The Best of New Zealand: Mt. Cook and Doubtful Sound

Mt. Cook, known also by its Maori name, Aoraki, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand at 3754 meters. The lake is formed from melted glacier ice which gives the water beautiful hues from turquoise to cobalt, depending on the depth and amount of sediment in the water.

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New Zealand is a small country yet chock-filled with natural beauty everywhere you look. It’s difficult to name any particular site as my favorite — and I certainly haven’t seen every square meter of NZ — but I’ve settled on two: Aoraki, also known as Mt. Cook, and Doubtful Sound, both on the South Island.

Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

We spent three days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, hiking, sightseeing, and taking a thousand pictures. Aoraki absolutely captivated both of us. There are certain places in the world that capture the soul of everyone regardless of their background or beliefs. I believe Mt. Aoraki is one of them. The Maori name, Aoraki, means “cloud piercer,” and for centuries has been a sacred spot for Maoris. The great mountain certainly emits a form of raw splendor and an irresistible pull for people, regardless of whether they aim to climb it or simply bask in its beauty.

Aoraki is not a simple mountain to summit. Mountaineers deem it a highly technica, difficult climb. Sir Edmund Hillary first climbed Aoraki in January, 1948 and was part of the first team to scale the South Face of Aoraki a month later. Hillary prepared for the first succcesssful Everest ascent of 1953 by climbing Aoraki and other South Island Mountains.

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Statue of Sir Edmund Hillary as he was on the successful Everest ascent in 1953. It stands on the deck of the Hermitage Hotel in AorakiMt. Cook Village within the national park.

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Aoraki as seen from the foot of the Hillary statue. The weather often blows from the west and the Tasman Sea, often causing rapid and extreme weather conditions. Upwards of 70 climbers a year are rescued from the heights of Aoraki.

We hiked several trails (or parts thereof) in the park. One of the most popular is Hooker Valley Track, which winds past the Hooker Glacier and Lake Mueller in its initial stages.

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Hooker Glacier with Lake Mueller in the foreground.

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The left peak is Mt. Sefton; at far right is The Footstool.

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A huge moraine wall from the Mueller and Hooker glaciers. Mt. Aoraki stands in the background.

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Milky Tasman Lake at the foot of the Tasman Glacier, the longest in NZ. We tried for 3 days to go kayaking on this lake but the excursion was cancelled each day due to high winds.

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Aoraki as seen from Lake Tasman; this is the eastern face, from which it is easier to see the triple peaks of the mountain.

Aoraki is 3754 meters high, 10 meters shorter than it was 25 years ago. In 1991 a massive avalanche — a common occurrence on the mountain — shaved 10 meters off the mountain top and caused such a rumble that the slide caused a 3.9 earthquake.

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Our last look at Aoraki before heading to the Christchurch airport and Australia.

 

Doubtful Sound

Most tourists traveling to New Zealand’s Fjordland opt to take a 2-3 hour boat ride on Milford Sound, one of the dozens of fjords carved into the southwestern coast. We preferred to take an overnight cruise on a less-sailed fjord, Doubtful Sound. Deep Cove Charters, with whom we booked, carried no more than 12 passengers on its boat — a far cry from some of the fjord cruisers which have upwards of 100 people on their day trips. Our decision turned out to be a marvelous one. From the moment we departed the dock in Manapouri, we were on an adventure in a natural wonderland.

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Dusk on Lake Manapouri — easily one of my favorite lakes in New Zealand.

Getting to Doubtful Sound was a bit more complicated than hopping a tourist bus. We took a 1-hr. boat ride across Manapouri, then the boat captain picked us up and drove us to the far side of these mountains, where we picked up the boat on Doubtful Sound. The extra travel was well worth it.

IMG_9627_First glimpse of Doubtful Sound. Waterfall is in background right of center.

First look at Doubtful Sound from the top of the mountains’ pass.

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Another boat on the Sound — just to give some perspective.

After getting settled, the first order of business was lunch, fresh-caught lobster (or crawfish, as the Kiwis call it). And then the adventure began. The variety of landscape and wildlife within the Sound was amazing: penguins, dolphins, fish (and sharks), fur seals, albatross and seagulls, and waterfalls cascading off the steep slopes everywhere you looked. It didn’t matter too much that our two days’ were cloudy and ended in a light drizzle — the fjord was delightful.

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Crested Fjordland penguins.

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This penguin steadfastly held his ground despite gawking kayakers and boaters.

