April is here, and autumn is coming on in New Zealand. Trees are turning yellow and red and the tang of fall is in the air, even in the far north, from which direction we are learning to look for warm breezes and the sun making its way across this southern sky. We have nearly reached the end of our stay here and are beginning to yearn for home.
During the month of March, we lived and Michael worked in Kaikoura, on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. When the sun shines in Kaikoura, there is surely no more glorious place on earth. Snowcapped mountains come to rest abruptly against a lush green valley that sweeps down to the sea. The town of 4,000 swells in the summer months as visitors arrive in swarms to see the in-resident sperm whales, dolphins and at the end of the peninsula, a colony of fur seals, draping themselves across huge flat rocks at low tide, and even over parts of the walkways and a parking lot.
Marine animals love Kaikoura primarily because the deep ocean is so close to the shore with an underwater canyon plunging down 800 meters and currents bringing in nutrients for an abundant array of sea birds, fish and mammals. We visited here for a weekend eight years ago and wanted to repeat the whale watching trip. Once again, we were in awe of the beautiful sperm whales (we saw two) surface, rest on the surface and then dive with a splash of beautiful tail. We also went sea kayaking and saw dusky dolphins, seals and sea birds from their level. Our favorite land exercise was stretching our legs on the peninsula walkway with panoramic views of the town, surrounding farmland and sea.
One of the most amazing things about New Zealand is that one is always close to the sea, and the country is quite long but never very wide. Leaving Kaikoura on the east coast, we were able to drive across the country and arrive on the west coast in under four hours. We started our trip down the west coast at Cape Foul Wind. This beautiful place was given this inauspicious name by Captain Cook, who happened to be there (apparently) on a nasty day indeed. We were blessed with very different conditions, a lovely bed and breakfast motel and then no wind and sunshine to head onto a walking trail right around the Cape.
Winding our way down the coast we saw Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers, and walked a trail around beautiful Lake Matheson, enjoying mirror images of Mount Cook, called Mount Aoraki by the Maori, the highest mountain in New Zealand. We were heading for Invercargill (the country’s most southern city), Bluff and Stewart Island. An hour by passenger ferry off the southern coast of the South Island, Stewart Island is sometimes labeled New Zealand’s third island, in Maori called Rakiura, glowing skies, or land of Southern Lights. On Stewart Island, we stayed with two of the 400 permanent residents, Ewan and Jenny, who told us they don’t feel isolated they feel insulated. A few minutes boat ride from the island’s only village Oban lies Ulva Island, a sanctuary for native bird, all endangered by the introduction of rats, stoats and possums into New Zealand in the 1800s. In a tour lasting just over three hours, our knowledgeable guide, Matt, showed us many different species, but the iconic Kiwi eluded us. Matt suggested we sometimes close our eyes on the forest paths that crisscross the island and listen to the choir of that open air cathedral. It is wonderful to hear so many bird songs both blending together, and singing solos to heaven.
From Stewart Island we drove over the rolling green of the Catlins’ Coast to Dunedin. A city founded by Scots, Dunedin rejoices in all things Scottish. The old downtown has many charming Victorian buildings about a central octagon with a statue of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. We were lucky enough to hear a competition of Highland bands while sitting in a sidewalk café sipping some very good coffee.
Boasting the country’s oldest university, Dunedin is also home to Speights Brewery and the Cadbury chocolate factory, both do tours — yum!
From Dunedin we flew to Auckland which we have previously only flown in and out from and never visited. We were lucky enough to find a good downtown hotel at bargain prices and walked all over central Auckland. Taking a hop on-hop off tour bus showed us some of the surrounding area, and allowed us to visit a very good aquarium and art gallery, but our favorite moments were spent crowd watching. Auckland has a really diverse population, and we surely saw people from every Pacific Rim country imaginable, and some who definitely weren’t from the Pacific too.
Heading North from Auckland, we are spending our last week in New Zealand in the beautiful Bay of Islands. From the charming village of Russell, the oldest European settlement in the country, we are able to watch the sailboats come and go from the deck of our little ‘bach,’ short for bachelor, and Kiwi slang for cabin. We spent a beautiful, sunny day aboard the tall ship R. Tucker Thompson, perhaps learning a little about sailing, definitely having fun. From here we also took the ferry just across the bay to Waitangi, where in 1840 a treaty of this name was signed by many Maori chiefs and the British, creating the modern nation of New Zealand. From here we also drove some three hours north to the tip of the North Island and the spirit filled, somewhat haunting Cape Reinga, where the Maori believe their spirits jump off into the afterlife. So in America we say, “From Sea to Shining Sea,” we can now say we have seen New Zealand, “From Cape Reinga to Bluff,” and it’s been a joyful journey.
Susan and Dr. Michael Carey are longtime Windsor residents. Michael, a physician in Windsor, is working at three different locations around New Zealand. The Careys flew home from New Zealand on Monday.