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Pictured: Mt. Ruapheu,
North Is.
New Zealand


New Zealand is one of the most beautiful and friendly countries in the world. For Americans who are looking for a location of safety and ease of travel, I personally believe that it is one of top five places to visit.

Tai chi time in Palmerston North

Opening Comments from Bob - Haere mai

The flight from LAX is a long one, approximately 12 hours. However, no one I know who has visited NZ has ever told me that it wasn't worth the journey. (Besides, if you don't want to sleep or read, these long Pacific flights include a bevy of entertainment options on the seat consoles that should keep you mesmerized or numbed for most of the way.)

The above Maori greeting is translated into "welcome" or "come" and sometimes includes the touching of the other person's nose with yours. Fear not, that only occurs between Maoris or in formalized ceremonies. Otherwise, "hello" works. In any country you visit where the people speak the same language as yours, you tend to believe the customs are the same. Do not be mislead, New Zealand culture differs from the U.S.'s, though in some cases the differences are only in small degrees. For example, when you request cream in your coffee, you receive whipped cream. "White" means milk. If you like your coffee rich and dark, request "a tall black" and the spoon will almost stand straight up in the cup. Bigger differences, other than just language, occur in the Kiwis' perspectives on life, the role of government, and personal responsibilities. These will be touched upon more in the vignettes below.

Please enjoy my overview on this delightful country and my encouragement to add it to your visitation list.

All pictures below (unless otherwised marked) are of the North Island
Two Poems this Issue

Eternal Sunlight

The air is bitter cold, crisp–
Not a cloud above.
The horizon stretches
And begins its unreachable curve.

Below, lies the otherworldly darkness
We’ve thundered through–
The brief bumps but memories.
Ahead, cumulus clouds
Hint that those in the nether world
May again see the golden rays
Soon brighten the day.

Encased in our jet propelled fuselage,
Most are oblivious to daily events–
The arguments, joys, the mundane–
That embrace those miles below.

We hurl onward,
Into the sunlight
Which never cease.

Comments: The long journey had just begun, having taken off from the Columbus airport on a cloudy, gloomy day. As we passed through the cloud layers, the plane bumped about for a few moments. Suddenly, we were in the sunlight. As far as one could see, the sky was clear. I jotted a few thoughts at the time, which later became this poem.

Field Track

“Make a U-turn as soon as possible,”
...the GPS drones for the third time.

.....Should I ignore?
.....I'm going the right direction.
.....Again, comes the insistent plea.
.....Hmm, U-turn it is.

“Turn right in 200 feet.”

.....Right it is.
.....Broken pavement, a single lane,
........must be doing construction.

“In fifteen miles, turn right.”

.....Rising, beautiful vistas
........and oohs and ahs of appreciation.
.....But wait, the road is narrowing,
........the curves now hairpins,
........barely room for one car
........let alone two.
.....What have I gotten into!

“In five miles turn right,”
...the voice calmly says
...as the perspiration builds on my brow.

.....Thank God, we are almost there.
.....The views of deep valleys
.........and steep ranges
.........mesmerize with camera stops galore.
.....Thankfully, only two cars
.........have inched by.
.....The open abysses to the right
.........still cause shivers.
.....Almost to the right turn
.........and back to civilization.

“Turn right in 800 feet.”

.....What! Where is the main road?
.....This section looks no better.

“Continue for ten miles.”

.....Past the point of no return,
........the car hurls forward
........sometimes reaching speeds of 15K
........(9 miles per hour).
.....With white knuckles onward,
.........upward, downward,
.........turning, turning, and turning
.........the kilometers pass.
.....Miles later, another right
........and then left turn,
.......the main road appears.

Thanks are given for survival
...and the magnificent panoramas
...that graced this unplanned journey
...on Field Track Road.

Comments: I must admit that the poem contains a bit of hyperbole. I have actually driven scarier roads in Hawaii. But the drop offs and the narrowness are not exaggerations. Usually, a GPS will take you only on main roads. But in NZ, there are few roads so the program decided this was the shortest way. When we arrived at our friends house ninety minutes late, they laughed and explained that most New Zealanders have never traveled that road though it is famous in the area. It was built primarily for the cattle and sheep raisers who live in the upper ranges and need access to markets. They also explained that if we had followed our original plans, we would have traveled on much better roads. This is one time that technology got in the way of good map reading skills. But then, we would have missed the spectacular views, the adrenalin rushes, and the poem generated from the experience.

Overlooking City of Taupo and Lake Taupo
Mt. Ruapheu – Field Track begins on its backside
The adventure on Field Track began here.
The climb has been continuous
Driving along the top range
Toi toi – all along the way
Finally arrived 90 minutes late

Auckland, the City of Sails
Auckland at night

Vignette: Aotearoa Part 1

This Maori word freely translates into "the land of the long white cloud," their name for New Zealand. Imagine a country about the land size of California that has a little over 4 million people; 17 million sheep; almost every type of geographical regions from a small desert to rain forests to the southern Alps; some of the world's cleanest air; police that do not carry guns; and people that traditionally say, "Thanks" before ordering and "Thanks" after receiving. The country is New Zealand.

