The final stops before disembarking our cruise in Auckland were three ports on the North Island of New Zealand. Our first stop was Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, next was Napier, also known as the “Art Deco City”. While in Napier we visited the Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony. Our last stop was in Tauranga, which is the gateway to Rotorua, home to Rainbow Springs (and its nocturnal Kiwi house), “Hells Gate” (a seismic area) and Mitai village where we explored the Maori culture.
Wellington is a modern hip city with a thriving food scene. It is said to have more bars and restaurants per capita than New York City. We did a “foodie” tour in Wellington and sampled some of New Zealand’s best products including coffee and chocolate, among others. Coffee is big here but, surprisingly, Starbucks is not one of the big players and has floundered here compared to its success in other countries. I think part of this is attributable to the local product which is excellent and part is due to a preference for local versus “America mega chain product” Wellington is also home to the New Zealand film industry and films of the “Lord of the Rings” fame.
We were exposed to the Maori culture throughout our cruise to New Zealand and had a contingent of Maori on board who gave several demonstrations during sea days. Our best exposure, however, came when we visited Mitai Village in Rotorua. Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, arriving on the islands from other locations in Polynesia in AD 1250. They occupied the islands in isolation for several centuries and developed a unique culture with their own language, distinctive crafts and a rich mythology. There are currently 600,000 Maori in New Zealand, approximately 15% of the national population. Our visit to Mitai was great. It is located in a natural bush setting and as we explored the site, warriors arrived in traditional dress paddling an ancient warrior canoe.
We were treated to a demonstration of tribal dance and the traditional Haka. This is a traditional dance performed by warriors prior to going into battle. The idea was to intimidate the opponent. I was sitting in the front row for the dance and can attest to its effectiveness (it intimidated me!) The Haka has become a tradition among New Zealand sports team who perform the dance before international events. After the performance we had traditional meal (called a Hangi) that was very good. Had we attended the same meal 800 years ago, we would likely have been the entrée versus the guest. The total event lasted 3 hours and was excellent. My sense is that the Maori as well as New Zealand in general are very proud of their heritage.
Near Mitai Village is Rainbow Springs, a zoo highlighting various local species. Here, as well as at Mitai village, were silver ferns, an endemic species to New Zealand and its unofficial symbol. Silver ferns are large tree ferns with a silvery underside on its fronds. The symbol is displayed on most of the NZ team jerseys and flags. Since Kiwis are nocturnal, Rainbow Springs has a simulated nocturnal house you can visit. It is dark in the exhibit and you have to spend several minutes allowing your eyes to adjust, but you can see the birds in a semi natural setting. Photography was prohibited which was fine because the quality of the pictures would have been poor due to the low light.
Also in Rotorua is Hells Gate, a seismic area just outside of town. For more than 700 years this was a special site for the Maori, considered to be a place of healing and restoration. There are various mud pots and sulfur vents here and its name “Hells Gate” came during visit in the 1900’s by George Bernard Shaw who, after visiting, decided and proclaimed that it must be the gates to Hell (and the name stuck). While not as interesting as other seismic areas I have visited (in Iceland and Yellowstone) it was still a good visit and worth the time.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to New Zealand and there are many area’s I would like to revisit in the future. I thing future visits however will be land based versus a cruise to spend some time.
Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy the pictures