Kiwis, Koalas etc
I must have spent many hours in Australia looking in vain for Koalas in the tops of the eucalyptus trees, and now it’s the same with Kiwis! These little flightless birds with a long beak are only to be found in certain woods, I was later told – shame! We’re planning to take Mila to Melbourne Zoo next week, so maybe I’ll find some there!!
Two Koalas asleep in a tree – a mother and her baby whom we saw in a national park called Tower Hill
I forgot to tell you about our wine-tasting on South Island! In the north of the Island, the area known as Marlborough, there are good conditions for growing wine. However, wine-growing only started here in the 1970s. John, our host in Picton, explained that when he was young, there were mostly orchards of fruit trees growing here. As there was more money to be made in wine, the fruit tres were cut down and replaced by vines. John thought this could become a problem as the wine has become a monoculture and he wonders what happens when the plants fail because of disease etc?
Most of the Marlborough wine you see here seems to be either Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. John himself only drinks Riesling from Marlborough as he thinks the quality is better and it is cheaper. John recommended visiting two wineries* – Wairau River and Johanneshof Cellars, which is owned by a German lady and her husband.
We first visited the main town of the Marlborough wine region, Blenheim, which was not very interesting, then went walking up the Wither Hills, from where you get a great view of thew whole region. From here you also see how the town is expanding – the New Zealanders obviously have lots of land so the individual plots are much bigger (ca 2,000 m2) than you see in Europe for new houses.
In the afternoon we visited the two vineyards: the first, Waira River, was like others we have visited in Australia – rather formal, posh and expensive (cheapest bottle 24 dollars). At the other winery, Johannes Cellars, we had a great conversation with the lady (in German) and she explained how their wine grows on the north slopes rather than the flat valley like most of the wines of this region. She showed us the prizes they had won (very impressive) and we told her about Pillnitz wine, especially about Klaus’ wine and Malgorzata’s sculptures (she wanted to goggle them straight away!). It was much more cosy and friendly here than the other place – see the photos below!
* They mostly say ‚winery‘ here. In fact, a vineyard refers to where the plants grow whereas a winery is where the wine is processed. Of course, this often the same place so take your pick!
A visit to the „Beehive“, New Zealand‘s Parliament
Some of the best things happen spontaneously! After visiting Wellington cathedral, rebuilt in 1964 after an earthquake in a rather in a rather ugly concrete style (but with a glass entrance made by New Zealand-born artist John Hutton whose work is also in Coventry Cathedral), we dashed through the rain in the direction of the centre which took us past the Beehive. This is the name given to New Zealand’s parliament which looks a bit like a beehive and was, interestingly, designed by Sir Basil Spence, who designed Coventry Cathedral. We saw some people going in, and so we followed them, partly to escape the downpour. In the entrance we saw a tour advertised so we handed over our bags for scanning and joined in. What amazing luck! There were still a couple of places free for the next tour! The tour was super! The guide told us a lot about New Zealand politics: for example, unlike most democracies there is only one chamber in New Zealand. There is no “House of Lords” or “Bundesrat” – everything is decided by one chamber. The second chamber was abolished in 1950 as it was seen to be ineffective as it was mainly controlled by the government, and, as out guide told us, was regarded as expensive for such a small population. However, in order to strengthen ‘checks and balances’, they have a system of “public submissions”, whereby every citizen is encouraged to contact their local Member of Parliament and express their views on votes in Parliament. Our guide took us everywhere, including the main debating chamber (it was a Monday and the members of parliament do not meet on Mondays – lucky again!). Our guide took us into the basement of the building to show us the mechanisms which now protect the building. Wellington lies on a geological fault and so there is the constant danger of earthquakes. In the 1990s the New Zealand parliament decided to make the building earthquake-proof. It might seem incredible (it was to me!) but the walls of whole building were cut, jacked up and placed on shock-absorbers made of rubber, steel and lead.
(1) for a great website, see https://www.parliament.nz/en/visit-and-learn/
(2) for engineering enthusiasts, see https://www.parliament.nz/en/get-involved/features-pre-2016/document/00NZPHomeNews201109141/earthquake-resilience-of-parliament-buildings
The Rogue and Vagabond – the best pub in town!
The manager of our hostel recommended we go to “The Rogue and Vagabond” pub, which by great chance (lucky again!!) had a jazz band playing that night. The amazing culture of New Zealand craft beers was confirmed to us once more that evening! See: http://rogueandvagabond.co.nz/
Te Papa is The National Museum of New Zealand, beautifully situated by the harbour. By chance we had seen an advert for a presentation of songs and poetry at TE Papa on our first evening. There was an incredibly strong wind blowing (Wellington is well-known for being a very windy city!) so we had to fight our way there, but it was worth it! The Maori group presented a poetic legend (translated simultaneously into English via headphones), played traditional instruments and sang traditional songs (we were given the texts – of course, we could not sing along but we were impressed by the audience, most of whom could sing along – our neighbour told us New Zealanders learn them at school). Very entertaining and free!
The next day we spent 2-3 hours in the museum, looking mainly at the Maori and immigrant sections. The Maori part had a lot of videos with people describing some aspects of their culture, and there were a lot of artefacts such as living areas, boats etc.
Did you know that the Maori have a totally different background to the Aborigines of Australia? We were surprised to hear that the Maori came to New Zealand only in the 13th century, whereas the Aborigines arrived in Australia at least 40,000 years ago! Another big difference it seems: whereas the hundreds of Aborigine tribes seem to have lived more in harmony with each other, Maoris were more warlike – the tribes fought battles against each other, killing and enslaving their opponents and eating them, too.
