New Zealand

Fall 2005 CSANews Issue 56  |  Posted date : May 23, 2007.Back to list

Kia Ora...
That's how you are apt to be greeted in New Zealand. It's a Maori greeting, but almost everyone uses it, regardless of their personal background. And that's fine. After all, the Maoris came to this 'land of the long white cloud' more than a millennium ago. They have handed down their customs and heritage through oral history. And the good thing is, they have established a wonderful set of values to pass along to their children, while at the same time affording newcomers an opportunity to learn about Maori culture.

The best place to start learning about these people with a distant Polynesian past, is Rotarua. The community, a centre of Maori culture, is about an hour's drive from Auckland. Your first call should be at the museum, housed in an Elizabethan-style building, where the area tourist board is also located. You should spend an evening at a traditional Maori Hangi and cultural concert. You will find yourself immersed in the lifestyle of New Zealand's first people. You will be 'challenged' by warriors at the entrance. Since you arrive as friends, you will be allowed in and you will find boys engaged in wood carving; the girls will be weaving. You will see a traditional earthen oven, in which your meal of vegetables and meat is cooking. You will hear songs sung by a choir of mixed voices, see dances performed and, perhaps best of all, be able to converse with the iwi (people) themselves. Close by is the village of Whakarewarewa, set among geysers and bubbling geothermal mud pools.

You realize, of course, that if you go during our winter, you will arrive in the Southern Hemisphere in their summer. That makes the idea of going really far south a good one. Some years ago, Goway Travel introduced long stays (one to three months) in both New Zealand and Australia. You might want to consider a month or two in an apartment in New Zealand and follow it up by renting a car and buying a farm or home-stay package. Our drive (on the left, as in the UK) covered both islands, and 10 vouchers allowed us to travel from point to point for 10 nights, with breakfast upon arising. We stayed in very nice homes with very nice people. It is such a great way to learn about the locals and their way of life.

You might want to include Australia for a month or so as you escape the Canadian winter. But don't try to cover both countries in just one month. You will not do justice to either the countries or yourselves. New Zealand should not be considered an 'add-on,' but a wonderful destination in itself.

Wellington, located at the southern tip of the North Island, is home to New Zealand's parliament, and the country's National Museum and Art Gallery. Called "Te Papa," this award-winning museum is worth at least a day. Again there is a Maori theme, but other cultures are represented, even in the marae, or meeting house. Built in the shape of a human body, the hall has Maori carved figures around the wall, representing various tribes. Recognizing the biculturalism of New Zealand, the design included a church window at one end of the room, providing sanctuary for all.

Te Papa offers a time tunnel. Enter and get taken back to a prehistoric bush, to experience the sounds of birds and animals, including the giant Moa, dinosaurs and dragon-like reptiles. See a waterfall and then be seated in a motion simulator, where you can experience the Maori legend (the man Maui fishing New Zealand out of the sea) and scientific theories concerning the birth of the islands. Time then skips ahead, dropping you into the Wellington of 2055. With lasers and flashing lights, you will be taken on an aerial ride over the city. After 'landing' on a virtual mountain top, it will be exciting to wend your way down on a virtual snowboard!

New Zealand's national museum offers a number of virtual experiences: visit the 'Golden Shears' for sheep shearing (the country has 20 sheep for every one of its nearly four million humans), race in a dragon boat, wind surf or ride a whale. The action simulated here was actually filmed at Kaikoura, where you too can whale watch for real. And oh yes, you can try bungee jumping. We're told that for just $6.00, it seems quite realistic. However, if you want the real thing, you'll find it at Queenstown on the South Island, for around $100.00!

Queenstown is where the New Zealanders go for excitement. After bungee jumping, they board a Zodiac and go white-water rafting or jet boating on the Shotover river. For a calmer water ride, try the TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu. A stop at an area farm allows you to get up close to a few sheep, or have your photo taken astride a very large ox.

Queenstown is also the spot at which the Milford Sound excursions begin. One of the most picturesque views in the Southern Hemisphere awaits. The 16-kilometre boat cruise takes you along a fjord walled by incredibly high rock faces. The day we went, we were encouraged by our coach driver/guide who told us to ignore the cloudy skies and insistent rain. We would be rewarded by many waterfalls along the route, as the water had no place to go but over the cliffs on either side of the sound. On a sunny day, he said, you would not get so many cascades. So pay your money and take your chances. The bus ride and boat cruise are wonderful in any weather

Okay, what did I miss? How about the waters? To the west is the Tasman Sea, on the east, the South Pacific Ocean. You'll be crossing the Cook Strait if you take the ferry between the main islands. You will enjoy the lovely scenery along the Queen Charlotte Sound. The North Island has the Bay of Plenty and the Bay of Islands. Yes, there are lots of islands, 120 of them in the Bay, some just rocky points scarcely appearing above sea level. Then there is New Zealand's sometimes-forgotten "third island." Most of Stewart Island, across the Foveaux Strait from the South Island, is Raikura National Park. This is where, with luck, you may spot a kiwi, New Zealand's national bird. But you'll likely have to go 'tramping' (hiking) to see it.

