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arrived in Auckland on October 31st, gaining an hour (by flying west from Tahiti) and
simultaneously loosing a whole day to the International Date Line. Checked
into a backpacker's hostel and partied that first night with half a dozen
fellow travelers from as many different countries. Great fun, but I woke
up with a hangover. Ponsonby Backpackers is a pleasant hostel just outside the city center. I was paying NZ$40 per day, which
was about US$28,
a lot cheaper than Tahiti!
became friendly with the owners and enjoyed the company of the
young backpackers that came and went. We all shared a communal
kitchen, so the end of the day was a real social occasion. It was
fun to hear viewpoints from other nationals. My companions
included Brits, Aussies, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, German, Malay
and one or two whose origins were unclear.
was the first week of November and everyone
was keenly interested in the approaching US presidential election.
We were able to watch news coverage on a big color TV in the
common room (when the guys weren't glued to a soccer game). George
Bush and his foreign policies are very unpopular in Europe, New Zealand, and just about
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I bought a kick-around
camper van in Auckland and immediately headed to New
Zealand's South Island, which is by reputation the more
beautiful half of the country. I may write some details about this
leg of my travels before long and post it (on www.tor.cc), and I'll have
plenty of photos to share. Until now, though, I've been fully
occupied with the traveling itself, seeing (or at least glancing over) the
entire South Island and parts of the North during the month of November, before the holiday
season releases the tourist hoards. So traveling has been a full time job
these past weeks.
As of today, December 4th, I'm back on the North Island heading to
some areas I want to see here, still racing against the beginning of
the holiday tourist season when most of the places I want to visit are likely
to get a lot more crowded..
I'm finding New Zealand attractive, but a bit bland. Not boring, just bland. Culturally, it's as Americanized as most other white
countries these days, so besides the accent and the fact that they drive
on the left, this could almost be the states. McDonalds, Starbucks,
and giant supermarket chains are everywhere. New Zealand even has its
own, very tacky version of Wal-Mart called The Warehouse, and like its
American counterpart there's one in just about every town of any size.
find the urban Kiwi mentality to be as superficial and materialistic as it is in
America, and the advertising even more tasteless. (No offense intended
towards either country. If you're reading this you're probably exempt anyway.)
Of course, there is no time like the weeks leading up to Christmas to
bring out the very worst extremes of these global maladies, but somehow I had expected
better of New Zealand. Rural people tend to be less afflicted.
the bright side Kiwi's, as they call themselves, are mostly friendly, courteous and Nice, as I find people to be almost everywhere
I travel. On the dim side, I've only met a few really interesting,
dynamic Kiwis (see www.billyblack.co.nz
). It's as though the country's blandness seeps into the mind. Then again, I don't socialize all that
much so no doubt I'm missing a great deal..
The South Island does
boast some very beautiful, even a few spectacular areas. They would have
impressed me even more, I think, if I hadn't just come from a season in the northern Rockies and
Alaska. That's a pretty hard act to follow. Still, to their enormous
credit I would rate the wilder
parts of New Zealand as scenically comparable to northwest North America
and Alaska, but without the animals.
birds here are phenomenal! Wonderfully varied, many completely
unfamiliar to me. Around much of the South Island they continually
chirp and whistle and squawk, filling the air with overlapping
songs. It's one of my favorite things about this country.
New Zealand's foliage (in the small pockets where it has been allowed to
grow) appears exotic to Yankee eyes, quasi-tropical and wildly profuse in
the rain forests. This is a hiker's heaven, with hundreds of
well-tended trails. Tragically, the original European settlers
clear-cut 99% of the original Kauri forests that once covered this
land and replaced them with
grass for sheep.
In fact, much
of New Zealand is an enormous sheep pasture, thousands
of square miles of grass as monotonously trim as a suburban lawn.
I appreciate pastoral scenes as much as the next guy, but here
they seem to go on forever. If one can fall asleep counting sheep,
then you might say a hefty portion of New Zealand is one big yawn.
Zealand, at least South
Island and (from what I hear) Northland, is worth seeing and I certainly don't regret coming. As I
said, there are some very attractive areas, the birds are wonderful
and the natives are
friendly. Still, I donít feel inclined to
spend the entire season here. So...
At this point, my plan
is to hide out somewhere and maybe write a bit during the second half of
December while the holiday crowds commence swarming. Then I'll spend
January in the country's Northland. By the end of January I think I'll sell
the campervan and fly to SE Asia for a couple of months. Iíd like to re-visit
Thailand, and perhaps get into Vietnam. I'm scheduled to fly back to the States in
While I was in New York
in October my 23-year-old nephew inspired me to buy an iPod, one of those
small electronic gadgets that can store and play back a zillion sound
files. He then
proceeded to load it up not only with lots of his current music, but also
with a whole bunch of self-improvement and real estate investing "how
to" audios he's been studying. I added a decent variety of classical,
ethnic, jazz and oldies music. Now while I cruise along the New Zealand highways
I listen to this eclectic assortment through audio earplugs, often setting the
player to shuffle the sound tracks randomly. I'll be swingin' to some
African rhythms, then relaxing to a Mozart sonata, then maybe singing
along with some Stones or R.E.M.
rock-n-roll, then it'll suddenly switch to a 45-minute lecture on equities
investing, or an audio book chapter about building wealth through real
estate, or a Tony Robins' personal growth series (he's pretty good). There
is also a series by a self-proclaimed Canadian guru named Eckhart Tolle
who shares profound insights into the nature of being and enlightenment. I'm
getting lots of really worthwhile information, some of which seems to be
just what I need to be learning at this point in my life. Hell, I wish I'd
learned some of it 30 years ago! Anyway, I sense it's all leading me to better
Then the iPod will skip
to a ballsy Ernestine Anderson number and I'm groooovin' down the road in
overdrive, sheep on one side of me and the tempestuous Tasman Sea on the
other. Life is good.
Zealand - Epilogue
New Zealand Photo Pages: 1