New Zealand is pretty far away from almost everywhere, and getting there is quite demanding on anyone - even if you are not disabled. We knew the trip would be arduous, so we broke it into segments, flying from Washington, DC, to San Francisco, on to Hawaii, then the Fiji Islands, before finally landing in Auckland, the capitol, three days later.
New Zealand is made up of two islands, the North, with Auckland, and the South with ChristChurch and the Southern Alps. Both are wondrously different, interesting and varied, with enough of everything anyone would would want to see. Great hiking trails and natural beauty everywhere.
Our son, daughter-in-law and our two grandchildren moved to New Zealand a few years ago. Although everyone here figured our kids would be there for a year or two, then come back. Nancy and I, however, having been to New Zealand, sensed it would be otherwise. So far, we are correct.
We begin our trip in Auckland, the capitol, a lovely city in the North. There are 4 million people in New Zealand, and a third of them live in the city and its surrounding communities.
Perhaps the most important monument in Auckland is One Tree Hill. It is a memorial to a British archeologist and historian who worked tirelessly to insure the original Maori culture would not be absorbed by the influx of white society. It sits on a volcanic hill, highest in Auckland, and marks the first Maori village in that part of the country.
Photo: Nancy and Nate atop One Tree Hill
As is the case throughout Polynesia, there are active movements to preserve the Native culture, and we spent a day at the largest of these, a museum/culture center devoted to the teaching of ancient languages, songs, dances and customs.
At the start of our visit there, we were stopped by a young man in native dress, who pointed a spear at my chest and made fierce noises and grimaces. He was determined we should not go further without first undergoing his inspection and approval.
THE MAORI CHALLENGE
In ancient days, when a stranger appeared, the Maori natives learned it was best to determine if the purpose was peaceful or not. A warrior would advance, gesture menacingly with his face and weapon, then thrown down a bit of greenery or flowers. How things went next depended upon the visitor's. In this case, being coached by the young woman behind me, I responded correctly and was spared. Good thing, too, because the response of the natives was dramatic. They welcomed us into their tribal temple.
Dancing is much better than being run through with a spear! In addition to dances, there was a fine display of ancient rituals. It is reaffirming to see the preservation of ancient customs.
We left Auckland, driving south to about mid country, stopping at the Huka Lodge at Lake Taupo. The place is famous for its natural beauty, and one of the loveliest settings we have encountered.
I took one of my most cherished photos of Nancy here, around the pond you see in the photo below. She simply looks radiant!
This lodge was the stopover place for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip when they made their "Grand Tour" a few years ago. In fact, we were in the same bed the Queen was in. Same bed. Not at the same time!
Guests stay in separate, individual cabins, each surrounded by lovely gardens and plantings that help to create an unimaginable sense of serenity.
There are no clocks here, the better to help you enjoy the leisure pace. How do you know, then, when it is time to go up to the main lodge for dinner? They have a unique solution. Just before cocktails are served, this Scottish piper showed up on our patio:
And here is what you get if you listen to the piper: Two tables, laden with excellent (and delicious) hors d'oeuvres (only one shown).
Lake Taupo is famous for its fishing. Hard to wade into the water in a wheelchair, so the maitre d’ came up with a neat suggestion: He would book us an afternoon sail on the lake. He told us we could fish (neither of us ever had), and the
crew would cook whatever we caught for dinner. Just to be on the safe side, he packed us a full picnic basket, some Stilton cheese, and a bottle of wine - just in case.
As you can see, the surrounding area was bucolic, though there were places along the shore where the 'Ancient Ones' had visited centuries ago. Some left their graffiti behind.
It looks like something out of Picasso, what with the two mouths and all. We asked the ship's crew what it meant, and they candidly admitted they had no idea. Over the years, the meaning had come to depend on who you asked. No help there.
By dinnertime, we had caught several fish. The captain and his mate perfectly filleted ours for us, and then cooked them over a small barbie they had on board. Nan, who in those days did not eat fish (afraid of swallowing bones), had to be restrained from eating both of them! Best darn seafood meal we ever had! And yes, we also ate the cheese and yummy dessert from the hamper- packed "just in case".