Did I mention Auckland? You'll probably land there. Auckland is beautifully nestled around the waters of Waitemata and Manukau Harbours Tamaki Strait. New Zealanders love their aquatic playgrounds. This largest of the country's cities has a descriptive nickname: "The City of Sails." You'll understand the reason when you see all the watercraft here, including the America's Cup winner. For a great panoramic look at Auckland, ride to the top of the Sky Tower. The Waitakere Ranges are close by, with a forest of giant Kauri trees; one of them is referred to as Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest) and reaches 51.5 metres in height. Farther south are the Waitomo caves with the fascinating Glow Worm Grotto.

How about Christchurch? This is the 'Garden City' and is considered the most English city in New Zealand. You should visit the Canterbury Museum here. For a truly different dining experience, reserve a table on the antique trolley. It's called the Tramway Restaurant and it will take you on a tour of the city while you enjoy the gourmet offerings.

Or Dunedin. If Christchurch is English, Dunedin must surely be Scottish. A seaside community, it is close to some of the country's finest vineyards. And yes, you can tour and taste. Also not far away is the Otaga Peninsula where the ocean-going albatross congregate to nest and raise their young.

If you like art deco, a visit to Napier will more than satisfy. The seaside esplanade was rebuilt in this style, following a disastrous 1931 earthquake. Art Deco Tours will show you the aquarium, Marine Parade gardens and the traffic-free shopping area. Thirty-two kilometres inland is Hastings, known as New Zealand's Fruit Bowl. Several wineries are also located here.

Kia Ora. There's that 'hello' again. But this time, the phrase means 'thank you'!

Goway Travel offers snowbirds long stays at the Bay of Plenty, starting at $5,379 CAD per person for two months, and $6,989 for three. Rates are for quad occupancy and include air fare from the west coast. Apartments are fully furnished, have water views and are walking distance from grocery stores, cafes and other facilities.

For a Goway catalogue, call (416) 322-1034, or toll-free 1-800-387-8850.

Economy car rentals start at $50 CAD per 24-hour day.

Christchurch's Tramway Tour with dinner ranges from $54 (three-course) to $115 (five-course including all drinks) New Zealand dollars. Leaves from Tram Station Tramstop (in Cathedral Junction, off Worcester Street) daily at 7:30 p. m. Bookings are essential, phone: 366 7511. Golf on scenic courses can be arranged for as little as $25 CAD per round.

For more information:

Pic 1: Putatara
The putatara is a conch shell with a carved mouthpiece. In traditional Maori society, it was used to announce the arrival of visitors. Sounds vary from trumpet blasts to melodic sobs. Placing the palm of the hand in the opening side while blowing makes a whale-like sound. The bigger the shell, the deeper the note.

Pic 2: Kapa haka
Maori performance art is known as 'kapa haka'. Regional and national competitions inspire extremely high standards, even at the junior level. "While we're on stage performing our heart and soul out, all our hearts are beating as one at that moment in time," explains a kapa haka performer.

Pic 3: Te Papa Tongarewa
The Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, preserves and presents the taonga (treasures) of New Zealand's people. Spectacular long-term exhibitions are enhanced by diverse short-term exhibitions and a captivating events programme - performances, talks, lectures, entertainments and more. Te Papa is open every day of the year and entry is free.

Pic 4: Te Marae at Te Papa
The marae at Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand, is where you can learn about Maori culture, history and protocols. The marae is also available for ceremonial purposes by special arrangement.

Pic 5: Charter yacht, Bay of Islands
In the Bay of Islands you can sail to a new beach every day, with dolphins and sea birds for company. And when you're not sailing, there are islands to hike over, pa sites to explore and fishing spots to discover. The 'hole in the rock' at the end of Cape Brett is memorable day trip.

Pic 6: Tane Mahuta, one of the world;s largest trees, grows in the Waipoua Forest north of Dargaville. Believed to be around 2,000 years old, Tane Mahuta is 51.5 metres tall, has a trunk girth of 13.8 metres and rises 17.7 metres before the first branch. In the Maori language, Tane Mahuta means God of the Forest.

Pic 7: Anyone for a punt?
To get a duck's eye view of Christchurch, catch a punt and drift along the Avon River past historic buildings, parks and gracious homes. Your professional punt pilot can be trusted to keep you dry, and provide a running commentary about places of interest along the way.