Tuesday, January 15, 2013

November 2012: New Zealand

Our plan
We have been thinking about New Zealand for a long time. About five years ago, Marcia went through the process of becoming qualified as a special education teacher in New Zealand, in hopes of securing a temporary assignment there. But the global economic downturn meant that the available teaching slots quickly evaporated, and we found other places to travel.

Still, this country, by all accounts one of the most beautiful on earth, and with the friendliest people to be found anywhere (according to everyone we knew who had been there), remained at the top of our travel to-do list.
If you've read our other posts on this blog, you know that we are big fans of the educational travel programs offered by Road Scholar, and we kept our eyes open for an appealing New Zealand tour. We finally found not just one but two, offered almost back-to-back, that met our criteria.

One of our objectives was to get out and see the countryside firsthand, not just through the windows of a tour bus. The first program we signed up for was "Discover New Zealand: Walking Clean and Green," and it promised  that we would "experience New Zealand’s diversity on walks through a land of fascinating scenery and people," from "grand glaciers, stunning fjords, sparkling lakes and thermal wonders to majestic mountains, lush pasturelands and rich rainforests." That sounded perfect!

Our other priority was to see the country from the sea as well as the land. As an island nation, New Zealand has a long (and scenic) coastline. We knew that many large cruise ships call at New Zealand ports, but their itineraries typically start and end in Australia, and involve several days at sea. We found a better option in the form of another Road Scholar program, "New Zealand Discovery: From Kiwi Birds to Māori Heritage." We would "sail along the pristine harbors, ports and sounds of New Zealand for an adventure that reveals this remote country’s stunning natural beauty and fascinating heritage," aboard a small (100-passenger) expedition cruise ship, the Orion.
(Click on any photo to enlarge. All photos © 2012 Tom & Marcia Murray)
The first program ran from November 1 through 20; the second from November 26 through December 8. That gave us a few days for independent travel, so Tom quickly checked the schedules of the three scenic trains operated by New Zealand's national railway (KiwiRail) and came up with a plan to ride them all, plus a tourist train on the South Island. Marcia decided it wasn't worth arguing about this (as she often tells people, she enjoys riding passenger trains in scenic parts of the world; she just doesn't obsess about them the way some people do).

Then, Tom campaigned for another add-on. Each year, a steam locomotive preservation group called Mainline Steam operates a three-week tour of New Zealand. This year's tour would end two days before our first Road Scholar program began. After some discussion, we came up with a plan: we would leave California on October 21, arriving in Auckland on October 23 (thanks to the International Date Line). Tom would ride the last five days of the Mainline Steam tour while Marcia explored Auckland. We would do our first Road Scholar program, starting in Auckland and ending in Dunedin, and then ride trains for a few days. The last train ride would take us back to Auckland, where we would start our Road Scholar program on the Orion. We would fly back to California on December 9.

By the time we were done, we had a seven-week trip planned!

What is New Zealand?
We have put together a very brief introduction to the natural and human history of New Zealand in a separate post, with links to additional resources on these topics. This post also contains links to several Picasa albums that contain other photos from our trip, in addition to those contained in this report.

Our Journey
For those unfamiliar with the geography of New Zealand, we've created three Google maps that show our major stopping points on (1) the Walking Clean and Green program; (2) our week of independent rail travel; and (3) the Orion cruise. And for those who want to see where Tom went on the Mainline Steam rail excursion, here's a map of that route. (To get a sense of New Zealand's topography, click on "Satellite" in the upper right corner of the Google Maps page.)

We flew from Los Angeles to Auckland on Air New Zealand...
...and checked into the Best Western President Hotel in downtown Auckland. In this image, the hotel is the high-rise with the big blue sign on it.
The photo above was taken from the Sky Tower, the tallest structure in Auckland (and in the southern hemisphere, for that matter).
As it turned out, our 13th-floor hotel room was on a corner of the building, providing an excellent view of the Sky Tower, less than two blocks away.
Auckland, we found, is a bustling city with a diverse population. It is a university city, and it seems to attract 20-somethings from all over the western Pacific region. Its airport is New Zealand's major gateway for international travelers, and its harbor is home to several ferry routes to nearby islands and other destinations. There are museums, parks, and all the other attributes of a world-class city.

