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New Zealand – A Still Undiscovered Tourist Treasure

grazing sheep, New Zealand
Photo courtesy of New Zealand Tourist Office

Give or take a few, there are 7.1 sheep for every man, woman and child in New Zealand. Or, to put an actual number on it, approximately 30 million of these mostly white colored animals. Does that mean that sheep overwhelm the country? Certainly not, but it does mean you’ll see a lot of them wherever you go there. My first exposure came when we saw field after field full of them, when my wife and I drove to a place that, when we first heard it, sounded like ROTO ROOTER, but is in fact the town of Rotorua.

The history of New Zealand dates back approximately 700 years to when it was discovered and settled by Polynesians, who developed a distinct Māori culture. As we quickly found out, you’ll find a lot of weird and wonderful Maori and Polynesian names throughout this gorgeous country.

…And so it was, that on our way to Rotorua, we stopped to experience the magic of the WAITOMO CAVES. The best way to do this, is by taking a boat tour where you’ll discover an ancient, mystical world 300 million years in the making. Brigitte, my wife and I, were mesmerized by this extraordinary attraction, and it made us both feel as if we’d been transported into a magical world created by Mother Nature’s light display in these caves. The highlight is the starry wonderland of the Glowworm Grotto, where thousands of tiny creatures radiate their unmistakable luminescent light in a subterranean world.

Glowworm Grotto
Photo courtesy of New Zealand Tourist Office

Do you research a destination BEFORE you go visit? I do, but not as much as I’d like to, because I love “natural surprises.” Well, as we approached Rotorua, our nostrils were besieged by the most appalling bad eggs aroma you can imagine. Awful does not even come close to describing it.

Fear not, good traveling friends, as this smell comes from a region that is rich with geothermal sulphur activity, that produces bewitching throbbing geysers and bubbling mud pools that dot the landscape. And yes, when you see, up close and VERY personal, these effervescing and gurgling mud pools they are, if nothing else, a photographer’s delight.

bubbling mud pool
Photo courtesy of New Zealand Tourist Office

The longer we stayed in this most scenically beautiful country, the more intrigued we became with the Maori culture, and our visit to the Maori Cultural Center in Rotorua, gave us a marvelous insight into the Maoris, their background and proud Heritage.

We were riveted by an awe-inspiring display of local customs, particularly the Maori Greeting. Called a hongi it’s a traditional Māori greeting and is done by pressing one’s nose and forehead (at the same time) to another person at an encounter. … In Māori legend, woman was created by the gods moulding her shape out of the earth. The god Tāne (meaning male) embraced the figure and breathed into her nostrils.

display of Maori customs
Photos courtesy of New Zealand Tourist Office

Working, as we both did for Continental Airlines (my wife as a flight  attendant and I was manager of publicity) we both sought out romantic getaways in our worldwide travels, and we knew we wanted to also go to the South Island and take the SS Earnslaw classic, red funnel Swiss look alike steamer cruise in Queenstown. Even though we could have flown there, we decided – and thank goodness we did – to take the Interisland ferry from Wellington in the North Island, to Picton in the South Island.

the Interisland ferry
Photo courtesy of New Zealand Tourist Office

This classic ferry is the longest running Cook Strait ferry service in NZ, and has become known as one of the most beautiful ferry journeys in the world. Indeed, New Zealanders will proudly tell you it is one of New Zealand’s most iconic tourism experiences – we found it to be all that and more, as well as being romantic. Journey time is a relaxing 3 hours, but if the weather is “not very good,” it could take additional 2 hours.

Visitors to New Zealand, even so called “jaded travelers who’ve been there and done that,” must be impressed not only by the stunning beauty of the country, and its phenomenal diversity, but also the equally amazing stunning array of things to see and do. An outstanding example of that, is Queenstown.

It’s really NZ’s answer to Switzerland. There are two “things” you must do here. One is to take Shotover Jet boat trip – this is where you get in a luxury speed boat and zoom and roar along the Shotover River – but what makes this so special, is that you do it on a river that’s only a foot or two (or less!) in depth, as your Shotover jet boat roars and soars into the sides of the river banks at top notch speed. Very scary, but tons of fun.

writer on the Shotover Jet boat and the SS Earnslaw steamer
Left: Traveling Boy journalist John Clayton shown (center between letters R and J) on the SHOTOVER JET as it soars and roars in, around and near, the Shotover River bank walls. Right: The SS Earnslaw. Photos courtesy of New Zealand Tourist Office.

New Zeland mapThen too, you must take the classic SS Earnslaw steamer on the Lake and visit the Walter Peak sheep farm – they have trips there that include lunch and a fascinating sheep dog show. We took the evening tour which included dinner. The SS Earnslaw trip is unique.

Your trip to New Zealand is a marvelously memorable experience you’ll tell your friends about forever. We hope we’ve intrigued you enough to book a trip to this glorious country, but there are far more places we’d love to tell you about – perhaps another time. Contact John: jdcradio@gmail.com

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