Sunday, December 25, 2011

Straddling Fault Lines in New Zealand

Monday evening, Dec. 12, we returned from two weeks in New Zealand. I'm still a bit jet-lagged and not sure if it's yesterday or tomorrow. I slept over 8 hours last night and have been over the last week and I NEVER sleep much more than 6. All I know is we left on a Sunday, Nov. 27 and arrived on Tuesday, skipping Monday, Nov. 28. If you traveled that way and missed your birthday would you never get older? Then on the way home we left Wellington (the capital) on Monday at noon and got back to NYC on Monday at 6 after 28 hours of travel.

You would really have a hard time going much further than New Zealand from here. Just look at a globe and realize just how far south it is - the tip of the south island points right at Antarctica. Brrrr. Even Australia seems closer. (We have been there twice so skipped it this time.)

I really didn't do much homework for this trip, expecting to rely on the tour guide(s). And they certainly came through. I have a much greater understanding of NZ, a country I knew little about. We went with Overseas Adventure Tours (OAT), a branch of Grand Circle. These are small tours - we had 14 people - all roughly our age. Two couples from Wisconsin (not happy about the attempt to recall that putz), and couples from Baltimore and LA and a few singles from California.

NZ is basically on one big fault line with earthquakes threatening every part of both islands.

Bob Wilkerson, the tour guide, a rigorous typically active Kiwi, is close to 70 - a true outdoorsman and a passionate defender of New Zealand's social welfare system. He was not happy at the recent victory by conservatives, who actually took office on the day we left. We had a tour of Parliment the day before - an earthquake proof building that rests on flexible concrete pillars - probably one of the safest buildings in the world - even though Wellington is on a major earthquake fault. As a matter of fact, pretty much all of NZ is on a fault.

I can write about this trip in so many ways: the scenery, the meeting with Maori guides who gave us so much insight. I was surprised at how political the tour was. Bob said OAT tours don't hold anything back and give the full range of the good, bad and ugly. Bob is a strict environmentalist and was so proud of the rigid laws protecting and preserving and restoring the environment. He showed us trees thousands of years old that if they were cut down could fetch a hundred grand each. But they are never touched. Imagine where they would be in this nation. You'd see FOX News railing about how cutting them down could contribute to the economy.

We covered areas of both the north and south islands but spent more time in the south where the southern tip points right at Antarctica. Bob was from Christ Church which suffered 2 devastating earthquakes last year with the 2nd one in Feb. basically dropping all of the downtown into one big hole - just about every single historical building lost. (There was another one just the other day.) SO we only got to the city's airport to take off for Wellington.

We stared in Auckland on the north island  - the largest city with 1.4 million of the 4 millions people in the entire nation, where I connected up with the Occupy Auckland crew and actually filmed an important General Assembly and since I was the only one filming they were excited to have that footage. And also to have someone from NYC stop by. (I connected one of their tech guys to Justin from OWS here in NY.) There are probably more sheep. They hate possums which were imported and wrecked the environment but did discover they could be used for more than road kill - the fur fibers retain warmth and they mix them with merino sheep. I now have a possum/wool scarf to wear.

The treatment of the indigenous population has improved tremendously over the past 30 years and Bob was very proud of that - though as my dermatologist said after I told him that - "yeah, after they killed most of them off."

I took hundreds of photos and hours of film and will blog more about what is happening with education there another time. Happy holidays and here are just a few pics.


  1. Nice pictures...glad you enjoyed your vacation (and that it was also on the brink of summer time).

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