Category Archives: New Zealand

Last Days in New Zealand

27 March, 2015 – Tauranga (“toe-rung-ah”)

I lounged in the morning, petting one of Gladys’s ragdoll cats. We went into town for lunch and a bit of window-shopping. I then hiked to the top of Mount Maunganui while Gladys circled the base. In the evening, I joined her and a half dozen of her friends for dinner and a Peta Mathias performance. Peta is an NZ cook and comedienne with a local TV show. She demonstrated how to cook a fatty lamb dish with black pudding, which I would never eat, and told humorous stories of her catholic school years. The show felt like a commercial for her cooking trips, but her singing was beautiful.

28 March – Tauranga to Auckland

Thanks to tips from Gladys and Jacque, my next hostess, I had a perfectly choreographed drive to Auckland with scenic stops along the way.

My first stop was Te Puna, where I took an hour walk through a quarry turned into a park. In addition to a variety of gardens, there were random sculptures and rusty equipment throughout. I next strolled through Katikati (“catty-catty”), appropriately nicknamed Mural Town. The murals, scattered about town, are mostly historical in nature. There is also a smattering of artwork and poetry, a nice addition to any town. Alas, there was no dark chocolate, a rare commodity in NZ.

I took a hike at Karangahake Gorge, exploring a few of the many trails throughout this old mining site. Lunch at the Native Tree Café was delightful. My third “hike” of the day was to a bird blind at Miranda Shorebird Colony.

Less than an hour later, I met Jacque at the Auckland Botanic Gardens. Founding member of a butterfly trust, she was volunteering at an annual “Eyes on Nature” event designed to reconnect children to nature. I arrived just as an energetic cultural performance was beginning, and then toured the gardens until her shift was over.

29 March – Tiritiri Matangi

Jacque joined me for a guided tour of this amazing bird sanctuary. Until a few decades ago, this island, a 75-minute ferry ride from Auckland, was used for pastureland and nearly treeless. Staring in the 1980’s, volunteers planted nearly 300,000 trees. They poisoned the kiore rats (used for food by the Maori) and reintroduced a dozen species of endangered birds and a few reptile species. I was able to see and hear many of them today.

30 March – Auckland

Jacque sang me Happy Birthday when I got up in the morning and later gave me a basket of butterflies to release. When she went to work, promoting reading in the schools, I wandered around the city centre, from Myers Park to Wynyard Quarter. My favorite spots were the Auckland Art Gallery, with a variety of historic, modern, and contemporary art, and along the wharf. To celebrate my birthday, Jacque and I went to dinner at the Sky Tower, the tallest manmade structure in the southern hemisphere. We timed it for sunset and enjoyed the slowly revolving view of the city. (Thanks for the suggestion, Gladys).


26 March

I selected four of the numerous geothermal activates near Rotorua and spent the day surrounded by sulphur. A larger percent of maori live here than elsewhere in New Zealand and they own many of the thermal areas.

Wai-o-tapu – this was the most colorful thermal area I visited; it has a geyser that erupts at 10:15 every day, thanks to a package of a soap dropped into the top.

Whakarewarewa – about sixty maori live in this thermal village, which has been home to the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahio tribe since before Europeans arrived. I saw a cultural performance, took a tour of the village, ate a piece of corn cooked in one of the pools and a hangi pie prepared in one of the steam boxes the community uses for cooking. I also saw the geysers erupt. These geysers, which go off randomly according to nature’s whim, can also be seen from the neighboring Te Puia as these villages share the same geothermal area.

Rotorua Museum – this former bathhouse is a museum containing historic information about the spa, a short informative movie about a nearby eruption, an exhibit on current maori culture, and some contemporary art. Nearby, in the Government Gardens, I took a stroll around small Sulphur Lake to view more than a dozen sculptures based on the theme “The Returning Soldier”. After WWI, they came to the spa to heal.

Hell’s Gate (Tikitere) – a light rain started as I arrived and I almost had the place to myself. There are lots of mud pools at this one; I got to soak my feet in hot muddy water. After my loop through, my silver jewelry had tarnished and I reeked of sulphur.

I then drove to Tauranga where I met Gladys. We enjoyed dinner in her beautiful home set in a tropical garden.

Tongariro and Taupo

25 March

Due to the weather forecast and logistics, I decide not to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as planned. In hindsight, I could have stayed at the Tongariro YHA, taken the shuttle from there, and done the crossing today; the forecast rain did not materialize and it wasn’t as windy as predicted. (The NZ weather forecasts are among the least accurate I have encountered.) Instead, I drove up to the National Park, explored a few of the sights, and hiked for a couple hours on the beginning of the track. I liked the vastness of the view and the beautiful low growing plants.

