a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Friday, July 19, 2013

New Zealand's South Island: a paradise

I think those Kiwis we talked to might just be right: the South Island is possibly even more beautiful than the North Island! And we didn't even get to the southern part where most of the gorgeous landscape photography for The Lord of the Rings was filmed! Actually we drove to this spot because a sign for a lodge had tempted us with the prospect of seeing where some of the movie was shot. We didn't find the lodge but this view was well worth the drive.
But our tour of the South Island started in the city of Christchurch. In 2010 and again in 2011, Christchurch was hit by big earthquakes. And even after two years, it's a long way from full recovery. In the picture above you can see how the city has used shipping containers to hold up the walls of buildings nearly destroyed. But despite the rubble, there was a sense of hopefulness that Christchurch is going to be rebuilt even better than before.
In the CBD (central business district) there were signs detailing the Recovery Plan. Stephen and I noticed one that showed a graphic of a survey given to the citizens of Christchurch asking them what they wanted to make their city into.

After "green spaces", "people" is the biggest box. Yet one more reason to like New Zealand.

It's not as if Christchurch is devoid of green space though. Near our hotel we walked to this park that contained Botanic Gardens in the center of it.

The food was delicious all over the country, but especially so in Christchurch.

Of all the places we went to in New Zealand, Christchurch felt the most like an American town to me.

From Christchurch we drove up the coast to the town of Kaikoura and took a dolphin cruise. Maybe the best part of the whole trip!

The Dusky dolphins love to play. They put on an amazing jumping show for us during our three hour tour.

And what a setting! I could have stayed out on that boat watching dolphins for a week! 

At the end of the tour just before we jetted back, we saw this nice bonus. The same tour company does separate albatross tours, but we didn't need to take one because we had this up close and personal encounter during our dolphin cruise. 
When I was searching for places to stay in New Zealand, I found this holiday cottage called The Wheelhouse Inn in Nelson that seemed exactly what I was looking for. Turns out I was even more right than I thought. This upstairs room had the perfect journaling spot. 

And this was my view! When I have dreamed of my ideal spot on the planet, this is what I had in mind. :)

Abel Tasman National Park was what Stephen was most looking forward to when we were planning our trip. 
The weather was pretty much perfect and so the first day we got there we took a hike in the morning and rented kayaks in the afternoon. Golden Bay Kayaks was the company we rented from and the guys there were great. Gave us a 30 minute safety class before sending us out. The water was so smooth and a double sea kayak is fast. We saw cormorants, which in New Zealand they call "shags", seals, and heard stingrays. Big splashes would tell us we had startled one but Stephen and I never saw any. Later Stephen told me he was a little nervous about the stingray. We were out in open ocean, after all, and he was thinking the whole time how stingrays are Orca's favorite food! I'm glad he didn't share his thoughts at the time!!

 The next day we took an all day hike up the hill from one beach down the other side to another.

We were rewarded with a beautiful golden beach that we had practically to ourselves.

We were pretty tired by the end of the day. :) 

We didn't have time to stay on the west coast but from our base in Pohara, we drove and then hiked to a beach on the western coast at the top of the island.

And that's where we saw seal pups!

The marine life in New Zealand was such a wonderful surprise. Before we went to New Zealand, I expected to see lots of sheep.

And of course we did along with horses and cows.

But there are no snakes in New Zealand. So when I came to a place like this, I had to tell myself it was quite alright, no need to worry.

Airport security is very strict about what comes into the country. There were warning signs all along the way about declaring the things you were bringing with you or beware of hefty fines. I told them I had boots that I'd walked in around Montana months before and they took them out, washed them down and gave them back to me in a new bag. Stephen and I appreciate any and all efforts taken to preserve this beautiful country.
It was just the perfect trip. New Zealand makes for a wonderful holiday no matter where you are coming from in the world. But when your home is in a third world country, New Zealand is truly a paradise.

