The Travels of a Journalist—16-TIKI-TOURING NORTH ISLAND: FROM CAPITAL CITY TO BIG CITY
Posted on March 6th, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne ƒÆ’‚¯ƒ” -â„¢”…”2010

On arrival in Wellington (current population 386,000), the capital and the third largest city in New Zealand, Monday (21 Dec. 1981) evening, we””‚my almost 2-year-old son Junius, wife Yoke-Sim and I””‚checked into the now defunct Waterloo Hotel. After dinner, I went for a stroll from Boulcott Street, down Willis Street, to Vivian Street.

Wellington is approximately 400 km northeast of Christchurch on the South Island, which we toured since 12 Dec. Now the contrasts between the two islands were gradually becoming clear to us.

The South Island is dominated by the mighty Southern Alps from one end to the other with 200 perpetually snow-capped mountains. This geographical phenomenon has created distinct climatic divisions within the island””‚a wet West Coast, a sunny north, a cold south, and a mild east. The warmer North Island contains all of New Zealand’s volcanoes and thermal springs. It accommodates 76 percent of the country’s 4.3 million population although South Island is 33 percent bigger in land area. Glaciers and the very high peaks are on South Island.

Ivan Brown, who took over as our coach captain on the Tiki Tour of North Island, guided us on a sightseeing excursion of Wellington the next morning. We skirted the Lambton Harbor, Oriental Bay and Evans Bay; then drove through the 623-meter-long Mount Victoria Tunnel opened in 1931 to connect the suburbs of Mount Victoria and Hataitai. Pedestrians and cyclists use an elevated ramp on the north side of the tunnel roadway, which became part of Highway 1 in 2001. Atop the tunnel is Alexandra Park.

Brown steered us to the lookout on Alexandra Road, just south of Roseneath, but the fog marred our view of much of the city, five km to the west. On our return to the city, we saw the New Zealand Parliament Buildings on Molesworth Street before we stopped for tea at the Wellington Botanical Gardens by the bay [photo].

On the Way to Napier

Our Tiki Tour was not designed to give anyone an in-depth understanding of any of the major NZ cities. So, that’s all we saw of Wellington, when we commenced the day’s 346-km trip to Napier at 11.30 a.m.  We reached our destination at 6 p.m. via Carnarvon and Waipukurau. Our lunch turned out to be an enjoyable barbecue at the Duralyn

Stud owned by the Gloyn family in Carnarvon. Yoke-Sim and Junius tried some horseback riding at the stud [photo]. At Sanson, a few kilometers to the north on Highway 1, we turned southeast on Highway 3 to Palmerston North and then northeast to Woodville, where we continued northeast on Highway 2. The next two short stops were at a lookout on a hill overlooking Waipukurau, and at Hastings (population 65,100). The detours added an extra 30 km to the direct distance between the start and the finish.

In Napier (population 58,100), a port city on Hawke’s Bay in the east coast, we checked into the Masonic Establishment Hotel on Tennyson Street. The Twin Cities (also called the Bay Cities) of Napier and Hastings, less than 20 km apart, have a combined population of 123,200, a high concentration of urban people by NZ standards.

After dinner, we went for a family stroll on the Marine Parade (the “Golden Mile”), the location of the statue of Maori mythology’s Pania of the Reef, a beautiful maiden who lived in the sea. Then I relaxed in my hotel room reading The (Napier) Daily Telegraph and the (Hastings) Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune. These two papers later merged to become the Hawke’s Bay Today.

We spent Wednesday (23 Dec.) morning enjoying the attractions of Napier. We took Junius to the Lilliput animated village and Model Railway ($2 per head) and the Hawke’s Bay Aquarium ($2.50 per head) [photo]. Napier’s unique concentration of Art Deco architecture, a byproduct of reconstruction that followed the havoc caused by the 1931 earthquake, attracts many admirers, particularly in February.

Thermal Country and Maori Culture

Brown got us back on the coach at noon to start on the 222 km trip to Rotorua. He drove 62 km northwest along Highway 2 and Highway 5 before stopping briefly at Te Hanoto. Our lunch stop, Taupo, was a further 79 km to the northwest, located on the northeastern tip of the lake bearing the same name. When I went to purchase a copy of the Taupo Times, I noticed the presence of Indian and Chinese retail merchants in the town.

Then we visited the beautiful Huka Falls of the Waikato River, six km to the northeast [photo]. The Wairakei thermal valley, which has the world’s second geothermal power station, was only three km away [photo]. The sight and smell of thermal activity in the valley gave us a much different experience than the glacier and fjord experience we had on South Island.