Imagine my surprise as I took flights within the country simply to walk aboard the plane–no taking off shoes or going through scanners. The liquid carry-on bottle rules do not exist. It was wonderful not worrying about my pants falling down while my belt passed through the scanner. This current state exemplifies Kiwi life. Though a very modern and developed country, the pace of life is slower and laid back, and people still have time for each other. Dinners with friends include intellectual conversations, the TV off. Mom and pop stores, motels, and restaurants dominate on the commercial side. There are few chains including McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken and, in the larger resort cities, international hotels, but even there, locally owned businesses rule. However, I noticed that the more traditional supermarkets have replaced many of the greengrocers and small bread shops that existed during my last visit in 2001.

For most American and European drivers becoming use to driving on the left side is an important adjustment that must happen quickly. Only one extra trip through airport parking, with a bit of muttering, was necessary before my adjustment occurred. Luckily, once out of Auckland the amount of traffic drops off quickly. The fact that the car instrumentation is also on the opposite side is a challenge. Many a Kiwi saw my wipers go on instead of the turn signals and thought, "There is another American." More than one laugh occurred as I walked to the passenger side to get in, not to sit, but to drive. Then there is the unique rule to NZ that on two lane highways the person turning left must give way to the person turning right (Think on that one.). Expect to see drivers via your rear view mirror riding your tailpipe. The reason is that roads are windy and there is not much passing room. Oh yes, the use of yellow lines for no passing zones are almost nonexistence so you make the decisions when to or not to pass.

Vignette: Aotearoa Part 2

New Zealanders enjoy a very high standard of living. Part of this is due to the social contract that exists between the people and government. Socially, there is also an emphasis on personal responsibilities. Here are a few snippets of observations I have made over the years of living and traveling there: True universal health care is part of that social contract. The testing mania has not yet hit their schools, though there are rumors that it may eventually arrive. The arts are still considered an integral part of the curriculum and important for developing the whole person. Kiwis are competitors. The national rugby team, the All Blacks (nothing related to race but refers to the black color of the team uniform), dominates the sports news during their international contests. But, being more reserved than Americans and their Australian cousins, crowd behavior is rather tame. The fact I most appreciate is the overall emphasis on good sportsmanship. I witnessed a lad being removed from a soccer match for stamping his foot in anger. The behavior was considered unseemly. In short, winning isn't everything. Kiwis, as a whole, cherish the out-of-doors. Laws were enacted early on to protect public access right to beaches as well as strong anti-pollution regulations. There are a series of hiking (tramping) trails that are networked throughout the country. Since there are no snakes and only one very rare poisonous spider (the katipo), the abundance of open lands is a hiker's paradise. Although, in parts of the South Island you have to put up with some biting sand flies. But, they don't stop thousands from hiking the Milford Track, world famous for its beauty.

Kiwis do not tip and frown upon the fact that Americans continue to try to introduce the custom. If you want to get my Kiwi friends riled, bring that issue up. Servers, porters, etc. are paid a reasonable living wage. In Auckland in particular, when your American accent is heard, the particular server or porter will not turn down a tip. (When I first arrived there in the 80's, servers were offended if you tried to tip. Now, they take the money and inwardly smile.) I must admit I fell prey to the custom on several occasions at the Auckland Hilton. But honestly, if my friends are correct, and I believe they are, ignore those Travel Leisure tipping suggestions of 10-15% for NZ.

In closing, if you want to read some more on this gem of a country, go to my blog access page.

Devonport, a short ferry ride from Auckland
Windpower on the ranges outside of Palmerston North


Haere mai again

Visit New Zealand: Though I realize that most readers will not have an opportunity to visit this land of diverse scenic vistas and wonderfully friendly citizens, I would be remiss not at least to make the recommendation. NZ is a favorite country of mine, having been there six times. In the early 80's I lived there for a year. There are many recommendations to make, but space is limited. Consequently, I will limit them to a special few.

