Travelogue - New Zealand                             Click here for links to all Travelogue pages
                                                                            New Zealand Photo Pages:    1     2     3


New Zealand

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I 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! 

I 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. 

This 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 everywhere else.

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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, 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..

Overall, 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. 

I 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.

On 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 and ). 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.

The 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.

Irregardless, New 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 early April.

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 places.

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.


New Zealand - Epilogue                                             New Zealand Photo Pages:  1     2     3


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