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This is our final post from Japan. We have just finished two fantastic weeks in this country and (sadly) we will be leaving tomorrow (Tuesday) for home. With a stopover in LA, we’ll be home Wednesday after a super trip. We hope you will enjoy the final post in the pdf file here: Blog 3
Bob and Molly
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We have just completed another six days of touring and sightseeing in Japan and are now in the Japanese Alps. This is the height of the cherry blossom season so every tourist destination has had lots of local and foreign visitors. Despite that we have enjoyed some amazing scenery, beautiful gardens, historical buildings and some interesting (!) food.
Here is a pdf file of those past six days. Japan Blog 2
We have been very pleasantly surprised by everything we have seen and hope that the pictures and description give you some idea of this beautiful country which now must go into our “top five” list.
For those of you have read past blogs, you will no doubt have noted typo and some more important errors (Certainly Molly has when she has read them). I rationalize that it’s a result of putting them together in haste at the end of a long day of sightseeing. Whatever the case, I am sure that the blogs from Japan will have errors in spades as the place names, etc are not only unusual to Westerners but after a while they begin to “run together”. Hope you enjoy anyway.
Bob and Molly
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On Wednesday and Thursday last week we spent two days walking through two of the main thermal area of Rotorua. Rotorua is the main city in this very “active” part of the North Island of New Zealand and is similar in a lot of respects to Yellowstone National Park. The features are much the same – bubbling mud pools, fumaroles, geysers (not very active here today) and very colorful pools and runoff areas. Much of what we saw on Wednesday at Waiotapu had resulted from a volcanic eruption only 700 years ago and even the much bigger area between Taupo and Rotorua is the result of a massive eruption only 2800 years ago. With such geologically recent major activity and the clear evidence of continuing change, one wonders just how fragile was the area on which we were walking. Certainly we have learned on previous visits that the earth’s crust around Rotorua is measured in inches to a few feet, so anything could happen at any time!
We spent Thursday at the Waimangu Volcanic Valley about 20 minutes south of Rotorua. This area is billed as the world’s youngest geothermal system since the landscape here was completely changed by the eruption of Mount Terawera in 1886. This eruption and a series of earthquakes, followed by activity that lasted until 1917, destroyed seven small villages, killed 120 people and caused the formation of Lake Rotomahana from two existing smaller lakes. The area is also being watched by scientists as a completely new eco-system develops following the total destruction and plants and trees have been “restored” naturally over the past 100 years. Finally, since it is classed as an active volcanic area, monitoring systems here are of importance in predicting possible future activity throughout the country.
The Reserve is now densely covered with many different flora and a quick glance from the Visitor Center over the valley would not reveal anything untoward about the landscape except for a few areas of steam emanating from the tree tops (not at all unusual in this part of New Zealand!) It is only when you start the walk that the immensity of the eruption and the changes it caused become more clear – especially with the aid of an excellent self-guided tour brochure.
We stopped at every marked area, read the details in the brochure and tried to visualize what must have happened to create the crater, stream or fumaroles that dotted the landscape through the trees. In addition to the obvious items of interest, beautiful in their own right, the whole walk was extremely attractive and would have been a pleasant way to spend the day without the history of the past 130 years to digest.
We concluded our visit with a 45 minute ride on the lake (recently proven to have volcanic activity beneath its 300 feet – and more – depth) which was narrated by the skipper who added colorful descriptions of the events of June 10, 1886 to that we had learned on our walk. We could clearly see the mountain that had caused this new lake and one of the seven craters that formed – this one in the vertical face of the hillside. We had seen three others (two of which are now small lakes) on the walk down to the water.
We drove from Rotorua to Wellington (the country’s capital) on Friday and spent a beautiful two days in this small but attractive city on the southern tip of the North Island.
Our main focus of the day on Saturday was the New Zealand National Museum, Te Papa. This is a six floor building with exhibits on all but the top floor, which is a viewing terrace with some magnificent views of the city, the water and the hillsides around the harbor. We spent much of our time on the floor dedicated to the history, culture and settlement of New Zealand. There were, of course, many exhibits of Maori housing, boats and dress and a good description of their migration to New Zealand about 700 years ago, from their established home in the islands of the southern Pacific Ocean. There is also a large area devoted to the influx of peoples from other parts of the world, which occurred mostly over the past two hundred years. The largest group was of course from the British Isles (of which our own generation was a large part, with post War help from the New Zealand government) but there were also significant numbers from the Dalmatian coast, Poland and a small part of western India. Most recently there have been refugees from the unsettled areas of the Middle East and, most obvious in Auckland, from Japan and other parts of Asia.