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Most of the passengers went fishing off the stern. For the most part, we caught perch, sea bass, and a few blue cod. One guy reeled in this 4-ft. school shark. The captain earned a lot of gold stars from me for hauling it on board to remove the hook (despite some very sharp, triangular teeth) and returning it to the fjord.

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A Buller’s Albatross. Several of these birds as well as some Stewart Island albatrosses followed our boat. The captain used some of the smaller perch we caught to toss to the birds, so we had an ample entourage of seabirds.

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A Buller’s in flight.

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A sleek-winged Stewart Island albatross in flight.

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A squawking Buller’s comes in for landing and free fish.

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The captain and mate pulled some set lobster traps. In one trap, an octopus showed up with the lobsters. When tipped out of the trap it rapidly crawled across the deck to the nearest scupper and disappeared overboard. We dined that night on fresh-caught fish and had some of these lobsters the next day for lunch. Lobster twice in 24 hours!

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Three adolescent pups were part of a huge colony of New Zealand fur seals near the mouth of the Sound.

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And so we said goodbye to Doubtful Sound, just one of the incredible sights in New Zealand.

Off-Track in New Zealand

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Lighthouse on Taiaroa Head, Otago Peinsula, South Island, New Zealand. A Royal Albatross rides the thermals at center left. The Royal Albatross Colony protects the only “mainland” breeding colony for these magnificent birds in the world.

 

Traveling off the beaten path without an itinerary or reservations can lead to some unexpected pleasures and adventures. this devil-may-care approach can and has landed us in unnerving situations, but in Otago, South Island of New Zealand, we found ourselves happily diverted to unusual events and sights. At least one — a sheep shearing contest — certainly isn’t on your average tourist itinerary.

Sheep Shearing in Balclutha, Otago

Finding ourselves with some extra days, we decided to head to The Catlins in NZ’s southeastern corner to see or ourselves the magnificent terrain. Entering the town of Balclutha, I spied a sign advertising a sheep shearing competition. We decided we just had to go.

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The contestants line up: the men in black are Kiwis, the men in red are challengers from Wales, UK. 

The contest centered around an “international” competition highlighting the shearing prowess of native Kiwis against Wales’ best shearers. The competition was amazing. The entire process had hawk-eyed judges examining shearers’ technique (not good to nick the sheep too many times) and assure that no cheating occurred. (I wasn’t sure about the “no cheating” bit; is cheating leaving too much wool on the sheep or ripping it off the sheep with something other than the prescribed set of shears?)

Throughout the competition every clip and buzz of the shears was narrated by a man who sounded somewhere between a carnival barker and the guy who calls the Kentucky Derby. And wool was flying everywhere. It appeared that whoever sheared ten sheep first, won. The Kiwi who finished first sheared his ten in less than 20 minutes, which seemed pretty fast to me.

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The competition looked back-breaking for both shearers and sheep.

What was interesting was watching the wool-gatherers — almost all women and no slouches — as they scurried around gathering up the shorn wool, sorting it in a mad frenzy of whirling arms into different baskets, or swiftly sweeping up those pesky remnants of wool balls all over the floor. I later found out that the wool-gatherers are also judged as to how well they sort the wool. Apparently you have to put the belly wool in one basket, armpit wool in another, dirty, backside wool in yet another. (OK, I’m probably exaggerating a bit here, but not much. there really are standards and rules for wool sorting.) In fact, there are a whole host of shearing rules that must be adhered to; an infraction leads to added points, and, as in golf, the less points you accrue, the better you are.

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Wool-sorters picking feverishly through the wool. 

Needless to say, the Kiwis won. The two Men in Black will advance to the National Sheep Shearing Competition.

On to the Catlins

Having amused ourselves with the shearing competition, we set off again for The Catlins, a scenic stretch of southeastern NZ coastline with peaks and bays, blowholes and rocks waiting to cause a shipwreck. Absolutely breathtaking.

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Roaring Bay, south of Nugget Point.

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Sea grasses in the breeze at Nugget Point.

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Purukaunui Falls. Being summer, these tiered falls were a bit low on water, but still beautiful. 

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The walk to the falls led through some beautiful forest, lush at all levels.

Onward to Otago Peninsula

We spent three delightful days exploring the Otago Peninsula in the southeast of NZ’s South Island, east of the city of Dunedin. The scenery was stunning, which we eagerly explored, but the real draw for us was the wildlife.

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A Royal Albatross raises up to allow the nesting chick to cool off. The adult’s open mouth also indicates that she (or he, both parents take tuns on the nest) is also feeling the heat.

