Lord of the Rings

The Land of the Shire

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One of the most desirable travel destinations in the world, yet perhaps one of the least fulfilled, is New Zealand. It's understandable why most people only dream of going there -- it's a long way from just about anywhere except Australia, and it's not cheap. About a year and a half ago my wife and I were able to spend two fabulous weeks there, visiting our dear friends Neil and Jill White. Neil and Jill were our colleagues during our years in Amsterdam, and they had already come to visit us in Nashville years after we had parted ways. So it was our turn to visit them in their homeland, and I will tell you it was not easy to get back on that plane to come home. (Want to know how we were able to swing it? Travel hacking! Find out what that is in my interview with Chris Guillebeau.)


In this episode of the World to the Wise podcast, I have the pleasure of introducing you to this beautiful country as Neil and Jill give us an overview of the land, its people, and its culture.

It's worth mentioning that Neil and Jill are also Air BnB hosts, so if you happen to decide to make the journey, you MUST spend a few days at their place on the Bay of Plenty on the east coast of the North Island.

Next week I'll be coming to you from beautiful Switzerland, where I just arrived yesterday for a brief concert tour.


Adventures in New Zealand - Part I

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

Arangahake Gorge
Arangahake Gorge

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.

Ponga fern with "koru"
Ponga fern with "koru"

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

Aukland harbo(u)r
Aukland harbo(u)r

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!

Pohutukawa tree
Pohutukawa tree