Thursday, May 22, 2003

New Zealand is a beauty!

Dear Ones:

Te Marae Haere Mai! Welcome to you all!

"There is no going back Your familiar twentieth century world of steel and plastic has been left at the door You are now a time traveler A passenger who has been asked to forget about material possessions Instead open your heart and embrace the breathing soul Of our earth-mother Papatuanuku Fell the splashing tears of our sky-father Ranginui"

No wonder New Zealand is often used as a scenario for a lot of stunning photographic films. It is a real beauty!

But only a feast for the eyes right now as the cold water and low temperatures didn't allow me to fully experience the country with all my senses. I couldn't much partake in all the beautiful surroundingslike swimming in the waterfalls, beaches, rivers, eat out in the open, star gaze, feel the sun. But a feast to eyes it was!

As in Australia, Queen Elizabeth II is also in all coins and currency notes. The flag contains the British flag –the only difference from the Australian flag is that it has four stars instead of six, not very creative, I must say.

And did you know that New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy? I have to admit I was completely ignorant on the subject and I feel almost shocked to think of a modern country that is still under the rulership of someone else's queen. Apparently the queen has to approve the appointment of the Governor General who is the representant of the British Crown. There is a case against the Governor General in Australia right now for a rape case in the 50's and other issues. There is a lot of pressure for his resignation. The Prime Minister needs to make the recommendation for the Queen before any action is considered. There is a big fuss about that right now.

I arrived at the Christchurch airport May 7th at 2:35pm. A border collie smelled the almonds and dates I had in my handbag even before I got my luggage from the luggage claim. Thank God I declared food items in my customs form as the officer asked me for it. The penalty for not declaring is hefty. After showing my air ticket out of New Zealand (first time a country has ever asked me) having my passport stamped and my handbag inspected for my nuts and dates I was free to go and explore the country.

Christian was waiting for me at the airport and the smell of incense burning in his car brought me immediately back to Mysore and the sweet memories of India made my heart warmer.

But my muscles started to contract when I got out on the streets. It was 10C at 3:10pm when I was finally out on the parking lot. I could relax a little when I got to his place, sat by the woodstove and started to drink wine. Sachie was preparing a dinner of vegetarian sushi and soup and in a good Japanese style invited me to take a hot bath with essential oils under candlelight before dinner.

This was the best welcome I could have had in Christchurch. My muscles started to befriend my bones again. I met Christian (German), Sachie (Japanese) and Ryu (Kiwi= New Zealand native), Sachie's charming 7 years old son during Sivaratri celebrations at the Ganapathi Satchidananda Ashram in Mysore, India.

New Zealand is not a very large country for my Brazilian/American standards- 380,000 sq km approximately the size of the UK or California. I reckon (=believe in aussie/kiwi/british lingo) it is not so populated either, with 4.0 million people, almost half of which living in Auckland, its largest city. Fourteen percent of the population is statistically stated as Maori, the original owners of the land. It is funny though that this is a much higher percentage than the aboriginal in Australia but they are much more mixed here- I was told that there are hardly any pure Maori anymore. Anyone with any drop of Maori blood is counted as one. The Maoris are originally polynesian and they are prettier than the aboriginals in my opinion. There are more of them in the Northern Island.

We are at the tail end of the fall in New Zealand and the temperatures in the south island varied from zero to ten degrees centigrade. That is about 32F to 50 F, which is too cold for me right now as I just came back from 37C(105F)nicely humid weather in northern Australia.

The south island is colder than the north island by a few degrees. We crossed the 45-degree parallel somewhere in the southwest, which is half way from the Equator and the Antarctica. The west coast of the south island, one of the most beautiful area in my opinion, also rains a lot, to be precise, an average of 7,500mm a year, or 7.5 meters, or about 25 feet. That is a lot don't you think? At Milford Sound, a breathtaking area in the Fiordland National Park (New Zealand's largest) it rains 2 out of 3 days. I was lucky it was a beautiful day when I went there but it was very chilly.

I covered over 4,000 km in two week as I toured almost the whole country. I started with a train ride from Christchurch to Greymouth by the Tasman Sea. It was a very scenic ride but the conductor was very keen on his commentaries about the sites, peppered by all kinds of personal incidents that happened to his wife's wedding ring somewhere around the 1940's and his daughter's camping trip I am not sure the details, as I was trying not to listen. He went on ad nausea, and did not stop talking during the four hours ride not leaving me a moment of privacy with my own thoughts or allowing any dialog I may have wanted to have with the magnificent nature rolling by my eyes.

