Touring New Zealand was an amazing experience, one huge adventure, really. The more than two-week vacation took us from Auckland on the North Island to as far south as Dunedin, the principal city of the Otago Region in South Island. Along the way, our guided tour of South Island took us to other touristy cities and interesting places including Christchurch, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Mount Cook and the Franz Josef Glacier where we took a flight up on a small plane for a bird's eye view of the glacier and surrounding areas. That was awesome except that motion sickness spoilt the fun for me.
My girlfriend and I spent five days in Auckland on free-and-easy mode. One of the days, we drove ourselves in a little blue Suzuki City to a Maori Cultural Centre. We were there just in time to catch a performance. Not sure how the organizers knew, they welcomed the two us by name on the PA system and mentioned where we were from. Well, that was certainly a surprise, we thought.
The next few days, we did a little touring on our own of downtown Auckland, watched the beautiful sailboats at the harbour and visited the Kelly Tarlton Sea Life Aquarium - first ever experience of having sharks and giant stingrays gliding nonchalantly overhead.
What's travelling without a little shopping, eh? So, we did some shopping for souvenirs for friends and family back home. We each bought paua shell products including rings, brooches and pendants, leather wallets and kiwi-feather purses. Strangely, at that time, we were not aware of Greenstone Jewelry otherwise we would surely have expanded my purchases to include them, but no matter, everyone loved their paua shell presents.
Even though paua shells are synonymous with New Zealand, the range of nice products you can find in New Zealand nowadays include articles made from greenstone.
Greenstone, also known as Nephrite (jade) and Bowenite (serpentine) is used to create many fine products. The Maoris call greenstone Pounamu and it is highly valued for its beauty and spiritual quality. The stone is shaped into ornaments, weapons and tools and over time acquired status as treasured possessions.
Take for instance this Maori jewelry Greenstone Jade Manaia Pendant. The Manaia is the carrier of supernatural powers. It is the spiritual guardian which protects the wearer from evil. This is a beautiful piece that is carved on both sides. Though greenstones come in various shades, this piece is black.
From Auckland we flew south to Christchurch where we joined a South Island tour with a tour-group of about twenty of us comprising mostly Australians, three Americans and two of us from Malaysia. Like typical of all tours, we covered a lot of ground from city to city enjoying the different attractions each had to offer.
At Christchurch, I remember most the beautiful Christchurch Cathedral and how I struggled to get the entire height of it into a shot. If you remember, the cathedral had to be demolished after the last quake a couple of years ago. Sad.
The long drive took us past quiet woodlands, across country roads - where on one occasion, we had to stop to allow sheep crossing - to snow-covered fields of frozen dry flowers. This one at the Mount Cook National Park and is a sheer delight to see. We got down from the coach to pick the flowers (so many different kinds, shapes and sizes) with the intention of bringing them home but had to abandon the idea when we realised they were too bulky. Alas! We also passed by hills of those yellow flowers. Pretty sight.
We put up at different kinds of hotels, some big resort type, others medium-sized but very comfortable no less. It was late September at the time so it was end of Winter/early Spring and the weather was still cold and windy. From the cold outdoors, the room heater was something we were thankful for once indoors. The hotel was properly insulated, of course. In places with cold climate, home insulation is necessary unlike here in our tropical climate where we need air-conditioning instead. Home Insulation means a healthy, warm, dry and energy-efficient home.
Beautiful Queenstown is not to be missed when you visit South Island and I wouldn't mind visiting Queenstown again but I can't say the same for Milford Sound. I find travelling such a long distance is not worth the prize at the end of the journey, maybe because our boat didn't take us out to the ocean to view dolphins. But I can at least say, I've been there, done that.