My husband Michael and I are happy to be back in beautiful New Zealand for the first time in seven years. Once again Michael, a physician in Windsor, will be working at three different locations around the country. On Dec. 1, we landed in Wellington, the capital city. Despite 15 hours flying time, we didn’t feel too bad, and woke up the next morning with very little jet lag, ready for a new adventure.
For the first few days, Michael was in orientation, learning how New Zealand medicine differs from American. However, his schedule left us some time to explore Wellington. Two highlights for us were the cable car ride up a steep slope from the heart of the city, on a cable car in service since 1902. From the top of the line we had great city and harbor views (Wellington is a city of many hills — rather like a smaller version of San Francisco). From there we were able to ramble through the beautiful Botanic Gardens, seeing many of the native trees and plants, like the beautiful pohutukawa, nicknamed New Zealand’s Christmas tree. The second high point was a return visit to the National Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa. Loosely translated from the Maori (first people), the name means “treasure box” and indeed it is. Part history, part natural history, part art museum, this interactive gem gives visitors a wonderful, brief introduction to a special place.
We left Wellington with some days to explore, before arriving in the town of Paeroa (pronounced pie-rowa) where Michael will work for the first two months of our stay. En route we visited the small Art Deco city of Napier. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, the city was completely rebuilt within two years in the style that today makes it so unique. Like some 30,000 visitors annually, we took a guided walking tour around Napier, where our guide, Jane, said with a laugh that she had “been walking the streets of Napier for 20 years.”
From Napier we headed northwest to Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake and like the neighboring Rotarua, the scene of much geo-thermal and adrenaline-pumping activity. Not being up for the available skydiving, bungee jumping or the rapids jet boat ride, we opted for the more sedate but still fun, Huka Falls River Cruise. This photo friendly ride takes travelers up the Waikato, New Zealand’s longest river, to dramatic Huka Falls. Also close to Taupo, we enjoyed the “Craters of the Moon” walk. This hour-long stroll passes steam vents and bubbling mud pools in a large volcanic crater. Numerous signs warn visitors to stay on the elevated walkways, which occasionally have been burned to a crisp by new eruptions. These aren’t sudden but pretty dramatic nonetheless and have necessitated the closing of the walk on a couple of occasions in its 50-year history.
Leaving Taupo in the late morning, we arrived in time to take in a night tour of the famous Waitomo glow worm caves. Although I’m rather claustrophobic, these limestone caves, with glowing worms sparkling like stars on the ceiling and the walls, didn’t make me jittery. We visited a newly developed cave in an area, where more than 300 caves have been mapped. On our 1 1/2 hour tour, we were led down an impressive long stairway into the depths of a gorge and then into a cave where we saw hundreds of the glowworms lighting up a space filled with jaw-dropping stalagmites and stalactites. When turning from the larval stage into the pupa, the glowworms secrete long strings that when hit by light resemble glistening silver chains shining and swaying.
The next day proved an easy drive to Paeroa, our home for two months. Known throughout the country as the home of Lemon and Paeroa, (L&P) a soft drink that bills itself as “world famous in New Zealand,” this refreshing concoction is lionized by a 10-foot replica bottle at the local information center. We have been made to feel right at home here by our kind landlady and lord whose home and beautiful yard (called garden) is in front of our little rental house, and also by our church and members of the local Rotary club, whose Christmas gathering we were welcomed into and found very fun.
Although we miss family and friends in Colorado over the Christmas season, we are also looking forward to playing on a beautiful local beach and throwing something on the barbie!
Susan and Dr. Michael Carey are longtime Windsor residents.