Friday, June 17, 2016

Trip to New Zealand

Last month Liam and I went on holiday to New Zealand. The country is incredibly diverse, and we were only there for three weeks, so it’s difficult to put into words everything we saw. Whatever I write is only going to scratch the surface.

New Zealand is comprised of two islands, North and South, and is approximately the size of the eastern seaboard of the United States, (think of it stretching from New York City to Florida, about one state wide)

Compared to living in the US, New Zealand is the opposite:
  • The celestial pole is north in the northern hemisphere and south in the southern hemisphere, so it gets hotter as you go north, and colder as you go south
  • Our winter is their summer and vice versa
  • If you are looking at the equator in the northern hemisphere, the sun moves left to right, in the southern hemisphere it moves right to left
  • Their night sky is dominated by entirely different stars—no “Big Dipper” or “North Star”, instead they have the “Southern Cross,” a constellation of stars represented on their flag. 
All of this means it can be more than a bit disorienting.


We were lucky enough to get to stay with a family of “Kiwis,” the nickname for New Zealanders. We arrived on the North Island, landing in Auckland, their largest city, then flying to the port city of Tauranga where our friends live. Tauranga is on the east coast and is a very fast growing community due to the traffic coming in from the sea.

Tauranga sits on a large harbor, the aptly named Bay of Plenty. Container vessels and the largest cruise ships can all dock at Tauranga.
Mount Maunganui, seen in the distance in the picture of the harbor, is a persistent landmark, visible throughout the city of Tauranga.  
More pictures of Tauranga

Mount Maunganui

Mount Maunganui is the name of an extinct volcanic cone that rises above a peninsula on the north-east of side of Tauranga.
It's a very popular destination for both tourists and locals.
In Tauranga, Mount Maunganui is affectionately called The Mount.

Many people walk around the base of The Mount, some climb to the top. 
We walked the base twice, and once climbed up to the very top. It nearly killed me, but the view was simply spectacular.
More pictures of Mount Maunagnui (The Mount)

Gate Pa

Our friends live in a part of Tauranga called, “Gate Pa.” Gate Pa is the name of a famous battle that took place in New Zealand between the Maori people (New Zealand’s indigenous people) and the English (white) population. The battle was fought in 1864, and the Maori’s defeated the English soldiers.

There is a park at Gate Pa, with a number of Maori carvings commemorating the battle.

Carving of a Maori Warrior.

Rotorua / Taupo Volcanic Zone

We traveled 45 minutes south and east to the town of Rotorua. This is a geothermal area in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand. It’s much like Geyser park in Yellowstone, but there is a community of Maori people living there. They settled the area hundreds of years ago because the boiling pools and hot steam provided warmth in the winter, and easy methods of cooking food. 

We watched a woman put cooking utensils into a box built over a steaming opening in the earth. The heat from the steam cooked her food.

As a country, New Zealand harnesses this natural energy to provide 13% of the country’s electricity.

More pictures of Rotorua

Taupo and Huka Falls

Lakw Taupo lies in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano and is the largest lake in New Zealand. It is drained by the Waikato River. . 

We walked down the sky blue river. It is autumn in New Zealand and the colors were just stunning. 

This picture is looking back up river at the town of Taupo.

Halfway down the river is Thermal Spa Park. Super heated water pours into the river from several small water falls. Next to the falls the water is extremely hot, but as the water flows into the river it cools down--just find a spot where the temperature is perfect and lay back and relax.

The river narrows from approximately 300 feet across to 15 feet across as it flows into a rocky canyon. The is called Huka Falls.

See more pictures of Taupo and Huka Falls

Traveling through the center of the North Island

One of the truly amazing things about New Zealand is its variety. Everywhere you go the landscape is shaped by its history of volcanic eruptions, some only 150 years ago.

These beautiful green, rolling hills are a result of thousands of years of erosion of this volcanic material.

Huge boulders, flung far by massive volcanic explosions, tumble across the landscape.

We traveled by train down the center of the North Island, straight south to the city of Wellington. Along the way we saw the very picturesque Mt Ruapehu and Mt. Ngauruhoe.

You may recognize the classic cone shape of Mt Ngauruhoe as Mt Doom from the “Lord of the Rings” movies.


Wellington is the furthest point south on the North Island. Wellington is the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zealand, after Auckland. It is located at the south-western tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range.

This is the view from the city's botanical gardens looking down from one of the many the hills that encircle the harbor and the city. 

We rode up on the famous Wellington Cable Car.

From Wellington we took a ferry from there to the South Island.

This map is rotated, North is to the right. It shows the path the ferry takes as it crosses the Cook Straight. The straight is named for Captain James Cook who explored this part of the world in 1769.

This picture shows us coming into the Picton harbor at the end of the ferry crossing. At Picton we got back on the train to Kaikoura.

More pictures of the Interislander ferry 

Kaikoura and Whale Watch

We traveled down the east coast of the South Island, past vineyards and salt works.

Much of the trip was along the rocky coastline.

We stayed overnight in a lovely little town called Kaikoura. I got up early to watch the sunrise. New Zealand is one of the first places on earth to see the dawn.

There is a deep sea trench just off the coast of Kaikoura. We took a whale watching trip and saw a sperm whale, dolphins, seals and many seabirds.


The city of Christchurch has not fully recovered from the devastating earthquake in 2011. 

Cathedral square was particularly hard hit with many beautiful old churches destroyed. They are trying to figure out how to save the main cathedral since it means so much to the people, but seeing its crumbling devastation is a terrible sight.


More pictures of Christchurch and Kaikoura

TanzAlpine train

Everyone told us "this is THE train trip to take" and having done so, I would not disagree. You cross the country from one side to the other, traveling over the southern New Zealand alps.

The train leaves the coastal city of Christchurch, and in just a few minutes you're on the plains leading to the mountains.

The views only get more spectacular as you enter the foothills.

The train travels on trestles over deep chasms.

The scenic vistas go on and on

In the middle of the trip you stop at Arthur's Pass. The temperature had now dropped to almost freezing, but we enjoyed getting out for a few minutes and walking around. 

After Arthur's Pass you descend out of the mountains. The humidity increases and wreathes the tops in clouds. 

The landscape turns warm and almost tropical as you get to the marshlands of the west coast.
I can't say enough good things about this part of our trip. The train trip was beautiful from start to finish. The extra pictures from this part of New Zealand are particularly beautiful.


New Zealand is very proud of their native son, film director Peter Jackson. You can do entire tours of the country and just focus on “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” locations. I was very excited to visit the place where Peter Jackson created the village of Hobbiton for his movies.

It’s a bit embarrassing that this was one of the places I looked forward to seeing the very most--but it was so worth it. Paths meander up and down the rolling hillside, going past each decorated doorway. There are gardens and trees, and a thatched-roof stone mill and pub from the story situated on the lake.

Although I saw places that were more beautiful, this one stole my heart.

And I got to stand outside Bilbo Baggins front door (Ask a LOTR or Hobbit fan why this is a big deal)

Without a doubt New Zealand is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Everywhere we went was breathtaking. The citizens take great pride in their country, and are doing all that they can to balance the export of their natural resources and tourism with protecting the beauty of their land.

I took almost 3000 pictures. I am in the process of going through them to pick out the best to share. You can see all the pictures I have posted so far on Flickr.