Sunday, December 25, 2011

Eruptive North

When people look at a map of the world, one of the four ends of the planet, on the bottom right corner, is a strange shaped group of islands called New Zealand (Dutch cartographers in 1645 renamed the land Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland). This large place with only four and half million inhabitants is well known around the world. Immediately pictures of large lakes, high mountains and vast valleys with glaciers come to mind. Nothing is more inaccurate of these images than the New Zealand - North Island.

The Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu, near Rotorua.
65m diameter lake at 62 m depth,
its surface temperature is 74 degrees Celcius.

Three quarters of the population live in the North Island. The smaller of the two islands is in fact the best place to find all the great opportunities that New Zealand has to offer. The north side of North Island has the best beach spots around; Auckland and Wellington are continuously fighting for the heavy-weight best-food-champion title; and the region around Taupo-Rotorua has the best live observable volcanic activity in the Pacific region (must see the Wai-O-Tapu volcanic park, and its daily 10:15am geyser eruption).

Te Awa Winery

But North Island is not deprived of natural beauty and national parks. In fact Whanganui National Park (river canoe, tramping), Tongariro National Park (tramping, skiing) and Egmont National Park (tramping around volcano) are among the most visited and oldest protected parks in the world. Some of the National Park landscapes were used for the now famous “Lord Of The Ring” movie trilogy.

Art-Deco Napier

North Island is very much blessed by Mother Nature. The hilly valleys spread around the southern part of North Island offer fantastic day-trip chances to tie trekking-shoes on and to tickle the camera power button. But also the moderate climate and rich soil provide the basic ingredients for an authentic and powerful wine. From the art-d├ęco Napier to windy Wellington, the long road gives many opportunities to stop and enjoy a delightful lunch with a glass (bottle) of wine.

Te Mata, near Napier

Nothing will be enjoyable without a nation ready to welcome the lost tourist. Both the Pakeha and the Maori are delighted to explain what makes their nation the best nation on earth when it comes to sailing around the world, playing rugby against the world, or taking their time in life despite the world. Maori culture, one of the oldest on this planet, has managed to free itself up to us despite war, germs and colonization. It is depressing to find that the only chance for tourists to encounter the oral Maori culture is around Rotorua in the rebuilt villages (Tamaki Maori Village) or at Te Papa Museum in Wellington. More should be done to recognize what happened then and what is done today.

View of Wellington from Mt. Victoria

Nevertheless it was a very special time around Christmas 2011. New Zealand had just won for the second time the Rugby World Cup (1st in 1987 and 2nd in 2011 both times against France). The entire nation came together to enjoy what was thought to be a well deserved World Cup, since it was played at home. The entire nation was still dressed in All Blacks months after the final victory, recovering from a massive French champagne hangover with large smiles crossing their faces. The sense of pride only equaled their scare they experienced during the World Cup. What if we lose the Web Ellis trophy at home? Once again the rugby gods dropped the ball on the right side and made a rugby nation even crazier about the game, if it was even possible (a TV channel dedicated to rugby!).

Napier's Sunset

One week is not enough to enjoy what North Island has to offer, but a tactical planning, the chance to meet great people, and an enjoyable weather can turn a short stay into a memorable and fun trip.