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ALL NZ
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HOME AT FIRST's

New Zealand

          Miles of wild open spaces. High desert plateaus extending from the horizons. Virgin forests of giant prehistoric trees. Grassy plains. Jagged granite rising almost 2.5 miles above the ocean. Glaciers descending into the jungle. Parrots and penguins in the same rain forest. A wild ocean crashing into footprint-free beaches. Boom towns. Ghost towns. No towns. Clapboard false fronts. Dusty main streets at high noon. Cowboys and sheepmen trading stories at the general store and the post office. Country fairs where lumberjacks saw and chop, shearers slice wool, and horsewomen debate Western vs. English, while all covet the prize-winning pies. Wyoming? Montana? Alaska? Mexico? Argentina? Australia? Nope, pardner, it's New Zealand: last frontier of the West and first frontier of the East, so far down under we Yanks stage there before departing for Antarctica. Do you think the pioneer spirit of the Wild West has gone the way of the moa? Nope — it's alive and well exactly where the moa used to live.

In Part One we gallop through the North Island, stopping to gawk at prehistoric trees, Maori fishing villages, clapboard towns, artist colonies, geothermal playgrounds, until we reached the San Francisco of the South Pacific, Wellington, and the end of the island.

In Part Two we fly to the South Island and explore the water wonders and wine lands of Nelson and Marlborough country, then head for bloomin’ Christchurch with a short stop to spot the whales off the Kaikoura Coast. We take a great rail journey from coast to coast, crossing the Southern Alps and arriving in wild Westland, where we see glaciers, go fishing, and visit frontier towns along the Tasman Sea. Finally, we cross New Zealand’s highest road pass, driving from the coast through the rain forest to the alpine heights and down into the arid rain shadow of Wanaka in Central Otago on the eastern slope.

In Part Three we explore some of New Zealand’s most famous, most majestic, most remote, and most touristed country, home of the bungy, the kea, the jet boat, and the great treks. We go back a century in Arrowtown, go extreme in Queenstown, and can't believe our eyes in Fiordland.

Finally, Part Four takes us in either of two directions back to civilization at Christchurch. One direction leads to Scotland on the Pacific Coast. The other crosses the great New Zealand Outback by way of the highest point in Australasia. Along the way we see penguins and albatross, lots of rabbits and a few sheep. Come with us as our Wild Frontier itinerary leads back to Christchurch by way of Dunedin and Mackenzie Country.

 

PART ONE—
The North Island

THE LONG WAY TO KERIKERI
        It’s easy to double the miles, triple the time, and quadruple the fun of driving north to the resort villages of the sub-tropical Bay of Islands from New Zealand's largest city, Auckland.
        Not far north of Auckland, leave Highway 1 by taking the exit for Route 16 marked for Helensville. This road is a rural 2-laner with very little traffic. It passes through a couple of clapboard towns right out of pioneer days.

Then it climbs through pine-wooded hills that offer occasional sweeping views of the broad Kaipara Harbour on the west coast, a protected

Helensville Public Library. Photo © Home At First.
Helensville Public Library

inlet of the Tasman Sea. Eventually, the road

 

 

turns northeast, climbing to cross the watershed east

Prehistoric giant Kauri tree -- proof of a lost world. Photo © Home At First.
Prehistoric giant Kauri tree —
 proof of a lost world

to the Pacific side with glorious views and treacherous curves.

        A few miles further north on Highway 1, turn left (west) again for another, longer, New Zealand detour, this time on Route 12. This route will again take you to the Tasman Sea coast, but it will turn inland through deep mountain jungle, home of the great Kauri trees—the giant sequoias of New Zealand.
  
