BootsnAll Travel Network

The Other Down Under

I am currently in Auckland, New Zealand right now. Just for anyone that is keeping track, New Zealand is 19 hours ahead of Chicago, just skimming the international date line. I arrived last night about 6pm on Air New Zealand, which was also a 747-400, the same plane I flew to Sydney with. This was a whole different experience however, as it was a new plane with your own TV screen, choices of movies which you could pause if you had to get up, episodes of Globe Trekker, games etc. I met a nice old couple from Napier, New Zealand that sat next to me, who promptly invited me to stay at their house if I make it down there. It wasn’t on my radar, but I’m considering it now. I don’t know if they were serious or not, but she wrote down her number for me. They were sweet, visiting their oldest son who now lives in Melbourne. On the plane I watched the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, slightly disappointed in that one. The three hour flight flew by, but by the time we landed, got our luggage, went through their very strict customs declaration, almost an hour had gone by. Just like Australia, New Zealand is very conscious of what comes into their country, and they had little sniffer dogs all over the baggage claim. One guy got busted for a forgotten apple, and had to pay a NZ$200 fine. They inspected my hiking boots to make sure there was no soil clinging to them, which quite sadly there wasn’t.

My friend Walt from Oak Park lives in Auckland, as he married a Kiwi last year. Since he is back in Chicago for the holidays, I missed him by a day and booked myself a hostel. I had planned on leaving today for Northland, but I arrived too late to book anything. So I stayed an extra day today for some sightseeing. Many people sort of lump Australia and New Zealand together, and they do have many similarities. One difference that struck me immediately when I arrived however, is the relationship which the Kiwis have with the indigenous people here, the Maori versus the Australians and the Aborigines. In Australia, you didn’t really see Aborigines anywhere. They don’t work in stores or drive buses, they aren’t seen walking down the street in business suits. The only ones that I saw were either performing for tourists on the waterfront in Sydney, were homeless sitting in groups in parks, or on TV, as a cricket player for Oz is an Aborigine. But that was it, and from asking people about it, it wasn’t just my imagination or lack of looking. They haven’t melded into society at all and most are on welfare, living in small towns away from the big cities. In New Zealand, however, the story is much different.

When I arrived at the airport, the girl that was helping me book my shuttle was a Maori, and I continued to notice that they were well involved in the community and society. I went to the Auckland Museum today, which had a huge display on the Maori and other Pacific Islanders, including information on the NZ Land Wars. British settlers and the Maori have a contentious history, as do many other countries where settlers arrived and clashed with the indigenous people. They fought over land in the NZ Land Wars in the 1860’s. The Maori were defeated and their population continued to decline. They were however, along with women, given the right to vote in 1867. However, after the Second World War, things began to improve as New Zealand was declared an independent nation. They continue to have race relation issues and no one would say there aren’t problems, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near what issues Australia has with their Aboriginal population. Today, Maori make up 15% of New Zealand’s population and hold 5 permanent seats in Parliament.

After touring the museum and watching the Maori Performance Group do a demonstration on their songs and other rituals, I took a stroll through the Domain, a huge park which is the oldest in Auckland. Out of about 4 million people in New Zealand, 1.5 million live in Auckland. Only about 900,00 live on the South Island, while the rest live somewhere else on the north island. Wellington though is the capital of NZ, and lies further south on the North Island. As I wasn’t planning on being here today, I don’t have too much planned. There is Sky City, which is a big spiral tower downtown similar to the Seattle needle, where I’ll probably go for some picturesque views today. Of course, you can also bungee off the top but I think I’ll forget about that today. Tomorrow I head north to the Kauri forest, home of the Kauri trees. Most of them have been cut down due to logging, but this area they have been protected and is home to the biggest tree in New Zealand, Tane Mahuta “Lord of the Forest.” After spending the night there, I’ve booked a ticket on the Magic Bus, which is a backpackers bus, to cross the island to Pahia, a town on the east coast full of adventure activities. I was trying to avoid the backpacker buses due to their reputation as a young 18 year old party bus, but the main bus line Intercity doesn’t go to the Kauri forest, so this was my only option. After a couple of days I’ll head back to Auckland and the work my way south, even further down under.


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