As I wrote a in my column a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were heading off to a New Zealand family reunion with my son and daughter-in-law from France and my daughter and her husband and two kids from Thailand.
I am now back home – and nearly speechless with happiness and in utter awe of the beauty of New Zealand. It was a dream trip, with sublime forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and fiords, but the most important part of all was being with family.
I’ve always heard from El Pasoans who had visited that New Zealand was beautiful, but it was so far away that I never expected to experience it. Now I am the proselytizing zealot, crazy for this uncrowded, green and peaceful country. I was especially struck by how firmly proud and protective, almost reverent, the people of New Zealand are about their land and natural environment. Their delight and appreciation is contagious.
An isolated Pacific Island nation, New Zealand was settled by humans only recently in the grand scheme of history. Polynesians arrived about 1280, and the ensuing Maori culture continues to be an important part of the nation today. Later Europeans, primarily British people, settled in New Zealand and brought their English language and European ways.
The population of New Zealand is just 4.6 million, which is about the same as the El Paso/Juárez region, scattered across land the size of Colorado. Perhaps it is the small size of their population or the isolation and vulnerability of their island nation that makes the people seem unified in defining their culture. They are cosmopolitan, educated and easygoing and share heightened social and environmental sensibilities.
We visited so many places, including Auckland, Christchurch, Doubtful Sound, Nelson, Milford Sound, Picton, Queenstown, Rotorua, Waitomo and Wellington. We stayed at interesting places, ate well and tried adventurous activities. We saw sights that will stay with us always.
In my last column, I promised to stay on the lookout for fashion insights – and I have some unexpected observations. I soon learned, for instance, that our adventure trip involved a whole new fashion approach. The key was wearing the right outdoor gear for the right activities!
• Hard hats with headlights for caving. The Manawhitikau Cave in the Waitomor/Rotorua area was magical. We boarded a small inflatable underground river raft where we silently experienced a glittering display of glow-worms out of the total darkness. This experience was so amazing that even the grandchildren, ages 4 and 6, were awed into complete silence for 20 minutes!
• Sun visor for birding. Birdwatching? Excuse me? I have never thought much about wandering around looking for birds to identify. Birding isn’t athletic, cool or interesting, right? Shame on me! Oh, my gosh, birds in New Zealand are fascinating. First of all, most of the native birds do not fly. New Zealand has more species of flightless birds, both living and extinct, than any other country. They have such fun names: kiwi, kakapo, takahe, penguin, weka and moa. One reason New Zealand has so many flightless birds is that before humans arrived, there were no land mammals that preyed on birds. In evolutionary terms, they just had no need to develop an ability to fly. And I never knew they were so smart!
• Parkas, hats, sunglasses for travel by sea. We bundled up to enjoy the Interislander Ferry cruise from Wellington on the North Island across Cook Strait to the South Island.
• Hiking boots. I may be a designer shoe aficionado from way back, but my husband has always made sure I have up-to-the-minute hiking boots. Our most amazing hike was in Abel Tasman National Park.
As you can imagine, packing for an outdoor trip like this had its challenges. The experience gave me a whole new look at a vacation wardrobe, for sure. This was a far cry from resort wear!