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Trip to New Zealand (North Island) February 3 - 15, 2017

by Jenny and Charlie Plesums

Much of what you want to see is the great scenery between cities and visit many of the smaller towns, so a rental car is the way to go - but be aware that they drive on the left, like England, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and many other countries. We planned to start in the North (Auckland) and gradually work south, as time allowed.

Rental car pick-up and drop-off in Auckland is just outside the international terminal - no bus ride required. Gas in New Zealand is over US$ 5 per US Gallon, but diesel is only about US$ 3 per gallon and widely available. Next time I will ask for a diesel car (like we have at home). We spent 11 days driving round the North Island.

Getting There

We left Austin at 810 pm on Friday February 3, non stop to Los Angeles (LAX), then non-stop LAX to Auckland (AKL) arriving 9:20 Sunday morning February 5. What happened to Saturday? It was borrowed by the dateline - we will get it back on our return.

Our suburban Auckland hotel was a block from a stop for a frequent express bus to the center of the city, for about the same cost as parking our car in the city. We never figured how to get cheaper tickets than NZ$ 5.50 each for the 4 trips each that we used the bus, but there were apparently options.

Sunday February 5 - Auckland

Most churches seem to have very early services (typically 7 and 9 am on Sunday, and we didn't land until 930) but when we found the cathedral, near the SkyTower, shortly after 4 pm with a scheduled 4:30 mass, we considered it a divine hint that we should go.

As Jenny stepped outside the church to find the restroom before mass, she heard a blood-curdling scream. The Auckland Skytower is near the Cathedral. Among the things you can do at the Skytower is a 192 meter jump (630 feet, or roughly 53 stories) The fee is only NZ$ 225. It is not a bungee jump - you do not bounce on springy cords, but are rapidly lowered to a target on the ground.

If you would rather just walk around the edge of the building 192 meters above the ground, you can do it for a mere NZ$ 150. Click for more information on the SkyWalk and SkyJump We did neither.

Back down by the waterfront we explored options for dinner and later ferry trips... along the waterfront near the classic ferry building.

Everything is bigger in New Zealand (even coming from Texas). For dinner Jenny ordered Mussels. You know, those little black shellfish that you need to fight through dozens to get enough. How about these green monsters? Jenny really enjoyed them

Near our bus stop back to the hotel was this statue of a Kiwi bird, nearly extinct. Bird? Sorry, no wings. For scale, there is a sheep behind the Kiwi.

Monday February 6 - Auckland Museum

We went to the Auckland War Memorial and Museum on our first full day, Monday February 9. The classic building is atop an extinct volcano, with a cenotaph in front as a remembrance of 20th century war victims.

Despite their small population and remote location New Zealand has been involved in both World Wars and many other conflicts. This museum is both a war memorial (names of those lost and displays of the conflicts are on the upper floor), and a lovely history of New Zealand. From the entry to the museum you can see the war memorial cenotaph, the seaport, and a cruise ship in the harbor.

This gun, mounted at the entrance, reminds us that the museum is a war memorial as well as natural history.

New Zealand is noted for it's extinct and endangered birds that ... don't fly like birds - they don't even have wings or any bones related to wings.

This Moa bird has been extinct for over 100 years, but was reconstructed from skeletons. This is a female - the males were smaller. Their back is often 6 feet tall, and they can eat vegetation over 10 feet off the ground.

A Kiwi is a New Zealand resident. The brown skin green fruit is a kiwi fruit, not just a Kiwi. The kiwi birds are not extinct, but rare and endangered. They have vestigial wings but cannot fly - no place for the wing muscles to connect to the skeleton. We did not take a side trip to a kiwi bird park to see the real things in life.

This is an 1830 war canoe, an example of their large sea-going boats.

The natives are of Polynesian descent, which implies long ocean voyages. The bow of the boat had some intricate carving. There may be a story why European boats had a lady facing forward and the Polynesians had a man facing backwards, into the boat.

The side of the boat had multiple sets of carved waves representing the multiple seas in the voyage.

They also displayed smaller boats - basically outrigger canoes - used locally.

To announce the start of the native Māori demonstration, the performers appeared in front of a traditional native storage structure, and sounded their horn, which could be heard throughout the museum. There was an extra charge for the 30 minute performance, demonstration, and explanation, but it appeared authentic and was quite interesting.

The demonstration included dance and music with native instruments (see the things the lady is swinging). The Haka is a "war dance" to show the tribe's pride, strength, and unity, even in peaceful gatherings.

Some parts of the dance are just looking fierce, and sometimes involves sticking out the tongue.

The performers came out of the auditorium after the show for pictures and conversation. This young lady was extremely proud of her dual nationality - both Māori and New Zealander. Most are fluently bilingual, but consider it a privilege when they can choose to learn math and other basics in their choice of languages.

A large native meeting hut had been reconstructed in the museum. Different Māori tribes had their traditional designs in the woven walls, which were being restored.

The Māori are excellent wood carvers, including various totem poles.

As part of the war memorial there were several World War II fighter aircraft on display.

One section of the museum deals with volcanoes. One exhibit allows you to sit in a house looking out a picture window as the TV forecasts a coming eruption. As you look out the window you see the simulated eruption, including feeling the shaking of the house. Well worth it, even if you have to wait your turn.

I love wood craftsmanship, such as this.

This sideboard is the New Zealand variant of the Arts and Crafts ideas. This piece was built about 1925. Native New Zealand rimu wood had replaced the traditional white oak used in the Northern Hemisphere.

This "ready made furniture" wardrobe was built from various domestic woods, including traditional carving, as early as 1889.

This desk shows their love of wood craftsmanship and carving.

As we returned to our car parked outside the museum, Jenny noticed the size of the tree ... at least as wide as 3 or 4 or more cars.

We then went to another park, overlooking the water

But following a different path in the same park, it was overlooking the city

Of course, the Auckland Skytower can be seen from almost everywhere around Auckland.

As usual, Jenny has to walk anywhere there is sand, especially next to salt water.

They even swim here. It was February, their Fall, and the start of the school year so no crowds.

The apparent pine trees in New Zealand seem to grow in layers - spaces between the sets of branches. Rather unique in my experience.

Continue to the next part - Devonport

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