5 reasons to discover the youngest country of the world,
a far away trip to New Zealand, capital of rugby in 2011.
1. Feel the original nature
The helicopter lands on the edge of the crater. The Tarawera volcano is the heart of the North island, the most populated of the two islands, the first discovered by men. Indeed, you feel here like at the dawn of humanity. Even neighbouring Australia seems light years away. In the sky, tinged with colours of ashes and fire, rises Mount Hakuragi where the first rays of sun appears on earth. A prehistoric vision lies all around : lava landscape, fumaroles, geysers and bubbling pools. The earth quivers in a strong sulphurous smell.
Further north of Roturua, streches the huge Waipoua Forest, where pine trees mingle with exotics plants and beautiful kauris. Those baobabs of the antipodes were mainly used in the construction of Buckingham Palace. The most eminent of these lords is estimated between 2000-3000 years old and has the largest girth at 16m. He was Peter Jackson's model for the speaking tree of the " Lord of the Rings". Longtime before becoming an Hollywood star, the sacred Kauri tree was named by the Maori people " Te Matua Ngahere" : the " Father of the Forest."
2. Meet Maori
The "land of the long white cloud " was discovered 1000 years ago by the explorer Kupe. Using the stars and ocean currents as his navigational guides, he ventured across the Pacific on his "waka hourua", a voyaging canoe, from Polynesia. The Maori set up a thriving society based on the iwi (tribe) which flourished for hundred of years before the extensive european migration.
Today, the beautiful Judy, rows over the Waitangi river, singing a song of her ancestors " toki hi", " I kiss the water". On her left shoulder, the traditional tattoo tells the story of her mother. On the right side, she carries the fate of her father. Maori preserve a meaningful bond with the past. They still carve powerful bas-reliefs and precious jewels. Thanks to their great adaptability, Maori have managed to protect their culture. The Anglican church in the village of Ohinemutu owns a very curious stained-glass : a Christ dressed as a Maori chief walking on the Roturua lake. Maori have also adopted rock'n'roll. Late in the night they dance the hakka boogie in the bars of Opononi.
3. Enjoy the vintage charm of Russell
Originally a fortified Maori village known as Kororareka, meaning " how sweet is the penguin", Russell was once known as Pacific hellhole filled with debauched sailors, escaped convicts and wanton women for hire. Today, yachts spend a night or a week-end in "the Bay of Islands" dicovered in 1769 by the famous explorer Captain James Cook. At the helm of the cruising catamaran Ipipiri, Phil Alexander crosses the bay for fourteen years and knows many stories. That evening, he dropped anchor in the mythical " Frenchmen's Bay ". Under the stars, breathing in the austral summer, he remembers Marion Dufresne, the french explorer who completed his adventure here in 1772... in the stomach of a sated Maori.
From the pionneer time, the Duke of Marlborough Hotel had survived but his glory was flaking on the blue seafront. Six months ago, a group of friends brought their efforts together to create one of the warmest place in the country. On the terrace with a fish&chips, a malicious old sailor tells how, in 1958, the crew put the throttle on the approach of Russell. The liquor licence at the Duke's bar stopped after 18h.
4. Walk down an Art Deco open sky museum
From the standstone headland of Cape Kidnappers, you have a magnificent view over the city of Napier. " My father stood here, recalls one resident. Suddenly he saw the city lifting up of 4 meters into the air and collapsing." In a few minutes, the earthquake of february 3rd, 1931, reduced Napier to dust. The day after, work began. This dark whaling town on the east coast became an elegant Art Deco capital of the Antipodes, the newest city on the planet. Along Marine Parade, wind and waves are caressing the pastel facades, as one miniature Miami. Fashion is inspired by the 1930s, pearls and feathers are a must in many shop windows. Every february, people dance Charleston in the central avenue to celebrate the Art Deco festival.
5. Savour wine of the New World
The furious land can eventually be domesticated. For nearly 20 years, New Zealand has been running into the wine race of the New World. Here the oenological culture is very different from that of the Old Continent. At Craggy Range, they celebrate marriages in the winery, white dress among the giant barrels. Pinot noir or Riesling, red or white wine comes from french inspiration like the restaurant, bathed by the music of Charles Aznavour. More surprising, the domain of Elephant Hill proposes innovative wine creations including an energetic rosé as well as an asiatico-mediterranean cuisine. In the middle of vineyards, stands an ultramodern building made of glass and steel... and an antique sculpture of Cambodian elephant.
At dinner time, the sun flies along the ocean. In Paris, it already touches the Seine and the first traffic jams. When it is seven o'clock in the evening in New Zealand, it's seven o'clock in the morning in France.
The best reason to go at the end of the world could be that one : to feel how much the earth is huge, gorgeous... and round !
© David Lefranc