Our Last Day in Amazing Auckland

Have you ever experienced an inspiring teacher? Been completely enthralled by a lecture? That is what our entire third day was like, being with the amazing Dr. John Walsby. He is truly a Walking Wikipedia — botany, geology, history, architecture, zoology, marine biology–you name it, he can speak at length about it. Although his extensive knowledge was impressive, what was most memorable was his delivery. He talks with his entire body. For example, he didn’t just say “boom” when describing a volcanic eruption — instead, his whole body exploded–with arms and legs flying in all directions. Dr. Walsby is a writer, an artist, a marine biologist, the author of 5 books, weekly contributor to Nature Watch, a newspaper column, and one of the most entertaining and memorable speakers I’ve ever encountered. So, what did we learn?

Although we tend to lump Australia and New Zealand together, that island just to the west of New Zealand is about 1,200 miles away.

New Zealand’s weather is influenced by its location midway between the equator and Antarctica. It gets warm air from Australia and cold air from Antarctica, which makes for plenty of rainfall. The North Island gets many brief showers, averaging about 4 feet per year. The joke is that Auckland gets all four seasons, frequently within the same day. Despite cloudy skies in many of the photos, the weather has been quite lovely!

Some of his more memorable analogies:
The earth is like an egg cooked in a microwave: a solid core surrounded by an ocean of magma with a cracked crust.
Volcanic activity is like tea being brewed on the top of Mount Everest or a bottle of champagne being uncorked, with the crust on top being the cork. Important fact–volcanoes don’t erupt in the same place twice. Once it goes dormant, it is done.
The formation of New Zealand was compared to a scab that formed on your knee (the knee being Australia) that gets “flicked off”.

Our first stop, Lake Pupuke, was created from a volcanic eruption. A mile across and a half a mile deep, it supplies fresh water for the nearby town of Devonport.

Here is Dr. Walsby, demonstrating what happens when a pukeko gets frightened. The pukeko flushes a white tail to warn his compatriots of impending danger. Had I been faster with my camera, I would have caught him flashing the white handkerchief tucked into the back of his pants.

And here is a REAL pukeko.

This beautiful flower is fertilized by birds, rather than insects. It’s “lady parts” are on the outside, rather than the inside of the flower to make it easier for the birds to do their important work. Can you see the long appendage?

Our next stop is Takapuna beach to see the fossilized trees. When the lava flowed from the volcano, the trees were snapped at the base, with a portion of the trunk remaining. It became encased in hot lava. The flows are clearly visible around what was once a tree trunk.

Dr. Walsby in action.

Our final stop was at North Head, a great spot for our group photo.


I’m not pressing my luck–I’m going for the upload! Thank you Queensland Airport!

Amazing Auckland, Day Two

One of the many reasons we thoroughly enjoy Road Scholar trips is their high quality lecturers. Wednesday morning, New Zealand journalist and author, Gordon McLaughlin, gave us a brief overview of this very young nation. Some interesting facts and figures:

New Zealand is the last land mass to be inhabited, settled by the Maori about 800 years ago. DNA analysis has proven that the Maori migrated from Taiwan, providing a perfect example of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. The long ocean voyage was an endurance test that only the strongest, biggest and fittest could pass.

In the 1840’s, the Maori were joined by settlers from the United Kingdom, with the those of European descent now making up the majority of the population. About 3.5 million live on the North Island, mainly in Auckland, with about 1 million inhabiting the South Island.

New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote, in 1893; at one time the top three government positions were held by women.

In 1898, New Zealanders instituted an old age pension, with free health care since 1938. Seems Kiwi are not horrified by the thought of “socialized medicine”. And it doesn’t seem to have impacted their quality of care because their life expectancy exceeds that of US males by 3 years, and a year and a half for females.

Both countries have similar percentages of those over 65, and under 15. Education is free, including some university and trade schools. Pensioners also enjoy a variety of freebies, such as train and boat transportation, admission to museums, etc. So how do they pay for all of the free services?

The top tax rate is 35%, with a 15% GST (goods and services tax) built into their prices. So, when dining out, a menu item priced at $25 means that you actually PAY $25. Tax has been included and the wait staff has been paid a reasonable wage, so tipping is only for extraordinary service, and even then is about half of what is customary in the USA. I guess if you are not bristling with weaponry and fighting senseless wars, you have money for such things.

New Zealand is geologically young –a mere 12 million years old. If you have ever walked along the Trail of Time in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, you may recall that equates to only 12 of the trail’s 2,000 footsteps. If you haven’t been there, each footstep represents a million years. Samples of rocks from that particular era exhibited along the trail–starting 2 billion years ago, which is the age of the oldest rocks in the canyon.

Years ago, there were no mammals on New Zealand, so the birds had no predators, which resulted in flightless birds, like the Kiwi.

Sitting atop two tectonic plates, New Zealand has an abundance of hot springs, geysers, and mud pools, all of which we will see when we visit Rotorua. But for our second day in Auckland, we are scheduled to sail in Waitemata Harbor.

View of Auckland from the water.

It looks like it is going to be a tight squeeze under the bridge. That’s our North island site coordinator, Albert.

Not to worry, there is an experienced skipper at the wheel.

Is that a concerned look on that passenger’s face?

This lovely young woman is a marine biologist.


Amazing Auckland, Road Scholar Day One

The Road Scholar portion of our journey began on Tuesday, October 29, with a walking tour of downtown Auckland. This city has lots of interesting architecture, much of it newly constructed, so that it is earthquake-proof.



