Our winter/spring retirement plan has been to go to a new country every year. This year was 6 weeks in New Zealand. (For an in depth look at our stay in the top ten and other locations go to my blog at www.tomoffthebench.blogspot.com where there are over 60 postings on our adventure.) I have found that visiting “places” is interesting, but talking with the natives is more fun. You really have to push yourself to meet others, as we all are a bit shy when it comes to starting a cold conversation with a stranger. My experience has been that visiting your service club and local churches in a foreign country is a great way to meet people who are ready to talk to strangers. So, what were our top ten experiences in New Zealand?
Visiting Parliament and the Capitol: Wellington is the nation’s capitol and it is very easy to get a tour of the capitol buildings and visit Parliament when it is in session. New Zealand has fewer people than the State of Washington, but they take their politics seriously with a year around parliamentary session. The government follows the British model but they start every daily session with Questions for the Government, so if you like Questions for the Prime Minister on C-Span, you can see a similar rough and tumble debate live in New Zealand. I think I now know more about how the New Zealand government operates than I know about our Congress!
The Beauty and Activity of Auckland & Wellington Harbors: When you talk to a Kiwi they are always very proud of their city and often can’t believe you would spend any time in their competitor. We enjoyed all of the cities we stayed in. Our apartments were in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch so we intimately learned about these cities. We then used the cities for excursions to other parts of the North and South Islands. Particularly dramatic are the harbors of Auckland and Wellington. They are positioned on beautiful natural harbors and they take advantage of this. Both cities have adapted their waterfronts for people activities, to include the water, restaurants, ferries, museums, and culture venues. In Wellington be sure to visit the Te Papa Museum and the Museum of City and Sea. When visiting Auckland you must experience the party that is going on at the America’s Cup Harbor.
The Conversations: Throughout New Zealand I visited five different service club meetings in Auckland, Wellington, and Queenstown. If was fun to talk with the local members, see what kind of charitable projects they were involved in, and how different they run their clubs as compared to the U.S. In Wellington and Christchurch Mary Ann and I also had interesting experiences attending local Methodist and Anglican churches. We were in New Zealand though-out lent, Palm Sunday and Easter. It was a great way to meet local residents and talk about what was going on with their lives and communities. Don’t miss the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral on the square. One of the fascinating subjects that came up nearly everywhere we went was being asked our opinion about the U.S. presidential nominating races. The Kiwi’s have a very keen interest in U.S politics and several people I talked to were following the primary races state by state, and could tell me how each had turned out.
The Ferries: When your country consists of two huge islands, surrounded by a whole lot of smaller ones, you get into the ferry business big time. The fun of ferry riding is that you get great views and inexpensive boat rides. We did three different ferry rides. Everyone should visit the Bay of Islands north of Auckland. They have a great little ferry that takes you to the quaint village of Russell where you can relax, have a leisurely lunch on the beach and watch the sail boats. Auckland has several easy ferries leaving from the downtown waterfront. We took one to the arts and craft community of Devonport, just across the bay. The ferry company, Fuller’s, runs most of the small ferry routes, and with very good new equipment. The big deal ferry is the Interislander, which is the main transportation link between the North and South Islands. It is about a three hour trip from Wellington to Picton and takes passengers and/or cars and freight. On the trip back we were sandwiched in between rail cars. If you have sun and good weather it is a great trip with stunning views and photo opportunities.
For the remaining six of the top ten, check in with the next edition of A Lot of Time Off the Bench.
(Published in the Summer 2008 JD Record.)