Category — New Zealand
On our New Zealand road trip, we drove several thousand kilometers from Auckland to Queenstown and back. The country lived up to its reputation: Clean, green and stunning.
Our country report, including our route and our recommendations, is here.
December 19, 2008 Comments Off on Our Time in New Zealand
Since leaving the United States in July, I have been working on a unified Theory of Civilization – and I have come to this:
A civilization can be measured by the access it offers to public toilets — the quantity, quality and cost.
By that measure, New Zealand is the most enlightened civilization we have encountered yet. Every town and attraction has clearly marked, clean, free public toilets.
Whenever nature called, we would begin looking for the ubiquitous blue signs directing us to public facilities.
In most places the toilets were rather ordinary. However several towns we visited had exceptional offerings.
In Auckland and Queenstown, we found space-pod toilets with computerized doors.
In the town of Franz Josef, I snapped this picture of the EXCELoo.
But nothing compared to Lake Taupo’s SUPERLOO, with its showers, lockers and 24-hour loo attendant.
New Zealand set a very high, very civilized standard (far better than the U.S.!). I can’t imagine Australia will put as much emphasis on public comfort.
In fact, there’s only one potential competitor I see on the horizon: Japan.
December 17, 2008 8 Comments
From Queenstown, we crossed the Southern Alps to drive up the South Island’s wild west coast.
Around Haast, the road turns north, through enormous stands of temperate rain forest, wetlands and waterfalls.
A few hours further on, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers attract adventure-seekers from around the world. We hiked several miles to the terminal face of the glacier — and when we turned around we marveled at the size of the valley the glacier filled just a century ago.
As we continued north past Greymouth, we came to a stretch of road Lonely Planet has rated as one of the ten best drives on earth. It did not disappoint.
December 12, 2008 Comments Off on South Island’s Wild West Coast
For such a small, remote nation, New Zealand has had extraordinary impact far beyond its shores.
In 1893, NZ became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote; in 1898 it introduced old-age pensions. After World War I, NZ was a founding member of the League of Nations.
In 1984 the country stood up to the United States by barring nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from entering NZ waters. Now NZ is a world leader on environmental and sustainability issues.
The country’s leadership on political and social issues is equaled by its impact in sports. Difficult sports.
The All-Blacks, NZ’s rugby team, dominated rugby union for most of the 20th century. NZ Challenge has won two America’s Cups, and the country’s sailors are considered among the best in the world. And Kiwis have excelled in the triathalon, picking up gold and silver medals in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
For many, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mt. Everest, was the quintessential Kiwi — humble, practical, always prepared.
Today NZ is leading in a new arena: Extreme Sports.
Kiwi AJ Hackett made bungy jumping famous with a 1986 plunge from the Eiffel Tower.
Two decades later, bungy, along with jetboating, skydiving and paragliding are well-established activities in NZ.
Every day it seems some Kiwi dreams up a new extreme sport or activity. Drive around the North and South Islands and you will have the opportunity to go zorbing, quad-biking, cave rafting, river sledging (white-water body boarding), and blokarting (windsurfing on wheels).
While many consider the Kiwis crazy, they don’t see it that way. Life’s an adventure, and with the right preparation almost any activity can be enjoyed safely.
Even the very extreme Shotover Canyon Swing.
December 10, 2008 4 Comments
A Day in Pictures
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is Nature’s Disneyland: It has an incredible setting, an amazing array of adventure activities, a thriving restaurant scene and an almost unlimited supply of extraordinary walks, hikes, tramps and treks.
We didn’t take full advantage of all Queenstown has to offer, but we did enjoy our time here very much, taking in the mountain views and unspoiled environment on several local walks.
We managed to squeeze in a round of golf.
We carved out some time for a harbor cruise.
And stopped by the Minus 5 Ice Bar to enjoy a really cold beverage.
In the end, we were pleased to spend three relaxing days in New Zealand’s adventure capital.
