Thursday, April 9, 2015

Crossing the NZ “Desert”

All of the roads are two lane except near the big cities.
The shoulders vary from 6" to 24" depending on location.
As we left Rotorua for the drive to Wellington where we had to select a route. There are very few highways in New Zealand and the only place where they are more than two lanes wide is near the three or four big cities. Since 80% of the population lives in the Auckland area, the rest of the roads are not that heavily used – except by truckers, tour buses and visitors navigating while driving on the “wrong” side of the road! Dennis is doing a fabulous job of driving and I am an awful and nervous passenger! I call myself a Naggravator: my job is to navigate, but I do it in an aggravating way! Sorry, Honey!

We had a picnic lunch along the shore of Lake Taupo.
While we are here, there is an issue with foreign drivers and the people and government want to do something to reduce the number of fatal crashes involving tourists. You must concentrate on driving anytime you are behind the wheel. When we picked up our camper van, the supplier took Dennis out for a drive and gave him a few good words of wisdom: “Keep your right shoulder on the center line.” And the biggie: “Death comes from the right!” So each time he gets in the car, he repeats this mantra.
Beautiful and big Lake Taupo

We had a choice of the long route along the eastern coast of North Island or down the center on what they call the Desert Highway. Since it was shorter and we had a long drive of 465 km or 6 hours, we took the shorter one down the middle. Our GPS, whom we call “Our Lady of the Car” kept wanting to take shortcuts on smaller and narrower roads. There are very small shoulders on the main roads and 4-5 inch shoulders on the next smaller ones. We didn’t even consider her suggestion for unpaved shortcuts!
While not a desert as we know them, the terrain is scrub land in the valleys between the numerous mountain ranges. We spent a lot of time winding our way up and down mountains through passes to get to the next valley. While scenic, it was a long and somewhat boring drive – or maybe I should say ride. I am sure Dennis and Larry found it more challenging as they were behind the wheel.

We stopped at Lake Taupo (Taupomoana) and took a ride on the Huka Falls Jet Boat. It was fun and quite thrilling at times. And we got a little wet! It was a nice break before moving on to the south. And it seems that jet boating on the rivers is one of the biggest tourist attractions. It is what Kiwis like to do on vacation! Along Lake Taupo, we stopped and had a picnic lunch. Although I had packed a lot of food for picnicking, we found ourselves in restaurants most mealtimes.

Not too sure about the JetBoat ride!
Lake Taupo (created in 186 AD making it young in these parts) is treated as a giant spirit as the local Tuwharetoa people ascribe the lake’s formation to their ancestors in the aori legends of lust and betrayal in which a few mountains were said to have fled to other parts of the island. After the volcanic action that left a pumice like ash on the shores to this day, the tohunga (priest) Ngatoro-i-rangi who had just arrived from Hawaii explored the area and named the mountains that remained. The main mountain consists of at least 12 volcanic peaks and is seen as the leader of the other mountains, thereby making it a sacred mountain.

The vistas were stunning everywhere you looked.
Most interestingly, the major iwi (tribe) of the region is the Ngati Tuwharetoa and is one of the only tribes retaining an undisputed ariki (high chief). The actual mountain range was gifted to the country of New Zealand by the great-great-grandfather of the current chief back in 1887. The legend of the formation of the lake is that Tuwharetoa cast a tree from the summit of Mount Tauhara, which is on the edge of Taupo. The tree stuck in the ground water and welled up to create the lake. The full name for the lake is Taupo-Nui-A-Tai meaning “the great shoulder mat of Tia” or “great sleep of Tia” referring to an explorer from the Arawa canoe said to have slept by the lake. The lake is huge (616 sq. km, 185 m deep) and was said to be the second largest fresh water lake in the world. We Michiganders need to check the facts considering our wonderful Great Lakes. I believe Lake Superior is the largest in the world based on volume of fresh water.
We arrived in Wellington on the night of a major cricket game. In fact, we accidently picked the time of World Cricket Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand as our time to land cruise. What do we know about the World Cricket Cup? In fact, what do we know about the game where one guy hits a ball with a board and runs – sometimes – to a base (just one!) and they never seem to get him out. He may bat for hours and days! Still can figure out this game! All I know for sure is that there were no vacancies in any area where matches were being played. I can see why: you have to stay for days just to see your team get a chance to bat!

Fortunately, we had a couple of nights reserved at the InterContinental Hotel right on the waterfront where are of the action was after the games, i.e., bars and restaurants! One of the highlights of Wellington, the capital of NZ, is the Te Papa Tongarewa museum. This is New Zealand’s national museum. Of course, the Te Papa tells the stories and shows the treasures of their land, people, culture, art and history. It is also an interactive museum and is free! It was very busy but not too crowded as there are many floors. We passed the Old St. Paul’s Church on our way into town, but never made it back there to see the interior that is supposed to be “breathtakingly beautiful!”

Auckland used to be the capital of New Zealand, but it was moved to Wellington due to the geographical location being in the near middle between the two islands. It is still on the north island where the majority of people live. It was difficult to find the Writers’ Walk due to the Cricket crowds, food trucks and other activities along the waterfront. But the city of jam-packed and very vibrant while we were there. Wellington is close to wineries, beaches and mountain ranges so it makes a good base for tourists. And there are wonderful restaurants and nightclubs.

For a lunch break, we took a ride on the cable car from the Lambton Quay in the city center up to the top of the Wellington Botanical Garden. The ride is short with only three stops, but it is very steep. The Cable Car climbs 120 meters in five minutes. One would not want to climb straight up the stairs to the garden. Construction was started in 1897 and completed in 1902, The Cable Car Museum is located at the top and provides a history of the city’s symbolic mode of transportation. We had a lovely view of a sailboat race in Lambton Harbour while we had lunch.



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