My apologies, North Island. I had every intention of spending some time with you, but that did not materialize.
When you look at the straight numbers, what I did was inexcusable. Of my 12 month travel time line, I had set aside about 5 weeks for New Zealand. 5 weeks on paper looks like plenty of time to explore NZ’s two islands, which are equivalent in size to the state of Colorado in the USA.
Yet, the final division was not 2.5 weeks in each. It was 4.5 weeks South Island; 0.5 weeks North Island. And of that 0.5 week, I probably spent 50% of that time on the bus making my way north to Auckland.
I was entranced by South Island, and perhaps partially motivated by my endless free accommodation in Dunedin, but that is no excuse for not even giving North Island a chance to impress me.
Day #1: Bus to North Island
After an early morning wakeup to catch a 7am bus to the ferry, I was rewarded with a sunrise over the plains of Canterbury that was so pretty that I felt too guilty to go back to sleep.
Other highlights of this part of the bus journey included the shoreline drive along the coast to Kaikoura.
At Picton, I boarded the Cook Strait ferry. This is noted as one of the prettiest ferry rides in the world. The first hour is spent winding out of the Marlborough Sounds (wine country, where some of the trees were red) to the strait where you can see the coasts of both the North and South Islands at the same time. Then another hour coming around the point into Wellington Harbour.
My only complaint about the ride was the 15 minute period when I and several other passengers on the observation deck up top thought the ferry was capsizing due to a faulty loudspeaker which made the following announcement: “Attention passengers… garble, garble… emergency… garble, garble… fire on deck seven… garble, garble, garble… abandon ship.” And then the emergency siren sounded. When I and my fellow panicked passengers proceeded in an orderly fashion to a designated meeting place on the deck below, we were bewildered to see everyone else sitting around watching tv and playing cards, business as usual.
At which point we learned that the announcement had in fact been: “Attention passengers, at this time the crew will be running an emergency drill. Please disregard the following instructions. Crew members, assume there is a fire on deck seven. The emergency siren will sound. Prepare to abandon ship.”
They really should look into fixing that top deck speaker.
Day #2-3: Wellington
Wellington is the capital of NZ and had lots to offer the curious tourist. I took the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens with a British girl I’d met at the hostel who enjoyed my pronunciation of the word ‘duvet’. We agreed that the view of the harbour was quite pretty and there were some very impressive trees. As far as trees go, anyway. We then wandered/were slightly lost around town near and on Cuba St (the “latin” quarter – mostly trendy shopping and cafes) and the waterfront.
Next day was the massive Museum, with a capital M, Te Papa. It was enormous – six floors of interactive exhibits. You could spend hours in there. Coolest thing I saw: preserved giant squid on display. I do not want to run into one of them in the wild. They could definitely eat me. There was also a high tech floor map of NZ where if you step on a square, pictures of the area would appear on the walls in the room. Before I knew it, I’d been in there for three and a half hours. I also was impressed to see the level of collaboration in the Maori exhibits, since Canadian museums are still slow to address artifact repatriation to First Nations (i.e. returning their stuff that the Government stole a long time ago).
Day#4: Bus to Auckland, Auckland
Overnight 11 hour bus ride, on seat that reclined 3 cm.
Impressions of Auckland made in one short afternoon: I didn’t like it. It has the Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere. But after seeing the CN Tower… it kind of pales in comparison. Overall Auckland was a bit of a bland city. Most of the activities they advertise here are *outside* the city, so that is pretty telling. As is the fact that I did not take a single picture there. Not one.
There are so many things that I should have made time to do and see on the North Island. The beaches of North Island are supposed to be amazing. I didn’t do any of the Lord of the Rings tours (and not because I think I’m too cool for that stuff). I didn’t go to Rotorua. I didn’t see the glow worm caves.
I will simply have to go to New Zealand again and give North Island its due.