  • Places to stay: I stayed at some fine establishments on this trip but will only focus on two. The Auckland Hilton has a worldwide reputation for elegance and excellent service. The rooms are spacious and being located on the waterfront adds to the overall ambiance and views. Though the rate is expensive, the strength of the U.S. dollar helps bring the pricing into an affordable rate, especially when compare to similar hotels within the U.S. The second, The Palazzo Motor Lodge, was a wonderful surprise. This new facility located in the Kiwi resort community of Nelson on the South Island is an excellent value with real class. The elegant rooms allow plenty of space to stretch out and relax. Owners and hosts Bob and Kiara do everything possible to make your stay is an enjoyable one. I could not have been more pleased with this visit.
  • Restaurants: Over the years the quality of NZ restaurants have continued to improve. For use of fresh ingredients and creative menus, they are excellent. I will mention five, from gourmet to carryout. The White Restaurant in the Auckland Hilton is very upscale, serving delectable food. The breakfast buffet is one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. On a less grand scale is the Soho Restaurant located at 59 The Strand (07 577 0577) in the resort city of Tauranga. Expect fine provincial cuisine served by a friendly staff. This was my second visit there, having recommended the restaurant in my first book. I was pleased to see that the standards are still high. The Soho is a fine place to enjoy leisurely dining. At our request on the final night, friends Barry and Lyn suggested the Monsoon Asian Kitchen at 165 The Square in Palmerston North. What an evening of feasting we had! A young couple Jacky Deng and Amy Zhou operate this first-rate establishment. The four of us enjoyed a scrumptious five course dinner, including four entrees, for less than $57 U.S. You are also allowed to bring your own wine, which is another plus. When in the Marlborough region of the South Island, enjoy lunch or dinner at the Allan Scott Winery. The setting is picturesque, the menu creative, and the food delicious. The final suggestion is for carryout, Milton Street Fish and Chips in Nelson. Ask almost anyone, other than another tourist, and they can tell you how to get there. All I will say is "Umm!"
  • Note of Recognition: After receiving years of mediocre service through a variety of car rental companies, I must recognize one stellar employee working for Thrifty Car Rental in Nelson. Her name is Marisa. I was greeted with such warmth, I almost fainted. Then, I was personally escorted to the car, given a review of the vehicle, provided specific directions to the hotel, and handed a business card with her name and a friendly, sincere, "If you have any problems at all, please call me." If I could name a Thrifty employee of the year, she would be it.
  • The Perfect Souvenir: NZ has over 17 million sheep and produces some of the world's best quality wool. If you are in the market for woolen goods, one of my favorite places to visit is the Kaimai Woolshed, Cafe & Garden Centre at 1603 State Highway 29. 3021 Tauranga. Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. Main phone: 64 (7) 543-0750. I always enjoy a chat with owner Kerry Moore. Kerry has high ethical standards and sells only the finest products. If you want a remembrance of NZ that will provide years of wear, his shop is the place to go. Also, enjoy a cup of tea as you browse. While there, listen to his knowledgeable advice; he won't steer you wrong. To save transport problems, many customers have him ship the goods to their home addresses.
  • Vineyard and Winery: Over the last three decades, the quality of New Zealand wines has gained an international reputation for excellence, especially their whites. During previous trips, I visited many of their wineries. However, this was my first trip to the Nelson area and the Marlborough region. Touring NZ wineries is like visiting the small wineries of Napa and Sonoma twenty years ago–small crowds, friendly welcomes, and no charge for tastings. Next time I plan to spend more time exploring the wonderful small wineries in the Marlborough. The setting alone is one of the most beautiful in the world. I would like to recommend two that you may want to visit. Redoubt Hill Vineyard in the Nelson area is recommended for two reasons, the picturesque view from the home and sales room and the friendliness of the owners. Co-owner Lesley Jackson spent forty minutes frankly describing her wines, challenges, and future dreams. The vines are young so the wines are just coming into their own. I project a fine future for this small vineyard. The wines are made off premises and sold at the vineyard. The second suggestion is a visit to Hunter's Winery in the Marlborough region. It is an established boutique winery that creates wonderful varietals. Expect a very friendly welcome to the tasting room. Frankly, I could not believe the caliber of wines you were allowed to taste including my favorite, the Hukapapa 2007 Riesling Dessert Wine. I had to bring a bottle back. I would have purchased far more if transporting back to the States wasn't such a problem.
  • Ice cream: The U.S. makes some fine ice cream. However, we are so health and diet conscious that some of the pizzazz, the decadence, has left ours. In NZ, there is plenty of rich cream that reminds you as to why you enjoy this "sinful" delight. I enjoyed my share of milkshakes and cones while there. One stop rose to the top. I almost missed it. Travel SE out of Nelson on Rt. 60 through the small town of Richmond. As you leave the community and just pass the Waiamea Winery, you will see the sign Berryland (an expansive name for a small fruit market). Indulge yourself! First, pick the size and type of cone and berries you like. Next, a chunk of vanilla and the selected berries are put into the machine. This delectable, decadent mixture is then scooped into the cone. Oh my! You can also purchase fresh fruit and produce there.
The Auckland Hilton, taken from the ferry
Palazzo Motor Lodge, a great place to stay
Interior of the tastefully decorated
Monsoon Asian Kitchen, Palmerston North
My gourmet lunch at the Allen Scott Winery
Nothing like good ole fish & chips
Tasting room at Hunter Winery (South Is.)
View of Redoubt Hill Vineyards (South Is.)
Redoubt Hill co-owner Lesley Jackson (South Is.)
Berryland, not much to look at but YUMMY
place to visit (South Is.)
If you are a kayaker, NZ is the place for you (South Is.)

Coromandel Peninsula (the browns become deep greens during the winter)

Huka Falls (note the guy standing on the platform)

Gulls near Lake Taupo

The pictures below were taken on the South Island

Tower of the Nelson Cathedral
A few Marlborough vineyards

Great spot for a picnic (also a famous mussel harvesting area)

Roughed coastline south of Nelson (a kayakers and hikers paradise)

Sea kayaker setting out from a secluded beach

Marlborough pasture land
3 of 17 million
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