by Nili Steiner, Los Angeles
“So, how was your adventure trip in New Zealand, Cori?” I asked our friend after our usual warm greetings. We couldn’t quite believe the superlatives that were streaming out of her mouth about the place. Finally she said, “You’ve just GOT to go there”. And so, 15 months later three sporty firefighters and a precious nurse (me) from Los Angeles, headed over to Auckland.
After LAX, Auckland Airport seemed minute. Auckland holds a quarter of the whole population of NZ – that’s 1 million people! Do the math. In an area the size of Californ-eye-aye there are only 4 million bods. This means there’s a heck a lot of wilderness out there to be explored! Customs was a breeze and we got the first taste of Kiwi hospitality almost immediately. International airports are characterless places at the best of times, but at Auckland we found the staff to be genuinely friendly and happy to go out of their way, beyond the call of duty – and this became typical of our impression of New Zealand service in all aspects of our trip.
We were met by guide, Lyn Riesterer, of Driftwood Dreamers Women’s Tours, and she gave us all a welcoming embrace. Being a bit of a princess I’d emailed questions about the weather, what to bring, the activities we’d be doing etc. so we knew each other well before we actually met. Her responses had been so informal and open, but then it seems that’s standard for New Zealanders – laid back and forthright (ie no bullshit) as they are.
We spent ten days in NZ. We were delighted to have gotten to know some real New Zealanders, up-close and personal. It was, however, deeply frustrating to have only scraped the surface of what that country has to offer.
Wine tasting and sailing
We started of our ‘adventures’ with a wine-tasting tour. OK – we had to recover from the jetlag in style! But then after that our adventures started in earnest. The next day we blew the cobwebs away on a fabulous wooden yacht, Ethel, exploring the Hauraki Gulf, east of Auckland, also named City of Sails because of the boating life that surrounds it. This is where the last two America’s Cup regattas took place, after all. We were able to sail her, taking the helm, hoisting the main and setting the mizzen while cruising.
One great attraction about NZ is the Maori culture. There are lots of parallels with native American cultures. We discovered this on our next day’s outing with young Maori women Melissa and Bianca of Potiki Adventures, who provided us with a fascinating Maori perspective on adventuring in ‘Aotearoa’, Land of the Long White Cloud’. We were taken snorkeling and kayaking around Goat Island, a marine reserve, while they informed us about the unique approach Maori have to the whenua (land) and moana (sea). Later on in our trip, we were traditionally welcomed on to Lyn’s tribal meeting place, or Marae, in the rural Bay of Plenty. She had explained the protocols beforehand, but we hadn’t expected such a moving and special event. From the moment a distinguished Maori woman started calling our group on to the Marae, in a haunting wail, we were overwhelmed. The local school cultural group provided us with a fabulous display of traditional song and dance, complete with the boys performing a frightening ‘haka’ or war dance. We were encouraged to have a go at the ‘poi’ dance and the haka – and laughed so much we nearly wet ourselves.
Mountain Biking and hot mud in Rotorua
We mountain-biked on a track in the Whakarewarewa Forest near Rotorua, where we also saw bubbling mud pools, gushing geysers and steaming rock vents – all part of the geo-thermal activity all around New Zealand that makes you realize how volatile this fragile earth really is. Most spectacular was a boat ride out to White Island – an active marine volcano off the coast of the Bay of Plenty. Kitted out with helmets and gas masks, we hiked to the crater to see an aquamarine lake of sulphuric acid, surrounded by vibrant yellow sulphur holes, along with countless vents steaming through what looked like a moonscape. We had a special bonus on the return voyage when we spotted two striped marlins and a pod of dolphins with their babies riding our bow wave.
Ever heard of ‘Blackwater’ rafting? Me neither until we found ourselves pulling on wetsuits and floating down an underground river with our butts wedged in tire inner tubes, past limestone formations, and clusters of glow-worms. We had an afternoon’s fishing on an idyllic beach, accessible only down a long hidden track – definitely not to be found in the guidebooks! We satisfied our need for speed on a ‘luge’ down steep tracks. We hiked along a stunning coastal path. And, oh yes indeedy, we did some adventurous shopping!
We loved all the activities and felt we were well-looked after by our guide, who gently encouraged us to push ourselves on the adventures. I had been especially concerned about the Mountain Biking – definitely out of my comfort zone – scared, even, but Lyn mad it exciting and fun and I ended up really enjoying the buzz.
Our trip was all-inclusive, which meant once we joined Lyn, all activities, accommodation, transport and three good meals a day were included in the one price so we didn’t have the hassle of checking our spending along the way. Driftwood Dreamers organisation was seamless, and our itinerary was easily adapted to suit our needs along the way – like shopping for example! We found the food there to be absolutely amazing – very stylish, cosmopolitan menus and most of it tasty and healthy. Even the fast-food was a treat – you haven’t had a burger until you’ve had a real Kiwiburger, with beetroot and pineapple!
We spent ten days in NZ. We were delighted to have gotten to know some real New Zealanders, up-close and personal. It was, however, deeply frustrating to have only scraped the surface of what that country has to offer. Yeah, well, we’re going to fix that and have already booked in our next trip over there next year.