Sunday, March 15, 2009

Farewell to NZ, Hello Again to the Volendam

Our 17 weeks in New Zealand have finally come to an end, and in an hour we will walk from the Auckland Library, which has kindly provided us with many hours of internet access, and reboard the Volendam for our cruise north. We'll say more about the cruise at the end, but first it's time to say goodbye to New Zealand.

After Abel Tasman we spent a night in Nelson, a place that ranks high on almost everyone's list of interesting NZ cities. It's tucked behind the Southern Alps in a way that brings the rainfall down to modest levels but not so much as too make it look like parched Australia, and its also moderate temperature has attracted a counterculture crowd that livens up the place. One day was quite inadequate, and Nelson is on our ever-increasing list of places to return to if and when we make it back. We've put in just two photos, taken from the Heart of New Zealand walk, supposedly the geographic epicenter of NZ. In the first you can see much of Nelson and, in the distance, much of Abel Tasman National Park forming the right-hand half of the distant shore.
180 degrees around the hilltop, and you have this archetypal Kiwi landscape looking too perfect to be reality, as if it's from a model railroad layout.

At last we were on the Interislander boat again, heading down fiord-like Queen Charlotte Sound, with the Queen Charlotte Track somewhere in the hills there, a tramping track even easier to access than Abel Tasman with the added advantage of lodging spaced about a day's hike apart at three or four places along the way. OK, another spot to add to the "when we come back" list . . .

Finally, one last look back to the South Island, and before our 3 1/4 hour crossing was over, forward to the center of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. As a capital it has lots of embassies, and we took advantage of that fact to get our visa for China,
but most of our time was spent disassembling the bike, repacking the bags, and doing last-minute research on the computer for the remaining two months of our adventure. We were very fortunate to be the guests of friends Rob and Katrina, fellow-passengers on the Volendam on our cruise to New Zealand.
They were returning from 7 years in NYC where Katrina was an accountant for the United Nations, and have resumed life as Kiwis in their home town of Wellington. You definitely get a much deeper understanding of another country when you make friends with the locals, and Rob and Katrina were excellent cultural as well as social hosts.

But Auckland is where the Volendam was set to pick us up, so off we went on a 12-hour 423-mile adventure on the Overlander. It features a lounge area at the rear of the train, complete with a rear-facing picture window.
We could watch the commuters heading into town and tunnels stretch away behind us, and we even got one further look back at South Island, with its many memories.

The trip is wonderfully scenic, with river gorges and viaducts to stun you with, even if the weather was too socked-in for the usual views of nearby Mt. Ruapehu, the massive volcano that dominates the center of the North Island. The train had a buffet car, but it also stops for 45 minutes at midday at this station where Louise is getting a flame-grilled cheeseburger. Jeff settled for a Kiwi favorite, a mince pie, what an American might call a ground beef pot pie. Not too healthy, but gosh they're tasty!

In Auckland we moved back into the Waldorf Bankside, an apartment hotel that proved very comfortable in our first week in Auckland, and got these night and day images of Auckland from our room to take home with us.

We had the great fortune to be in town for a concert by the Eroica Trio, and we were just slack-jawed in wonder at the beautiful sounds these three women produced. We also caught up with Auckland friend Gae, who took us to the top of One Tree Hill, a city park that sits atop one of the 50+ volcanoes that make up Auckland, with a Kiwi way of keeping the grass mowed -- by sheep power!

On our last full day, we took a break from yet more computer research to enjoy the late summer flowers in the Auckland Domain (Kiwi for "Park") and to visit the Auckland Museum,
with its outstanding collection of Maori art and artifacts,
such as this century-old painting of a Maori chief by a pakeha artist or this enormous canoe (this is just the rear half!).
We also got to see the ice axe used by the fellow who shares with Kiri Te Kanawa the honor of being the most well-known Kiwi around the world, Sir Edmund Hillary. And, of course, one final Kiwi!

Well, except for that last Kiwi, we found Kiwis to be anything but stuffy. We found them exceedingly friendly and their country exceptionally beautiful. We hope to find time when we're back in Seattle to add a blog entry with more about the nuts and bolts of how to visit New Zealand, and plan to give several slide shows about this marvelous place. We can't urge you enough to come see it for yourselves!

And now the adventure has two more components. The second one is a week in Tokyo with Jeff's son Matt, his wife Akiko and their son, our third grandchild, Tyler. But just flying there would be too simple, wouldn't it? The Volendam will be taking us to Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam, Malaysia, the Phillipines, China, South Korea and then Japan. You can see a map of the route and a printed itinerary for the first leg, to Singapore, at

and for the second leg to Kobe Japan at

We'll write next from one of those great ports!

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