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Our Time In New Zealand

We are currently hanging out in Santiago, Chile, where we are staying with our friends. Not only is it very nice to arrive in a city as large as Santiago and have friends to visit and stay with, but sometimes it is nice to arrive in a city that you´ve visited before. This is because sometimes it is great to just relax instead of hurrying around a city to see all of the sights. Also, we are going to be in Santiago for about a week, so we have more time. We´ll stay with our friends for Christmas and New Years, down in the south in a little town called Loncoche, near Temuco. There, we´ll get back to our exploring.

Anyhow, we had a really enjoyable time in New Zealand, though eight days were far too short to see much, and we were a bit lazy, as we didn´t cover as much territory as we might have. On the other hand, fuel cost even more than in Australia, often soaring towards $5 US or more per gallon, so we weren´t too sad to take more time seeing only a smaller area of New Zealand. As it was, we still put nearly 2000 km on the car.

We had issues getting into and out of New Zealand. When we were leaving Sydney, I had wrapped my fishing pole in plastic wrap and was carrying it with me, because I thought with good reason that the pole might be destroyed by the baggage handlers if I checked it in (we´ve had numerous objects broken on our flights during this trip, and en route to Poland, my bag was soaked either beer, or urine, or both). Passing through security, I was pulled aside and told that Jetstar didn´t allow fishing poles to be carried onboard their planes, a new rule that was a mere week old (they are also the only airline to do this). I´m not sure it they were afraid I´d use it to poke out someone´s eye, or how they saw it as a great risk than the bulky reel, but nonetheless I lost the pole. I kept the reel, thinking that perhaps I will be able to use it further in this trip. It was a tragedy, though.

Arriving in New Zealand wasn´t any easier either. Passing through customs was a real chore, taking over two hours. I can understand that as a small two-island nation, they don´t want a bunch of introduced species of any kind; still, it was the most thorough customs I´ve seen. Normally, it is very wise to check "no" for any questions lest you be subjected to a lengthy customs exam, but when I saw how rigorous they were searching the bags ahead, I admitted that we had a tent (but not that we´d just camped three weeks in Oz with it) to the lady at the start of the customs. She excoriated us for such an offense, but didn´t charge us the $200 NZD fine since we hadn´t officially  entered the customs area. They took my tent and sterilized it; I was a bit worried about the various camping gear I had stowed in my bag, but they didn´t seem to mind it, even though I guarantee it showed up on their xray. To illustrate the point of how stringent these folks are about their searching, I later watched a TV show modelled after the US show "Cops" that showed some poor Asians being fined $200 NZD for every piece of salted pork they brought from China (they brought a lot of it). At any rate, we didn´t get to our hotel that night until nearly 2 am, though we arrived in the airport at 11 pm.

To momentarily jump ahead, when we tried to leave the country via the Argentinean government-run airline Aerolinas Argentinea, we were first accousted by the steward for our itinerary, which in these days of e-tickets we have never before needed. After I managed to find a way to print one off in the airport, they told us that without an exiting ticket from Chile, we wouldn´t be allowed in. Having been to Chile twice before, I didn´t believe this at all, nor did I believe that the Chilean government would pay for me to be deported back to the US; they wouldn´t let us on the plane, though, until we paid for a ticket out of Chile. First they sent us to Qantas, who told us we needed a ticket back to the US, and offered one for $4600 each; Aerolinas then took a bit of mercy on us and sold us a ticket from Buenos Aires across the river into Uruguay (maybe 100 miles) for $375 each. Fortunately, the tickets are fully refundable, except for the fees I incurred by paying for them abroad. Naturally, upon arrival in Chile, we weren´t asked anything about exit tickets, and I´m sure the customs man would have been very confused if we´d produced them for his approval.

Back to New Zealand, though, we thoroughly enjoyed the softness of a bed for the first time in nearly three weeks at the hotel. The next morning, we left Auckland without stopping and headed north, taking a winding route that had us pass by both coasts of the north island that first day. We noticed several things in our first few hours of being in New Zealand. First, there is little wildlife in New Zealand compared to the zoo that is Australia. There are lots of birds, but they tend to be much more subtle than their counterparts in Oz, not as showy and colorful. Next, the landscape, at least what we saw in the section of NZ north of Auckland that we fairly thoroughly explored, is frequently more scenic than much of Oz. Driving around in Oz, we frequently passed along fairly monotonous highways, through forests and up and down hills, to reach the more beautiful areas. North of Auckland, huge rolling hills with large fields and lush trees, all tinged a deep green, are the norm, and many of the beaches are nothing short of gorgeous. The people of NZ (at least north of Auckland) tend to be different from Aussies as well. They are much more reserved and a bit stiff where Aussies are so gregarious and friendly. Kiwis will open up and be more talkative, but not usually as immediate as Aussies; in this they seem much more British than Aussie do.

