Friday, January 9, 2009

A Lot of Time Off The Bench

By Judge Thomas C. Warren (Ret.)
Chelan, Washington (or somewhere in the world)

The New Zealand Top Ten – Part II

When we last met I was reviewing the top ten experiences in New Zealand. In Part I we discussed four of the ten. Here goes the final six:

Magnificence of the Changing Countryside: Our travel plan called for driving over a large part of the country. We ended up putting 3500 miles on our modest Mazda compact. With that many miles you have seen a lot of the countryside. And is it ever glorious countryside. The interesting thing is that you see a huge variation of rural countryside. It is a beautiful farming country with immaculate ranches. You see thousands (millions?) of sheep, cattle and domestic deer kept either in confined fenced areas, or just wandering over the hills. Pristine fresh water lakes and towering mountain ranges are around every curve. When on the coasts you see rocky mountains right down to the water and beautiful coastline panoramas.

The TranzAlpine Train: New Zealand has several exceptional train routes giving you the option of taking the train all the way from Auckland to Christchurch. Our train experience was taking one of the world’s finest view trips from Christchurch through the Southern Alps to Greymouth on the Tasman Sea west coast. It is remote mountain scenery after passing through the Canterbury Plain around Christchurch. A very enjoyable one day excursion over and back.

The Golden Shears & Confronting the Sheep: Because of a great suggestion by a native, we attended the Golden Shears Sheep Shearing National Championships in Masterton, located a couple of hours north of Wellington. What a fascinating experience watching the competitive sheep shearing, wool pressing and wool handling. It is hard to believe a professional can shear a sheep in less than one minute and when working can shear over 400 sheep in a day. In addition, on two separate occasions we were stopped on highways by farmers moving hundreds of sheep on the public roads. You should see those sheep dogs move those critters!

Christchurch river walks and Botanical Garden: Christchurch has historically been very British. Canterbury University, the Avon River and many places and streets named after British locations. The Avon River winds its way through the downtown area including parks, river walks, and cultural sites all in a pedestrian friendly way. It is very picturesque and a very relaxing time. To top it off and make it tourist friendly they have a historic tram system circling the entire downtown core with part of its route on its own street between restored buildings. At the end of what they call the Cultural Precinct you find a huge park system crowned with the Botanical Gardens along the river.

Driving through the Coromandel Peninsula: A day trip southeast from Auckland brings you to the Coromandel Peninsula. Narrow roads along the shore, hundreds of varieties of huge trees, cute villages with arts and crafts shops and pleasant restaurants for lunch. The area, which is only about 60 miles from Auckland, is very rugged, mountainous, remote and without a lot of visitors. The area is the center of the Green political movement in New Zealand.

The Incomparable Queenstown and the Gateway to the Fjords: What can you say? Queenstown is a gem on a pristine lake, surrounded by majestic steep stone mountains. It is also the most touristy city we visited, due to all the backpackers looking for their adventure. I can’t tell you how many foreign languages I heard being spoken by all the young people. The town and location is however, just drop dead beautiful. It is also the starting point for visiting the Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Lake Te Anau and then on up the west coast routes to the glaciers.

Whether you drive, take the train, or just fly into the top spots of New Zealand it is a great place for a vacation. And besides, they speak English – sort of!

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