(Welcome, hello, thank you or good bye in Maori)
I started my New Zealand experience in Los Angeles with the Kiwi Specialist Convention. One and a half days of fast pace seminars with Tourism New Zealand, a bevy of New Zealand Tour Operators, accommodations and attractions. The convention was great! I got to meet lots of interesting people and learned a wealth of information. Picked up allot of brochures and CDs (I hope my box shows up as I had to ship it home – it was too heavy to carry all the way to NZ). The food was great and of course there were the New Zealand wines.
After the convention I flew out that night with Air New Zealand on my trip provided by Goway. I had a great flight; Air New Zealand has a great entertainment system in Pacific Economy. You have your own personal screen on the seat back in front of you, where you can choose from many movie titles (adventure, comedy, drama, kids titles too!), games, and TV shows. I lucked out and got 3 seats to myself, however the arm rests do not go all the way up so it is next to impossible to be completely horizontal. After 12.5 hours of flying time, I arrived in Auckland at 6:30am. Changed some money and hopped on the Airbus (15.00NZD one way 13.00NZD with an Explore NZ Card, available to Kiwi Specialists) and went to my hotel, Sky City. Luckily enough they let me check in right away (Sky City was an “add on” to the Goway Fam). Great service, really nice room! The rooms are quite modern and very large, the hotel has a casino, many restaurants, including The Observatory which is located atop the Sky Tower (Auckland’s version of the CN Tower). By the way if the urge takes you, you can jump 192 metres to the ground from the top for 195.00NZD, a really fast way to spend your money in Auckland. I did not partake! However I did partake in the Pizza at the Rebo café, it was delicious! Thin crust with roasted pumpkin, feta cheese, olives and artichokes on one side and on the other I had manuka smoked chicken with sundried tomatoes. I couldn’t eat it all, I wonder if it is still in the fridge in my Sky City room?
A little information on Manuka, it is a native shrub in New Zealand and is a variety of tea tree. New Zealand produces a Manuka honey which is renowned for it’s healing qualities, it has been used topically on burn patients with great success and it is great on toast or in tea! For more information on Manuka honey go to www.comvita.com.
For my first day in Auckland I booked a half day Bush and Beach tour, Wilderness Experience (again I got a 50% discount with my Explore New Zealand card). This tour is was great and I can’t say enough about Dawn our tour leader. I was picked up at my hotel by Dawn and from there we left the city of Auckland with a quick stop along the way at a bakery for some meat pies and fresh sandwiches. Then we drove to the Arataki Visitor Centre where we had great views of the Tasman Sea and got to enjoy some Maori carvings. Then we drove onto Karekare beach where the movie “The Piano” was filmed. This involved a very windy, steep descent down on narrow road, we were fortunate not to meet the same fate as the truck that went over the edge a few weeks prior (the yellow tape still marked the place). But that was all worth it because the scenery makes you forget all that. We were first taken into see a lovely waterfall where you can swim in the pool below or climb the falls itself. Then onto Karekare beach, meeting along the way a few good looking guys with surf boards. The beach was next to empty just us and a couple other people, and no piano; this is no ordinary beach because the sand is black. Black from volcanic ash and so, so soft on the feet. The sand itself contains iron (which can be picked up with a magnet) and also titanium. When the sun hits it, it shimmers. At this point my shoes were off and my jet lag was a vague memory and of course I clicked off a few pictures.
Then back on the bus and onto another beach via a scenic drive, this beach was called Piha Beach, a very famous surfing beach. We viewed this beach from above and it was stunning! Then we stopped at a little park area where we had a “cuppa” Dawn brought out the tea and coffee and biscuits and I actually got to taste Manuka honey for the first time. After our tea we then took a little hike into the rain forest and looked at the native flora of New Zealand, of which 70% is native to New Zealand. We learned about the Ponga, which is fern but growing as large as trees. The Ponga’s fern fronds are silver on the underside, the silver fern is a symbol found repeatedly in NZ, and it is also the symbol of the “All Blacks”, New Zealand’s national rugby team. Another symbol from the Ponga is the “Koru”, the curled new growth of a fern frond (know to some as fiddle heads here in Canada). This symbol is found everywhere in New Zealand from Maori art to the symbol on the tail of Air New Zealand’s aircraft. Dawn told us about the Cabbage tree and how Captain Cook’s crew boiled it up to ward off scurvy. And of course the Kauri tree, which is the largest tree in the world, largest in girth. The largest remaining one is known as Tane Mahuta, with a girth of 4.4 metres, and is said to be 1250 years old and still growing, the oldest is Te Matua Ngahere – 'Father of the Forest' – which is estimated to be 2000 years old. Our tour then continued along a scenic drive where we stopped to see a baby Kauri tree, only 800 years old! These majestic trees were once logged for their timber and their gum was used for varnish. They are now protected.
