I've already written about my visit to Melbourne,where I spoke at the annual conference of the Romance Writers of Australia. The day after that conference ended, it was off to New Zealand for the conference of the Romance Writers of New Zealand.
This is my third visit Down Under, and I firmly believe that one shouldn't fly that far without seeing both countries. As former British colonies that are a long way from the rest of the world, Australia and New Zealand have much in common. But they are also very different, and beautiful in very different ways. Australia is vast and ancient and has a lot of desert, while New Zealand is green and lush and–Middle Earth-ish.
Before traveling Down Under for our third visit, we watched the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy again, partly because it's a great story with great characters, but also to feast our eyes on the stunning scenery, from the green fields of Hobbiton to the rolling grasslands of Rohan and the dramatic snowy peaks that must be conquered on the route to Mordor. Splendid!
Real New Zealand is as gorgeous as movie New Zealand. We only had a few days before the RWNZ conference started, so we hired a driver/guide to take us north to the Bay of Islands. The whole country is beautiful, but it was also winter, so I figured we might as well visit the warmest part of the country since we hadn't seen it before. Luckily, we're not talking winter in Buffalo, more like winter in North Carolina, so it never got really cold.
New Zealand has two main islands, the North and the South. The north is more agricultural, with farms and sheep and cows everywhere, while the South Island has dramatic mountains and fjords. Being an island nation, the country also has masses of gorgeous coastline.
I was raised on a farm, and the Mayhem Consultant said that whenever we drive over Maryland's Bay Bridge to the agricultural Eastern Shore, I give a happy little sigh of relaxation. When I paid attention, I realized he was right.
The North Island of New Zealand has the same effect on me. Beautiful farms, flocks of happy sheep and cows living green, free-range lives.
But New Zealand has much to offer beyond farms. Eastern Polynesians settled the islands only about seven hundred years ago, making it the newest of nations. The settlers evolved into the Maori, with a strong warrior culture. A lot of the early European settlements were in the Bay of Islands area.
The attractive resort town of Russell, where we stayed for two nights, was an early trading town originally named Kororareka, meaning "how sweet is the penguin." However, it came to be called the Hell Hole of the Pacific because of drunken whalers and traders, prostitution, and general lawlessness. (The picture on the right was shot from the patio of our B&B. I think that New Zealand has the best B&Bs in the world. Really.)
The Treaty of Waitangi was signed nearby in 1840. It established the rights of the Maori and brought New Zealand into the British empire. Provisions of the treaty are still being argued over. Today Maori are about 15% of the Kiwi population, The percentage of Maori place names is surely higher!
New Zealand has a quirky charm all its own. For example, I've never seen local public toilets so interesting that they have their own tourist signs. <G> Located in the town of Kawakawa, they were designed by a well known Austrian artist named Frederick Hundertwasser. He visited New Zealand originally for an exhibition of his work, and he loved the country so much he eventually moved to this area.
When the local council decided that it was time to upgrade the public toilets, Hundertwasser volunteered his services. The result attracts admirers from literally around the world–as well as people using the facility as intended. <G>
We spent four days touring the Far North area of the country, eating well, admiring sights, and visiting places like the amazing Kauri Museum, a sprawling complex which illuminates the pioneer history of New Zealand, including early industrial equipment and a replica boarding house for workers. It also has an outstanding gift shop. <G>
The kauri tree is a native evergreen that grows large and very old, and produces gorgeous wood. Here's a picture of the oldest kauri tree in New Zealand, called Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest. It's been 1250 and 2500 years old, and was huge before the first Polynesian explorers landed on these shores. New Zealand has developed a unique ecosystem where birds fill a lot of the niches, and forest are ferny and rather otherworldly.
I don't know anyone who has visited New Zealand that hasn't loved the country, and that includes us. I jumped at the opportunity to speak at the national RWNZ conference, not just for the sightseeing but for the lovely people.