Friday, July 5, 2013

New Zealand: rest and relaxation down under

Living "in the field" can be a little rough. Fortunately there are some benefits. MTI provides extra PTO to employees after two years living and working in the field. (Can you believe it? We have lived in Cambodia for two years now!) Stephen and I decided to use the extra time off to finally make our dream trip to New Zealand a reality! (The timing couldn't have been better!)
We started off our tour of the whole country in the largest city. Auckland is a harbor city at the top of the North Island. On our first morning we walked along the harbor front and then took a ferry ride to Devonport Island. The sunlight was super bright. We bought new sunglasses but even with those I had to squint. The air is so clean and clear that nothing blocks the light, no air pollution or high humidity.
We arrived on Devonport Island just at 3pm and found that the coffee shop we wanted to sit down at, have a cup of coffee and enjoy the view, was closing.
Fortunately they were willing to make us coffees to go. Businesses in New Zealand aren't open at all hours of the day and night like other places we are used to like Phnom Penh and Singapore.
Our hotel in Auckland was The Shakespeare, a pub downstairs with rooms upstairs similar to the McMenamins in Oregon and Washington in the US. Stephen tried some of the local ales on "draught"; I discovered New Zealand hard cider and love it.
It tastes so much like fresh crisp apples. And since I'm now allergic to raw apples this was a refreshing treat.
Auckland is a hilly city and some of the streets are a bit steep. So any walk was a pretty good workout. We walked through the park near the University of Auckland to the free museum one of the days and to the top of Mt. Eden on a different day.
The main reason for taking the hike up to Mt. Eden was for the amazing views of the city and both the east and west coasts. It just so happened, though, that the day we decided to take the multi-hour hike was the only day it rained nearly nonstop. So when we did get to the top, the clouds and haze blocked all the views. We enjoyed ourselves anyway, despite getting completely soaked.
From Auckland we rented a car and drove to Rotorua. In the Maori language "roto" means "lake" and "rua" means "two". Lake Rotorua was the second lake discovered by the Maori chief who first explored the area.
It was in Rotorua that Stephen and I went to a traditional Maori cultural performance and dinner. The Maori are the native people group of New Zealand and are Polynesian people similar to Hawaiians.
For our dinner (which was a feast!) the meat and some of the vegetables were steamed in a covered pit in the ground.
Also in the same region as Rotorua was the movie set for Hobbiton in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.
Stephen and I are big Lord of the Rings fans so taking a tour was high on our priority list. And we were not disappointed.
The movie set is located on an operating sheep farm way out in the countryside where there are no power lines or other such modern signs of human presence.
When Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings, found the site he was amazed by just how perfect it was and how little work they had to do to erase modern civilization and create Hobbiton out of the landscape.
Being on a movie set brought out the actor in Stephen! :)
From Rotorua we drove through the middle of the island to the coastal town of Napier. The water and black sand of the coast were so beautiful I just kept taking picture after picture trying to capture it accurately.
Stephen waited patiently for me. :)
Napier is in the "Hawkes Bay" region which is one of the many wine regions. We took a wine tour on bicycles. :)
New Zealand specializes in white wines but in the Hawkes Bay wineries the Syrahs (red wine) taste of black pepper. All the wines we tasted during our trip had unique distinctive flavors. And a couple ranked as our all time favorites.
There are several bike rental places in the Napier area so the next day we rented some more bikes and took a two hour ride on just a small section of a long bike trail that runs along the coast. How perfect is that?
New Zealanders refer to themselves and are known international by the nickname "Kiwi". This comes from the flightless bird the Kiwi, indigenous to New Zealand and the national symbol. We were able to see a couple of Kiwi at the National Aquarium in Napier. Because Kiwi are usually nocturnal, their habitat in the aquarium was dark. This was the best picture I could get. (Incidentally, the plural for people is Kiwis while the plural for birds is Kiwi.)
The aquarium was fun but after we left, we walked along the beach and saw this crazy sight: hundreds of seagulls were diving down to the water. As we got closer we saw that it was a fish frenzy. The fish were too big for the seagulls to catch.
But a fisherman on shore was reeling them in one after another.
After Napier we drove all day on a different highway to make our way back to Auckland. The roads were narrow and winding but had hardly any traffic. Just outside of a little town where we bought delicious berry pies we stopped to walk along a gorgeous beach on the Bay of Plenty.
So that was the first half of our trip: the North Island. But everyone we talked to said, "the South Island is the most beautiful." We couldn't imagine how it could be more beautiful than what we had already seen, such as this waterfall!