Our tour then ended at our respective hotels in Auckland. It was a day well spent with our guide Dawn; you could tell how much she loved her job. Who wouldn’t love working in such a beautiful environment?
The next morning I was picked up by Wes from Great Sights and we made our way to Waitomo, to see the glow worm caves. The caves are formed from limestone and there is an underground river that runs though it. The glow worms are worms that live on the ceiling of the cave and form a sticky string that hangs from ceiling. These strings glow and insects are attracted to them and get stuck in the stickiness. But to view them in a completely dark environment it seems as though you are looking up at a starlight sky.
After, we stopped for lunch and then headed to Rotorua where I stayed at the Rydges hotel. A very nice hotel with thermally heated pool (Most of Rotorua is heated this way due to the geothermal activity in the area). The rooms are very large and have a separate room with a spa bath in it. They also have table and chairs and a balcony with a table and chairs, mine looked over the horse racetrack and towards Lake Rotorua.
Despite the rain that night I walked to the down town area about (15 minutes) and went first to a souvenir shop where I bought a few things and use the internet. It was much cheaper to use the internet here than at the hotel. I paid 3.00NZD for 30minutes and at the hotel it was a whopping 26.00NZD for 120 minutes.
Then, onto the Fat Dog Café. An eclectic restaurant where you order at the counter and your food is brought to your table. I had the Chicken Satay Kebabs, it was quite tasty and lots of it, and washed all down with a Black Mac (a NZ micro brewery style dark beer). And of course I finished up with a flat white (somewhat like a cappuccino done south pacific style); I can’t quite get my coffees to turn out the same. Dinner cost about 20.00NZD total, quite reasonable I thought.
The next morning I was picked up by Bruce from Great Sights and it looked like the rain was going to hold off. We first went to Te Puia where the Pohutu Geyser and other smaller geysers and pools of bubbling mud can be viewed. Unfortunately, the skies decided to open up and the rain came down and I didn’t get to see Pohutu’s 30 metre eruption. The tour only allowed for 1 hour here and I feel it wasn’t long enough because there was allot to see, especially if you are a photographer. To see the Pohutu geyser erupt go to www.tepuia.co.nz via webcam (do it late at night because it will be day there then.) If time allowed I would have gone back when the weather cleared.
Next we went to the Agrodome, where you can milk a cow, see a sheep being sheared, feed a lamb (I did), buy some possum fur and merino socks (I did, and they are great!). But the fun doesn’t stop there; you can do a tour of the farm, jump bungee style and swing for awhile, do a simulated free fall jump, take a Hydrojet ride or roll down a hill inside a big plastic beach ball (Zorbing). This is a day plus attraction an hour stop cannot possibly do it. To check out all the possibilities go to www.agrodome.co.nz .
Our Next stop was Rainbow Springs, a beautiful native forest setting with fresh water springs with trout. This is a very informative tour on the flora and fauna of NZ. They have bird aviaries and there is the Kiwi Encounter, where NZ’s flightless bird the Kiwi can be seen. It is very dark as the Kiwi is a nocturnal bird; you can see it rooting around with its long beak for insects inside the enclosure. Rainbow Springs participates in a program call “Operation Nest Egg” where they actually find Kiwi eggs in the wild, bring them there, incubate them and raise them till they are mature enough to fight off any predators. The Kiwi population has diminished due to dogs, cats, possums and stoats and is a protected species. To learn more about Rainbow Springs and the Kiwi Encounter go to www.rainbowsprings.co.nz .
