One of the reasons why I haven’t written in the blog for some time was because I went to New Zealand.
When I migrated to Australia thirty five years ago I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of the country, apart from the brochures given to us by the Australian consulate. I had even less about New Zealand. The first time I heard about New Zealand was when I was in primary school in Italy and my teacher said that if were to dig from Italy straight down through the centre of the earth we would end up in New Zealand (something that later I found wasn’t exactly true, you end up somewhere near the Chatham Islands, Spain is in fact the country at the antipodes of New Zealand). Also that it looks a bit like Italy’s ‘boot’ upside down, with the Auckland/Northland Peninsula being the toe and the East Coast (East Cape/Cape Runaway) being the heel.
But living in Australia, New Zealand was always present. What immediately aroused my interest was that unlike Australia, it had proper mountains and proper snow seasons due to the fact that its southern latitudes were the equivalent to those I grew up in the Northern hemisphere. At school my first ‘Special English’ teacher (the English you went to if you didn’t know it) was a Kiwi. And of course I got to fear New Zealand as I hoped for Australia to qualify for the World Cup, as the All Whites always seemed to go up a notch when they met the Socceroos.
So after 35 years I finally managed to go to New Zealand. The first thing that I noticed was how similar and how different New Zealand is. Similar in the sense that as I traversed Auckland from the airport to the ferry terminal the general architecture and layout was familiar to me, so was the general look of the population. But here is also where the differences started. The presence of the Maori is much more noticeable than the Aborigines in Australia. And the relationship between them and the Pakeha (the white New Zealanders) seem more even than the relationship between the indigenous populations of Australia and the European Australians. I am sure there have been many studies on Maori – Pakeha relationships, but perhaps because unlike the Australian Aborigines which came into the continent 60,000 years and their arrival memory was lost in the dreamtime and became part of the earth, the Maori knew that they had travelled to the islands in the distant past.
We travelled the North Island and we went as far as north as Russell, which is not far away from Waitangi where the Treaty of Waitangi between the Maori and the British was signed in 1840. The southwards to the Coromandel Peninsula where we duly visited Hot Water Beach, and tried to find a patch of hot sand to dig and create a hot water pool with hundreds of other tourists and then we went to Lake Taupo which is basically a crater with water in it which will one day have a huge eruption.
Here is where the realisation that New Zealand is a nation basically created by volcanic activity came home. We did a day trip to Tongariro National Park which is where the volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are located and where below tectonically, the Indo-Australian Plate meets the Pacific Plate. We went to Rotorua with its geysers and hot mud pools. Also we went to thermal baths with water heated naturally by the earth. I never realised that impeding doom could be so much fun.
Then we drove to Wellington where we took the ferry and went onto the South Island. After another longish stop to recharge our batteries at Anakiwa we travelled south towards the Glaciers, and it’s here where for me, what I wanted to see in New Zealand came true.
We climbed on the Fox Glacier. First time ever I’ve been on one. It was a strange feeling knowing that I was walking on snow (which was now ice) that fell up the mountain hundreds of years ago and that I was touching it in the middle of summer.
We also went to see the other major glacier in that area (but did not go on it) Franz Joseph.
We proceeded to go onto Lake Hawea (and avoided Queenstown as a place to stay) where we had a very long day driving to Queenstown at 6.30 in the morning to catch a bus that took us to Milford Sound for a ferry cruise and back (but worth it). And it was here that I saw the type of Alpine scenery that I came to see in New Zealand.
and also I fulfilled my wish that I had for the past 30 years to be at the corresponding latitude of where I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere.
So overall New Zealand met my expectations, and in fact exceeded them. For a country so close to Australia, to be so climatically and geologically different is still for me astounding.
It’s comforting to know that after all, the snow and the glaciers aren’t that far away.