Bay of Islands
New Zealand has never been closer to Europe. It is still a long way, just over 24 hours elapsed time from Heathrow via Hong Kong, or 26 hours the other way around with a stopover at Los Angeles. Singapore is an alternative for a one stop flight, and by flying east it is possible to link up via a choice of North American west coast cities. However for many Sydney remains a major connecting point, the commercial capital of Australia and also a major centre for tourism.
ABTN recently visited New Zealand, this report an overview to be followed by separate reviews of both the north and south islands. When in Auckland find time to see the excellent Auckland Museum of Transport (MOTAT), where there is a memorial to Jean Batten who in 1937 set a remarkable world record of five days 18 hours 15 minutes for a solo flight between that city and Croydon Airport (London) in a Percival Gull single engine monoplane G-ADPR (pictured top). The actual aircraft has pride of place hung from the roof of Auckland International Airport.
New Zealand was first inhabited by South Pacific islanders about 1,000 years ago and was certainly visited by the Chinese in the middle of the 15th
century. The first European to reach New Zealand was the Dutch explorer Tasman in 1642 but it was Captain James Cook (pictured) who in three voyages mapped the two major islands and in modern parlance ”set the world talking.”
Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing and merchant ships. They traded European food and goods, especially metal tools and weapons, for Maori timber, artifacts and food plus land, one commodity that still rankles some to this day. One thing for sure the Maori tribes, whilst still far behind Europe in terms of development, were a sophisticated people, well in advance of the aborigines in Australia. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi (named after the cove on the Bay of Islands where it was signed) established British sovereignty and a guarantee of Maori rights.
Today New Zealand has a population of just over 4m, of which 3m live on the North Island. In total land area it is a little less than Italy or Japan and slightly more than the UK. It stretches over 1,000 miles north to south, from sub-tropical Pacific beaches to terrain more like Norway or the Alaskan coast with massive fjords capable of taking the largest of ocean liners. Some 78% of the population is European but this figure is falling with a large influx from south east Asia.
The pace of life is slower than northern hemisphere conurbations and they drive on the left with a 100 (65mph) speed limit, which is not over abused. Mind you the roads, whilst in the main well constructed, are normally single carriageway, the main thoroughfare north from Auckland strung out with passing places. In fact it works quiet well. With the small population, whilst there are large lorries around, for the most part the transport of foodstuffs and heavy goods is pretty limited.
Christchurch on the South Island
New Zealand is for sports fans and those who like the outdoor life. Where else can you in one morning (if you are exceptionally fit) go scuba diving, play some golf, and then either ski or mountain climb. And for the elderly, lawn bowls is the in sport. There are literally hundreds of clubs, in every town or village.
Access to New Zealand is normally via Auckland, a large metropolis with a 1.3m population, sitting at a point where the North Island is at its narrowest. On the Auckland port side is the Pacific Ocean, and to the west the airport and the Tasman Sea. In some respects New Zealand is three islands. Rather like Cornwall (which only has two bridges to the rest of England) there are only two bridges which connect the area north of Auckland to the south.
Eating out in New Zealand is fun, often of the highest quality, and cheap. There is fish of all types in abundance, and considering that the country did not have any live mammals until the Europeans arrived, a very large population of sheep, 30m of them. You can eat south sea island style, Asian, and in Kerikeri, far to the north, Middle East in the form of Israeli Lebanese. The many, many marinas and small ports are festooned with restaurants and cafes, and for this year”s St Patrick”s Day the country went green, that is Shamrock green. How many true Irishmen live in these parts? Not nearly as many who joined the parties.
New Zealand has an abundance of good, clean, cheap boarding houses and bed and breakfast accommodation. Recommendation is generally by word of mouth, but in this technological age the internet also provides a wonderful selection. Some of the major international hotel chains are represented at the main cities but for the most part the market is dominated by small properties, generally very reliable, the equivalent of UK two and three-star accommodation. One exception to the rule is the Copthorne/Millennium Group, easily the largest hotel operation in New Zealand
, who also offer the down market Kingsgate properties, half the price but supplying fine basic rooms with breakfast usually provided.
ABTN stayed at the Copthorne Hotel on the actual historic Waitangi site. There is a golf course on one side and a yacht club the other. In Auckland the Sky Tower Grand Hotel provided an excellent service right in the heart of the city, within walkable distance of virtually everything. The Sky Tower itself is the highest building in the southern hemisphere and includes 600ft controlled jump and a nearby bungy jumping operation. Avis was our car hire choice, a two minute walk from Sky Tower and in a one way street making getting going easier. They supplied terrific maps too, New Zealand road signs infrequent around Auckland!
”It”s just like attempting suicide and not succeeding,” said Jo Cotton, ex-KLM PR girl and resident down under. ”I will never do it again!” Has bungy jumping taken over from Rugby as the national sport? We don”t know. It might be marginally safer.
View from the Sky Tower