While Tom was off doing his steam engine trip, Marcia explored the city. Among other things, she took in a stage production of Mary Poppins...
 ... and made a couple of ferry trips to Devenport, a community across the harbor from downtown Auckland with interesting neighborhoods, cafés, shops and parks to explore.
Visible behind the town of Devenport in the photo above is North Head, a volcanic cone that was used in the 19th century as a coastal defense installation. Rangitoto Island, in the background, was formed about 600 years ago by a volcanic eruption. It's the most visible of more than 40 cones, vents and other artifacts of Auckland's volcanic legacy. A 2002 emergency response plan called future volcanic eruptions "a very real hazard" for the Auckland region.

Tom's rail trip took him first to Wellington, then to Napier, a city on the east coast of the North Island, and finally back to Auckland, where his train arrived at 2 o'clock in the morning. He had one day to catch up on sleep, and then we were off to the airport, where we met our fellow travelers on the Walking Clean and Green program.

The program leader was Judy Hellstrom, assisted by her husband John.
They were, we would soon learn, not only very knowledgeable about their country, but happy to show it off and explain it to a group like ours. Judy had been a teacher, and she continues to be involved in both education and conservation. John's training was as a veterinarian, and after a career devoted mainly to government service, he chairs a national animal welfare advisory board. They live on Endeavour Inlet, in the Marlborough Sounds, and they share a strong interest in conservation and the environment. Their web site, Puhikereru, describes how they have managed the bush garden on their property to promote biodiversity and the restoration of native species. They were delightful people to spend time with as they showed us why they love New Zealand.

Over the course of this program, we would visit:

• Hamilton Gardens, in the North Island city of Hamilton, where we got our first look at Māori carvings in the Te Parapara Garden

• Rotorua, a center of Māori culture, where we visited the Te Puia Arts & Crafts Institute and were treated to a cultural show, complete with performers doing their best to look fierce.

• Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, where we had a tour of Parliament House and an introduction to the workings of New Zealand's House of Representatives

• Kaikoura, on the east coast of the South Island, with beautiful beaches set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains

• Greymouth, on the west coast of the South Island, a town that is making the transition from being home to mainly to fishermen and coal miners to a more tourism-oriented economy

Paparoa National Park, north of Greymouth, where we saw the Pancake Rocks, a fascinating series of layered limestone formations that have been formed through a process called stylobedding, and shaped by the forces of sea and weather

• Franz Josef, a base for exploring local mountains and glaciers

• Lake Matheson, where we got a nice view of New Zealand's tallest mountain, Mt. Cook (on the right in this photo; the peak on the left is Mt. Tasman)

• Wanaka, a lakeside resort community on the east side of the Southern Alps

• Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland National Park, where we hiked a portion of the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks (in the rain forest, everything that stands still for more than a few minutes seems to get covered in green)

• Milford Sound, a dramatic fjord...
... with dozens of waterfalls

• Balclutha, a town that serves the agricultural economy in the southeast part of the South Island, and is a point of departure for exploring the scenic Catlins region (home to Purakaunui Falls, below)

• Papatowai, at the south end of the South Island, where we walked along the estuary of the Tahakopa River and were privileged to enjoy lunch with Fergus and Mary Sutherland, who have achieved much in the conservation of their region's natural resources (and where we enjoyed this view of the river and coastline from their home)
We said farewell to our fellow program participants in Dunedin, a city with a rich Scottish history and home to the University of Otago, one of the country's major centers of higher learning.
We left our group at Dunedin's iconic railway station, which is well preserved but whose days as an intercity transportation hub are in the past.
After checking into our hotel, we returned to board the Taieri Gorge Railway, the only rail service now using the Dunedin station. The train travels through its namesake river gorge to Pukerangi, a distance of about 66 km (41 miles), of which about 30 km (19 miles) is in the gorge itself. It's a beautiful ride, and we had a perfect day for it. (The railway also runs a once- or twice-weekly train north along the coast to Palmerston, but our schedule didn't allow us to ride that service.)
From Dunedin, we flew to Christchurch, a city that suffered a devastating earthquake on February 22, 2011. There were 185 fatalities, and in the city's central business district, many older buildings were damaged beyond repair. An earlier quake in September 2010 was greater in magnitude, but produced less damage and no fatalities. Prior to these earthquakes, Christchurch had hosted more than 20,000 visitors daily; today, that number is much lower.

