Most New Zealanders speak English, with a modified British accent to American ears, although Maori is also enjoying a revival among the growing indigenous population. One-third of the nation lives in Auckland — NZ’s counterpart to New York City — and one of them in five came there from some other part of Asia or the Pacific. By far the country’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, Auckland’s 1.3 million residents sprawl from Waitemata Harbor on the Pacific Ocean to Manukau Harbor on the Tasman Sea. Auckland appropriately calls itself “The City of Sails” — its harbors’ dancing waters sparkle with sailboats and yachts of all sizes. To this tourist of two weeks, it appears that most Aucklanders are proud to live in that city, while most people from the rest of the country are equally proud that they do not!
Eleven of my twelve speaking appointments were in or around Auckland, but we also enjoyed several days touring elsewhere. We visited Rotorua, a city of hot geysers, steam holes and boiling mud, built around a picturesque lake which actually is the crater of an extinct volcano. A popular tourist attraction there is named “Hell’s Gate” — a horrible place of spewing steam, green boiling pools and sulfurous odors. We drove up the North Island’s rocky west coast and hiked its famous black sand beaches. We flew to Christchurch on the Pacific side of the South Island — “the most British city outside of England” — where we donned warm overcoats for trolley (“tram”) rides around the city’s charming shops and museums. When noon arrived, I warmed to a chapel Eucharist in the Anglican Cathedral while Sara Faye thawed out nearby with a cup of hot tea and a scone.
Another day we rode the four-hour Tranz-Alpine train from Christchurch on the Pacific, over the sheep-filled Canterbury Plain, across the snow-capped Southern Alps, to craggy Greymouth on the Tasman Sea — a coast which, like northern California’s, once beheld an onslaught of prospectors in search of gold. We also flew down to Dunedin, a Scottish enclave complete with a castle on the mountaintop and two huge, ancient, stone, cathedral-like, Presbyterian churches named First Church and Knox Presbyterian Church. In various towns we ate lamb and ostrich and beef, along with fish and squid and octopus and mussels, and probably consumed our weight in hot tea and coffees of a dozen varieties. This was an adventure we never expected — and one which we will never forget.