Day 1 - ‘The smelly place’
Today it was 26 degrees and very warm. I began the day with a bit of a sore throat. We set off and did a few stops in Auckland. We went to the spectacular Auckland War Memorial Museum majestically overlooking the large industrial city. Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and is home to two-thirds of New Zealand's population; quite amazing really. We met some feisty orange-beaked seagulls there too…
It was very a long journey southwards through the Waikato region to Rotorua (an important Cultural Centre and popular destination for tourists because of the famous sulphurous smell). We saw some quirky buildings on our way including one in the shape of a sheep! We took a walk by Lake Tikitapu and through the magnificent Redwood and Douglas fir trees of the Whakarewarewa forest. It was really beautiful and we learned a bit about the local trees and plants. We saw the quintessential emblem of New Zealand that is the Silver Tree Fern; so-called because of the silver underside of the fern leaves. This emblem appears on the chest of the All Blacks rugby jersey. We also saw the Mamaku or Black Tree Fern, the most spectacular of the ferns found in the Redwoods. It grows up to 20 metres tall and the fronds arch out from thick black stalks. This is the largest of the tree ferns and was very important to Maori in times gone by being used as a food, as a medicine and lining for food stores.
On the way to Rotorua, Gabi told us a bit about New Zealand’s industry, raising a number of issues including the preservation of New Zealand’s indigenous species of plants and animals. New Zealand is, as well as being famous for its lamb and Merino wool, a huge dairy producer and maker of dried milk which it exports to China. We passed some of the better known dairy companies with their vast processing plants. Where there’s milk, you need cows, and we soon saw fields and land areas full of cattle (of many breeds).
Gabi also pointed out areas in the landscape where ‘forestry’ was happening. These were areas where non-indigenous pine (Pinus radiate) trees are planted and left to grow for 30 years before being chopped down and exported as logs; no crafting or furniture-making; just logs... Lorries pulling multiple trailers loaded high with pine logs were a frequent sight on the road.
Other non-native trees, such as the ‘wilding conifer’ are a nuisance because their needles form an acidic carpet that prevents native plant species from growing; and subsequently birds and insects suffer because their natural habitat is lost. They’re not very popular… New Zealand places great emphasis on preserving its native species of plants and animals. Unfortunately non-native species are not tolerated. Possums were introduced (from Australia) for their fur in 1837. Since then, their numbers have increased exponentially and they have almost wiped out some of the indigenous species of birds (like Kiwis) and other animals in New Zealand. They also carry and help to spread TB. These days, they are culled mostly by trapping and poisoning. It’s very sad because it’s not their fault; and it’s the not the fault of the animals that are being wiped out by them either. As someone who will always fight for nature and against animal cruelty, this is hard for me to swallow; but what do you do? This is why ‘Man’ mustn’t keep interfering in nature…
Back in Rotorua life must be really strange living with volanic hot air vents, some of which were in people's back gardens; funny white steam rising out of the ground sometimes through pavements and at the side of garden fences. It was quite unnerving wondering what was beneath us. The lake in Rotorua is yellow round the edges the sulphur crystals and it's very warm with bubbling vents of boiling water in places. We were supposed to go for a Maori dinner, but unfortunately I wasn't very well and we spent the evening in a medical centre waiting room where I persuaded a doctor to prescribe me antibiotics for what was becoming a painful throat infection. My throat had got worse and knowing that I had the Tongariro crossing in a few days, I needed to make a rapid recovery. I was gutted to miss the Maori dinner; or the 'Hangi' as it's called. It would have involved eating meat cooked using heated rocks in a pit oven and a performance by the Maori people that would have included the haka. The performance ceremony served as a welcome to New Zealand and I was more sad to miss that.
We spent one night in the Sudima Hotel, Lake Rotorua. It was very comfortable; but I found constant smell of sulphur and the taste of it in the water quite challenging. I did look forward to moving on to the next place.