New Zealand is an incredible place.
I had the most wonderful experience there, beginning with our stay on the North Island. We hung out in Auckland for a bit and rented a car to take us to the black-sand beaches. We drove to Rotorua to see the geothermal activity (even the hot water in our hostel was heated from steam in the GROUND) before flying to the South Island where we began our campervan journey. We lived in the campervan for seven days during which we drove the perimeter of the South Island (minus the Otago Peninsula, unfortunately) to see the fjordlands, glaciers, and incredible peaks of the Southern Alps.
The North and South Islands are literally two completely different places.
Here’s what I have learned: About 510 million years ago in a period of the geological time scale known as the Cambrian, aka the time of the explosion of multicellular life on Earth, the bedrocks of what would later become New Zealand began to form. Fast forward to the Mesozoic (so the time of the dinosaurs) and the plates of our planet’s crust are arranged into two continents that have recently split from the notorious supercontinent called Pangea. The continent occupying the southern hemisphere was Gondwana and included what would later become Africa, South America, India, Australia, Arabia, Antarctica, and, of course, New Zealand. This time was especially important in the formation of New Zealand as the breakup of Gondwana some 130 million years ago (these time estimates are really rough, mind you) resulted in what more or less is the New Zealand we know and love today. At least, that’s how I understand it to have happened.
So we have the North Island and the South Island, sitting on separate plates that are and have been for a long time moving in relation to each other. This convergent-transverse boundary has created offshore trenches on the Zealandia landmass and a great, big scar running through the South Island known as the Alpine Fault, along which runs the Southern Alps mountain range. Plus, NZ’s subsequent susceptibility to earthquakes and volcanism has landed it a spot in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.
The North Island features tender, rolling hills of pasture land mixed with volcanic remnants like black sand beaches, calderas, and glorious geothermal lakes. The South Island has developed a more dramatic backdrop consisting of mystical snow-capped mountains, foggy fjords, and glowing glacial lakes. The diversity of natural phenomena is incredible, especially over such a small landmass (the country’s total area is a bit more than that of the UK, as reported by Wikipedia).
There are no native mammals to New Zealand and its most abundant natural flora is unquestionably the fern, in all of its manifestations. Subsequently, the whole place feels like a prehistoric jungle-planet, akin to my notions of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney but times a million. There were moments when I imagined I had stepped into a scene from Avatar, or, perhaps unsurprisingly, a scene from Lord of the Rings.
That’s not to say things haven’t come a long way since Gondwanaland and its eventual demise. At some point the Maori, probably descendants of a Polynesian peoples from the landmasses farther north, made New Zealand their home. Then, predictably, the Europeans came over. Captain Cook was the first. Even after some of his crewmates were killed and cooked by Maori tribesmen, he regarded the Maori as an overall well-meaning people. His sentiments don’t differ too much from the current peaceful relations between the Maori and the Euro-Kiwis. The Maori do not share the same bleak fate as did the Aboriginals of Australia. True, there were some Maori-Euro issues, but the greatest Maori death tolls resulted from infighting during the Musket Wars of the 19th century. Today, the Maori continue to be proud of their land and their customs as they make a killing exploiting tourists by charging mad dolla dolla bills for viewings of traditional Maori cultural practices. Go Maoris.
There’s a large possibility that I’ve made some mistakes here, but these things happen, especially when one uses Wikipedia as a reliable source.
And now, a few words regarding safety:
You can’t go to New Zealand and not hear about the All Blacks. Rugby is the country’s collective pride and joy. Other NZ things? Well there are Kiwis (the people, the fruit, AND the bird) and there are sheep. Deer, cattle, and yes, the occasional alpaca are not uncommon sights.
Sooooo I hope that I have somehow managed to accurately represent my New Zealand adventure.
For now, Rebecca is kindly letting me crash at her apartment. Jordan and I went to Wattamolla today to cliff jump. I stood at the top of the 13 m (43 ft) waterfall for nearly 2 hours trying to unpsych myself out (in?) and jump off the damn thing. Meanwhile sunburnt bogan Aussies (their version of American trailer trash) cheered me on in between sips of their beers. I jumped. Finally.
I need to get souvenirs! I need to get started on the 2 liters of alcohol I bought in duty free in the New Zealand airport! Speaking of which, does anyone know if I can buy alcohol in Sydney’s airport and bring it in through customs at LAX?