The sky tower is visible from just about everywhere in Auckland, but during our stroll we managed to catch someone jumping from the tower.  See that little black speck in the lower right hand corner?  That’s him, and yes, it IS an approved activity.  The Kiwi are very big on bungee jumping.   And no, I had absolutely no desire to “give it a go”, as they say down here.


We ended our walk at the Art Museum, which has a wonderful gallery of Maori portraits.  We weren’t allowed to take photos there, but this postcard gives you an idea of what a tattooed face looks like.


As one might expect, the facial swelling from face carving is fairly severe.  the guide showed us a large funnel, which functioned as a feeding tube while the facial wounds healed.

I as quite captivated by the flower sculpture hanging from the ceiling in the entryway.  The petals move!


Auckland has a number of incredibly beautiful parks.  The museum is next to one–Albert Park has this interesting entryway, and we did a quick walk by after our excellent lunch at the museum cafe.


Our hotel has two things going for it: a great location near the harbor, and a spectacular view from the restaurant on the 13th floor.



I told told you you could see the sky tower from everywhere!


We had just enough time for a brief walk around the waterfront before joining our group for dinner.  This picture is for our former host, Norman, to show him that we actually DID see some tall ships!


New Zealand is an amazing country with many things the USA could learn from, but their wifi isn’t one of them. It is very limited, and blogging is a challenge. So, uploads are being done on the fly, and proof reading is a luxury to be reserved for better connections and more time. Typos will become a regular feature!

Kiwi Hospitality

Lonely Planet has proclaimed that Auckland is one of the ten best places in the world to visit in 2014. Although I concur with their choice, I would have moved Auckland to the number one spot. But then, Mike and I had something Lonely Planet didn’t– New Zealand’s best tour guides, Norman and Davina, which definitely influenced my rating.

Let the tour begin!
Let the tour begin!

It’s hard to believe that we spent only four days with these very gracious hosts, because we saw and did so much. It was all wonderful: breathtaking scenery, with beautiful beaches, but what made it extra special was the time we spent with their wonderful family, which gave us the opportunity to experience Kiwi culture and daily life.

This post is my way of saying thank you to Davina and Norman for a fantastic visit. I can’t capture ALL of the high points of our time together–there were just too many, so I’m limiting myself to 10 memories. Here they are, not in any particular order.

1. One Tree Hill

Auckland, Viewed from One Tree Hill
Auckland, Viewed from One Tree Hill

The Auckland area has more than 50 extinct volcanoes. This is a relatively young crater, a mere 500 years old.

You can go into this Volcanic Crater
You can go into this Volcanic Crater

2. The “Bach”
According to Wikipedia, the term originated from “bachelor pad”, but it has now come to mean a New Zealand summer home for family vacations. We stayed at our hosts’ family bach.

The bach
The bach

New Zealanders welcome drop ins, (or at least Davina, Norman and their friends do. I really shouldn’t generalize that ALL New Zealanders are like them, because they are rather special). Anyway, we got to see yet another bach, in Whitianga, right on the beach, when we popped in to visit their friends.

The view from the Bach living room
The view from the Bach living room

3. Whangamata
No only did we visit this lovely seaside resort, we also leaner how to pronounce its name. The Maori way sounds like this: Fong-ahh-mat-AHHH.


Strolling along the beach
Strolling along the beach

I’ve never used a public toilet that had piped in music and recorded instructions for locking the door, including a warning that you had best be done within 10 minutes. I thought it might be a New Zealand thing, but no–so far, it has only been a Whangamata experience.

4. Farmers’ Markets
Had I known that I could get a haircut by the side of the road, I wouldn’t have been in such a rush to get a trim before we left.

Farmer's market,on the way to Whangamata
Farmer’s market,on the way to Whangamata

5. New Chums Beach
I don’t know if this is the most beautiful beach in New Zealand, because EVERY beach I’ve seen so far has been rather wonderful. I think we just TOLD ourselves that it was the most beautiful because we had to walk over rocks and through rain forest growth for about 30 minutes to get to it.

How much further????
How much further????


It DID have a rather nice swinging rope, though.
6. Saturday Night at “The Club”
In the USA, we don’t have anything quite like a New Zealand club. Take a casino, a restaurant, a pool hall, a sports bar, a cocktail lounge, a dance hall– mix it all together, but make it family friendly and voila, you’ve got yourself a New Zealand club. Best of all, members of one club can use any other club. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The club in Whangamata
The club in Whangamata


7. Lost Spring Thermal Pools, Whitianga
No photos for this one. We sat in a natural hot spring surrounded by lush foliage and beautiful flowers. You’ll just have to take my word that it was quite glorious.

8. Waihi Picnic
We were only in Waihi a short time. Just long enough for us to have a great picnic lunch atop a hill, check out the gold mining operation, and for me to buy a Kiwi cap.

Trucks appeal to boys of all ages
Trucks appeal to boys of all ages

9. Karangahake Gorge
A bike path runs through this area. Biker chicks, take note!

Gorgeous Gorge
Gorgeous Gorge
New Zealand - Clean and green
New Zealand – Clean and green

10. Family, Friendship, Fun
Spending time with Norman and Davina’s family made our time before the start of our Road Scholar trip extra special.
I had a chance to see how “socialized medicine” works, when I accompanied Davina to Taylor’s visit to the dentist. The offices are located on school property, and there is no charge for the visit. Brig, clean offices, a short wait, at no cost. What’s not to like.

Davina and Taylor
Davina and Taylor
Pippa, explaining the rules of the game
Pippa, explaining the rules of the game
This is one creative little girl
This is one creative little girl
This is the "walking school bus"
This is the “walking school bus”

So what do you think…Auckland #1 spot?