I mentioned in the beginning the Royal Albatross Colony on Taiaroa Head, at the tip of the Peninsula. We hiked to the top of the RAC’s land to observe nesting albatrosses. The staff at the center take seriously their mission to protect this magnificent birds and assist in their breeding. On hot days such as the day we visited, rangers turn on sprinklers planted at intervals among the nests to give the laying birds a cooling mist.

The Royal Albatross is second only to the Wandering Albatross in wingspan; the RA  runs an average of a 3 m. span (9.8+ ft.). They generally lay an egg every other year; the juvenile albatross leaves the home territory at about age 9-12 months, and stays aloft at sea for five years before returning to the natal home. The juniors usually are usually about 7+ years old before they find a mate and begin to reproduce. A combination of their late breeding and the devastation in numbers during the 19th-20th c. keep their numbers sufficiently low to be considered vulnerable.

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Little Blue Penguins coming ashore at night, Otago Peninsula.

My favorite of the wildlife we observed were the Blue Penguins, the smallest of the 17 penguin species. Previously we had seen up close a molting Blue in Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, east of Christ Church, and, observed in Omaru the penguins’ ritual nighttime “parade” as they waddled ashore from a long day’s hunting out in the ocean. Otago is the only place in NZ where people are allowed to photograph these extremely shy birds, and only without use of flash.

IMG_8738_Molting blue penguin in nestig box

Blue penguins molt 1-2 times a year. During this phase, they are extremely vulnerable to introduced predators such as the Australian possum, stoats, weasels, feral cats, rats and even wild pigs. Many conservation groups as well as farmers are providing nesting boxes as safe havens for these threatened birds during their most vulnerable times: breeding and molting.

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The slopes of Taiaroa Head on Otago Peninsula are home to large colonies of Little Shags, as the Kiwis call this local cormorant.

IMG_9257_Yellow Eyed Penguin coming in to shore in late afternoon, Otago Peninsula

A Yellow-eyed Penguin — found only in NZ — waddles ashore late afternoon. They are among the rarest of penguin species and are considered highly vulnerable.

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A rare close-up of a yellow-eyed penguin. Each penguin marches off the beach and into the scrub to his/her territory for the night. Note the yellow device in the foreground. It is part of a trap to ensnare and kill stoats, one of several invasive species that have threatened most of NZ’s birds near to extinction if not a vulnerable status. The farmer who owns this land has partitioned off several expanses to be used for penguin and other species’ habitat. In addition to Blue & yellow-eyed penguin nesting boxes, he places traps every few meters in the conservation zones to help eliminate these predators.

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These sea lions couldn’t have cared less that we were taking their picture.

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Young NZ fur seal. Once nearly hunted to extinction, this species has rebounded quite well and is beginning to thrive.

 

One other form of critter caught our attention, but not out in the wild but at the Otago Museum’s Discovery World Tropical Forest, a multi-story tropical rain forest biosphere full of butterflies and moths from around the world. I became a bit attached to them myself.

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For some reason, these paper kites from SE Asia decided to light upon me — at one point there were 4 or 5.

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I’m not sure what species this is. My only complaint about the museum’s butterfly exhibit was the distinct lack of signage or photo identification of the butterflies.

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A last look at a Blue Penguin heading “home” for the night. 

Only in New Zealand

Part of the fun of traveling is to learn about new cultures and people. Learning a bit about the language, customs and peculiarities of a country adds to your understanding and appreciation. For the last five weeks we’ve combed the North & South Islands of New Zealand, and have come to love the country, its natural bounty, and, yes, those quirky New Zealanders. Except…they’re not called “New Zealanders,” but “Kiwis.” And this is where learning the ins and outs of New Zealand (also known as “En Zed” for “NZ”) becomes a challenge.
And that’s because a NZ’er person is a Kiwi…
whereas a kiwi is the national bird, despite being flightless, short-sighted, very shy, and on the edge of extinction:
There are two other kiwis, just to be confusing, but both are inanimate:
There is the kiwi fruit, which, just to be clear, didn’t originate in New Zealand but in China, but nevertheless New Zealand is now a major producer of the fruit:
stock photo of kiwi-fruit - kiwi fruit on white background - JPG  and, there is the Kiwi Shoe Polish:
Image result for kiwi shoe polishwhich was invented by an Australian who chose the kiwi (with a small “k”) bird as the name and logo of the polish to honor his New Zealand-born wife who was, of course, a Kiwi with a capital “K”.
It is safe to say that Kiwis (the people) take kiwis (birds, fruit,  the polish and the kitchen sink) seriously:

 

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Chocolate kiwis for Easter.