We really appreciated that the staff at Huka Lodge could not only “think outside the box”, but were willing to go the extra distance required to meet the needs of a physically challenged couple.
New Zealand almost begs you not to rush through it, not to be in a hurry to get to any particular destination. We had rented a car in Auckland, and decided to keep it for the remainder of our exploration of the North Island.
Driving south from Lake Taupo, we diverted toward the area of Rotorua, known for its hot springs. At Waitapo, just a little south of Rotorua, we got out of the car and strolled up close to the sulphur- smelling, pools of boiling and steaming mud, reflective of the volcanic nature of the place- a sort of Yellowstone before the refinements of the large lodges and boardwalks.
Rotorua was also the 'jumping off' point for our departure from the North to the South Island. Back into a small plane, we flew the relatively short distance from Rotorua and landed at delightful Queenstown, a snug, picture perfect piece of Heaven, sized in perfect scale to the rest of the country.
Speaking of a 'jumping off' place, coming from the airport, we drove past the Shotover River. In and of itself, it is nothing extraordinary, EXCEPT for this bridge- the site of the first bungie cord jumping company in the world!
You cannot see it clearly from our picture, but there is a fellow in the hut in the middle of the bridge getting ready to plunge down toward the water, which is much further down than it appears from our safe position! A number of people are at the landing on the right, waiting to be next to leap- assuming the guy in the middle survives.
We parked the car and waited to see him jump. And waited. And waited. All told, we waited nearly a half hour for him to 'do the deed' and in the end, he 'chickened out' and did not jump. Smart move.
Queenstown is one of those places you instantly fall in love with- a place we can still see in our dreams though our trip there was many years ago. The weather is generally cool and quite changeable. Because of the winds and mountains, the cloud cover makes the harbor look totally different nearly every time you look at it.
Aussies and Kiwis famously disagree on practically everything. There is one thing on which all agree: The pizza at The Cow" is the best in the Southern Hemisphere. We give it a try- and they are right! Utterly delicious!
We have mentioned the scenery in New Zealand, especially the South Island, is a lovely as you will find anywhere in the World. On the drive up to Milford Sound from Queenstown, we begin to encounter the legendary beauty for which the country is famous.
Speeding along the road, I spied a break in the trees lining the highway, and backed up to capture this photo. We are in the foothills of what they call the "Southern Alps"- not as high as in Switzerland- but every bit as beautiful, if not more so.
It is difficult to think negative thoughts or of unpleasant things in the presence of such beauty as this! We stayed for quite awhile, just gazing at the magnificence of the world in which we live, then continued on.
Milford Sound is a fjord on the West Coast of the South Island. The lake, fed by glaciers, exits the fjord into the Tasman Sea.
The sharp pointed mountain above and to the right of Nancy's head is known as Miter Pea , because of its resemblance to the cleric's cap. It is one of the most famous (and photographed) landmarks in New Zealand.
The boats you see in the water sail around the lake, affording views of the spectacular scenery. They are all handicapped accessible, and even serve lunch aboard. We enjoy a great meal, beginning with a salad of cold, freshly-caught lobster. The captain, in appreciation of our efforts to get here and onto his boat, sends us a bottle of champagne.
After our sail, we have to get back to Queenstown, but how? The drive up took 4 1/2 hours, but we will run out of energy if we drive back. We learn there is a flight back that takes only 45 minutes. We are assured we will have plenty of help boarding, so we book it.
The planes for the short flight are quite small. Ours is so small they have to load the wheelchair on another aircraft. We end up waiting for it in Queenstown, but it was well worth it.
On another day, we take our car, following near to the coast the entire way up. This turns out to be the answer to every Nature photographer's dream. We include some photos here to give you a sampling, starting with this one, my personal favorite, of the bend in the Clutha River. I was so awestruck by the intensity of the beauty that I simply stood for several minutes before I could even raise the camera to my eyes.