New Zealand is an exceptionally beautiful place. But it’s stolen so many SA friends and family that I visited it with mixed feelings. What did this country have that mine didn’t? But what I didn’t expect was to fall in love with the “land of the long white cloud”.
It’s expensive to get there from Cape Town, so 34 hours later, via Dubai and Sydney, we arrived in Auckland. We were fortunate to be staying with friends, but had no sooner landed than were whipped off up north to a holiday house (called a bach) in Cable Bay, one of many villages in the Doubtless Bay region of the Bay of Islands on the west coast of the North Island. It seems to have as many names as it does hills and villages.
On the way up, we stopped at the Waitangi treaty grounds. This is where the deal was signed in 1840 to cement the relationship between the British and the Maori people. The old treaty house is situated on a hill with sea on one side and tropical jungle on the other and is a part of a cultural centre to preserve the traditions of the Maori. The exquisitely carved wood treaty ship that brought the guests here is preserved in the grounds as well.
We took part in a show of traditional dance and singing led by Maoris, which I did happily if in a somewhat unco-ordinated fashion.
The pink-skinned Pommy in our group fared even worse, having to slap his over-tanned skin with a gusto I suspect he didn’t feel. The Maori people represent about 11 percent of the population, but most of the place names in the country are of Maori origin and the culture is studied in schools.
Many Maori place names start with “wh” which is pronounced “f”, confusing initially but fun once you get going and hilarious when you find yourself using the Maori pronunciation on non-Maori names.
The children are beautiful and the men chunky and handsome. Some of the women sport a moko, a chin tattoo making their faces look bearded and a tad scary.
Slightly further north from where we stayed there are large tracts of well-fenced land where white people are not welcome and they have signs warning people in rather strong language to stay out.
Apart from the many small villages on the mainland in this region, there are 144 islands in Doubtless Bay and the area is rural and picturesque, much like England but with better weather.
It seems everyone in New Zealand has at least one boat, and many have more. The guys in our party set off in their boat from our bach before sparrow’s every morning to fish, and didn’t disappoint. Every evening we had a starter of mussels, followed by braaied snapper or some other variety of fish we’d never heard of, with salads.
We sampled New Zealand and Australian wines on the long cool balcony overlooking the bay. One of our favourite red wines was called Whale Point, which of course turned instantly into Faale. The wines are rather good but different from those at home. We visited a seaside vineyard called Karikari and the wines were distinctly salty but not unpalatable.
Most houses in New Zealand are made of wood and the vegetation is tropical so the beaches seem uncluttered by homes, as everything blends in so well. Large trees make perfect places to hang a towel and excellent shade for lying under with a book, which we did – day after day. The children bodyboarded for ages and I even ventured in to the warm water to swim a number of times.
We fell in love with a quaint village called Mangonui with its beautifully manicured green lawns, broekie lace cottages and cafés with homemade cream cakes accompanied by the best coffee ever. We shopped until we dropped in original shops that were not filled with the usual tourist clobber.
We wanted to swim with dolphins in Paihia, a two-hour drive from our bach, and took a half-day tour out into the bay. Sadly they had babies in tow, making it unsafe to go into the water with them, but we were lucky to find them at all that day, and they cruised alongside our bow for ages. They seemed truly happy to see us, leaping up out of the water, chasing each other, filled with the joy of life. Sadly they were almost impossible to photograph as they’re so fast.
The boat ride itself was an adventure, as we sailed among huge mounds of rock rising out the sea every now and then, many with caves. We even rode very slowly right through one called, not surprisingly, “hole in the rock”. The sea here was incredibly blue and clear.
We returned to Auckland feeling like we’d had an old-fashioned holiday. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and is on the country’s smaller north island. It is sophisticated, clean and very first world. People are orderly and organised and rather proper. People mow their lawns with goggles, ear muffs and gloves.
We saw people eating in restaurants with snoozing pets at their feet and many more dogs walking sedately next to owners on the beaches. But not once did I hear a dog bark. It was quite bizarre.
All the South Africans I met were fiercely loyal to the country of their birth but had fallen in easily into New Zealand ways.
They work hard but play just as hard: socialising, beach walking, tramping, meeting in book clubs and playing sport. Seeing an SA flag fluttering outside an SA shop warmed my heart and I knew that, although this land was beautiful, it was time to go home. - Weekend Argus