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Published: April 2nd 2007
After a month of longer, more leisurely stops of 4-6 days each, this has been a week mostly on the move. Heading south from the most northern part of the country, we arrived in Cambridge (a sweet country town in the center of North Island) to meet Ken and Ilonca Feisst. Ken is the brother of our good Seattle Kiwi friend, Alan Feisst. We were treated to a tour of the magnificent high hills of the largely Feisst sheep farm where Ken and Alan grew up. After a sumptuous meal and far too much NZ wine at the Feissts' home, we slept like fallen stones.
The next day a short drive took us to Waitomo and two sites we really loved. The first was the Otorohanga Kiwi and native bird House. Kiwis (the birds) are nocturnal and severely endangered, so it is a rare treat to see them live. We also really appreciated seeing the most common native birds up close in identified areas. (Trying to match species to pictures in a birdbook on the fly as we drive down the road hasn't worked well!)
What came next was even more dazzling: The Waitomo Caves. We rode with
a German couple and their 3 year old into two huge limestone caves with Norm, a 50 something Kiwi who has been caving all his life. This tour, named "Spellbound," took us way up in "the bush" to the mouth of the water-filled caves, where we floated in an inflatable raft into total darkness. Gradually, as our eyes grew accustomed to the dark, the "ceiling" of the cave began to glow with thousands of minisculed light projected by tiny fly larvae nicknamed "glow worms". Norm pointed out that "gloworms" sounds better than "glowmaggots". Norm asked for silence as, for about 8 minutes, our rubber raft moved under this eery light, with only the sound of water lapping around the boat. The second cave contained the bones of various animals (both ancient Moa and contemporary Cow) that had inadvertently stepped through a hidden sink hole in the bush deep into the cave below. Norm himself had helped to develop this second cave, laying a cement walkway and installing some low intensity lighting to handle a few visitors without further disturbing the ecology of the cave. We noted a pattern here. Like the trainride up the mountain in Coromandel in which the
The "Colonel"and his buddies
Although quite forward with his ewes, the Colonel was hanging out with his buddies when he met us.
tour driver had built the train by hand, our guide Norm had, himself, done a lifetime of research, exploration and development of the caves he showed us. This experience was more satisfying than the heavily-visited "tourbus" caves closer to town.
That night we arrived after dark at Tunanui for a farmstay at a huge sheep farm. (A farm under 80,000 acres is called a farm and over 80,000 acres is called a station as in Australia)
The sheep farmer told us about his efforts to develop a parasite-resistant flock through innovative breeding breeding methods instead of through chemicals as most NZ farmers do. He told us about how the other sheep growers had scoffed when he'd paid a large amount for a special ram (called "Colonel") with an unusually low parasite count. But that ram --and his eventual sons and grandsons--have sired a largely parasite-resistant flock of several thousand that is the envy of the region. We met the Colonel in his paddock outside and walked up the high hillock immediately behind the farmhouse to admire the Colonel's exceptional progeny. Another example of Kiwi ingenuity!
From the sheepfarm we headed south to the lovely beaches of the Kapiti
Copast, just north of Wellington. From our room in Paraparumu (ah, those Maori names!), we could see Katpiti Island, the ecological reserve we were there to visit. Since, as an environmental protection measure, only 50 visitors can go to the island on any given day, we had months earlier applied for a special permit from the Deparment of Conservation. The effort was definitely worth it because this is a magical place! After a long campaign to eliminate all mammals from the island (killing, for example 22,000 possums in the 2 x4km island), numerous previously endangered species of wild native birds are beginning to recover in number. We spent about four hours on Kapiti Island, delighting in the exotic sights and sounds of birds that don't survive anywhere else. There is no music more beautiful!
And then on to Wellington, only about 40 minutes from Kapiti on the southern edge of the North Island. Before arriving, we knew only three things about "Welly": 1) it's the capital of NZ; 2) it's very windy; and 3) it's the homebase of Stone Street Studio, from which the Lord of the Rings originated. Well, we quickly learned much more and became quite smitten
The weka that followed us on Kapiti Island
This is a chicken-sized bird with no fears but rapacious appetite
with the vitality of this city. Wellington is built on steep hills above a breathtaking harbor and reminds most North Americans of San Francisco--cable car and all. It has a hip, artsy fell and an authentic cafe life as well as a smashingly beautiful museum of art and culture: Te Papa ("Our Place." But it's a small city (roughly 250,000 pop) and has an easy-going, cozy feel. BEst of all, it has an excellent trolley bus system, so we could leave our beleagured Toyota for a much-needed rest.
Bill's favorite Wellington adventure was the day he spent observing a session in the NZ Parliament, and yes, the Prime Minister Helen Clarke was there, tough as a buzzard during question time and just back from meeting with you-know-who in the White House. (We hope she boxed his ears!) Parliament was debating the hotly controversial "anti-smacking" bill, which would make it illegal to strike or spank children. (We've had endless conversations with locals about this bill and ALL of them oppose it!) The debate was quite lively with insults and jibs hurled back and forth by Helen and the leader of the opposition. We wonder how old George would survive in
The Wellington Cable Car
The 100 year-old cable car offered a great view of a city reminding us of San Francisco
a Parliamentary system during question time. He probably would have put Dick in as his assistant to meet all tough questions.
While Bill was at Parliament, Carol took a little trip to see a few of the sites where Lord of the Rings was actually filmed. The Hobbiton Woods scenes were mostly shot on Mt. Victoria, a steep, forested mountain reserve right in the middle of Wellington. The enterprising young guide took Carol and two 20-something Rings mavens to the exact trees, paths, rocks and hills where various scenes were filmed. He led us through huge gnarly black trees, then would pause, whip out his lap top computer, and show the scene from the film that had been shot at that very spot. He had props (pipes, a plastic carrot,--but thankfully no elf ears) and encouraged us to "have a go" at the parts ourselves. Of course, there were endless anecdotes about how they got the actors and film crew up and down various steep, muddy hills. In one case, in order not to damage the delicate add-on Hobbit feet, some strapping local Maori youth had been hired to actually carry the stars up and down the hills. What
New Zealand Parliament Building
The Kiwis refer to this as the "Beehive"
On March 29, we dropped our Toyota off at the ferry terminal in Welly, bade farewell to the North Island, and sailed off to begin a new set of adventures on the South Island.
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