The third stage on my Round the World Trip, flying in from Australia to Auckland, in North Island. It is the largest city in New Zealand, but not the capital, which is Wellington. It's an expensive, but enjoyable place to live - plenty of museums, galleries, shops. and a large harbour full of superyachts. It's known as The City of Sails.
I meet up with Raye, from who I had parted in Hong Kong and I'm lucky to stay with her brother and his family. A brisk tour of the city and trip to One Tree Hill Park, balanced on a volcanic peak. It's commemorated with an obelisk and it's definitely the place to go for views across town.
Then, an evening visit to watch the horse and cart racing. We end up sitting in the stands and drinking with the Australian rugby team, who are scheduled to play New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup the following day. Campese is frolicking in the seats and John Eeles towers over me. The Kiwis win - by a small margin. It isn’t the best match ever. There aren't any tries.
Time to explore the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui) of New Zealand, known for its volcanoes, mountains and geysers. A trip with Raye's family, up the northern finger of the island to Waitangi. In 1840, representatives of the United Kingdom and 500 Māori chiefs met here to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, which in its English version (only) declared British sovereignty over the islands. There are two museums, a treaty house (with a replica of the treaty), a carved Maori Meeting House, two huge war canoes and cultural performances in the grounds.
Waitangi is adjacent to North Island tourist hotspot The Bay of Islands. This natural harbour (mapped and named by Cook) contains 144 islands. There are plenty of gorgeous panoramas, Maori artefacts and, sporting opportunities. The main draw is big game fishing - apparently. This is where the early whalers came, but the game today isn't quite that size. In a 2006 study, the Bay of Islands was found to have the second bluest sky in the world, after Rio de Janeiro. It's not so azure in the winter. The picture is Manghawahi Heads, another scenic spot, two hours drive south of Bay of Islands, in what are known as the Northlands.
Then south from Auckland, past Hamilton, the country's third city. then an urban sprawl, now a nightlife hub. Otherwise, it’s very quiet and sleepy. The weather is mild and the skyline is dotted with the ubiquitous and characteristic palm like tree ferns. They remind me of Jurassic Park. Sacks of kiwi fruit stand alongside the road. There's been a glut. It's important not to confuse your Kiwis. Kiwis are named after New Zealand’s native flightless bird. Kiwifruit grow here in abundance, but they are also known as Chinese Gooseberries.
Rotarua, in the Bay of Plenty area, is another mandatory stop in New Zealand's North Island. The town is set on its namesake lake and is renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. In Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Valley, the geysers are prolific, exhilarating and stink of sulphur. The 30 metres tall Pohutu Geyser, happily, erupts many times daily. As in most of these volcanic sites, you can stand at the Gates of Hell watching pools steam and mud bubbling. Most of the motels here have hot spring fed Jacuzzis out back of each room.
Rotorua became stablished as a spa town in the late 1800s. The most magnificent building is the half timbered former Bath House (1908), later converted to a History Museum and Art Gallery. And this is where you get to see a proper kiwi. (There are some in the wild and various national hatcheries.)
Another highlight of Rotorua is the Agrodome, a working farm, where there are shows for tourists to learn about sheep and sheep shearing. There are presently around nine sheep to every human in New Zealand (human population about 4 million). The show is extremely amusing. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not.
Back to Auckland via the Waitomo Glow-worm Caves. You can get a boat across its inky waters, to see the tiny creatures glow in the dark.
Next stop Hawaii.
To read more about New Zealand click here.
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