Thursday, February 25, 2016

Aotearoa - land of the long white cloud

Stan - Thursday

Last month, I was fortunate to visit Aotearoa -as the indigenous Mãoris call it - or New Zealand, as we know it.  

It is a beautiful country, comprising two main islands and many small ones.  It lies about 1,500 kms east of Australia and is 1,600 kms long and a maximum of 400 kms wide.  It sits near the meeting of two tectonic plates - the Indo-Australian and Pacific - which makes it part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.  It is dotted with volcanos and subject to severe earthquakes (for example, the 2011 Christchurch quake that killed over 60 people).

Mt. Taranaki

Mt. Ruapehu eruption

Christchurch earthquake
The population is small - about 4.7 million, mainly of European and Mãori descent - and boasts over 30 million sheep.  It has a market economy with major exports being dairy and wine, and has a thriving tourist industry.

Sheep everywhere
Chard Farms vineyard

The cave at Wild Earth winery
I have visited New Zealand several times and always leave with the impression that it is a few decades behind everywhere else - which is often a very good thing.  The one area in which it is completely up to date is in sport - the New Zealand All Blacks are the current world rugby champions, and the Black Cap cricket team is one of the best in the world.

Lots of older cars on the roads

As is so often the case, the European settlement of New Zealand resulted in many problems - the introduction of diseases, the introduction of animals, such as possums, rats, and stoats that resulted in the extinction of many bird species, deforestation, and broken treaties with the Mãoris.  

Keas flock onto cars and try to strip the rubber around windows and doors
I think Mette was happy that moas are extinct.
The elusive, furtive kiwi - heard but not seen

Today, it appears to me, that the country is working hard to acknowledge and celebrate the differences in culture.  Even so the economic conditions of the Maoris is still not as good as that of the European descendants.  What has also changed since my first visit many years ago is the presence of many immigrants from Asian countries, such as India, Sri Lanka, and China.

Perhaps the most visible integration of Mãori culture into New Zealand society is through the haka - a traditional Mãori war dance.  The All Black rugby team uses the haka at the start of every international game to intimidate its opponents and fir up its players.

Click here for the haka from the final of the 2015 World Cup.

As a tourist, it is often difficult to read the Mãori place names because they can often be quite long.  Some examples: Awapikopiko, Makakahikatoa, Waiharakeke (Blenheim), Te Whanga-nui-a tara (Wellington), Heretaunga (Hastings), and, of course, the famous 


which is the longest place name in the world.  It is located in Porangahau, Central Hawke's Bay. It is the name given by the local Mãori people, Ngati Kere, to a hill to celebrate the eponymous ancestor Tamatea Pokai Whenua.

New Zealand is also famous for being the filming location of J R R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.  And I spent four days hiking through the forests around Lake Waikaremoana on the north island looking for Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey.  I thought I had glimpses of them, but no confirmed sighting.

On the south island, we visited Queenstown (preferred destination of the extreme sport crowd) and enjoyed sublime (but expensive) Pinot Noirs at various Otago vineyards and took a boat trip along the spectacular Milford Sound (surprisingly in bright sunshine, because the area is one of the ten wettest places on earth, with an annual rainfall of about 250 inches).

Here are some photos from the trip.

Lake Waikaremoana

On the tramp around Lake Waikaremoana

On the tramp around Lake Waikaremoana

The forest around Lake Waikaremoana

The forest around Lake Waikaremoana

What a pleasant surprise to find a tramper in the forest reading A Death in the Family
There are hundreds of fern species

Ferns everywhere

More ferns
New Zealand has thousand of kilometres of beaches

Milford Sound

Small and large waterfalls everywhere

New Zealand seals

More water

An unbelievable amount of water came over this waterfall
No trip to New Zealand is complete without a feast of green-lipped mussels
and a glass of fine red wine.


  1. As beautiful as New Zealand is, if I were met by a Maori haka I would be changing my plans rather abruptly.

  2. Thanks for the trip, Stan! New Zealand is, in many ways, reminiscent of my native Pacific Northwest (and in many ways not). A lovely country.

  3. How much did you have to pay that guy to pose with A Death in the Family?

  4. I just want to know if, after getting Mette to pose, she told you, "That's it, no moa."