The weather was beautiful on Sunday with clear blue skies and no appreciable wind so the 60F temperature was very comfortable for walking. We took a cable car to the top of the botanical gardens area. Obviously we were familiar with the cable car we had just used (privately operated but for public transportation) but we were not aware of the many, much smaller cable cars in operation in Wellington. The city has been built on the very steep hillsides directly behind the harbor and as a result many private homes are accessible only by difficult footpaths or steps. Hence the private cable car! Many homes are now accessible via these 2-4 passenger private cars and, indeed, many have been built with all the materials having been brought on site by the cable car. There were some interesting commentaries by homeowners and the manufacturers about maintenance, breakdowns and use in inclement weather, but for the most part they are a normal part of everyday life for many Wellington residents.
From the top of the ride, with its great views of the city and harbor, we took the winding path down through the Botanical Gardens. This is a beautiful area with many native and imported trees, ferns, flowers and shrubs, and the paved path makes for a very pleasant and easy walk down the hill.
At the bottom is a huge rose garden (we were about a month early for the best display) and an enclosed begonia house – and, of course, an outdoor café. We also walked through the Bolton Street cemetery, which has been there since the earliest days of the city, but which was split in two by the building of a motorway in the mid-1960s. Apparently the decision to build the motorway, with its necessary relocation of an anticipated 2000 sets of remains (it turned out to be nearer 4000), was debated for three years before building could begin. However, with the road now long completed and the angst mostly forgotten, the two areas of the cemetery are connected via a bridge walkway and a mass grave formed for remains not identified. In addition, there is a small chapel with a record book and site map such that those interested may locate the graves of relatives or friends. For those graves not identified, a listing has been inscribed on a marble wall in the chapel.
The path from the gardens and the cemetery leads directly on to the flat land close to the shore – in fact, in 1840 the shoreline was several hundred meters further back than it is now, there having been land reclamation projects ever since the first Europeans arrived. The part of town we were now in (only 15 minutes’ walk from our hotel) is the government center, Wellington being New Zealand’s capital since 1865.
The old parliament buildings were destroyed by fire in 1907 but it wasn’t until 1922 that the new parliament house was finally completed. An executive office was added in the 1980s and has been nicknamed the Beehive. Neither of the two more modern buildings compare with the parliament library, which survived the 1907 fire and still retains the splendor and “strength” of a Victorian building. Perhaps the finest building in this area (and one which I admit I had thought had been the old parliament house is the campus of the Victoria University of Wellington. It certainly is a beautiful structure and must be one of the nicer city campuses anywhere.
Our final stop was at the Anglican Cathedral which was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1995. On the outside it looks much like many modern buildings and is not particularly attractive. However, the inside, while relatively plain, is very pleasing and the organ (which was being played during our visit) is magnificent with some most unusual horizontal pipes. The structure is very light and painted in pastel colors for the most part and dozens of rows of chairs replace the more traditional pews.
So, we concluded over four miles of walking through a beautiful area of Wellington which is a very attractive city in many respects. The fine weather certainly helped, but it is not difficult to understand why it ranks very highly (twelfth) in “most livable” large towns worldwide and third (behind Sydney and Auckland) in the Asia-Pacific region.
On Monday we sailed by ferry across the Cook Straits to begin ten days of touring on the South Island. Our first stop was Christchurch where we now are and more to come on that later. Suffice to say for now that the 2010 earthquake here did far more damage than we had thought and much of the city center is still flattened or has partially damaged buildings. The whole area has the feel of a war zone.
As we said, more on this later.
Bob and Molly
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Get out your World Atlases and turn to the page for New Zealand as we are spending just over three weeks in this beautiful country. It was a long series of flights to get here but we are now fully recovered and have just completed our sixth day in country.
For our two full days in Auckland (the capital city) we used the Hop on/Hop off bus to see many of the more famous sites in this city of 1.5 million (one third the population of the entire country). Since this is our fourth visit, we selected places to visit that we had missed earlier – specifically, a superb aquarium, the Anglican Cathedral and Parnell Village, a restored street of Victorian homes now mostly boutique shops and cafes.