We stayed at Merivale Manor, a lodging place that we can recommend very highly. It was about a half-hour walk from Merivale to the "red zone" in the heart of the city. It didn't take us long to start seeing evidence of the 2011 quake, such as this church...
... as well as businesses that were closed...
... and markings left by Urban Search and Rescue teams in the days following the 2011 quake, as they searched buildings for victims and survivors.
In the heart of the red zone, we saw tall buildings being demolished.
And yet, there were hopeful signs in many places. One of the most visible was the Re:START retail center, consisting of shipping containers that had been modified to house a variety of stores, coffee shops and other businesses.
There was also the Pallett Pavillion, which is intended "as a venue for live music, cinema, performance and community events until April 2013."
But aside from these projects, which will act as temporary placeholders, we saw equipment and workers that appeared to be making a start on more permanent projects. One store clerk said that we should plan on a return visit in about five years, when, he said, the city would be one of the most modern in the world. That may be optimistic, but even if it is, there's no doubt that Christchurch will come back.

We had come here to ride KiwiRail's best-known train, the TranzAlpine, which as its name suggests crosses the Southern Alps on its journey from Christchurch to Greymouth. We would leave in the morning, spend about an hour in Greymouth, and be back in Christchurch that evening. It was a scenic ride...
... but after seeing the mountains on the west coast, we had expected more snow than what we saw on our trip. Tom says he wants to come back to ride this train in mid-winter; Marcia says, "good luck."

The next day, we boarded another KiwiRail train, the Coastal Pacific, which would take us north from Christchurch to Picton. About three hours after leaving Christchurch, we made a short stop at Kaikoura. Continuing north, we spotted a whale carcass on the beach.
We'll never know how it came to be there, or what ultimately became of it, but it was a reminder that even these majestic marine mammals don't live forever. Still, the Coastal Pacific provided a wonderful window on the Kaikoura Coast, which we found to be one of the most scenic regions we visited during our time in New Zealand.
 At Picton, we boarded the Interislander ferry Kaitaki...
... which took us through beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound...
... and across Cook Strait to Wellington, where we spent two nights before resuming our journey to Auckland.

We had a free day in Wellington, which we spent visiting a farmers' market and a craft fair, and revisiting the city's Botanic Garden...
... which we had originally seen on our Walking Clean and Green and tour. We reached the entrance to the garden by riding Wellington's Cable Car, which gave us another opportunity to view this very appealing city and its harbor from this vantage point.
The next morning we boarded KiwiRail's Northern Explorer for Auckland. It was an 11-hour trip, which made for a long day, but it did take us through more beautiful North Island scenery, including this view of Mount Ruapehu, one of three major active volcanoes in Tongariro National Park.
The other two volcanoes in the park, Tongariro (on the left in the photo below) and Ngauruhoe (on the right), were both shrouded in clouds as we passed them. Only days earlier, Tongariro had been emitting clouds of ash and gas into the sky, causing some airline flights to be cancelled.
We spent that night in Auckland, and we were up early the next morning to catch a bus to the airport where we would meet the members of our second Road Scholar program, "From Kiwi Birds to Māori Heritage." Our leader this time was Bert Queenin, who had spent many years working for the New Zealand Tourism Board (including two stints in the United States) and is now the owner of a travel company in Auckland.
Our earlier Road Scholar program had 19 participants, which in our experience is typical. This one had only five. 

