I have just returned from three weeks in New Zealand. I would have liked to have stayed three years. So beautiful and easy to travel in and the people are so kind and gracious. Thought I’d record some reflections about the country and my travels:
- So many sheep. So few people.
- You can drive from the west coast to the east coast of the South Island in four hours. It takes at least five days in the USA. It’s basically the topography of the USA but on a sharp diet. Coast to central mountain range to the plains to the other coast. Take Arthur’s pass and it will take you four hours. Must be the Adkins/Arthur’s Diet.
- The keas are the native mountain parrot species there and they will start to eat your car if you give them more than a minute at the rest stop they claim on Arthur’s Pass. This is not an exaggeration. One of them hopped on the roof of my rental car and proceeded to gnaw on the rubber insulation around the window. I had to shoo the bird off the car and that took extreme effort. Thank god the rental car company did not fine me for the chomp taken out. This is not my rental car but a youtube clip of someone else’s in 2007. Poor soul had some real damage.
- Sheep can actually get stuck on their backs when they have a full coat of wool and they’re wet. They try to roll on their backs and itch themselves and then can’t roll back. They can die that way if no one comes along to right them. Rather like a turtle! While this is not restricted to New Zealand, I’m sure, it must happen somewhat often there with all of the sheep there. They call it being ‘cast’.
- Did I mention that they have a great deal of sheep?
- New Zealanders are quite friendly and laid-back people. When you’re visiting people, they think nothing of kicking back and having a really long chat with you, if you’ve got the time. People are just not in a hurry and enjoy sitting down and delving into good conversation over tea. Even food can take a while to be delivered and this was a test for my ugly impatient American self. I had to catch myself several times. Sigh.
- They are not a religious culture. I noticed very few churches. And it struck me that out in the rural parts – which is most of the country – there were no large crosses out in the fields (paddocks they call them there) by the roads. This was such a contrast to the USA. Maybe they worship sheep? Or they just worship the amazing clear air that blows off the ocean everyday? Intriguing difference…
- Their water tastes really good. Most parts it is rainwater that is collected in cisterns. Untreated, pure rain. Very sweet.
- They have some cows too.
- And really good ice cream.
- There is a species of dolphin only found in the waters around New Zealand called the Hector’s Dolphin. It is quite small and has a rounded dorsal fin. I saw some off the coast below Punakaiki or the Pancake Rocks area. http://www.punakaiki.co.nz/about_punakaiki.htm They swam around the rocks about 150 or 200 feet off shore.
- New Zealand is a relatively young country geologically speaking. I was amazed to see the volcanic domes that were now covered with grass and grazing sheep in so many fields around the country. There are still some volcanically active areas too and lots of geothermal activity. Some really nice natural hot springs on the North and South Island. Rotorua, which I unfortunately did not have time to visit, is a mecca for very active geothermal sites.
- Lobsters in NZ have no claws. Bummer for them since they are missing all of that meat- those eating the crustaceans, that is. Not sure if the lobsters miss the claws. They are called Crayfish there. The tails are still rather scrumptious regardless.
- It can rain up to 10 meters in a year in some parts such as the Fjordland. I did not make it that far south to those stunning parts. But I did travel farther north on the same west coast of the South Island, which is subtropical-temperate rainforest. And yes, I drove through some very very heavy downpours there too. But then the sun came out later that afternoon.
- I was able to take in Fox Glacier there (off to Franz Josef Glacier that evening) and then drive to the cobble filled beach called Gillespies where the Tasmin sea beats down on the stones and turns them into beautiful works of art. I would have brought the whole beach home with me if I could. I did bring several pounds of stones to the dismay of my airlines. I just had to though. So many stones were calling to me to come back to the USA.
- The country is overrun with a number of invasive species, one of which is called the Possum. Which I thought was an opossum like our opossums here in the USA. I commented to one child there that these animals are really good at playing dead. He looked at me as if I was crazy. And no wonder, this is not the same species at all. Oh well. Turns out that this possum in New Zealand is originally from Australia and is a marsupial. They are wreaking destruction all over NZ munching on flora and fauna and are a real pest. Hence it is considered an ‘eco-fur’ since buying products made from their fur is helping to provide a market to cull their numbers, a bit only. I think roadkills are getting more of them. (There is a tourist stop there called the Puke Pub – for Pukekura, a Maori name. Not the most appealing name. Quirky place to say the least.) I can’t tell you how much of their little bodies littered the country roads. Cars are their main predator, sadly.
- The Southern Alps there are extensive and stretch farther than all the Alps in Europe. I did not see them this clearly while there, but I did have one very clear day at the base of Mt. Sefton near Mt. Cook. Simply stunning views that day. No, I did climb Mt. Cook (3754 meters, which, ah… is 12,316 feet). No indeed. Only piddled around at a trail at the base near the Hermitage Lodge.
- The Maori culture is very strong throughout the country and most of the local names are Maori. So I found myself stumbling over how to pronounce much less remember most of the locales that I visited or drove through. Was it Kaipoura or Kaikoura or Kaidoura? (It was Kaikoura…) These quandaries plagued me all through the trip. One needs to take a language course in Maori before leaving for NZ to really be able to travel successfully. Guess this means I just have to return to try again with the names!
So, I could go on and on here… I drove for kilometers and kilometers. Learned to handle driving on the left side of the road. Met some incredibly kind people. Reconnected with an old good friend. Relaxed all but my driving eyes. And I will be counting sheep now, New Zealand sheep, for sure whenever I get insomnia from here on out… ;~)