I spent a rainy evening and night at Greymouth, and then headed to Franz Josef, a tropical glacier- very impressive masses of ice making their way to the sea. Very interesting, but it was pouring rain so I wanted out of the place as soon as I could. Next I went to Makarora, near a ski place, then Queenstown a really beautiful small town of 10,000 people. From there I took a tour to Milford Sound and headed to Dunedin two nights later. Very nice college town, but kind of boring for me. The southerly winds from the Antarctica also brought me memories of downtown San Francisco on a windy day.

Then back to Christchurch, said goodbye to my friends there, spend the night, got my full luggage, had dinner and took a train to Picton, and a ferry ride to Wellington in the North Island, basically 12 hours on the road.

Wellington is the capital and I took a day to explore the city. I went to the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, walked around the city, went to a movie, Matrix Reloaded; made several reservations for the continuation of the trip, slept late, repacked and made a few calls to my mother and friends.

Then I headed towards Bay of Plenty where a lot of the historical events happened during the colonization years. I passed through Lake Taupo (the largest lake in NZ) and Rotorua, both VERY volcanic areas with plenty of gurgling hot springs, bubbling mud pools and gushing geysers. Pohutu is a very elegant big splash of volcanic water.

I was finally in my element at Rotorua at the Polynesian Spa. They have several pools with different temperatures, chemical composition in the water-acid and alkaline right next to each other. Good for all sorts of ailments. There is also Aix massage available, done by applying oil on the body under jets of warm water- first time I've done it! I liked the place so much I stayed a couple of extra days by postponing my trip to Japan.

After Rotorua, I went to Mt Mauganui, the best surfing in New Zealand, but it was raining so I moved on to Thames and finally came here to Auckland today.

New Zealand is known for its "Extreme Sports". The constant selling of the adrenaline pumping activities nauseated me and pretty much turned me off completely. The tourism industry in New Zealand is VERY organized and "creative" in all the ways a traveler can spend money. I would say they are doing an excellent job at selling tourism in the country too.

Unfortunately, a lot is around "consuming, consuming". Anything is possible. You can feel like a "glazier mountaineer" boots, socks, gloves, ice picks provided, foot holes in the ice cut for you, or you can go on a helicopter ride above the glaziers. Everything can be arranged even in pouring rain. They operate 365 days a year, rain, snow, storm or shine and will also provide you with a package of a video and a photo for a price, hanging from a bungy cord 43 meters down a bridge in the middle of nowhere, or paragliding over the scenic "remarkables" around Queenstown.

The bus guide/conductor goes on the list of all activities and sign up sheets ad infinitum and ad nausea for the next stop: bungy jumping at 43 meters, 35 meters, 29 meters, whatever suits your need for an adrenaline fix. Other activities include paragliding, parachuting, skydive, bungee rocket (you are fired skywards at 160 kph), aerobatics flights, small plane rides, jet boating, white water sledge, raft, boogy board, surf raft, cave rafting, "zorb" (getting inside a big ball while it spins with you inside), ballooning, bone carving, bungee rocket, ice climbing, kayak, dolphin swim, whale watch, surf, scuba dive, glow worm caving, horseback ride, mountain bike or simply go tramping also known as bush walk, or for us in the US, hike. I am not kidding; everywhere you go there are plenty of these activities to pick from. At the unfolding of "our daily menu of activities" I would just look out the window with a snare.

The rebellious part of me (about 99%) got completely disgusted at this "mass consumption" activity freak style of traveling. If I have another shot at New Zealand, it has to be during summer time, with my 4 or 5 favorite people, in a caravan filled with exquisite music, fresh organic vegetables and fruits a supply of the best wine and veue clicquot, and a strong liquor to warm up before and after going into the water. I am afraid the bodies of water around here are kind of chilly throughout the year.

Then I would stop at will at the majestic backdrop of rivers, lakes, waterfalls, mountains and fields to contemplate on nature and on the impermanence of the world and humans at large.

Next stop is the Kanzai Airport in Osaka tomorrow, May 25th. If all goes well I will be spending tomorrow night at a ryokan in one of Kyoto's well-known district!

Until then, cheers to all!
Kia Ora=be well, be healthy
A thousand petals,


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