Happy New Year to everyone from beautiful AOTEAROA
December 26 2008 through January 5th 2009
(the Maori term for New Zealand)!
After a 47 hour trip we arrived at midnight on December 26th in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand situated on the southern tip of the North Island along the shores of Cook Strait. Prior to our arrival here, we enjoyed a welcome respite from the gruelling plane trip in Sydney, where we had a 12 hour lay-over before continuing on to Wellington, and walked through the Botanic Gardens trying to combat fatigue.
Stern 'immigration officers' guarded the entry into New Zealand,
but later we discovered that creatures like these dot the landscape everywhere here. Our first stop in New Zealand was the house of Gabi's sister Susanne and her fiancé John in Newtown section of the city. This splendid accommodation offered all the amenities for a speedy recovery from jet-lag: the sun deck overlooks the waters of Evans Bay and is sheltered on both sides by lush stands of eucalypt trees in which birds and geckos chase each other through the midday breeze.
Susanne and John are gracious hosts (and we highly recommend them), and their 6 months old daughter Luka Marie was thrilled by the additional entertainment power we provided. We celebrated the New Year in Karori section of Wellington among an array of international guests from Canada, Italy and England in the house of John's best friend David and his wife Sally. After this, we were ready to explore the lower North Island from Wellington up north-east to Napier and then inland to Lake Taupo, and across the Tongariro National Park to the western coast line. The road trip offered its own level of amusement with funny road signs, cautioning drivers to be aware of exotic animals crossing.
We took a short detour from the route to visit the location featuring the longest place name in the world on a sign several meters in length. The place commemorates the fierce Maori warrior Taumata, who was lamenting the death of his brother killed in battle on this spot.
Driving in New Zealand is easy even though all of the others drive on the wrong side of the road; the roads are small, traffic is light and the countryside fascinating. On the eastern flank of the island the hills are treeless but sprinkled with zillions of sheep (of which you are hard-pressed to find any on a local menue in restaurants - they are all for export!). The landscape oftentimes consists of endless flows of hills and narrow folds that reflect the enormous forces at work in the past that forged the hillsides out of volcanic eruptions: the surface of the hillsides resemble patterns of crumbled paper as if a majestic hand had crushed the volcanic rocks and boulders into a wrinkled and creased bedsheet coating the slopes.
Towns are far and between, and homesteads of remote farms construct mail boxes the size of small huts next to the roadway into which not only mail but also groceries are delivered on a weekly basis - the next supermarket being hours away.
We made our way passed Mount Ruapehu,
the highest of the volcanic peaks on the North Island (2797m), and through townships which offer only diesel and low-octane gasoline at service stations but no super or even V-Power diesel (Martins observation). Car parks on the way
provide a glimpse why this may be so! Well, things are different down under it seems, even the parking lots (taken at Horopito Vintage Cars). Our route carried us through tongue-knotting place names such as Waipurukau, Taunarunui, Motuoapa, Pipiriki, and finally to the waterfalls of Raukawa,
and eventually to the seal colony at Cape Palliser
at the south eastern tip of North Island. From here we headed back to the splendour of 8 Paeroa Street in Wellington, enjoying a last meal
and for a final day the vista from Susanne's and John's sundeck onto Evans Bay and preparing ourselves for the real adventure to start in Australia (see Map).
The weather throughout was, as expected, very british.