About 5 p.m., we reached Rotorua (permanent population 55,600) on the southern tip of the lake bearing the same name. With 17 other lakes dotting the city’s east and the south, Rotorua has developed into an aquatic paradise for fishing, water-skiing and swimming. We checked in at the now defunct Grand Establishment Hotel on Hinemoa Street for two nights.

After dinner, our tour group attended the Tudor Towers Maori Entertainers Concert, which included three acts. I was thrilled by the Maori love song of all time, “PƒÆ’-¦karekare Ana.”

PƒÆ’-¦karekare ana                       [They are agitated]
ngƒÆ’-¾ wai o Waiapu,                  [the waters of Waiapu]
Whiti atu koe hine                    [But when you cross over girl]
marino ana e.                          [they will be calm.]

 

Rotorua represents the heart of Maori culture in New Zealand in addition to being a resort and a health spa. The next morning, we immersed ourselves in three of its famous attractions: the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve; the Agrodome; and the Rainbow Springs.

 At the thermal reserve, we saw the silica terraces, the boiling springs and the geysers, notably the Pohutu (“Big Splash”) whose spurts sometimes reach 100 meters [photo]. At the Agrodome, we saw 19 of New Zealand’s top rams. At Rainbow Springs, we saw a kiwi, in the Nocturnal Kiwi House, and thousands of rainbow and brown trout. Junius became friends with a 10-year-old girl while we ate lunch here. We also stopped at the Ohinemata Maori Church.

In the afternoon, Junius and Yoke-Sim joined for a stroll on the Government Gardens and walked up to Lake Rotorua behind the Tudor Towers. After dinner, the three of us walked to the Polynesian Pools to bathe in a private thermal pool ($2 per head). We liked the satin smooth (37-to-40-degree) mineral water fed by Priest, Rachael and Radium springs. Back in my hotel room, I read The (Rotorua) Daily Post and The (Auckland) New Zealand Herald.

Christmas in Big City

Christmas morning, Brown took us to explore the Waitomo Caves, 147 km west from Rotorua on Highway 5 and Otorohanga Road. Our first stop was at Arapuni, the location of the seventh and penultimate hydroelectric power station on the 425-km Waikato River, the longest river in New Zealand. It was late morning when we reached the caves, situated nine km southwest of Hangatika.

A mishap delayed our cave tour when Merle Grubb, an elderly woman from San Diego, Calif., fell down while stepping off the coach and hurt her forehead. Brown took the Grubbs””‚Elsie and John””‚to the Te Kuti Hospital. They quit their tour on our arrival in Auckland. (Two years later, on 23 Aug. 1983, we had the privilege of being the guests of the Grubbs at their home in San Diego.)

The Waitomo Caves system includes four main caves: Waitomo Cave, Ruakuri Cave, Aranui Cave and Gardner’s Gut””‚all noted for their stalactite and stalagmite displays, and for the population of glowworms known as Arachnocampa luminosa. Therefore, they are similar to the caves we had already visited in Lake Te Anau on South Island.

The tour took us through three levels, starting with the Catacombs. The second level, called the Banquet Chamber, linked us back to the upper level to see the Pipe Organ, the cave’s largest formation. The third level led us into the Cathedral, demonstration platform, and the jetty. The Cathedral, an 18-meter-high enclosed area with rough surfaces, provides for great acoustics. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is among the artistes who reputedly performed here. A boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto took us onto the underground Waitomo River where the only light came from the tiny glowworms creating a sky of living lights.

We ate lunch at the Waitomo Hotel [photo], perched on the brow of a hill. Brown picked up the Grubbs at the hospital and steered us 200 km north to the country’s big city, Auckland (current urban population 1.3 million). On the way, our first stop was at the Te Awamutu Rose Garden, 45 km from the caves. We passed 61 km through Obaugo, Hamilton and Ngaruwahia to reach Huntly, where we stopped next.

We reached Auckland about 4 p.m. and checked in at the Royal International to spend the Christmas night.

Junius, Yoke-Sim and I spent the Christmas evening strolling on Auckland Domain, Albert Park and Quay Street.  As we returned to the hotel, we ran into three Sri Lankan sailors working for a Greek ship.

I wondered whether we could ever experience another Christmas of sulphor smells, glowworm sights and big city phobia as this one was. However, as Buddhists we did not have to worry

Next: Tiki Touring North Island: A Peep into the Far North

(The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead.)

 Figure 1— Our tour route on North Island:  A=Wellington, B=Hastings-Napier, C=Rotorua, D=Waitomo Caves, E=Auckland, F=Kaitaia, G=Russell.

 

After visiting the Waitomo Caves on Christmas Day 1981, we  had lunch at the Waitomo Hotel, perched on a hill.  The author and his son Junius are admiring the surrounding scenery..

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