More pictures from Queenstown and the South Island are posted here.
December 8, 2008 Comments Off on ADIP: Queenstown
I was standing next to a young American from Denver, waiting my turn to speak to a representative from a Queenstown tour company.
We had reached New Zealand’s adventure capital and wanted to review our options for getting an adrenaline rush. Jet boats. Quad bikes. Something called the “Canyon Swing.”
The man from Denver, however, knew exactly what he wanted. He was looking for Queenstown’s least expensive bungy. He’d been to three different companies already and was not satisfied with the prices he had been quoted.
“They want too much. I know there’s a cheaper bungy in this town,” he told me.
When it was his turn to talk to an agent, I overheard parts of the conversation including his last words: “It’s a rip-off.” He walked out, still searching for the elusive low-cost bungy.
Then it was my turn. I made my inquiries, picked up a few brochures, and left to go back to the hotel to talk through our options with Dani and the kids.
Walking back along the unimaginably beautiful Queenstown harbor, my thoughts turned to John Glenn.
December 5, 2008 3 Comments
The lake gets its blazing turquoise color from “rock flour” (sediment) in the water.
December 3, 2008 Comments Off on Observed in Lake Tekapo
There is something quite special about watching one of your country’s national teams compete abroad.
Conor and I were fortunate to see the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team (17 and Under) compete in a FIFA World Cup Semi-Final Game in Christchurch.
I was surprised by the wave of emotion I felt when the Star-Spangled Banner was played before the game — and equally surprised by the sense of aggression I felt when hundreds of German fans began chanting “Deutschland – Deutschland – Deutschland,” after their team scored an early goal.
But the U.S. team showed no quit. After a shaky opening 20 minutes, the women played flawlessly, pressing on offense, relentless on defense.
Two second-half goals, including the game winner in the 83rd minute, delivered this Cinderella team to the finals against North Korea.
I smiled as I left a packed Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
Earlier in the day I had heard two Kiwi commentators on talk radio. “The Americans have done quite well in the tournament,” said one. “But their run is over. The Germans will dismantle them.”
“That’s right,” said the other. “Time for them to get a football lesson.”
Postscript: The US team lost the final, 2-1 in overtime, against the heavily favored team from North Korea. But we can rightly expect great things from the players on this team as they advance to the women’s national team. Congratulations and well done!
December 3, 2008 1 Comment
We were standing on a cliff’s edge, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Straight ahead, well over the horizon, was Chile. To our right, Antarctica.
As we looked left, the cloud cover that had followed us most of the day began to clear, revealing snow-capped mountains leading right up to the water’s edge.
Caroline asked incredulously: “Where the heck are we?”
A day taking in scenery on New Zealand’s South Island will make you wonder.
We had arrived in Picton the night before, on the ferry from Wellington. The crossing itself was extraordinary, the ship making its way through Marlborough Sounds.
From there we drove south following Highway 1 along the South Island’s east coast. It’s a drive that first invites, then vanquishes comparisons to California’s Pacific Coast Highway.
After a few hours we reached Kaikoura, a picturesque peninsula town. There are few places in the world with such awesome mountains so close to the sea.
In Maori legend, Kaikoura was where the demi-god Maui sat when he fished the North Island up from the depths of the sea.
As recently as the 1980s, no one was very interested in Kaikoura – it was known only for its crayfish.
These days, it’s a tourist mecca, known for its surfing, its seal colony and opportunities for whale watching.
More pictures from New Zealand’s South Island are posted here.
December 1, 2008 2 Comments
No one doubts that the Maori were the original inhabitants of New Zealand. Beyond that statement of fact, little is known.
Where did the Maori come from? When did they arrive? Did they come in one group or several waves? No one really knows.
The strongest archaeological evidence indicates the Maori arrived around 1200 AD.
But why let facts get in the way of a good story?
November 26, 2008 2 Comments