To introduce my series about New Zealand past and present, I want to share some pictures of the place I have visited and enjoyed three times.
New Zealand, or ‘Aoteroa’, as the Maoris call it, ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, is a land of variety with its beautiful coastlines, rare wildlife species and thermal valleys.
Auckland, with a head count of 1.5 million people sits north of the North Island. Known as the ‘city of sails’ there is plenty to do here but not unsurprisingly much of it involves boats. For the adventurous there is the Americas Cup sailboat experience where around a dozen people, including a crew of four, are encouraged to have a go at steering the boat and navigating the sails. A trip out on a larger Tall ship is more sedentary but there is still opportunity to help steer and navigate the sails and even a chance for the bravest to climb the ship’s rigging! After all this excitement you can while away the evening hours at the Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. The cuisine here is first class and with its rotating restaurant you can enjoy ever changing views over the city as you eat.
If you like a lively worship programme, the City Impact Church, North Shore might be to your liking. It is part of a large group of churches which includes another in Auckland at Mount Wellington and several in the South Island at Queenstown, Invercargill and Balcutha. More information about the churches can be found on the website at www.cityimpactchurch.com
The Wairarapa is a largely unspoilt area of New Zealand surrounding Lake Wairarapa south of Wellington. One of the homes of the New Zealand’s Paua – a type of large black sea mollusc whose iconic shell with its beautiful blue rainbow interior can be fashioned into anything from jewellery to dishes, it makes wonderful souvenirs. It is also becoming a ‘hide out’ for some of America’s rich and famous with film maker, James Cameron being the latest to purchase land in the neighbourhood. But you can still head off over the mountains on some 4×4 tracks unknown even to many New Zealanders.
Wellington with a population of around half a million people is New Zealand’s capital city and home of its parliament, the Beehive, so named because of its beehive appearance. The city’s main museum, Te Papa is well worth a visit to learn about early and current Maori life and to step inside a Marae or Maori meeting house.
However, the full Maori experience can be enjoyed in Roturua, a town north of the North Island, a major centre for Maori arts and culture where you can even take part in a traditional Maori meal or ‘Hāngi’ where food is steamed in hot stones under the ground.
On 22 February 2011, Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city suffered a major earthquake but it is still worth a visit to see the famous Antarctic centre, the Aircraft museum or to simply to enjoy rowing, canoeing or punting on the river. I am sure something even better will arise from the ruins as in the case of Napier after its 1931 earthquake when the city was rebuilt in Art Deco style and is now a ‘must see’ place to visit.
Dunedin’s architecture has a Scottish feel with features to be explored being the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street -not for the fainthearted – the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university and the Cadbury factory. All Saints Anglican church is Dunedin’s oldest church (1865) where you can enjoy a contemplative Taizé service on Sunday evenings with incense, and chants.
Dunedin is also renowned for its wildlife just off the Otago peninsula. Here you can view a colony of Albatrosses, rare Yellow-eyed Penguins, Blue Penguins, Sea Lions and Fur Seals.
Queenstown has a spectacular location beside Lake Wakatipu against the backdrop of the Remarkable Mountains. This makes the town a perfect setting for its aerial Gondolas, woodland walking trails, small ‘Luge’ go-karts and for the bravest, the bungy jump. It is also a good place from which to explore the breathtaking scenery around Milford Sound just a day’s trip from here.
New Zealand maybe a long way to travel but if you make the effort you will enjoy spectacular scenery and a very warm welcome.