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

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New Zealand: maybe someday we will call it "home"

During our first trip to New Zealand in 2013, we discovered a country that had so many features and qualities Stephen and I value. The land is beautiful: mountains, beaches, vineyards, green pastures, pristine rivers and lakes… Other countries have these things too but New Zealand as a whole is uniquely unspoiled. The climate is mild. The people are friendly and “down to earth”. The population is small, only 4.4 million, but diverse and there are genuine uniting features that make New Zealand stand apart from the rest of the world. Not to mention the fact that Kiwis put a high value on creativity and innovation; two terms that best describe the type of work that both Stephen and I enjoy and seek. New Zealand has a lot to offer; Stephen and I were enticed by the idea of living and working there.

Moving to a foreign country is a big leap. A little research is a good plan to increase the probability of a successful transition. Our second trip to New Zealand was a combination holiday/ “research” tour to explore parts of the country we hadn’t experienced the first time.

Our flight from the US took us through Melbourne, Australia to Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. We took a few days there to get over jetlag. As we have been to Auckland several times now, it feels familiar and welcoming. We shopped for groceries in New World Market, had dinner and drinks at the Shakespeare Hotel, walked along the waterfront imagining life in a condo there, and took a ferry ride. 

This time we bought tickets for the Rangitoto Island ferry. Because the wind that day made it unwise to dock at the normal spot, the ferry captain motored around to the other side of the island. From that drop off point we took a hike on Motutapu Island right next to Rangitoto Island. 

Being huge fans of mass transit, from Auckland we began our scenic train travel that took us all the way through the North Island down as far as Christchurch on the South Island. I love traveling by train. So much more comfortable than planes and you can read or work on your computer, unlike when driving a car. You can get up and walk around all you like and the seating is more spacious, AND you get to see beautiful country that you can’t see from the road. Unfortunately the first leg of our tickets was truncated due to a derailing that morning just south of Auckland. So we had to take a bus for most of that part. Kind of disappointing, of course. But after that there were no more interruptions and we enjoyed the beautiful land of New Zealand from the comfort of rail travel.

The first overnight stop was Wellington, the capital. I loved the artistic flare that colors the city, but Stephen doesn’t think he could live there with near ever-present  wind. Weta, the design company that is responsible for a lot of what you see in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, is located in Wellington. We took a tour of the workshop.

In order to board the train for the next leg of our trip, we first had to cross the ocean. We took the Interislander ferry from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. 

The difference in weather from when we boarded the ocean ferry and when we disembarked at Picton was amazing: from wind, rain and choppy seas to clear skies and smooth sailing. (Wellington is on open ocean while Piction is protected by the Marlborough Sounds.)

The best section of the train ride was from Picton to Kaikoura.  It was a gorgeous sunny day and we spent quite a bit of time in the open air car where you can take unobstructed photos of the landscape.

On our last trip we drove through Kaikoura, stopping only long enough for a dolphin tour. But as we wanted to take two marine life watching tours, we decided to stay overnight this time around. The Dolphin Encounter tour was such a wonderful experience on our last trip to New Zealand that I wanted to do it again. 

We also decide to do a whale watching tour.  To see the Sperm whales we had to travel quite a distance out from the shore to get to the deep water where the whales live. 

The swells were huge that day so I had to concentrate diligently to not let my seasickness get the better of me! On both tours I added a few good shots to my collection of reference photos for future paintings. :)

Our last leg of train travel was from Kaikoura to Christchurch. In Christchurch we rented a car; the train goes as far as Greymouth on the west coast but that’s where it stops. As we wanted to explore more southern areas of the island after visiting Greymouth, we had to choose to travel by bus or by car.

The roads are often narrow in New Zealand and there are many one lane bridges.

The most incredible one lane bridge was one near Greymouth: it was a multi-use bridge that both cars AND trains use!

It was on our first trip to New Zealand that I discovered hard cider on draught at the Shakespeare Hotel.  Monteiths was the brewer and though I’ve tried other brewers since, Monteiths is still my favorite.  Greymouth is the home of Monteiths Brewing Co., so we made sure to stop and sample their ales, cider, and ginger beer. 

They also had a food menu and I noticed a venison dish on offer. Deer aren’t wild in New Zealand like they are in the states. The animals are fenced in and raised just like cattle and sheep. After seeing one pasture after the next with deer grazing, I began to wonder if New Zealand did as well with venison as they do with lamb and beef.  So I ordered the pepper-encrusted venison at Monteiths to find out.  Not surprisingly, it was delicious.  “Cervena”, New Zealand venison, is a growing export for the country.

A big part of what was so fun about our first trip to New Zealand, was the outdoor activities we did. It rained a lot more on this trip so we didn’t rent bikes or kayaks as much as we had planned. But at least we did get out on a lagoon one day in a double kayak.  We enjoyed paddling around for hours and doing a little bird watching.  

Not wanting to miss one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country, we took a ferry ride through Milford Sound one of the giant Fjords. Lots of pretty waterfalls. Again it was a really rainy day, which they said it is 3 out of 4 days, so not quite the experience it looks like in the brochure. Still it was fun to see seals and go down to the underwater observatory.

 I got to celebrate my birthday in New Zealand, one more birthday celebrated in a country other than the US, so that’s fun. We ate a most delicious early birthday dinner at an Italian restaurant in a town called Oamaru on the South Island.

It was nice to spend more time in New Zealand. Our window of opportunity has closed (there are several paths to immigration and we no longer meet the criteria for the path that was open to us) but maybe someday in the future another window will open. At least we can always travel there. :)