     More than an hour along this scenic, lonely drive you climb from the coast deep into mountain parkland. Here you can stop to walk into the jungle where you can see the huge Kauri tree standing in a clearing like a huge prehistoric broccoli stalk. You will look over your shoulder for dinosaurs.
        Plunging down the mountains to leave the park, you are surprised by the sudden dramatic beauty of Hokianga Harbour, an arm of the Tasman Sea which cuts 20 miles inland and is unbridged except for a small car ferry at Rawene. Over the years the harbor has attracted shipwrecks and dolphins to its sandbars, but little settlement, and its landscape remains pristine.
        Stay on Route 12, which diverges from the

 

empty beaches of the harbor to climb to the pioneer

Northland town of Kaikohe and its final junction with

 

National Highway 1. Kerikeri, our home in the Northland, is only 12 miles away. Now, some 240 miles and 6.5 hours after leaving Auckland, you arrive at the beautiful Bay of Islands.
          Kerikeri is a historic early New Zealand community, and site of the oldest standing European architecture in the country. On a northwestern lobe of the Bay of Islands on the Pacific, Kerikeri is best known today for its citrus fruit production, especially the signature crop of New Zealand, kiwifruit. There are also a number of artisans and craftsmen who live and work in Kerikeri, making souvenir hunting a prime activity here along with sightseeing and reliving history, including a visit to the Maori fishing settlement, Rewa’s Village. Kerikeri is something of a cross between a British seaside resort and a frontier town from the American West. Still, it is lively, and, despite not being right on the water, Kerikeri is the commercial center of the region. Here are many shops, restaurants, and cafés. Activities in Kerikeri include golf, boating, fishing, diving, sightseeing by

Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri. Photo © Home At First.
Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri

air, and hiking to the Rainbow Falls scenic reserve.

 


COROMANDEL: SHANGRI-LA ON THE PACIFIC COAST
          The gulf between the pace and sophistication of Auckland and the barefoot lifestyle of the Coromandel Peninsula is much wider than the 40 miles of the Hauraki Gulf that actually separate these two narrow strips of New Zealand. For many residents of Auckland the Coromandel has become a weekend retreat from the pressures of the modern world of work. For drop-outs from around the world the Coromandel is Shangri-la. Coromandel is an alternative to the Bay of Islands of the far north:

 

a slower, sun-washed piece of New Zealand

The scenery gets intense along the winding Firth of Thames coast road to Coromandel town. Photo © Home At First.
The scenery gets intense along
the winding Firth of Thames
road to Coromandel town.

made up of artist colonies, empty beaches, jungle tracks, and mountain hideaways.
          Driving to the Coromandel takes about 3 hours from Auckland, but is not tiresome. The scenery is pretty tame until you reach the start of the peninsula at the town of Thames. From here you have a choice of two challenging and beautiful coastal drives, sometimes right at the water’s edge, sometimes climbing across steep headlands, sometimes barely one lane wide.

          By the time you reach Coromandel town you will have seen great sweeping ocean vistas, lonely subsistence farms, and tiny seaside resort towns reminiscent of southwestern Britain. In 

 

the 1800’s the Coromandel was a stopping-off 

place for sailing vessels to refit their masts with

 

tall, straight, strong kauri trees, then later a goal for gold prospectors, gum-diggers and gem seekers.

        Its mineral and tree wealth pretty well played out by the turn of the 19th century, the peninsula returned to being an out-of-the-way corner of an out-of-the-way island nation in an out-of-the-way corner of the world. Since then, Coromandel’s apparent remoteness and gentle, temperate climate have made it a destination for people from around the world who are looking to get away from it all. It became especially

Sleepy boatyard, Coromandel town. Photo © Home At First.
Sleepy boatyard, Coromandel town

popular with the New Zealand counter-culture

 

 

during the sixties, seventies and eighties, a place

High noon outside the Top Pub, Coromandel Hotel. Photo © Home At First.
High noon, Top Pub, Coromandel Hotel

with few gas stations and groceries but with clusters of art galleries, craft shops, and experimental communities.

        The peninsula looks as sleepy as ever. Its few roads and difficult geography inhibit any really significant invasion, and, if old-timers are unhappy to see more visitors on the Coromandel, they hide their distemper well behind a convincing friendly welcome and a sincere eagerness to sell art and crafts to the newcomers.
       The great attraction of the Coromandel remains its natural beauty, which can be experienced by driving (or cycling) the peninsula’s few roads, hiking any of its many fine

 

walking tracks, or swimming, boating, snorkeling

or just strolling along its coast.