 

 

But to return to the heart of our discoveries, Kiwis have a great sense of humor as well as practicality which result in surprising discoveries along the way — as well as colorful “Kiwi speak.” Such as finding a picture of Dino the Flintstones’ pet dinosaur displayed in an exhibit on earthquake monitoring in the Auckland Museum.

IMG_8200_Dino at a volcanic monitoring site, White Island

No one knows the identity of the prankster who left “Dino” next to the earthquake monitoring device & webcam. Schoolchildren all over New Zealand have enjoyed Dino’s own website which “reports” on geothermal activity at his new home on White Island.

 

The scientists found this amusing enough to leave Dino there and have used film footage from the web cam — and Dino — in educating school children about earthquake monitoring and geothermal activity.

Despite the frequent disruption of earthquakes and eruptions, Kiwis manage to accomplish quite a number of things: a Kiwi, Edmund Hillary, was the first man to summit Mt. Everest; Kiwis are acclaimed in the arts (Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fame); in the sciences eminent physicist Ernest Rutherford won the 1908 Nobel prize in chemistry (among other accomplishments he discovered radon and the first to split an atom); and sports — need we say more? The New Zealand All Blacks have ruled world rugby for decades. Maybe it’s their Maori haka (war dance) that scares the bejesus out of their opponents:

New Zealand’s world champion All Blacks performing their haka or Maori war dance before each game. As in war, this particular haka is supposed to terrify and immobilize their opponents.

 

Kiwis grow (in addition to kiwi fruit) a whole lot of sweet potatoes, known collectively in NZ as kumara. There are so many kumara grown, especially on the North Island, that one small town, Dargaville, claims the honor of “New Zealand’s Kumara Capital.”

Kūmara capital

Dargaville won the bragging rights for this title. Close to a dozen varieties of kumara are grown in the area; most varieties were developed in NZ.

 

Not to be outdone by such namby pamby fellow Kiwis, A.J. Hackett popularized the modern form of bungy jumping by performing the first bungy jump of the Auckland Harbor bridge in 1986. (A centuries-earlier form of bungy jumping had been a ceremonial activity among Vanuatu men. However, in that tradition, the men had to strike the ground with their heads; he who lived, won. Hackett must have realized smacking clients’ heads on the ground from 100 meters up wasn’t good for his insurance premiums, because that pulverizing form of bungy jumping is OUT. However, you can, if bungeeing off a great height over water, can opt to get dunked during the jump.) Regardless of how it’s currently done, bungy jumping is now a national past time in New Zealand, with intrepid souls leaping off all kinds of towering edifices, from the Sky Tower in Auckland and just about any bridge, building or ledge high enough to give one a thrill.

Bungy jumping off a mountain in Queenstown.

 

The surprises just kept coming with this country. A couple of British tourists we met on a wine tour encouraged us to visit the public toilets in Kawakawa (North Island). I’d heard of these colorful receptacles of human “sanitary waste” and was planning to stop by anyway, and a quick (and free!) pit stop showed why the Kawakawa facilities are so famous:

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Entrance to the public toilets in Kawakawa. The Austrian artist and environmental activist Friedenreich Hundertwasser, who relocated to NZ after WWII, decorated his adoptive town’s toilet facilities using recycled materials.

 

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Kawakawa now attracts a huge number of visitors just because of their colorful public (and free) toilet facilities.

Two other local sights deserve honorable mention:

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This colorful, larger than life kiwi greets motorists entering the small town of Otorohanga, and serves as an advert for the Kiwi House, a wildlife preserve featuring native birds including the kiwi.

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The Silo Hotel in Little River, near Christchurch, South Island. Note the little balconies added to the sides of the silos and the bicycle motif.

 

And now for charming linguistic oddities. New Zealanders are unfailingly polite, so we didn’t learn any off-color phrases, but there are several colorful terms we came across:

chilly bin — a cooler. (My absolute favorite Kiwi term! And a proud owner of my own Kiwi chilly bin!)

the long drop — outhouse. Speaks for itself.

