Monday, November 17, 2008

Tales of New Zealand I: New Zealand Dreaming....

Nelson, New Zealand
Monday, November 17th

Greetings from the South Island of Nelson....I'm seated snuggly between Mom and Steve at an internet cafe in the small town of Nelson (imagine a spring-like "Witches of Eastwick" nestled in a valley along the Pacific Coast) as a cool wind whips up a light rain outside.

It's been two weeks since Mama Chihuahua, Baby Love, and I have arrived in the Land of Sheep, Rugby, and Maori Culture. We've not a single regret since arriving that we chose to come here.

After an intense year at home, we've felt the relief of traveling to an English-speaking, first world country that doesn't require a phrase-book or an intolerable number of vaccines. It's been a welcome change from the type of travel that Mom and I usually take on.

From our first touch-down at the Auckland Airport where we were offered FREE! cups of hot tea and coffee (and weren't expected to buy a carpet as well) while we waited for our bags (which actually made it! Air N.Z. is my new favorite airline!) to every encounter we've had with Kiwis and other travelers we've been amazed at the authentic kindness and helpfulness of the New Zealanders. Even the taxi drivers (who appear to be higher educated than the average American) and bus drivers are kind (one pulled his bus over after we had descended a curvy mountain pass and watched over a sick passenger, offering his own personal water bottle after she threw up on the side of the road).

The roadsides are free of litter and perfectly kept-up. The trails are so well maintained you could probably take roller luggage instead of backpacks and have an easier time of it. And the merchants are so generally helpful they'll let you make local calls from their phone or give you directions anywhere you need (without sending you to their brother's carpet shop instead). Even the town of Nelson has dedicated "Night Ambassadors" who walk around downtown on weekend nights seeking out and helping drunk people make their way home safely.

It's just so dang...well, CIVILIZED. I think that several years of ago I might have been bored by the comfort here but this year it's the perfect balm for my rather fatigued traveler's soul.

Kiwi Highlights:

Highlights for me in the last two weeks have been a visit to one of my new favorite museums...the Auckland National Museum with a live Maori Dance Performance and four floors of incredible exhibits....featuring a replica of a 19th-century New Zealand town, a simulated pyroclastic flow (extreme volcanic eruption), and a 15-foot Moa bird.

Eating hot Turkish chicken kebabs and home-made honeycomb and chocolate gelato in downtown Auckland. Walking through the Auckland gardens with Mom after a hard rain and a full rainbow appeared behind us....

Eating smoked cheddar cheese, locally-made rhubarb/raspberry jam, and multi-grain bread with glasses of New Zealand-made Sauv Blanc as we watched the sun set from the linai at our friends Kevin and Jenn's in Nelson. Watching Mom and Steve race each other to finish off a bowl of steamed, fresh green-lipped mussels dipped in garlic butter sauce. Spotting an Orca Whale torpedoing out of the water off the coast of our Abel Tasman trek.

Taking a yelp-inducing cold shower during the third night of our trek beneath a eucalyptus tree with a handful of cheap dish soap that I was the most invigorating shower I can remember since I had a hot bucket bath during the winter in Nepal! Walking barefoot across wet, sandy estuaries during low-tide on our trek and walking through the rainforest listening to the melodic call of the Tui bird (imagine a canary leading a symphony). Eating Edam cheese and sesame crackers on a white sand beach and watching blue-black, orange-beaked oyster catchers lead their week-old peeping chicks out to sea. Meeting other mothers and daughters along the way...a duo backpacking together, a mother and daughter who have a jade-carving business together and sell at the Nelson Market, and a mother and daughter who have a bead-making jewelry business together. (I've seen more mothers and daughters working together here than any other place we've traveled.) Running into two fiesty older women who were collecting whitebait (think of minnow-like sardines) for their morning scrambled eggs...

In all, it's been an incredible trip so far. We head to the mountains tomorrow for two days of hiking and exploring before Steve heads back home and Mum and I continue to Queenstown for our next trek, the famed Routeburn.

Thinking of you all and wishing you the best along the way-

much love,
Rach, Mama Chihuahua, and The Beloved Badger