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New Zealand's North Island - Where Nature Comes to Play By Shyam Amladi

                             

 

New Zealand’s North Island can best be described as Nature’s Wonderland. Not only does it play host to imaginative movie makers like Peter Jackson (King Kong, Lord of the Rings) and directors like Michael Apted (Narnia), it beckons expert surfers, hikers and outdoor-type athletes all over the world. And of course, mere tourists like me.

 

WHERE IS IT?

New Zealand is located at the juncture of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates which accounts for several of its natural wonders—as we will discover later in this piece.

 

It is made up of 2 large islands (North and South) and a tiny island (Hobart); NZ is about 900 miles SE of the sub-continent of Australia. This article describes the North Island.

 

HISTORY of NZ

New Zealand, with it turbulent, unquiet and rugged land mass, has a lively, violent ancestry. In fact some say it is both Nature’s playground and a geological jigsaw puzzle.

 

For starters, the land mass of NZ sits restlessly on top of a submerged continent called Zealandia or Tasmantis, which sank into the Pacific ocean some 60-85 million years ago, having separated from Australia 100 million years ago. The two present-day North and South islands were connected by a land bridge—which sank in one of the many volcanic eruptions. Over the past several million years, nature has taken an active hand in shaping NZ’s topography, resulting in a land suffused with active volcanoes, spectacular caves, deep glacier lakes, lush, green valleys, dazzling fjords, long sandy beaches, breath-taking waterfalls and the spectacular snowcapped peaks of the Southern Alps.

 

PEOPLE

NZ most probably was the last land mass to be settled upon by humans, a migration journey that began in Africa around 65,000 years ago. Carbon-dating suggests first humans settled in NZ were in 1200 BC, called the Lapita race which spread into Western Polynesia. The Maoris followed around 1200 AD. An explorer named Abel Tasman (for whom the pristine string o beaches is named in the North Island) came ashore in 1642 AD. Today, the 4.5 million resident population is made up of 71% European, Maori 14%, Asian 11%.

 

NORTH ISLAND

About 44,000 sq miles in size, the North Island is truly nature’s playground. It is shaped by millions of years of natural disruptions and features magnificent beaches, lush farmlands, hot, geothermal wonders, jaw-dropping rock formations and pristine waterfalls. It is rich with the Maori culture and heritage.

 

PLACES TO VISIT and SEE (Not an exhaustive list, but some key places not to be missed)

Hamilton

AUCKLAND:

Auckland is a unique urban town. It looks out to Tasman Sea. Weather is temperate (January-February the hottest, averaging 71 f, July-August the coldest, averaging 55 f).

Auckland’s uniqueness, we think comes from its proximity to spectacular beaches, even more and certainly more pristine than around Sydney. We like Mission Bay, St. Heliers and Muriwai Beach. Also, it is city surrounded by more than 40 volcanoes.  Some of the beaches, like the Muriwai, are ringed by spectacular cliffs and native bird habitats.

Murawai

Other sites to see and visit in Auckland are:

  • Botanical Garden, home to 10,000 plants from around the world (do visit the Camellia and the Gondwana gardens)
  • St Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Rangitoto (Volcanic) Island (by ferry)- one of the newest islands to emerge from the ocean (just 600 years ago), this island is good for hiking and for panoramic views of the Gulf and the city. A great way to get there is by kayak—you will see and go through some breath-taking coves and bends.
  • Waiheke Island (by ferry)—not only is this a heavenly sight, but also grow wine!
  • Auckland Museum, where, among other things, you will see up close wood carving and 1,000 Maori treasures.
  • For the adventurous, go abseiling (rapeling) down waterfalls around Auckland. 

 

HAMILTON-WAIKATO REGION:

Situated in the North-Central part of the North island, this region has a lot to offer for a tourist as well as for a Briskwalker. Among the sites to see:

  • Hamilton Gardens, a sprawling 133 acre park that has been developed by the City Council and boasts themed gardens, including a Maori style garden.
  • Waterfalls and hiking trails—North Island’s highest waterall, Wairere; Putarururu (known for its pure water) Walkway, Kauri Loop Track and Omaru Falls.
  • Waikato museum, preserving both the ancient and the old.

 

ROTARUA:

The town sits beside Rotarua Lake. It is known for its geothermal activity. You can relax in the mineral pools and watch the 100 feet Pohutu Geyser erupt periodically. In addition there is a lot of history and culture; at the nearby Te Puia Pa (Fortified Village) you can see how the Maori lived hundreds of years ago.

 

RUSSELL:

A historic, quaint town in the Bay of Islands on the northern tip of North Island. Good for fishing, kayaking, hiking (spectacular views hiking in the remote Urupukapuka Island) and

Dolphin watching up close.

 

In the Bay of Islands, you can also speed boat, visit Haruru Falls and visit the active volcano on White Island.

 

WAITOMO:

Known for its  world famous and probably the most photographed caves – home to countless glowworms who light up the way deep in the Ruakuri caves (you have to go by paddle boat and a low beam flashlight may be advisable since the walks are a bit uneven) where you can see short but gushing waterfalls and eerie  limestone formations—yes! awesome photo-op. Also if you are adventurous, do not miss an opportunity to do black-water rafting in and through the Waitomo caves. And do visit Bridal Veil waterfall in nearby Raglan.

View from the boat---Glowworms in Waitomo caves

WELLINGTON:

A charming little town, Wellington exudes friendliness and hospitality NZ is famous for. Welliington sits at the mouth of Cook Strait. Things not to miss include:

  • Te Papa Museum. From watching the experts craft an eel trap to the life-size dio-rama about the tragic fate of soldiers at Gallipolli (1st World War), there is a lot to see and do in this interactive museum
  • Harbor walk. Pleasant walk along the water.
  • Cable car. Because of its elevations, Wellington boasts a large number of working cable cars—most of them private. However you can take the funicular up to the hilly suburb of Kelburn  where you are treated to a panoramic of the ocean and the city; and then take leisurely stroll through the beautiful botanical gardens of Wellington, down to Thorndon, where you can visit the Parliament house and the town square.
  • Zealandia wildlife sanctuary—lot of native birds, reptiles and flora and fauna .

 

HIKING, BRISKWALKING- these are only a few of the hundreds of hike trails NZ offers, for more information go to : https://www.off-the-path.com/en/hiking-new-zealand/ or https://www.grownups.co.nz/travel/explore-new-zealand/top-north-island-hikes/

 

  • Ngauruhoe (Tongariro National Park): composed of andesite (brown, fine grained volcanic rock that resembles basalt) it is considered New Zealand's most active volcano, having erupted 45 times in the 20th century, with its last eruption coming in 1977. At an elevation of 7,500 feet, this is a difficult hike.
  • Lake Waikaremoana, near Rotarua. This 580 sq feet lake offers beautiful views, and a moderate hike.
  • Tauhara in Taupo.
  • Hahei and Cathedral Cove—stunning beach and cove walk.

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