Down Under Part 2: New Zealand 2012-13

31 01 2013


If you’ve followed this blog since 2011, you may recall I went to Patagonia in November. On that trip, I spent a lot of time with Elwin and Angelique, from The Netherlands. We had so much fun that in July of 2012 they asked me, “Hey Rod, want to get together for a trip to New Zealand this winter? Of course it will be SUMMER there!” That deserved some serious consideration! Especially since I have friends living there! First, Paul Lepper, a kayak designer for my old company Feelfree Kayaks, who’s encouraged me to visit for several years. And two other friends, Oscar Manguy and Yurira Hernandez, Mexican kayak guides I met at the Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup in 2011…they work for NOLS in New Zealand. I figured this has got to be the perfect time to visit New Zealand. So I said, “You bet I want to go!” And a plan was hatched.

I’d spend New Year’s 2013 with Paul Lepper and his wife Liz on the North Island. Then fly to Christchurch, on the South Island, to meet up with Elwin and Angelique. Then we’d all get together with Oscar and Yurira. Following that, the merry trio would wander all around both islands, through cities, fiords, beaches, rivers, glaciated peaks and volcanoes as well as geysers. And of course Mount Doom, plus all the other Lord of the Rings places! We’d hike, kayak and maybe sail! And learn how the Kiwis do things. Meeting all these friends down there seemed like such a far fetched thing. But not really! One just needs to plan it! And then the pieces fall into place.

In 2012 I sent word to Paul Lepper and Oscar and Yurira and we coordinated schedules. I’d land 12/28/2012 and then spend New Year’s up in Palmerston North with Paul and his family. Then fly to Christchurch on January 2nd and pick up Angelique and Elwin. Then on the 3rd we’d meet up with Oscar and spend the day together. Following that, Elwin, myself and Angelique would head south, beginning our exploration of New Zealand’s South Island!

As you may know, I live in Portland, Oregon, and New Zealand is on the other side of the International Data Line. It’s actually 22 hours ahead of Portland. For jet lag concerns, well, it turns out it’s not that bad. If you just ignore the day difference. Pretend that time in New Zealand is now minus three hours. So it is “tomorrow minus three hours from now.”

About New Zealand

New Zealand is very isolated from the rest of the world. A lot more than even Australia. New Zealand sits apart from Australia geologically – it’s right on top of the division of the Australasian Plate and Pacific Plate. Further, New Zealand is 1,300 miles from Australia. New Zealand has been separated from Australia for about 90 million years. Therefore, the flora and fauna native to the islands have not had outside influence for most of that time. Before man landed, birds and sea mammals were the primary fauna. Without competition, some birds evolved to be wingless. There were no rats and even today there are no snakes. Insects and spiders are present but they are not nearly as numerous as elsewhere – you won’t find insect screens on windows!

New Zealand is a Commonwealth country – and that means much English heritage. Rugby and cricket are popular, and sailboat racing is a national obsession. Gardens are neatly tended, and farms won’t have derelict vehicles on the property. Bars and pubs, even those targeted to young people – still have traditional pint-swilling patrons gathering for the neighborhood gossip. The driving is most definitely on the left-side. It has 4.45 million residents. And you will see plenty of Maori, especially on the North Island. But nobody of African descent.

New Zealand is packed with interesting landscape features in a small area. Check out these largest/highest facts for Australasia:

Other unique New Zealand trivia:

  • Tipping in restaurants is not expected
  • Many locals go barefoot
  • Typically it’s cars towing trailers, boats, RVs, not trucks
  • Diesel costs 50 cents less than gasoline
  • Many cars and trucks are available in a diesel version not available in the USA
  • Many cars come in a station wagon version not available in the USA
  • Backpacking often means staying in a hut on the trail instead of a tent
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are by far the most popular
  • 75% of forest was cleared by Maori or Europeans for agriculture
  • Lupine comes in blue, purple, white, yellow and pink
  • It had the tallest geyser in the world at 1,500ft
  • Tree ferns are common – ferns with 25ft trunks
  • Homegrown food is common – not rare at all
  • You will pay 40 cents to $2 to have ketchup on your french fries
  • You probably will never see anyone of African ancestry. In a month in the country, the only people of African ancestry I saw were travelers in the Auckland Airport.
  • You will probably see no native land mammals
  • You will not see any crows

So stay tuned for blogs about the recent trip to New Zealand! It is a wonderful country to visit. And parts of it definitely do look like Patagonia!