Of course the pre-Euro inhabitants are different. In Oz, there are the Aborginials, with whom we had almost no contact with but seemed very mysterious and deeply involved in their traditions and past. In NZ there are the Maoris, who I have read about a bit. They were warlike and cannabilistic when first encountered, but they seemed to have meshed with the Brit interlopers much easier, having hung onto their lands and rights longer and more successfully than the Aboriginals. They have much more of a voice, it seems, though these days they have a bit of a rough reputation, which isn´t helped by their sometimes rough appearance and demeanor (we were shouted at twice while driving, with plenty of obscenities mixed in, both by young guys and by a toothless old lady).

We headed straight up to the biggest center of population of Whangarei, staying our first night at a caravan park in the city. We had difficulty asking people about the place until we later found out that the city is pronounced "Fangaray," per the Maori language. The next day we headed just north of Whangarei to a tiny little village called Whananaki, taking a route that turned the 25 minute trip into a 3.5 hour journey by finding the most windy dirt roads in the area. Doing so allowed us to see several very nice beaches, including Whale Bay and Woolleys Bay, where we swam in the waves and discovered for the first time that contrary to common belief that any beach so beautiful as these should have bath-tub warm water, the oceans of NZ are freezing. This didn´t stop us (much) from swimming, and we even bought a cheap body board (which I snapped in half) to avoid all the skin loss that body surfing without a board entails. We ended up camping a night in Whananaki, at a little farm that bordered the beach; the owners had created a campground complete with water and toilets, and the place was nearly deserted. You can see from the pictures that I posted that it was a wonderful place to camp, very relaxing and quiet. We built a couple of sandcastles doomed by the oncoming high tides, and my appearance has drawn the comparison of another Tom Hanks character, the fellow in Cast Away, after four years on the island.

A little side-note here: Upon arrival to Santiago, I finally paid attention to the insults about my beard (which has had me labeled as a schizophrenic hobo, Forest Gump, and several other snide names) and I finally trimmed it. But, importantly, I only trimmed it after seeing how shocked my friends here in Santiago were, and realized that their mother would not approve once we arrived in Loncoche. So there!

Anyhow, we probably would have spent more time in Whananaki, but we were invited to visit the farm of the mother of a Kiwi we met in Poland, Jenna. She and her husband Nick had entertained us with stories of the farm and its resident pet pig, Eugene, so as we had the opportunity to meet the famous porker, we called up Jenna´s mom Joanne, and soon we found ourselves at the farm. The encounter turned out to be a highlight of our time in New Zealand, because we not only enjoyed two nights sleeping on a bed (a luxury, since we camped the rest of our time in NZ), good meals, and the relaxation that comes from being on a quiet farm, but we had great company as well. We spent a good deal of time chatting with Joanne, her partner Patrick (an explorer like us who has circumnavigated the globe on his boat), and a friend visiting from Victoria, BC, Elizabeth. Of course there was Eugene, who was a bit jealous of having me visit and had me on the lookout for an unexpected charge, but was charming nonetheless; he lived up to his international reputation.

We spent the rest of the week exploring the north coast of the island, camping a rainy day in Kawakawa (where by the afternoon we were driven indoors by the weather and spent an evening watching Kiwi TV). We spent two night in Tauranga Bay, which was not only beautiful but a good center to explore the area from. We drove along the coast to the Kerikeri Peninsula, as well as inland to the Puketi Forest Reserve, where we found a grove of massive kaori trees (comparable to California´s great redwoods). We went as far west as the Ninety-Mile Beach, which isn´t actually 90 miles long but makes up for its distance issue by having wild waves that discouraged any thoughts of body surfing (especially with a broken board). We got ourselves lost in some Maori territory and in several nature reserves, the best way to find great, remote locations. It was a great week.

We were quite reluctant to leave NZ; like Australia, it feels like we have unfinished business there that will require at least one more visit. I´m glad that in both places we decided against the "see as much as possible" mentality and just enjoyed a smaller area. Doing so allowed us to explore in much greater detail, which I think is quite fulfilling.

Until next time, be safe.



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