North Island of New Zealand
Published: September 30, 2001
Carl and Vi Swanson
Carl and Vi SwansonOn Sunday, April 15, 2001 we boarded the ferry at Picton on the South Island of New Zealand and set sail on our three hour trip to Wellington on the southern tip of North Island. North Island was formed volcanically as compared to South Island’s glacial origins.
It does not contain the massive mountains of the Great Southern Alps, but it sure does have it’s own claim to excellent, challenging and beautiful country and highways having afforded us many a thrill as we made our way north. The North Island contains more that three quarters of New Zealand’s population and much of the Maori culture of the country. Travel with us as we head from the capital city of Wellington to the northern most tip of New Zealand at Cape Reinga.

We started our North Island tour at Wellington with an all day private bus tour of the city observing many of government and foreign embassy buildings. Wellington, like San Francisco, is built over relatively active seismic fault lines and many of their buildings are floated on gigantic shock absorbers capable of offering quake protection up to 7.5 on the Richter scale; a fantastic engineering feat now being adopted in many other large cities around the world.A most informed guide escorted us throughout the capital complex thoroughly explaining the workings of the New Zealand government and stressing their complete loyalty to the crown. She was a most impressive and informed figure.

Our tour next took us to the National Museum (Te Papa), a grand free and new museum that contains something for everyone of all ages. We learned much about the culture of New Zealand and the native Maori people that occupied the country before the white man came. There are many similarities to our own history, but we gained the impression that the British were more diplomatic in reaching accord with the Maoris than were our predecessors in dealing with native Americans. Our bus tour continued with a trip to Mt. Victoria, the highest point in this area of 400,000 people where we enjoyed some wonderful views of the city and its picturesque harbor. Our day ended with a stop at the Botanic gardens and a well earned evening of leisure at our “holiday park”.

Heading north we crossed the scenic Tararua Mountain Range on our way to Napier. Napier was completely destroyed by a 1931 earthquake and it was completely rebuilt, much of it on new land generated by the earthquake. The rebuilding effort lent an “art deco” flavor to the city which is a highlight of the area. This is an area rich with orchards, vineyards and sheep farming where we had a chance to enjoy new shopping and epicurean challenges. After some very enthusiastic sheep product shopping, we visited a large gannet sanctuary at remote Cape Kidnappers. The first flight of the “chicks” is a 1200 mile flight to Australia over the Tasman Sea; a spectacular accomplishment for those that make it all the way.

And to finish off a great day, we went to the home of Shirley and David Harrington outside of Napier for a wonderful lamb/chicken barbecue. It was the best meal of our entire trip. The Harringtons now own a very productive apple orchard and were in the middle of packing season with much of their fruit going directly to our American super markets.

Our next step north took us to Rotorua, an unforgettable visit to the heart of Maori territory. Not only did we learn a lot more about the Maori culture, but we had an opportunity to be directly involved is some of daily routines. I was selected as tribe chief to represent our tribe at the Maori challenge. One must face off against the brave and threatening Maori warrior as a prerequisite to gaining tribe acceptance to the hangi (Maori feast). After enjoying our feast, our hosts performed the famous Maori haka war dance.

We also had a guided tour of the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and Maori Arts Center. Much of Rotorua, including their large modern hospital. is heated by massive underground thermal reserves

Also, in Rotorua we had a wonderful demonstration of New Zealand’s sheep agriculture including performances by the amazing sheep dogs. Sheep farming in New Zealand could not exist without them.

Next we headed for Auckland as a stepping-stone to the far north end of the North Island. On the way to Auckland we experienced more fabulous country side as we took in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and the Shearing Shed to watch the shearing of beautiful white angora rabbits. And we visited the Otorohanga Kiwi House where we saw live kiwis in simulated darkness. Next we experienced the urban sprawl of New Zealand’s largest city where we stopped for the night and enjoyed the local Pizza Hut for our supper. It was a fun experience!

We headed north for a three day stop at Pahia, our northernmost base camp for the trip from which we accessed the northernmost points of the country. We visited the huge Kauri trees in their native habitat. The largest known Kauri tree had a diameter of 8.5 meters, unbelievable! We visited Cape Reinga, one of the most northern New Zealand’s points of land and we returned to Pahia via “90 Mile Beach” where we bussed in and out of the surf for 77 kilometers and where we tried “duning” down the sand slopes on a plastic sled.

Upon our return to Pahia, we had a day to do our own thing, and there was much to do at the beautiful Bay of Islands. We took a four hour high speed catamaran tour of the Bay of Islands which included a trip through the “Hole in the Rock” and we stopped at a beautiful island where we got in some hiking, sun and relaxation. This is tropical in nature as it is as close as you can get to the equator. Back at Pahia, we took in the treaty site where the British and Maoris came to terms on the sharing of New Zealand some 150 years ago.

Next, we are back to Auckland where we reluctantly turn in our motorhomes and spend our last night in a nice hotel. We have a final day to ourselves before our 4:00 PM bus to the airport. We visited Devonport by ferry where we had a fabulous view of the city from across the harbor and then we hiked to the Sky Tower, the tallest building in the southern hemisphere where again the views of Auckland area were fantastic. Our last stop before returning to the hotel was the Marine Museum where we saw the Challenge Cup that New Zealand won in 1995.

What can we say? Our visit is over and we’re back in the good old USA. This has been a wonderful experience and we want to sincerely thank Past International President Leroy and Florence Wallis for arranging and leading this unforgettable trip. And we will long remember our traveling companions; after all we are all now lifelong members of the Maui-01 tribe of WBCCI members. Thanks for bearing with us as we shared our travels with you. Don’t hesitate to follow Leroy and Florence anywhere, especially to New Zealand.

– Carl and Vi Swanson