 

flash — fancy, splashy, and not in an approving way.

panel beaters — car body shop

a butty — a sausage roll, that delicious, irresistible, greasy sausage in pastry with cardiac-arresting amounts of fat and cholesterol. And they go straight to the butty, too. Can’t pass them up!

a bach — pronounced “batch,” is a holiday cottage or dwelling fairly small and rustic. Probably comes from the longer term, “bachelor’s quarters.”

jandals — usually denotes flip flops but can also include other types of plastic sandals. The term originated in the late ’50s in NZ. Although there are competing claims as to who coined the term, all agree it’s a distillation of “Japanese sandals,” the phrase used for zoris in Japan. As a measure of how popular these flip flops are, New Zealand has “National Jandal Day.” Seriously. (And, seriously, the purpose of this unofficial national day is to raise money for coastal lifeguards & lifesaving training.)

And for the absolutely most tongue-twisting word I’ve come across in 5 weeks in NZ, the Maori name of a small (305 meters high) hill on the North Island, Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikmaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

But don’t ask how to pronounce it!

Auckland: A city of volcanoes

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Auckland from the harbor: the Sky Tower soars over all other buildings.

 

Three important tidbits of information from our driver pierced my jet lag fog as we shuttled into Auckland, New Zealand: (1) Auckland was founded by British so “everyone drove on the left side, so you Yanks watch out;” (2) Auckland was having a heat wave with unusually hot and humid weather (we later scoffed at their definition of humidity – and got royally sunburned in retribution); and, (3) Auckland sat on over 50 volcanoes, many of them active. Five wonderful but searing hot days later we left Auckland sunburned and alive despite constantly forgetting cars came at you from the right, and, with thanks to the still-quiet volcanoes.

The entire country of New Zealand has about 4.5 million people, one third of whom live in Auckland. The city is beautiful, incredibly clean and well organized, with a compact central business district bracketed by miles of waterfront and quaint suburbs perched on volcanic hillsides. The sprawling city straddles the narrowest strip of New Zealand, spreading between Manukau Harbor & the Tasman Sea on the western side, and at the core of the city, the eastern Hauraki Gulf leading to the Pacific.

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Rangitoto Island, one of Auckland’s youngest volcanoes. It last erupted 650 years ago. Volcanologists predict if any of Auckland’s 50+ volcanoes will blow soon rather than later, it will be Rangitoto.

Self-appointed the sailing capital of the world, Auckland bristles everywhere with masts of Sali boats and yachts as well as “stinkpots,” a sailor’s term for motorized vessels. If the sea and island vistas don’t convince you, the thousands of sailboats, yachts, ferries, freighters – and more – will make the point: Auckland is entwined with the seas for livelihood, life and pleasure. They even have freighters that haul yachts to Auckland from around the world:

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This freighter was carrying over a dozen yachts topside. No way of knowing how many were below decks.

Boats and ships were everywhere. Even if not on the water:

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A mixed-purpose structure built in a ship’s form. So very Kiwi!

The central business district (CBD) is very walkable, and you get quite a workout from all the volcanic hills once headed away from the harbor. The sea-to-city theme is always with you, whether in a museum viewing Maori culture displays of wakas (canoes) or pakeha (white Anglo-Europeans) sailing craft, or huffing at the top of Mt. Eden or other high points, marveling at the spectacular city-on-the-water views. And then there’s the Fish Market, where we bought fixings for most of our dinners in Auckland. Smoked broadbill (a large swordfish) is exceptionally tasty.

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The Sky Tower glows with an evolving light show at night.

Another must-see landmark is the Sky Tower, which soars above its neighbors in the Auckland sky line. The Tower is where the more intrepid go bungy jumping, while the less courageous go on a tethered sky walk around a wide “lip” of the tower – still way high up there — while the true cowards among us go up the elevator to enjoy the views… Kiwis pride themselves on having a multitude of “adventure sports,” and claim that bungy jumping began in New Zealand.

Side bar: The original tethered jumping began as a rite of passage on Pentecost Island in Polynesian Vanuatu. A few centuries later, an extreme sports group in Oxford, UK, began the modern “sport” of bungy jumping. An enterprising Kiwi called A.J. Hackett saw a video by this group and developed his own harness rig to bungy jump off the Auckland Harbor Bridge. He subsequently bungeed off various high spots around the world, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He set up the first commercial bungy jumping business in Queenstown, NZ, which continues to claim (erroneously) to be the birthplace of bungy jumping.

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View from the Sky Tower: Far in the distance above the center is the Auckland Harbor Bridge, location of the first “commercial” bungy jump.