New Zealand suffers from several major and minor fault lines which are caused by the constant stress from movement between the Pacific and Australian plates. On the North Island the Wellington Fault runs from north to south through the middle of the island where we have many volcanoes and hot springs. On the south island the Alpine Fault runs from the Marlborough area (known for its wine!) through the high mountains to the coast. Minor faults include the Christchurch Fault that devastated the city in 2010.
“The Tongariro Crossing”
In reading about New Zealand we had read about a famous walk on the North Island which leads through a pass between volcanoes. The volcanoes in Tongariro National Park are part of the long line of volcanic and earthquake activity that extends around the Pacific Ocean as the Ring of Fire. This activity is caused by the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates pushing against each other, with the Pacific Plate being forced under the Australian Plate in the North Island.
In spite of the fact that doing the “Tongariro Crossing” is a very touristy thing to do (hundreds of people do this walk every day!), we decided we should do this, too. The walk is 19 kilometres long, goes up steep sides of the volcano and along the ridge of craters. It is supposed to give spectacular views! I say ‘supposed to’ because we walked in thick fog most of the day! The walking was good though exhausting and we did see some bits of the lakes below us. At the other side we were picked up by our shuttle and went back to our motel for a soak in a jacuzzi. See: www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/
The view could be better!
“Wai-O-Tapu Wonderland” – hot springs everywhere!!
Our next stop was to be in Rotorua, well-known for hot springs. In fact, the whole area in the middle of the North Island has areas of hot springs and geysers – as you drive along the main highways, you see steam rising out of some of the meadows and woods! The areas where many hot springs appear on the surface are often commercialised and you have to pay to go in. We saw the sign to “Wonderland” and spontaneously decided to drive in. Luckily, there weren’t masses of people there and the entry fee of 35 dollars per person was worth it – we had a great time walking around the various springs, all of which have amusing names. In spite of missing the daily 10am eruption of the main geyser, “Lady Knox Geyser“, we really enjoyed this visit.Irmi must be angry with her husband again – she has got steam coming out of her ears!
Yummie – pea soup is my favourite!
Rotorua is also famous for Maori villages and culture. However, we
were told at our motel that you cannot visit the villages, and that there is no museum as such: you can only go to an evening performance with a typical Maori dinner for 140 dollars per person! It all seemed very commercial and expensive, so we decided to go to the “Polynesian Spa” instead. a wise decision! This was a great experience: the spa lies directly next to the lake and consists of 7-8 pools of different temperatures (35 – 42 degrees) all heated by the geothermic springs hot springs (mixed with cold water to reduce the temperature!). The guide books warn about masses of Chinese visitors but again we were lucky – at least half the bathers visitors were Chinese but it was not at all full.
See: https://www.waiotapu.co.nz/ https://www.polynesianspa.co.nz/
We often heard and read about tensions between Australians/New Zealanders and Chinese. We had sometimes heard and read (e.g. on Trip Advisor) comments about the many Chinese tourists, how loud and badly behaved they are (but we did not experience bad behaviour). On the South Island we were surprised about the huge numbers of Chinese – we later learnt that many Chinese travel on holiday for the Chinese New Year at this time. At the Polynesian Spa at least 50% of the guests were Chinese (we assume they weren’t Japanese or Korean!).
We were also told by Australians and New Zealanders that large numbers of rich Chinese have bought houses and flats in the main cities of Australia and New Zealand and that this has resulted in big increases in house prices. The New Zealand government, we read, is now considering a new law to ban the purchase of property in New Zealand by foreigners.
Australia earns big sums of money from Chinese students – indeed, we were told that the universities had expanded to has allowed large numbers of Chinese students. Many then receive visas and manage to find work and stay in the country. Well, we do not have any statistics but this is what people here say to us in conversation. However, when we take our granddaughter to the local playgrounds, most of the families are Chinese. When we went to the local shopping mall called Chadstone, which apart from being the biggest shopping mall in the southern hemisphere mostly consists of the most expensive shops (Givenchy, Prada, etc), at least 60% of customers were Chinese-looking. We felt as if we were in Hong Kong! It is also well known that shopping is a favourite pastime among Chinese.
On our last day in New Zealand we were due to fly to Melbourne from Auckland at 6pm, so we knew we did not have enough time to drive into Auckland and visit the city. We were also keen to learn a bit more about Maori culture and we had the bright idea of going to the culture museum “Waikato Museum” in Hamilton, which is on the way to Auckland. This museum was a great hit! Firstly, it was in a lovely position by the Waikato River where we could enjoy a coffee in beautiful surroundings, and secondly it contained lots of information and artefacts. By great chance we met a lady Maori who told us a few interesting things. She had heard Irmi and I say we’d like to read more about Maori daily life and she came over and introduced herself. She told us about her own family, that her mother was half Scottish, but she regarded herself as Maori even if she is only part Maori, and that this is how all Maoris think of themselves. Maybe this is a political attitude to keep the numbers up, but she seemed totally convinced that she, her children and ten grandchildren were all 100% Maori! When we parted, she gave us the Maori greetings, which consists of two people pressing nose and forehead together in silence for about one minute!! What happens if you have 20 guests?! See: http://waikatomuseum.co.nz/
Run for your life!
The end of our New Zealand adventure – back to Melbourne
We had an evening flight of 3.5 hours from Auckland to Melbourne, which was 10 degrees warmer! Unlike the flight to New Zealand with cheap Jetstar (like Ryanair), we flew back on an Airbus A380 with Emirates, so we had full dinner service and TV monitor. Our son picked us up at the airport, so we had a very comfortable journey home!