The first two nights, as well as a full day, would be spent in Rotorua. We had visited the Te Puia cultural center on our prior program, but now we would visit two other Māori villages, Ohinemutu and Whakarewarewa, which were very different not only from Te Puia but from each other. At Te Puia, there was a cultural performance, a carving school, a weaving school, and other facilities that were laid out in a way to make them very tourist-friendly.

Ohinemutu was a much smaller community, with a Māori meeting house at one end of a courtyard... 
... and an Anglican church (St. Faith's) at the other end. Outside, St. Faith's is a beautiful tudor style small church.
Inside, there are Māori  weaving, carvings and painted scrolled borders.
The most impressive artwork was a large window overlooking the lake with a large engraving of a Māori-cloak-wearing Jesus, who appears to be walking on the water of Lake Rotorua.
Evidence of thermal activity was everywhere, with steam rising in different places around the village. An elder of the iwi (tribe or community), Sonny Corbett, met us and guided us through a formal welcoming ceremony in the meeting house. It was a solemn and serious event. Tom had been designated as the leader of our group, and he gave a presentation explaining who we were and why we were visiting, giving deference to the importance that the Māori place on respect for ancestors.

It’s clear that the role of Māori in New Zealand society is a work in progress.  They have been given new legal rights in recent decades but how effective those rights will be remains to be seen.  Mr. Corbett emphasized that being Māori was not simply a matter of bloodlines, but also of how fervently an individual embraces the Māori culture.    

Whakarewarewa represents a third variation on the organization and layout of a Māori village. It is, first, a residential community built around thermal features...
... that the residents use for cooking...
... washing, and even bathing (the thermal waters are much too hot to touch, but they are diluted with colder water for such uses).

In contrast to Ohinemutu, Whakarewarewa is equipped to handle large groups of visitors; it has a café as well as a stage where cultural performances are held each day.
And like Ohinemutu, one central feature of the village is a Christian church, in this case the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, opened in 1904. Burials were traditionally done above-ground because the warm ground was not suitable for this purpose.
We left Rotorua feeling that we understood a little better the nature of Māori culture, and some of the challenges that the Māori face in achieving a better economic position in New Zealand society (which almost inevitably comes at the cost of having to become more integrated in that society) while preserving their traditions and heritage.

From Rotorua, we returned to Auckland, where we boarded the Orion. We had been on large cruise ships, but never on one this small, nor had we been on one quite this nice. Our cabin was more spacious than any we had had on a larger ship, even though we had chosen the lowest-priced accommodation that the Orion offered. Most of our fellow passengers, we would discover, were Australian, which made sense given that the company that operates the ship is based in Sydney.

For several of our landings, we used Zodiac inflatable boats.
This was a new experience for us, but one we thoroughly enjoyed (except when the boat was bouncing over the waves and sending spray directly into our faces).

Our ten-night cruise took us to:

White Island, a privately owned volcanic island off the coast of the North Island. Because of the sulfur brought to the surface through volcanic activity, attempts were made at various times before and after 1900 to mine the yellow stuff here, and remnants of sulfur processing machinery remain today. We were guided around the island by two young college-age people, Tyler and Rene, and we were given hard hats (mandatory) and gas masks (optional depending on whether we were bothered by the sulfur smells).

We've been in thermal areas, particularly in Yellowstone National Park, where there are walkways, fencing and other devices to protect tourists from their own stupidity. No such safety measures here! It was exciting, bordering on unnerving, to be so close to the thermal features and the potential danger of the volcano's crater. But we made it back unscathed.

• Napier, a city that was devastated by a 1931 earthquake, rebuilt in the then-fashionable Art Deco style, and is now a magnet for those wanting to celebrate life as it existed prior to World War II

• Picton, the main port of the Marlborough Sounds area, where we intended to visit an island bird sanctuary but, because of weather, instead traveled by land to Cloudy Bay Vineyards for a wine tasting...
... and to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, where Lord of the Rings and Hobbit director Peter Jackson has created elaborate life-sized dioramas to display his collection of World War I aircraft

Akaroa, a historic village not far from Christchurch, whose first non-Māori visitors were Americans and Europeans involved in the whaling business in the mid-19th century, as evidenced by these pots that were used to render whale blubber into oil

