Wednesday, December 21, 2016

New Zealand: Reflection, Inspection, and Beauty

Reflection: Food Shopping

Grocery shopping in each city is interesting because it gives us a flavor for what the city has to offer and helps us understand the relative value of daily commodities / goods that locals often purchase.

Doing the groceries has really helped us save plenty of money along the way. Not only has it been a great cultural immersion but penny saver as well. We can choose the foods and combinations of meals at our discretion and spend more reasonably. Shopping has also forced us to plan ahead be it for a few days only, rather than the typical one or two weeks like back at home.

Inspection: Idiot-proof Country

New Zealand is good at reminding and assuring the safety of the people. And most tasks are idiot-proof. Here are a few examples:

- Upon arrival from Chile there were literally dozens of signs posted reminding passengers to discard or declare certain items that have been carried into NZ from overseas as we approached customs.

- We rented a car from Auckland and as we drove through the countryside there were plenty of warnings or caution signs for curves, speed, weather, direction, and other related safety precautions.

- The hotels and hostels we've stayed have plenty of signage to assist patrons and guests navigate their properties. Instructions for usage of various appliances, protocol for particular tasks, and directions for typical procedures are found from every viewpoint.

There is no way any sensible person could make a bumbling error in anything they need to do. All it takes is a few seconds or minutes and the ability to read to make it through life in New Zealand safely and effectively. Anyone who screws something up bad enough is either impatient or lacks the ability to read and comprehend.

New Zealanders are also adamant about checking identification. If your credit card is not signed, they ask for ID. If the signature on the ID doesn't match the credit card they make you sign in front of them. In America this is not taken as seriously, so we find it annoying to follow this protocol. But it's the right thing to do. It protects our identities and our finances. Is it as efficient? No. With the advent of the chipped credit cards, stealing the number makes it difficult to use without physically holding the card. If your photo ID signature doesn't match what you sign on the paper, match the face in front of you to the face on the ID. After all, people have multiple signatures, right?

Auckland & Waiheke Island

Although we didn't spend too much time in Auckland, we noticed a couple of things right away. The downtown area is small. You can walk most of it very quickly. The waterfront area is where most of the big businesses are. In fact, we spotted PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Citibank within a boomerang's throw of one another. And, there are a lot of Asian people here. I'm not just talking about the Polynesians that are almost native to this land but also the various Southeast Asian cultures (ie. Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Thai, etc.). Auckland is a melting pot of cultures much like New York City, except less segregated. There's no "Chinatown" or "Koreatown" as far as we could tell. Each cultural establishment could be found one next to the other.

Waiheke Island is beautiful! We took a day trip here and it was well worth the ferry and bus combination. There are beaches, vineyards, and fine dining all within walking distance of each other. And it's world-class. The beaches are calm with the water of the bay lapping at its shores softly. The vineyards are renowned for their variety of wines ('06, '08, '12 were good years). And the restaurants around the island each have their specialties. Safe to say, we sampled a little bit of every aspect of the island over the course of one day.

View from The Mudbrick Vineyard on Waiheke Island

Rotorua: Hot Spring Heaven

FREE! Find the free things. Don't pay for anything you can find in nature. We found some of the coolest natural things to do. Of course, you could join tours or pay for spas, but why? In the 2 days we spent here, 3 of the 4 activities we did cost us nothing. However, we did have a private car that allowed us the convenience of moving about the surrounding area. 

Hot springs are the name of the game in this area in general. The first we visited was called Kerosene Creek. This small stream pools at a certain point with steaming hot water. It's only gets to about knee deep at the most, so it's easy to sit and relax and soak up the warmth. 

And on the second day, we visited a little known place (except to the locals) called Waterfall Spout Bath. We literally had to travel down the road less taken because it's actually closed to the public. After parking our car at the head of the street behind a gate, we walked about 10 minutes until we heard a faint waterfall sound. Once that occurred, we made for the bush on the right and trekked through the shrubs and trees until we came upon a pool with a single waterfall. Private, quiet, and secluded this pool gets very few visitors. Although a local mentioned that the few a day was much more than it used to be. 

Last on the free list was one of the many lakes. Blue Lake or as locals call it Lake Tikitapu was a great free time. The lake was cold, but seems like it was very refreshing for all the locals. The lake is surrounded by some hills and mountains which make for beautiful color and scenery. 

The one thing I highly recommend doing (and paying for) while in Rotorua is visiting The Living Maori Village. The experience is something unique. This is the actual living community of the now descendants of original Maori peoples. We learned so much here. The land is a geothermal field that provides plenty of functionality for the tribe. The natural habit of these people is something we've only heard about in stories or even thought to be fiction. The community is so closely knit. Literally everyone is family here. The educational value of this activity is high. And it's hard for me to describe anything because the history is so rich. It's better lived than explained. 

As I write this post, I am sitting in our hostel in a town called Te Anau. We are now on the South Island of New Zealand, and we will spend the next 6-7 days here circumnavigating the island. We will spend Christmas here, particularly in Greymouth, and that's when I will likely be able to post again. So until the next blog post...

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