Posted by: Richard Marshall | February 21, 2011

New Zealand

Auckland skyline

I realise that I’m actually two trips behind – and two very different ones at that – so an update to my travels is urgently required. Over Christmas I visited my parents’ new home in New Zealand. I was looking forward very much to a western city again after a year and a half in Asia and after a long and exhausting flight found myself in the amazingly green and pleasant city of Auckland. My parents live in an area called Kelston which though by no means the smartest suburb in the city is nevertheless tidy and clean and well-organised. I only had a night to recover from my journey, though, because the very next day we headed into the country to celebrate Christmas with friends. My folks friends live in a small town called Otorohanga. Otorohanga is a pleasant country town – its main attraction seems to be a Kiwi house were I got to see NZ’s national bird, even if only in captivity. Christmas itself was lovely – my folks friends have young children for whom the lustre of present-opening is very much undiminished, and Matt and Ian introduced me to a selection of New Zealand’s very fine beers…We stayed a couple of nights and then my parents and I headed to Rotorua.


Bathhouse in Rotorua


Rotorua is famous as an area with lots of geothermal activity. There are hot springs, geysers, and pools of boiling mud. The town and vicinity are beautiful even though the air smells strongly of sulphur. It has obviously been a popular tourist destination for a long time – one the principal buildings in the town is a huge faux – Tudor bathhouse built at the turn of the last century, which after failing to attract enough people looking to take the waters is now an interesting museum set in a charming park. The town is built on the edge of a large, sulphurous lake – some of the beaches are hot and steaming! The first day we were there we went to a park that has all sorts of thermal stuff – a geyser they chuck soap into to make it erupt, stinking, multi-coloured pools of mud and astonishing features created by all that hot smelly water. The weather was great though I was surprised by the ferocity of the NZ sun!


Steaming water


The next day we explored some of the town – we had dinner at the Pig and Whistle which will amuse my Grahamstown friends. There are some other beautiful buildings, such as the Maori church by the lake. Matt and Ian had also bought me tickets to go on the luge, which involves hurtling down a concrete track in a sort-of plastic cart. It’s really a lot of fun, though, and the cable car up to the top of the hill gave wonderful views of the town. We drove back to Auckland by way of the Coromandel peninsular which though beautiful was the only day in my two weeks which was rained out.


Maori church

The Pig and Whistle


I spent most of my remaining time in and around Auckland. My friends Dan and Tess were in NZ as well, and it was wonderful catching up with them. We spent New Year at Dan’s mom’s place just north of the city, which was a great party and I had the peculiar satisfaction of welcoming in the New Year 18 hours before some of my American friends! I must have been nursing my hangover before they had started drinking! Dan and Tess also spent an afternoon in the city with me – we went up sky tower and stood on the glass floors two hundred meters above the city, which is a very unnerving sensation. None of us had the guts to try jumping off the damn thing attached to cables, especially after a slightly beery lunch! My folks took me to the museum, which is housed in an imposing building and has some interesting Maori and Polynesian displays. We also went to some of Auckland’s gorgeous parks – green space is something I desperately miss in HCMC and Auckland has it in abundance.

Auckland Museum

Auckland Museum


Glass floor at Skytower


We took a couple of trips just outside of the city. There are a range of hills west of the city called the Waitakeres which have beautiful views and black sand beaches. We also took a trip to an island called Tiritiri Matangi to see some of New Zealand’s native birds. Many of these birds are extinct on the mainland but survive on a few islands free from possums, cats, rats etc. We were very lucky and saw some very scarce species. It was also a perfect day and the island itself is beautiful.

I really liked Auckland. My parents seem to settling in as well as can be expected – my mom has now started teaching. It’s a city I look forward to visiting again, and maybe even living in one day. But for now I’m back in Vietnam, in a nice new apartment with Ted, going to an upmarket gym and generally looking forward to 2011…


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