• Dunedin, one of whose prime tourist attractions is the Cadbury chocolate factory and store (upon our departure from Dunedin, we had a dockside sendoff from a bagpipe band; see video #1 in our album, 2012 New Zealand videos)

• Stewart Island, off the south end of the South Island, where we visited neighboring Ulva Island, which, because it is free of rats, possums, weasels and other mammals, has a robust bird population, such as this South Island robin, or toutouwai

• Dusky Sound, one of the fjords visited by Captain James Cook during his exploration of New Zealand in 1773

• Milford Sound, where we again had an opportunity to enjoy this fjord's abundant waterfalls, including one of its best known features, Stirling Falls
Our last port of call was Bluff, and from there we traveled to the nearby city of Invercargill for our final night in New Zealand, which we spent at the Victoria Railway Hotel. Based on our limited experience, it's one of the friendliest lodging places in southern New Zealand.
The next day we had a last look at the Southern Alps from our Invercargill-Christchurch flight.
We then boarded another flight for Auckland, and finally our trans-Pacific flight for Los Angeles. During the time we were in the country, The Hobbit had its premier in Wellington, and Air New Zealand was heavily involved in promoting the film, so it was no surprise to find that our 777 was serving as a Hobbit billboard.

Memorable Moments
It may be hard to believe, but the chronology above doesn't do justice to the scope of our New Zealand experience. There are several other moments to record before we wrap up this report.

• Extreme sports. It didn't take us long after arriving in Auckland to see a bungee (bungy in Kiwi) jumper. On our first full day there, we took a harbor cruise, and passing under the Auckland Harbour Bridge, we saw our first jumper.
Later that day, standing on the Sky Tower observation deck, Tom watched a "Sky Jumper" make a guided jump from the tower.
The Sky Tower also offers a tethered "SkyWalk" at an elevation of 630 feet; Marcia saw some of these folks walking above her as she enjoyed high tea at the Sky Tower's revolving restaruant.
On our first Road Scholar tour, we stopped at the home of bungee jumping, the A.J. Hackett Bungy Centre in Kawarau Gorge near Queenstown, where we watched a jumper claim his 60 seconds of glory (see video #2 in our album, 2012 New Zealand videos). But bungee jumping is only the tip of the iceberg in New Zealand. Looking through a catalog of activities in and around Queenstown, Marcia found more than a dozen activities for what one web site calls "adrenaline junkies," including cliff jumping; heli biking; jet boating; and on and on.

• Somes Island. This island in Wellington Harbor is one of several sites around the country where a concerted effort is being made to restore native species. Upon our arrival by ferry from downtown Wellington, we went into a cabin where we and our backpacks had to be inspected for anything we brought that might damage the habitat of the island—seeds, plants, mice, rats (you never know what might have found its way into a backpack).

However, there was another aspect to the field trip. The Hellstroms had lived on Somes Island early in their married life, when John was assigned to run the animal quarantine station here. The station served as an initial point of entry for sheep, cows, llamas, deer, and other animals imported from overseas. After an appropriate quarantine period, if the animals were healthy, they would be released. If not, then other steps would be taken...

We visited the quarantine station, which still stands but is no longer in use...
... and we then took a hike around the island, giving us great views of the harbor and the city.
As a footnote, John's experience in animal quarantine work helped set a course for his career that led to his serving as chief veterinary officer for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and later as chairman of the Biosecurity Council, during which time he was instrumental in developing New Zealand's biosecurity system.

• Ohau Stream Seal Pups. On our way to Kaikoura, Judy Hellstrom asked our bus driver to stop so that we could walk upstream to a waterfall where, she thought, there might be some fur seal pups. She was right. There were at least a dozen pups there, frolicking in the water. According to a nearby sign, the pups are born in November and December, and they spend most of their first year in the stream and the pool at the bottom of the falls, "developing their swimming and social skills." They go down to the coast to feed on their mothers' milk, and then return to the stream. They are weaned at about ten months of age, and then migrate to the coast to feed themselves. Since we were there in early November, it seems that we may have caught the last of the prior year's pups (see video #3 in our album, 2012 New Zealand videos).

• Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. The Hellstroms led us on a walk along this path, which runs along the top of a coastside bluff for a couple of miles. Kaikoura is a seismically active area; the walkway is located along what was once sea floor, but has been uplifted by seismic forces. To the northwest, the Kaikoura Seward Range of mountains continue to rise by about 10mm per year, although erosion offsets their overall elevation gain. Whatever the explanation, it makes for one very beautiful place. As Marcia said, it looks like Hawaii on one side...
... and Switzerland on the other.

• Lions Club of Seaward Kaikoura. This group of Kaikoura women graciously hosted our group at the home of one of their members, Alison Taylor; her home also serves as a bed and breakfast, Awatea. Each member of the club not only prepared food but took time to talk to us one-on-one. Their friendliness, combined with the beautiful mountain view, made this a memorable occasion.

• Lunch in a Cave. After viewing the Pancake Rocks, we grabbed sack lunches to take to a nearby beach. A few minutes later, the skies opened up, but fortunately, our local guide knew of a handy cave that was just the right size to accommodate our group.
After lunch, we trekked back to our bus through the rain forest, in the rain.

• Pororari River Track. What we would call a trail in North America is a track in New Zealand. The Pororari River Track is in Paparoa National Park (near the Pancake Rocks). It follows the river through a lush rain forest setting, with steep cliffs on one side and hills densely covered with nikau palm trees and other vegetation on the other. Marcia said the setting could have been created for a Disney movie. It was unreal, but real.

• Alpha Burn Station. In Kiwi parlance, a station is a large farm for grazing animals. At Alpha Burn Station, on Glendhu Bay west of Wanaka, Allanah McRae, her husband and his parents raise sheep and deer. But her garden is her passion. We were privileged to enjoy lunch at her home, and to spend time before lunch exploring her colorful gardens.

• Bold birds. Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound, our driver, Robbie, suggested stopping at a place called Monkey Creek, where he said it was often possible to see a species of bird called the kea. He led us to believe that they would put on a show for us, and they did. They seem to love the weatherstripping and other rubber fittings on buses and cars, and one of them did its best to attack the door of our bus. Another attached itself to a car that was leaving the parking lot and didn't let go until the car got up to highway speed.

• Sheep farm. Shortly after leaving Te Anau, we visited a sheep farm operated by farmer Guy Bellerby, set on rolling hills with a vivid mountain background.
He did an excellent job of explaining his business. Sheep are now raised almost exclusively for meat, rather than wool (merino sheep are an exception to this). Asian markets, particularly China, have helped raised the value of lamb, and now virtually every part of the animal finds some use. Ewes are managed for their value in producing lambs; a ewe that won't take good care of its lambs, for example, will soon be on its way to slaughter. He raises about 3,500 animals on 850 acres of land. He has three dogs that assist him. One is an eye dog, which controls sheep (on whistle command from the farmer) through body language and eye contact.
Another is a huntaway dog, which barks to control the sheep.
And then there is the little terrier (foreground in the photo below), which we at first thought was a pet because it was so friendly. No, Mr. Bellerby told us; that dog is a killer. It hunts for small mammals such as possum that can be destructive to crops.
Before we left, Mr. Bellerby gave us a sheep-shearing demonstration.

• Dairy farms.  As we traveled around New Zealand, we saw many herds of dairy cows. This group was lined up to see our train pass.
The dairy industry is New Zealand's largest exporter. New Zealand's dairy farms operate very differently from those we are familiar with in the United States, where animals are often housed inside. In New Zealand, cows spend most of their time grazing on fields of grass, and are brought in only for milking, typically twice a day.
On our first Road Scholar program, we visited this dairy farm, north of Greymouth on the South Island.
It is operated by a couple in their thirties who own about 500 cows. The milking process is highly automated (the cow gets on a rotary platform in the milking shed, and when the platform has completed one revolution, the milking is done and another cow takes its place). We were impressed that this couple operates the farm with almost no hired help (just one person, part time). It's a seven-day-a-week, 52-week-a-year commitment for them. When they're not in the fields or the milking shed, they're poring over milk analysis reports, preparing insemination plans, and doing the countless other tasks it takes to run this business.