I returned to Taupo in time to go to Café L’Arté with Erin. This café is set in an adorable garden filled with mosaic artwork. We later picked up fish and chips, and a bottle of wine, and had a most enjoyable dinner on a picnic table next to the lake. Thank you Erin.

Onto North Island

22 March – Wellington

I had a peaceful, photo-free day, hanging out in rainy Wellington with Trish. I bought a few pieces of New Zealand themed fabric, for the quilt I may eventually make. We saw two great exhibits at the Pataka Gallery in Porirua where we also had a tasty lunch. The first exhibit, Visible Women at 60, contained portraits of sixty women and their comments about life; their quotes were inspiring, full of wisdom and the confidence that comes with age, perfectly timed for my upcoming birthday. One quote referred to the 60’s as the teenage years of old age (that explains the recent braces); I prefer to think of it at the upper end of middle age.

In the other exhibit, Imagine Asia, contained New Zealand artists’ responses to contemporary Asia. It was quite diverse with some intriguing pieces. I tried unsuccessfully to find the book NZ Frenzy North Island after finding Scott Cook’s book on the south island to be a very hand guide. And I spent a bit of time on Trish’s PC, since she doesn’t have WiFi, planning my next few days.

23 March – Birds and Napier

Trish drove me to Ace Rental Cars and guided me through Wellington traffic onto the highway leading north. The windy road lead over a mountain and into the fog, which cleared just as I reached my first stop, Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre. There I took a short bush walk past several aviaries where they are breeding native birds for release back in the wild. At the Kiwi House, I saw a couple kiwi, one a rare white one. They have reversed day and night so we were able to observe these nocturnal birds in very dim light.

I then continued my drive up to Napier. When this coastal town was severely damaged in a 1931 earthquake, it was rebuilt in an Art Deco style. I took a walk through the city centre to check out the colorfully painted buildings.

I stayed overnight with Sue, who I met through a women’s group promoting international friendships, and her partner Don. I enjoyed a home cooked meal and a wide-ranging conversation with a couple kindred souls.

24 March – Gannet Colony

There are two ways to get out to see the Gannett colonies on the privately owned Cape Kidnappers just south of Napier. One is a tractor ride along the beach, which goes once a day timed with low tide. The other is an overland drive across the top. Given the tide table, I had only one choice, which may have been the better of the two. The overland route provides great views of the peninsula and allows more time at the gannet colony, one of the largest in the world. Most of the birds, members of the Booby family, were chicks, getting ready to take flight, but there were also a few fluffy younger ones and several adults. The weather was gorgeous; I wore sandals for the first time since I left Moteuka.

After my tour, it was back in the car for a couple hour drive inland to Taupo. I made a brief stop at Huka Falls before meeting my next hostess, a fellow cat-lover, Erin. We enjoyed gin & tonics, a meal, and chatting. She has four grown children, nine grandchildren, and has traveled to more places than I have.

Congratulations New Zealand! The Kiwis got into the finals for the cricket world cup for the first time and there’s a lot of excitement around here.

East Coast of South Island

18 March – Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

Today was a boring day. In the morning I lingered in my ensuite cabin until checkout time (that was not the boring part, especially with a lake right out my window), then I took the long route to Christchurch (that was the boring part). I first went to Timaru to see the Maori Rock Art Centre (interesting, but not worth a detour, especially if you’ve seen actual petroglyphs elsewhere). Timaru feels like an industrial port town, though the city centre was walkable and I had a chance to stretch my legs. I then took the inland “scenic” route to Christchurch, eager to get off the busy coast highway, not realizing how much extra time it would add. It was no more scenic than any other rolling farmland, though I enjoyed visiting a gallery located in an old post office in Geraldine. In the end, I got stuck in commute traffic coming into Christchurch, much more than I expected for a city of 375,000 (NZ’s third largest). Apparently some of the earthquake-damaged roads are still closed, causing increased traffic on others. Fortunately, my evening was quite pleasant. I chatted with my B&B hosts, Jill and Ruth, over both tea and a drink, and then had a nice meal overlooking the beach.

19 March – Christchurch

I spent much of the day exploring Christchurch city centre. Many downtown buildings were destroyed in the 2011 earthquakes and the whole place looks like a construction zone. They’ve done a good job making it pedestrian friendly, despite the mess, with art installations, flowers, and decorative perimeters around constructions sites, some with view windows. I visited the Cardboard (a.k.a. Transitional) Cathedral, built within two years of the quake with many cardboard components, and the Container Mall

20 March – Kaikoura

Today was a great, car-free day. The swells were too high to swim with the dolphins, as I had scheduled (residual effect of the cyclone), but it was a sunny and warmer than the last few days. I had a wonderful hike and chat with Oscar, a fellow San Franciscan staying in the neighboring room at the B&B. We took a loop trail around the Kaikoura peninsula, starting at the beach since it was low tide; the rock formations at the point were fascinating. We came back up along the top just as the clouds were clearing over the inland mountains and we could see a bit of snow on the peaks. We had fun feeding bits of apple and carrot to a group of horses.

