about 2 miles) and the other couple wanted to make a quick stop in town to buy something.


Susan and Graham waiting for the shoppers to finish their shopping.


 We got to the ferry dock and boarded our return ferry about 3:30 with the weather still beautiful.  There were a few more sailboats in the bay now, including one group that looked like they were having an informal “let’s see who can sail the fastest” and another group that appeared to be an organized regatta.


This was one of the “just for fun” boats, but he was pushing pretty hard.


And this group were all the same type and probably actually racing.


We walked back to the hotel and relaxed for a while before dinner time.  Since we had a late lunch, we were not very hungry at dinnertime, so we decided to just have some leftover fruit and snacks for dinner.  We took our food down to the hotel lounge, got one last bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and enjoyed our simple meal.  We set the alarm for a 3:45 AM wakeup and called it an early night, closing out a pleasant day and a very interesting tour of Australia and New Zealand.



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