On the first day of our second Road Scholar tour, we stopped in Matamata, between Auckland and Rotorua, for lunch at Longlands Farm, operated by Kerry Simpson and his wife. They have a small dairy farm, with about 300 cows, as well as a very nice restaurant that is open only for private functions, such as our visit.

Mr. Simpson sells his milk to the large dairy cooperative Fonterra; most of its ends up going through a drying process and being shipped to Asia and other markets in powder form. Obviously, some milk is consumed domestically, and it also goes into New Zealand cheese, ice cream (some of the best we've ever tasted!) and other dairy products.

This photo shows the Longlands milking shed, which is not a rotary but a conventional "herringbone" design. Once the cows are in their slots, the farmer can attach the milking cups to the cows while standing in the adjacent pit.
Mr. Simpson observed that even though producing milk the New Zealand way may not technically be considered organic, the principles are similar to those used in organic farming (the cows feed on grass, fertilize the paddocks, and are rotated among different sections of the farm, returning to each section about once every 20 days). This, he said, is valuable in creating a positive consumer perception of New Zealand dairy products. His observation was borne out by a label we found on a package of New Zealand cheddar that we bought soon after returning to California.

High seas off the Fiordland Coast. After leaving Milford Sound on our last full day aboard the Orion, we headed southwest along the coast of Fiordland National Park, destined for Bluff. The prior night, the ship had done lots of rocking and rolling as we tried to sleep, and the seas seemed even rougher in daylight. Our captain estimated the swells at three to five meters. It was an exciting way to end our cruise! See what it looked like from our cabin and from the deck of the ship (videos #4 and #5 in our album, 2012 New Zealand videos).

• The Kingston Flyer. This is a heritage steam train that runs between Kingston (south of the tourist mecca of Queenstown) and Fairlight, a distance of about seven miles. It seems to be operating on borrowed time; its owner recently suspended service for several weeks because of operational and financial issues. We were fortunate to pass this way while the train was still running and, even better, our timing was perfect; our driver, Robbie, spotted the train from almost a mile away, pulled over, and several of us jumped out of the bus and got a nice photo. Thanks, Robbie!

• Riding in the cab of a steam locomotive. On the Mainline Steam tour, Tom had the opportunity to ride in the cab of the locomotive that powered the train from Feilding (just outside Palmerston North) to Auckland. He didn't need to be asked twice. He spent nearly an hour with engineer Grant and fireman Tim, as well as Mainline Steam's Tom Scott, hanging on as best he could as the engine rocked and rolled along at speeds of up to 80km per hour (50 mph) (see video #6 in our album, 2012 New Zealand videos).

Ferns, Ferns, Ferns
The silver fern is a national icon in New Zealand; it is also the logo of the country's legendary rugby team, the All Blacks. But there are almost 200 varieties of fern in New Zealand, and they are nearly ubiquitous. We saw many shapes, sizes, and colors of fern in New Zealand.
As fascinating as the ferns themselves are the koru, the fronds that represent ferns-to-be; they are perhaps the most important single element of Māori iconography.
The fern is also a recurring motif in New Zealand art and design, such as these two metal sculptures in Wellington.
And around the country, the silver fern symbol of the All Blacks can be seen adorning homes, barns, and other structures.
Did we like New Zealand? We loved it. We were fortunate to have the time to get to many diverse parts of the country, and we were pleased when we watched a DVD titled "Hidden New Zealand" and found that we had been to more than half the places it covers. Will we make it back to do the rest? We don't know, but we will long value the experiences we had, and the friendships we formed, during our seven weeks there. New Zealand more than met our expectations.

We'll close out this report with a photo of ourselves from White Island. It's a reminder that life carries risks, but if we didn't take a few, we would be denying ourselves a lot of rewards.


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