 

         The many hidden coves, inlets and beaches invite this exploration. Perhaps the most interesting, if not the most remote or beautiful, is Hot Water Beach on the east shore of the peninsula about one-half hour southeast of Whitianga town. Here you can run in the cold Pacific surf and then warm up (if the tide is out) by digging a hole in the beach to let in natural hot springs to create your own natural hot tub. Golfers will find gem of a golf course north of Whitianga 30 minutes on another isolated cove on the east coast of Coromandel: a combination seaside and woodland course designed by New Zealand’s great golfer, Sir Bob Charles.

Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula's Pacific coast. Photo © Home At First.
Hot Water Beach,
Coromandel's Pacific Coast

 


 

SOUTHBOUND

Pohutu Geyser at Whakarewarewa Thermal Park -- the Maoris laugh last. Photo © Home At First.
Pohutu Geyser at
Whakarewarewa  Thermal Park:
The Maoris laugh last.

          From the Coromandel south, the North Island broadens. The drive inland is uphill, but so steadily that the elevation gain is not readily noticed—only the change in vegetation is telltale. By the time you reach Rotorua the forests have become primarily conifers. The air here smells of brimstone.
          The land, despite being high, is thin, and the crust is broken into more geothermal fissures than anywhere this side of Yellowstone Park. This was the land the European settlers gave to the native Maoris of New Zealand, the ones that were cooperative. And here the Maoris are having the last laugh, almost like the Native Americans who awoke to learn their barren Oklahoma reservation land was swimming in oil. Visitors flock to this central part of the North Island.
          The bad smelling air draws them to the oddities of geysers, fumaroles, and Technicolor lakes. And the landowners, the Maoris, themselves have become an attraction, like the Indians of our Southwest. And the fishing is world class in the many lakes of the region, including the great lake of New Zealand, Taupo, the flooded, impenetrably deep crater of the collapsed
North Island.

 

          It’s 250 miles from Taupo to Wellington:

about 5 hours on mostly empty two-lane roads. After Lake Taupo, Highway 1 leaves the central plateau by climbing the eastern shoulders of three distinct, but not extinct, volcanoes, each taller than the last: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu, tallest mountains on the North Island. Here are

hiking trails, the best skiing on the North Island, and a wide variety of native plant life in the Tongariro National Park, designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
        Further south, Highway 1 crosses a high desert plain. Here only sheep and the occasion military vehicle are seen—on National Highway 1 you might not see another car for ten minutes even during the peak travel time of the summer. After this arid wasteland, the road plunges toward the Tasman Sea through canyons, wild rivers, clapboard towns, then ranch country, then farms as the land changes from sandy brown to green. You reach the

Hiking in Tongariro National Park. Photo courtesy NZ Tourism.
Hiking in Tongariro National Park

lush coastal region at Marton. From Marton

 

 

it’s another hour on Highway 1 to the Tasman

Wellington's nearly circular harbor is protected from the open sea by the a range of coastal hills. Photo © Home At First.

coast, and a final hour on the coast road to reach Wellington.

          The trek is not unlike the crossing of the Sierras from the high deserts of the American Southwest. And the endpoint, cool, lush, hilly, often foggy Wellington is remarkably familiar, like a left-handed San Francisco at land's end.

Wellington's nearly circular harbor
is protected from the open sea by a
range of coastal hills terraced with
wood-framed homes making the city
something of an antipodal San Francisco.

 

— End of Part One —

 Exploration and discovery are what happens
during a visit to Home At First's New Zealand. Looking for new frontiers?
Lost worlds? New possibilities? Surprises? Geologic wonders?
Learn more about travel with
Home At First to NEW ZEALAND.
Visit more Wild Frontiers at: PART 2    PART 3    PART 4. 

ASK TO SPEAK WITH A HOME AT FIRST "NEW ZEALAND SPECIALIST"
TRAVEL CONSULTANT CERTIFIED BY THE NEW ZEALAND TOURISM BOARD.

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