New Zealand 1

April 22, 2008 at 2:05 am | Posted in New Zealand | Leave a comment

February 9 – February 21

We arrived in New Zealand after a relatively short flight and after thorough scrutiny by airport officials looking for foreign matter that may affect New Zealand’s pristine and unique habitat. We pass and then have to agonize over renting a used vehicle as all of the big name brands with new cars were fully booked. Always worried about getting stranded with the kids, we get the used vehicle (1985) and figure that there are worse things then getting stranded somewhere in New Zealand. Our vehicle turned out to be reliable and cheap but paled in comparison with the ubiquitous flowery, hippie-era campervans so popular in this part of the world.

We drove into town and looked for a place to stay. There are hundreds in Queenstown but, alas, it seems to be the high season and also Japan’s tourist season. We finally found a nice motel and were so excited by the look and feel of Queenstown, we wanted to stay for a week. But, the hotel could only give us a room for 3 days so we had to move on but in our short stay we took in the formidable and craggy Remarkables mountain range, crystal blue lakes, watched extreme sports taking place in the air, on the water, from bridges, mountains and any other inhospitable location to increase the fear factor. The boys skimmed stones, sniffed out playgrounds and asked to participate in all of these extremely expensive extreme sports. In the end, we did not partake in any as the journey alone was the thrill of a lifetime and didn’t need any extreme punctuations (nor did we want to limp home early with a broken limb).

We tried desperately to capture New Zealand’s beauty and largesse in pictures but it was always a frustrating task. It was here that Laura was ready to sink some money into an upgrade but realized that seeing it is more important than capturing it. We were relieved to see a common motto on many t-shirts “Same Shirt – Different Day” as it depicted the culture here – relaxed, lots to see and no need to spend your precious time doing laundry. We were beginning to grow weary of the laundry and began to extend its wearing-power over a few days (Don’t study the photos too closely!). Luckily, the fabrics and colors we chose for our clothes made us always feel neat and clean even after a few days.

The boys seemed to struck by the beauty of New Zealand in their own subtle ways. Perhaps they looked at a scene a bit longer than usual or marveled at a dragonfly or remarked on the number of sheep in a meadow or were inspired to play hide-and-seek in a grove of inviting, fat trees. They did not hesitate to strip down and jump in the cool, sparkling water of a pristine lake and shrieked with excitement at the face of a baby calf or lamb. They would ask if they could take a picture of a sublime, snowy mountain peak or pick a small bouquet of wildflowers as a gift. Slowly but surely, nature’s bounty would have an effect on them and their compassion towards it would grow with each passing day as they voiced wanting to protect and preserve it when they grow up and be either a park ranger or cowboy (close enough).

New Zealand’s diversity was unparalleled in the proximity of seemingly unrelated rainforest, snowcapped mountain, ocean and dusty trail – all existing side-by-side. One can experience 4 different climates in one afternoon. We visited fjords in the far outreaches of the south island’s western wilderness and we explored a remote water-filled, pitch-black cave in a tiny boat that the driver steered with a pre-fastened pull rope so we could see the bioluminescent glow-worms displaying their blue constellations overhead. It was truly a gift of nature that these otherwise repulsive larvae could unknowingly create such beauty. We explored thick, green rainforests looking for young, not yet unfurled ferns – the symbol of birth and growth and the national symbol of New Zealand.

We drove along the most southern route of the South Island – the most south we had been on our journey around the world. The wind was furious and exhilarating. We found refuge in the tiny hamlet of Owaka. I knew we were in the country when I asked the waitress if they had kid’s milk and she shook her head and said, “No, only cow milk”. The environment was not good for humans and therefore, great for maintaining a safe environment for wildlife. As usual, we sought out wildlife and became up close and personal (relatively speaking ie: not a zoo) with sea lions, the world’s rarest penguins – the yellow-eyed penguin, and the world’s smallest penguin – the blue penguin. The boys played traffic cop while guarding the tiny blue penguins nightly arrival to their home conveniently located across a fairly busy side road. Our exciting encounter was with the Royal Albatross – a very large bird who nests on steep, windy cliffs which it must leverage for takeoff to support its heavy weight. We stood vigil alongside the cliff waiting to see these magnificent birds leave their nest in search of fish. Most of these animals are endangered thus reinforcing for all of us, the criticality of their protection.

(click photo for link to slideshow)

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