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Published: April 5th 2005
Flying into New Zealand, we suddenly realized that we were entering “Middle Earth” a land of amazing beauty. With a population of only 4 million, it may appear to be a tiny place when looking on the world map, but when driving along taking in the sweeping views you realize New Zealand’s immense landscape.
Our North Island journey begins in Auckland with a spectacular view of the city from the Sky Tower which is the tallest man made structure in the southern hemisphere. You can see the Crown Plaza hotel that we stayed in and about 30 miles in all directions. There is a guide wire base jump experience here (typical of the Kiwi’s who insist on jumping off of all perfectly good bridges, cliffs and things. )
Easter morning the church bells rang as we walked to St. Matthews Church, a remarkably beautiful Anglican church in downtown Auckland. Attending the Easter service in such celestial surroundings was a special experience for us. We spent four days in Auckland exploring the city, parks and finalizing our plans for the rest of New Zealand.
Departing from Auckland by car, we proceeded south to Matamata and toured the “Lord of
the Rings” sight for Hobbiton. It turns out that there are hobbits who look amazingly enough like the Bond family. It must be a parallel universe or something.
The next several days were spent in Rotorua at the Broekhaven Cottage bed and breakfast. We had a wonderful stay on this small sheep farm hosted by Ed ( a local police officer by day… good to know we have connections) and Debbie who has sheep farming and bread baking skills. The girls fell in love with their pets and the farm animals. They showed us incredible New Zealand hospitality and we will never forget the beauty of their place. We went trout fishing on Rotorua Lake with Gordon an experienced guide. Those of you who are fisherman will be jealous to hear that we caught several three pound trout, something you don’t often see in the states. We have pictures to prove it isn’t just a fish story!
We attended a traditional ceremonial Maori (the native people of New Zealand), dinner called a Hangi one evening at Rotorua. It begins when the warrior meets the guest and goes through a series of intimidating thrusts of the spear, bulging of
the eyes, sticking out of the tongue, and scary grunts and cries. If he decides that our intentions are good (We are thinking about adopting this process with boys who want to date our daughters), then we can enter the village for a time of traditional dances and great food. It was a very interesting evening. The next day we visited Te Wairoa buried village. It was a famous resort area that people world wide would come to enjoy the beautiful hot spring terraces. These terraces were formed from calcium deposits made over many years from the boiling hot springs that flowed down the mountain in the volcanic area. In 1886 the “dormant” volcano of Mount Tarawera came to life and buried the village which killed about 120 people in the area.
When leaving Rotorua we drove to Wai-O-Tapu a thermal wonderland that rivals Yellowstone National Park. We saw a geyser erupt….like old faithful,,, and walked along trails that carried us over areas that resemble the moon. The only thing we did not appreciate was the strong smell of sulfur that was everywhere. We got a great workout when we talked the entire system of trails in fast motion,
thinking this might help us avoid smelling the odors as long!
We spent one night at the historic and amazingly scenic Grand Chateau hotel ( which Dad called the grand chapeau all the time, he thought it was a hat I guess). This hotel is 100 years old and is at the base of Mount Ruapehu ( a sometimes active volcano) . The Lord of the Rings team stayed at the hotel while filming Mordor segments of the film. During the night we keep waking up thinking that the volcano was going to erupt (the refrigerator in our room would make the bottles rattle every time it turned on and off all night long).
Next we drove to Wellington, the most southern city on the North Island. We stayed at a B& B called the Sea Breeze. A wonderful couple, Craig and Bronnie, have a beautiful home that overlooks the Wellington harbor with views out of every window. The Sea Breeze is high upon the side of one of the mountains that surround Wellington and has picture perfect views. They have a doggie named Latte who’s name seems quite appropriate. Wellington is a city of about 350,000 people
which is known as cultural center with the world famous Te Papa museum ( New Zealand’s answer to the Smithsonian). We rode the cable car to the downtown area, explored the botanical gardens and visited the city by double-decker bus. We drove by Peter Jackson’s studio and saw some set pieces that look to be part of the upcoming King Kong movie. Our last day in Wellington we drove up the coast to the Southward Car Museum. Dad saw cars he had never seen before from Europe and New Zealand. The girls secretly enjoyed the outing too, but they use it as a bargaining tool to spend a few hours shopping at nearby Coastlands Mall.
Thus far New Zealand has exceeded its reputation as a beautiful scenic country. What has surprised us more than anything else is the inner beauty of the country… its people. We have never experienced hospitality like we have from the people in New Zealand. Truly amazing and wonderful!! But the journey is not over yet, our next stop is the South Island. We will be traveling by boat, train, car and plane. Stay tuned for the next segment.
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