Back to sea level: Various signs in Auckland and even the two-story wall of one building detailed the history of New Zealand’s attempts and wins in the vastly popular America’s Cup races. The last 40 years’ history of this yacht race reads like a schoolboy’s tale of bullies in the sandbox, except these guys take each other to court. (National origin of these pugilistic, filthy rich yacht owners doesn’t matter – they all act like spoiled brats when vying for an advantage in the races.) Yet tiny New Zealand has managed to haul in the trophy a number of times. Just as a point of history (I’ll be brief), the trophy is called the “America’s Cup” not because the U.S. has won it more times than any other participating country (which it has), but because the boat that won the initial, British sponsored race in 1851 was called “America.”

The Maritime Museum carries on with the nautical theme, and it’s one of the best such museums I’ve ever experienced. Multiple buildings house various ingenious watercraft from early Polynesians to 19th-20th century vessels used by Anglo-Europeans. Partial replicas of famous racing yachts, among them Peter Blake’s controversial Black Magic, which swept the 1995 America’s Cup, are displayed; the reason for the partial displays, such as half the massive hull of Black Magic, is due to size and space considerations within the museum.

One clever interactive exhibits coached you on how to design your own ocean-racing yacht. Michael tried his hand at racing yacht design. Warning signs kept flashing at him saying, “Your boat is very stable but isn’t going to win a race any time soon.” So he’d extend the sail height and narrow the hull, and kept getting told his boat wasn’t a winner, until….

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Whoops. A bit top heavy. Capsized.

In other words, don’t quit your day job.

Auckland has much to offer, and, despite spending five days there, we only scratched the surface. I haven’t given justice to the city, as I’ve focused on a maritime theme, which is my interest and inclination. There is far more to see than I’ve written here. Hats off to Auckland – a fabulous introduction to New Zealand!

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Sunset from the Sky Tower.

 

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And for those of you who thought we were over Holland, Holstein cows & Dutch cheese  —  think again! A popular ice cream chain features a Holstein cow in front of all its stores:

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And on the way to our next stop, I noticed a sign saying, “Dutch Deli” and we just had to stop:

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Ahhh…real Dutch cheese. We were in heaven.

It turns out that after WWII, Dutch comprised a huge number of immigrants to New Zealand, so Dutch cheese and other products aren’t as out of place as you’d think. Lucky for us!

 

 

The World’s Oldest Hip Hop Crew

Their average age is mid-70’s. The oldest performer is 96. One person is on a walker. One person is legally blind, a couple others are partially deaf. Some have had joint replacements.  All of them have arthritis. Each has adopted a stage name, along the lines of “Boom Boom,” “Dollar and Two Cents,” “Mystic Diva,” and “Shake it up Sheila.” Their creed is that if any one of them dies during a performance, the others will “step over their mate” and keep right on dancing. The show, of course, must go on.

And do they put on a show! They are the “Hipop-eration,” world-renowned hip hop dancers from Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand. No lie. This energetic motley crew of mostly octogenarians has performed internationally, including at the 2013 International Hip Hop Competition in Las Vegas.

Where and how did these dancing geriatrics get their beginning? And why hip hop?

We first heard of this amazing troupe while on a wine tour of Waiheke Island. Our enthusiastic driver-guide and island native first waxed on about Waiheke’s reputation for boutique vineyards, then segued into such an intriguing story about “the World’s Oldest Dance Group” that we had to learn more.

The Story: After surviving a devastating earthquake in Christchurch 2011, Billie Jordan found herself asking, “If I’d died in the quake, could I say I had really lived life to the fullest?” Her self-assessment emphatically concluded, ”No!” She relocated from Christchurch to Waiheke Island, on the eastern fringe of Auckland harbor basin, an idyllic, laid-back island full of aging hippies and wine-growers.

Looking around for something meaningful to do, Billie noticed that many of the aging residents seemed to lack purpose and any form of activity, so she began the Wiaheke Island dance group with initial intentions of staging “flash mob” performances to promote fitness in seniors. Why hip hop? “Why not?” Billie retorts during a TED talk about Hipop-eration.

Billie told the group, “Whether you believe it or like it or not, in 8 months you will be competing at the international hip hop competition.” Their local performances swiftly morphed into “the world’s oldest” hip hop dance group with fans and shows all over New Zealand. They did believe, and in less than a year from their flash mob beginnings, they did perform at the 2013 world hip hop championship in Las Vegas. The World’s Oldest Dance Group may not have won the overall competition, but they sure brought down the house. I doubt Vegas will ever be the same again. Hip hop certainly won’t!

 

Hipop-eration website: www.hipop-eration.com. Click on links on their website for videos of performances & workouts. Videos are also available on YouTube. Just type in “World’s Oldest Dance Group” and select which ones to watch.

Lecture by group founder, Billie Jordan: www.TEDxAuckland.com