Our time in New Zealand was a touching, and sometimes rowdy, homecoming
for Will, and the best possible introduction for Dana to this stunning
country. We could not have been luckier, thanks to our amazing Kiwi friends.
New Zealand Roadtrip
After our jam-packed week in Auckland, we hired a car and hit New Zealand Highway 1 southwards, destination: The South Island.
This is a Highway?
We stuck to the main highway the entire time, which is what Americans would call a remote country road. We meandered through rolling green hills, rugged coastline, and craggy mountain passes. Our only other company was the bleating sheep in the hillsides and an occasional car coming around a blind one-lane mountain pass. We giggled to the sheep as we passed towns with names like "Papatoetoe" (pronounced Papa-toey-toey) and road signs that said things like "Slippery when Frosty."
The North Island
Will has always felt a little bit of shame that he never really saw the South Island in his youth, so we only made a couple of North Island stops as we rocketed towards the South Island:
Huka Falls — Sirens in the River
We stopped to gaze at the mesmerizing Huka Falls just outside of Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake. As we walked up the Waikato river from the falls, we heard a siren song and soon found ourselves bathing in a hotspring with a rowdy bunch of maori women laughing and singing at the tops of their lungs.
Turangi — Our First Backpackers'
We stayed in the first "backpackers'" hostel of our trip in Turangi. It felt like we were back in college again, staying in dorm-style rooms, with tons of young people walking around in flip flops and towels. On our first night, we overheard one such backpacker's conversation with her mother (while wearing her towel, squatting under the payphone with a line of people waiting): "Helloooo mummy.... it's me.... Well, I'm in New Zealand now... I jumped out of a plane today.... you know, with a parachute.... no, mummy... I did it for fun... I paid to do it....can you send me more money?"
The Marlborough Sounds — The South Island at Last
We left the car in Wellington and got on the three hour ferry to the South Island. The first sight of the South Island from the ferry was the stunning Marlborough Sounds. It is the only South Island location familiar to Will, because he spent a month there learning to live alone on bread and water in one of the most beautiful and diverse Outward Bound courses in the world. The memories of it sent Will to the snack bar with hunger pangs, while Dana took in the view.
Dana waited with the bags at the ferry station while Will went to pick up our post-ferry rental car. Dana burst out laughing at the site of Will coming around the corner in the car that was to take us up and down this rugged terrain: a silver Ford Echo, which we soon christened "The Toaster." Will stepped out of the Echo like a giant emerging from a lilliputian clown-car, with a wicked grin on his face. After kicking and stuffing our backpacks into the car, using our feet and rear-ends, we were off to discover the real New Zealand, putt-putting down the road. Dana was like an excited 16-year-old again, stripping the poor Toaster's gear box to bits as she relearned to drive on the left-hand side of the road, on the right-hand side of the car, with a left-handed gear stick. Thank god it was a rental.
Bleinham, NZ — Wine Country
New Zealand is of course famous for it's sheep, but over the last 20 years, Kiwis have gone crazy for grapes. Vineyards have popped up all over the land, and the word about Kiwi wine is spreading around the world. One of the more successful N.Z. wine regions is in Marlborough at the top of the South Island. Our first South Island stop was in Blenheim, right in the heart of Marlborough wine country. There we stayed with the remarkable Johns family, old friends of the Rousmaniere's. Five years ago, Andrew, Jan and their three teenage children left corporate life behind in Auckland to fulfill their dream of becoming farmers. They are now settled on their rolling 1,000 acre farm, over which roam grape vines, olive trees, sheep, cattle and cantankerous, and highly punctual, roosters. There is not a neighbor in sight until you hike to the emerald hilltop paddocks above the homestead to view the vineyards of Marlborough spread before you.