Sometimes, setting foot into a new country makes you feel a little awkward, stupid even. Everything is new, everything is different, and I keep embarrassing myself by asking: “So where is it that you live during winter?”
My laughter echoes with the Kiwis around me, as I first lay eyes upon their comparatively “thin”, single-glazed window houses in Tauranga & Taupo. “What, here of course”, they laugh even more as they look at my startled face. I decide to push aside the thought and look for my first address instead, crossing New Zealand’s North Island for the first time: Tiki Lodge is located right in the middle of the city of Taupo, set by Lake Taupo at the foothill of mighty volcanoes. Here, I am welcomed to …
The first Hongi of my life! The first Maori legend, told against the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen – up until then, that is. Travelling New Zealand, you tend to keep talking in superlatives!
Ok then. But what on Earth is a Hongi?!
Just how exactly the Maori legend of the volcanoes around Lake Taupo goes, I do not remember for sure. I do, however, remember there is a “female mountain” north of Lake Taupo (looking north from the lake, you may indeed see the silhouette of a woman complete with “breasts & belly” in the hillsides). This lady mountain was fought over by the “male volcanic mountains” Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngaurahoe and Mount Taranaki, the latter one losing the battle and being hauled by Mount Ruapehu far into the West. There, it still stands tall today as a perfectly shaped volcanic cone rising high into the Kiwi sky.
Parallel to all this, I read in the “Rough Guide to New Zealand” (I didn’t buy “what everyone else was buying” and opted for this guide over the Lonely Planet, not being disappointed) about the mountains altitude, geothermal activities and what is perhaps the most famous day walk of the country: The so-called “Tongariro Crossing“. The day lasts up to twelve hours (including transfers, ascent & descent as well as breaks), requires a good level of fitness and is quite demanding, however offering just amazing insights into a wholly new world – from a European point of view. Wow!
“Windy Wellington”: New Zealand’s capital city is the country’s gateway to the south and offers a lot of cultural and festive activities.
If I had to choose a Kiwi city where I always felt happy and at ease, it would be Wellington. The capital of the Kiwis is home to the parliament building called “Beehive”. Wonder why? I will tell you in my story. And “Windy Wellington”? At the lower edge of the North Island, facing the infamous sea passage of Cook Strait between the country’s two main islands, strong winds or even storms are commonplace. However, I was always lucky not to have experienced one of those: My times were always rather tranquil!
What you should not miss in Wellington is a visit to Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum. This museum offers unique and very interactive ways of cultural interpretation. I remember having read and studied about it even way back during my cultural tourism studies, hence I had quite some expectations prior to my visit. The best thing about the museum: I have not been disappointed, on the contrary. My expectations have even been exceeded!
Arriving at the South Island, I see: Vineyards. Forests. Large and beautifully carved bays … My life in a dream.
I remember those first few days on the South Island bathed in summer sunlight and full of warmth. What a lovely welcome by my new Kiwi family. The astoundingly beautiful natural surroundings make me gasp and stay mesmerised. Large fern trees like out of a book about dinosaurs next to somewhat familiar, yet seemingly endless vineyard lanes typical of the “New World”, a small city called Motueka at the gate to what may be the most beautiful national park in the country, Abel Tasman National Park …
Right after my arrival, I knew that sooner or later I would have to get a car in order to stay flexible and keep exploring. And didn’t I read that “this is what you do, just like that, in the New World – buy a car as if nothing“?? Maybe, I am very “Old World” indeed. Back then, I certainly could not imagine it yet, neither many of the other things that I will tell you in my next series of articles, “The Year Of My Life: Travelling Aotearoa, New Zealand.”
Stay tuned! 😉