As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I had the unbelievable privilege of visiting the Land of the Kiwi for two fast weeks during our winter break from teaching. What follows is the first of a handful of posts that relate not only the sights we saw, but also some observations of Kiwi culture from this American's point of view. Hope you enjoy. I’ve just awakened from a dream.
My wife and I, at this writing, are sitting in the Nadi airport in Fiji, waiting for our Fiji Airways flight to Los Angeles. We have just spent two idyllic weeks in New Zealand, hosted by our long-time friends and former colleagues, Neil and Jill. It had been 12 years since we had last seen Neil and Jill, and over 24 years since we worked – and practically lived – together in Amsterdam.
I suppose Becky and I may be developing a reputation as jet setters. Both teachers, we often use our school breaks for international travel, and I suspect many quietly wonder how we can possibly afford such exotic adventures on schoolteacher salaries. The answer is not always the same, but in this instance it was primarily frequent flyer miles. (It is never a secret investment, a rich uncle or an inheritance.) I’ll expound on that in another post; in this one, I just want to rave about New Zealand.
We had done some reading and watched some television shows about New Zealand, and of course were captivated, like everyone else, by the scenery in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit movies. Shortly before we left the States, while looking at
some photos, I had told Becky not to expect the New Zealand countryside to be that green. Surely it had been enhanced by the photographer. Upon arriving in Kiwiland, my loving wife took great delight in proving me wrong. Whether in the rolling hills of the North Island heartland or the lush foliage of areas such as the Karangahake Gorge, the greens were indeed that green.
We almost thought we were on a Jurassic Park set, as the landscape is dotted with exotic-looking ferns called ponga. You will find the panga leaf on much New Zealand memorabilia, as it has become a national symbol. Growing out of the top of the panga can often be seen a stalk with a curved top. This young shoot, called a koru, is considered a harbinger of new life and, like the panga leaf, is a symbol that holds a special place in the heart of every New Zealander.
Neil and Jill met us at the Auckland airport and drove us to the northern suburb of Devonport, where we parked the car and boarded the ferry across the Auckland Harbour to the city center. The largest city and commercial capital of New Zealand is
a vibrant, cosmopolitan, and modern city that invited us to spend more time than we had. We did enjoy strolling along the harbor’s edge and taking in the sights, including a number of sleek yachts that had competed in the America’s Cup race.
Most of our Kiwi adventures were in the countryside and smaller cities. Neil and Jill have recently purchased a wonderful little house on the Bay of Plenty on the east coast of the North Island, about 40 minutes by car from the popular city of Tauranga. They are in the process of renovating the place, with a view of listing it on AirBnB and perhaps other listing services. The charming house is perched on an overlook called Tanner’s Point, where we awoke every morning to a beautiful view of the inlet, framed by the captivating pohutukawa trees with their red, wispy blooms and by the fascinating call of the tui bird. (The tui have two voice boxes and held my wife spellbound by their varied sounds, from gravelly clearing of the throat to full octave intervals to metallic tones a la R2D2.)
Part 2 coming soon!