New Zealand
Photos of New Zealand
full country name New Zealand
capital Wellington
population 3.8 million (as of 2001)
surface area 270500 sq km
currency New Zealand dollar (NZ$)
exchange rate US$ 1 = NZ$ 1.58 (as of May 2004)
language English, Maori
main religion 24% Anglican, 18% Presbyterian, 15% Roman Catholic
Internet users 22% (as of 2000)
Our route through New Zealand
Our route...
Maori culture has a long tradition of fine wood carvingsTwo black swans dip their heads into misty Lake Rotorua
"What am I doing here?"
At Wai-O-Tapu near Rotorua, colors are from different minerals in the water (yellow = sulphur, orange = antimony, white = silica, green = colloidal sulphur/ferrous salts)Mt. Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park
A continually bubbling display of thermal activity at the Mud Pools near RotoruaThe Emerald Lakes sparkle in moments of sunshine in Tongariro National Park
all photos © gM
Late at night on April 14th, 2004, we left Delhi bound for New Zealand. We arrived in Singapore on the morning of April 15th, and left in the evening of the same day. We spent the whole day at Changi Airport: sleeping, relaxing in massage chairs, emailing, surfing the Internet, and watching movies in a decent-sized theater (all for free), as well as eating and taking a shower (all reasonably priced). Nevertheless, we were quite exhausted from the second overnight flight when we arrived in Auckland on April 16th, and did little else but catch up on sleep for our first two days in New Zealand.

The first week and a half, we hitchhiked from Auckland to Rotorua with a detour via Turangi to do one of the most acclaimed day hikes in New Zealand. The fantastic Tongariro Crossing is a 17km trek through volcanic landscape: smoking craters, crystal-clear turquoise crater lakes, the two volcanoes of Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe, and magnificent views to as far as 200km away Mt. Taranaki. On our way from Turangi to Rotorua, New Zealand's capital of thermal activity, we visited Orakei Korako, which features beautiful silica terraces and one of only two thermal caves in the world. In Rotorua, we relaxed in 38°C-42°C hot thermal waters, and were awed by the colors of the Champagne Pool and Artist's Palette in Wai-O-Tapu. On a rainy day, the well-done Rotorua Museum served as a welcome pastime, detailing events before the eruption of nearby Mt. Tarawera in 1886, as well as remembering the disproportionately high losses of B Company 28 Maori Battalion during WWII.

During the next week we drove a rental car 2250km around the East Cape, around Coromandel Peninsula, and up to the Bay of Islands. We retraced some of gM's steps from ten years ago, reconnecting with friends at Tokomaru Bay, a third of the way around the East Cape, and in the Bay of Islands. From many vantage points along the coastal road around the East Cape, we marveled at the contrast between autumn colors and the blue of gorgeous seascapes. We walked up 700 steps to the East Cape Lighthouse, and enjoyed how far away from mainstream tourism the East Cape still is. On the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, we put our feet in hot thermal water that runs just below the sand on Hot Water Beach. When the tide washed away our sand spa, we moved on to beautiful Cathedral Cove a few kilometers further north. On the west coast, we gazed at an unusually square, 1200-year old kauri tree with a massive girth of 9m. Nevertheless, this tree is not even in the top ten of the biggest kauri in New Zealand. We passed many orchards and tried some of the fruits and vegetables which we have not seen before: the tart tamarillo, the guava-like feijoa, the sweet persimmon, and the bland choko.

Mt. Ngauruhoe is now also known as Mt. Doom in the Land of Mordor
The Red Crater and cone-shaped Mt. Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park
Are there any hobbits living here?
all photos © gM
Visiting New Zealand without hearing about The Lord of the Rings has effectively become impossible. First, Peter Jackson used 150 filming locations in New Zealand, all fabulously scenic, and second, any self-respecting travel agent or literature will not let one forget that he did so. Not counting Air New Zealand's advertisement (THE Airline to Middle Earth), we first come across a reference to the trilogy in the form of Mt. Doom in the Land of Mordor (also known as - from gM's point of view formerly known as - Mt. Ngauruhoe in the Tongariro National Park). The well-advertised (surprise, surprise) location of the movie set for Hobbiton we then sought out on purpose. Near the small town of Matamata, it is hidden in the hills on private property, and is not visible from any publicly accessible point. At the time of filming, access was restricted, confidentiality agreements had to be signed by everyone working on the set, heavy trucks were brought in secretly in the middle of the night, and the little that was known was that Peter Jackson was working in the area on The Lord of the Rings. Hobbiton is the only filming location for The Lord of the Rings where some props still remain on the site, saved from the bulldozers of the demolition crew by the onslaught of torrential rains. The tour through the site clearly brings to light how much effort was put into the construction of the set. Hills were shifted, and gardens and trees were planted. Buildings, a bridge, and hobbit holes were built, and painted Styrofoam gave them their final appearance. A dead oak tree was brought in. It was cut into pieces for transport and was reassembled at Hobbiton. Artificial leaves from Taiwan were then individually wired to the huge tree. Apple trees were transformed into plum trees in the same way. A sunrise was used as a sunset in the movie. Hobbiton is located on a sheep farm with over 5000 sheep. None of them became a movie star because they did not match the kind described by JRR Tolkien. The right ones were brought in from the South Island. Attention to detail was extraordinary, bordering to fanatic.

Cape Maria van Diemen is close to Cape Reinga in the Far North of New Zealand
Giant sand dunes near Te Paki
all photos © gM
In the Bay of Islands, we returned our rental car, and chose Paihia as our base for the next week. We caught a glimpse of glowworms in the Kawiti limestone cave, we visited the public toilets in Kawakawa (Friedensreich Hundertwasser's last work of art), we sailed the Bay of Islands, and we saw dolphins. We also went on a long day trip to Cape Reinga in the Far North. Cape Reinga is one of those unbelievably scenic spots on earth: the cliffs are steep, the hills are green, and the currents of the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific are clearly visible as they crash against each other. Nearby, giant sand dunes are the perfect place for boogey boarding down sand dunes and across the quicksand-filled Te Paki stream. Some, however, prefer wildly somersaulting down sand dunes with a boogey board, plowing to a stop with their faces.

We hitchhiked back to Auckland for our last three days in New Zealand. Since it was grey and rainy, we watched a musical and visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the National Maritime Museum. By the way, New Zealand in one of two countries we know of where the weather report on TV's main evening news starts with a review of what the weather was like today. The other one is Australia. On May 13th, 2004 it was time to say goodbye to Aotearoa, the land of the long, white cloud, as we were leaving for that other country: Australia.