I ate a late lunch in the beautiful garden, walked into town to explore the souvenir shops, enjoyed a beer (opened with a mini pair of pliers), sorted photos in the nice sunny community room, and then walked back to the beach for a paua (abalone) dinner. Overall, a perfect, leisurely day.

21 March – Back to the North Island

Cute frolicking seal pups! I stopped to see them at Ohau Point on my way to Picton. The adults slept while the youngsters romped. The pups also make their say upstream to Ohau Falls. I saw them playing in the stream all the way to the falls. It was a challenge to take pictures of moving seals in dim light.

I then drove up to Picton, returned my rented car, and boarded the ferry back to Wellington. Trish was there to meet me when I arrived, three and a half hours later.

Aoraki (Mount Cook)

17 March, 2015

I was excited to see blue sky when the sun came up. I considered exploring the Clay Cliffs of Omarama, but the location was a bit remote and there were no other cars in the carpark, so I decided to skip it. As I headed north toward Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, clouds obscured the mountains. Hoping they would clear, I drove in along Lake Pukaki. When the sun peeked out, it was an incredible turquoise. A natural glacier fed lake; it is now dammed for electric power.

My first stop in the park was Tasman Glacier View. Clouds were still shading much of the area and it was cold. There were a few small icebergs floating at the edge of Glacier Lake.  The sun was just starting to come out as I drove over to Hooker Valley and I could see a tiny slice of glacier as I ate lunch in the car. And then the clouds suddenly shifted, and I could see a massive snow-capped mountain right in front of me! I put on my pack and headed out for the three-hour round trip hike to Hooker Lake; it was beautiful all the way and felt great to be hiking again.

Afterwards, I drove to Lake Tekapo (“tech-a-po”), where I had a nice dinner and spent the night.


15 March, 2015 – Otago Peninsula

Green and gold under blue sky. Sheep and cows along the way. A patch of fog above an unseen river. Low hills in the distance. And so the morning rolled by on my way from Te Anau to Dunedin.

I read somewhere that 50% of New Zealand is covered with non-native grasses. After all the pastureland I saw today, I believe it. I encountered my first motorway, a divided freeway, just outside Dunedin. Signal lights and one-way streets, get me out of here! (As a city resident, I get habituated to a level of stress that I don’t notice until I get away and return to it).

When I arrived, my airbnb hosts kindly let me take a short mid-day nap. That refreshed me enough to head into town for a quick visit. Most of the galleries and many of the shops are closed on Sundays, so I wasn’t tempted to stay long. After a short walk-around, I drove out to the tip of Otago Peninsula, along a windy road that hugs the coast. My primary purpose was to visit the Penguin Place and see the rare Yellow-eyed Penguins. Most of them are at sea at this time a year, but I saw several on land molting and got to visit the penguin “hospital” where injured penguins are recovering.

On my way back, I stopped in Portobello for a tasty meal at a pub (salad with a fish cake and a black beer). This looks like a nice place to stay and explore the peninsula. If I had longer, I’d go on an albatross tour and also try to find the blue-eyed penguins.

16 March – Cold Beaches and More Penguins

Oh no, my mind is going! This morning I put an electric water kettle on the stove almost causing a fire. I wish I could claim lack of sleep, but I slept soundly last night. Instead, I’ll defend myself by stating that it looks a lot like the one I use on my stove every day at home.

I made two great stops on my way from Dunedin to Omarama today. The first was at Katiki Point to see more yellow-eyed penguins. Near the lighthouse on this beautiful windy point is a penguin preserve. It’s free and open to the public, though donations are requested. I saw more penguins than yesterday and so many seals I had to walk around them. It was also very cold and I wore more layers than I have yet on this trip.

My second stop was just a short distance up the road at Moeraki is see a boulder strewn beach. It was high tide, so I didn’t get to see as many of the round bowling ball like rocks as I would at low tide, but the sea had washed up a beautiful collection of seaweed.

I made a couple other quick stops along the way to stretch my legs. It remained cold, overcast, and a bit windy all day, perhaps residual affect of the storm that hit the north island early today. I took a tour of town, which takes about ten minutes, and then spent much of the afternoon and evening catching up on photos. I ventured across the road for dinner at a very noisy restaurant filled with tour groups.