My tour was at its’ end, I got dropped off at the Lakeside Café and had lunch with Bruce the driver from Great Sights. Turns out he and his wife have a B&B on the lake in Rotorua.
After that I wandered over to the Maori church, St. Faith’s, nearby to view the incredible Maori carvings located inside the church. The church is open to the public (no pictures inside) no admission and no crowds so you can stand in the church and absorb the history, faith and culture of the Maori people. There is also a little gift shop next to the church where you can purchase Maori art and crafts.
I had the rest of the afternoon to myself so I went back to the hotel had a flat white while waited for my laundry to be done. The washers and dryers are free for guests and it cost 2.00NZD for washing powder.
That night I was picked up by Darren from Tamaki Maori Village along with a bus load of others, we drove outside Rotorua to the Tamaki Maori Village. On the way we were instructed (entertained) that we were in a Waka, a traditional Maori canoe and that we had to paddle in unison to make the bus go faster. We were also told that we were a tribe and had to choose a chief. There were three criteria to be met; he had to be brave, intelligent, and good looking. We elected Bruce from Australia; Darren said 2 out of 3 weren’t too bad. Upon arrival Bruce was instructed of what to do when challenged by the Maori chief. The Maori chief challenges the visiting chiefs to see if they are friend or foe, this is called the Te Wero. The Maori warriors perform this challenge with conviction and not many clothes. It really is something! After the peace offering is accepted, which is a frond of a silver fern, then, we can enter the village. In the village itself they demonstrate the traditional Maori way of life. Then you are asked to go to the Meeting House, the Wharenui, where the Haka is performed and many other traditional Maori songs and dances follow. If you sit in the front row you can touch them they are so close. You really are immersed in the whole cultural experience. Then they feed you! And what a feed, they serve New Zealand lambed cooked in the traditional Maori Hangi under the earth in an earth oven, green lipped mussels, Kumara (Maori sweet potato) and the usual salads, pasta and veggies. And don’t pass up the national New Zealand dessert, Pavlova, meringue, cream and kiwi fruit, yum! After more singing and entertainment we piled back onto our respective buses with our bellies full and satisfied! Darren, our bus driver, told us on the return that now we had to entertain him or he would have to make an unscheduled stop. So each nationality onboard had to sing something patriotic, I was in trouble since I was the only Canadian and couldn’t rely on another fellow Canadian to pull me through. Surprisingly enough Darren knows just about every patriotic song for all countries and I had a little help with Oh Canada (how embarrassing!). It was great fun and it is a must do while in Rotorua. By the way, if any of you want to married with a Maori theme that can be arranged by Darren. He is a marriage celebrant and has his own company that does this. Just contact me and I’ll arrange it for you.
My Goway portion of my trip is officially over now other than the return flight with Air New Zealand, however there is more. I was fortunate enough that my Kiwi friend Helena came and picked me up the next morning and we did some “tiki touring”. She drove me to a little seaside town called Maunganui, where Mount Maunganui is located. We took a short hike around the foot of the mount while taking in the beautiful coastline and beaches. After we went for a dip in the hot salt water pools located at the foot of the mount and followed up with some Hokey Pokey ice cream, a New Zealand favourite. Maunganui is a lovely spot if anyone is traveling by campervan (camp ground right next to the mount www.mountbeachside.co.nz ) or wants a little less touristy spot to light up.
Helena, then drove me back to her home and the next day I flew out from Auckland, not without doing some shopping in Hamilton for last minute purchases. I did purchase some wine to bring home for friends but soon realized unless I packed them in my suitcase I would not get through security with it (wine and suitcases don’t mix, trust me I worked at Canadian Airlines Baggage for awhile). And to add insult to injury, if you are transiting through the US, as I was, you cannot buy anything at duty free over 100ml because you go through security in the US again.
Overall, New Zealand in my mind is one of the most beautiful places on the earth to visit. Great scenery, hospitable people and service, fresh and delicious food, flat whites and it is very user friendly. The New Zealanders have turned tourism into a fine art; they love their county and love to share the culture, history and stunning scenery with others.
This was my third time there and it won’t be my last!
Denise Gushue – Kiwi Specialist