While the South Island is all about mountains and dramatic alpine vistas, the North Island’s theme is water, bays and beaches. We said goodbye to the lovely Wanaka and delightful innkeepers and drove north along the Southern Alps back to Christchurch. We were rewarded with more great views and the dramatic Mt. Cook which stands over 12,000 feet high.
As quickly as possible, we headed out of Auckland to Raglan, a surf and beach community on the west side of the North Island. We found a great base at The Cottage of the Water’s Edge mini-hotel, two rooms “for hire” bayside in Raglan Bay which stretches inland for miles.
Gus and Sue, more fantastic Kiwi innkeepers, recently bought the place so they could rent out the extra little suites while commuting to jobs in Auckland and Hamilton many miles away. I was in heaven with a little writer’s cottage type atmosphere, where I could go down to the dock and kayak or hike the mud flats during low tide. I kayaked three days in a row!
Dave went off to Manu Bay and finally got to surf. It is one of the most famous lefts in the world, for you surfer types, and was actually one of the stops in the original 1966 Endless Summer movie. We also checked out Whale Bay and the surfers there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of Dave surfing but he did catch the New Zealand wave in a 4.3 wet suit and booties!
A locals “club day” hogged the surf on Saturday but he got two other days in and we enjoyed exploring the area and seeing the local activities.
Raglan is a pretty small town so there isn’t much going on but surfing and beach activities, and a little golfing, apparently. (Do you think the sheep pay the 18 hole or 9 hole membership price?!)
But it is only 1 ½ hours outside of Auckland so it is a popular spot for a locals weekend getaway at their bay or beach house. Our hosts were great sailors and ran a rescue boat for the annual Polynesian outrigger race and participated in a little sailing competition the next day.
As we left the area to fly back to Australia, we had a refreshing “tramp” in the rainforest in the hills between Raglan and Auckland. It rained the whole time and I was mortified to take an umbrella on a hike, but actually found it quite useful! The climb consisted of 1500 steps over 200 meters so it was a good workout. Another impressively well-maintained trail—the country is covered with them.
As we got to know the North Island, my quest to understand Rugby continued. Once I saw several guys holding up a teammate high over their heads (sort of acrobatic gymnastics and competitive cheerleading style all in one) to catch the ball, I was obsessed. What the heck? Why would they do that in between all that running, sliding in over the line to score and those huge shoving matches called scrums? Oh yeah, and the occasional kick which just seemed sort of thrown in to confuse us Yanks and make it seem more like football.
So I did some research. I’ll figure this thing out I told myself. Well….it turns out there are TWO types of Rugby—Union and League. And which country and which part of which country and which class plays which one is…well…even more confusing. And they are going to finally put it back into the Olympics in Rio 2016 (well, if Rio can get it together and remember they are putting on an Olympics in time!) but that is going to be some other version of the game called Rugby Sevens!! Whoa! Now I am really confused.
However, after watching it with an investigative eye on every pub TV encountered and listening and researching a bit more, I found the true class and style in New Zealand is in Rugby. The All Blacks have been around well over 130 years and basically dominate the sport, even though the country is tiny compared to South Africa, Argentina, Australia and other key competitors. But the best part–the All Blacks do a Maori warrior dance before every, you read that right, EVERY, match. I mean these big hunking buffed guys in their short black shorts are flipping arms, gyrating hips and stomping on the field, in unison, before each game. I think that is pretty damn impressive. (Apparently some Polish team once was so upset they just stood there and refused to play after the war dance!! Ha Ha! The referee had to intervene to get the match started! Cool!)
The other charmingly stylish part of New Zealand is the place names. I mean you have a country with Canterbury, Christchurch, Cambridge and Wellington right next door to places like Whatawhata, Matamata, Ngaruawahia and Twizel. And somehow it works. What are called if you are from Twizel? (“Hi. Where you from?” “Oh, I’m a Kiwi Twizeller”!!) They haven’t figured out interior decorating but they have delightfully friendly people, bad ass Rugby players and cool locales with lovely names… maybe that is all that matters, really!