Of course, we did re-visit the 1000 feet high Sky Tower (although we resisted the bungee jump from the top and were unable to get a dinner reservation in its revolving restaurant) and the superb Auckland Museum, as well as walking the attractive waterfront area near the old Ferry Building. We also climbed Mt Eden (actually only the last quarter mile from the bus park) which, at 600 feet, is the highest “mountain” in the city. It is one of 48 extinct volcanoes in the city and there is a magnificent well-formed crater which is viewable from the top.
Auckland sits on a narrow (about 7 miles at the minimum) piece of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea and, although it is difficult to separate the various stretches of water seen in every direction, from Mt Eden we could see both of these Seas. In addition, this is a perfect location to view the modern city with the Sky Tower dominating the skyline of modern buildings.
Auckland also has its share of good restaurants and we sampled three in this stay. We will be back for two more nights at the end of our driving tour.
From Auckland we drove north to spend three nights in Whangerei. This is a part of New Zealand that we have not seen before and it is extremely picturesque. There are beautiful stretches of coastline, forests with dozens of varieties of trees (many unique to the country) and miles and miles of green farmland – with cattle, not sheep!
One of our primary reasons for traveling north was to visit the Waitangi Treaty, considered the most historic place in New Zealand – the Birthplace of The Nation. It was here in 1840 that a treaty was signed between Queen Victoria’s emissary (Hobson) and many (but not all) of the Maori Chiefs; the birth of the nation but the beginning of over a century of contention, wars and demonstrations. The major problem was in the “translation” of the English version into the Maori language and the degree to which Britain would have sovereignty, and how much of their home and rights the Maori would be relinquishing. Depending on your point of view, this could be put down to difficulties of translation and word meaning – or it could be a deliberate slanting of the terms to facilitate the agreement and the signing.
It should be pointed out that the Maori had some years earlier asked the British for some form of alliance to help with trade and to keep other Europeans, particularly the French, from attempting a takeover. So, by 1840, there was a similar mood on both sides and the treaty was signed right here on the beautiful promontory overlooking the Bay of Islands. Unfortunately, the actual terms soon became clear to the natives and war erupted which extended to various degree until the end of the century and simmered well into the 20th Century. It wasn’t until 1995 that Queen Elizabeth signed an official apology to the Maori Nations for the events initiated in her predecessor’s reign 150 years earlier.
This seems to have gone a long way to healing the wounds and, as we have observed, the Maori and Europeans seems to live in harmony with the natives assimilated into the more western culture. However, as the informative video at this site pointed out, there are still lingering issues, particularly over what jurisdiction the Maori will have over what was once their land; so all is not perfect.On the other hand, “Perfect” could be used to describe the physical beauty of this site on a warm and sunny spring afternoon and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
On Monday our destination was the region on the west coast in which there are forests containing the Kauri tree. The Kauri is in many respects of size and age similar to the California Coastal Redwoods and, as with the Redwoods, was seriously over-harvested and is now a protected species. Unlike the Redwoods, the Kauri is a very strong timber and is particularly beautiful in furniture. It also has a sought-after gum which is sold as New Zealand amber in jewelry and art objects.
We first visited the Kauri Museum to learn a little about the tree and its history as well as its importance to the country. We learned (or at least were exposed to) much more! The museum (privately operated) was vast and not only told us all we needed to know about the tree but had many exhibits dealing with the life of pioneers in this part of the North Island. Much like the Coastal Redwood area in the US, the Kauri are now found primarily in protected groves through which pathways have been made. In fact, as the root system of these trees is very fragile, strict measures are taken to keep visitors on the paths and, in addition, we were required to pass through a disinfectant as we entered the groves to avoid the inadvertent transfer of soils, etc that might be damaging to the Kauri.
The largest living Kauri tree (which we saw at our last stop) is said to be 2000 years old and has a girth of over 40 feet and a total height of about 160 feet. This falls short of the largest Redwoods but is nevertheless a most impressive specimen. Almost of as much interest, however, is the whole area in which these trees now stand, in that they are surrounded by dozens of other species of tree and fern. We had seen many of these near the roads in our driving of the past two days but it was very pleasant to be able to walk through such a variety of foliage, most of which was quite different from anything we see at home.
Today (Tuesday) we left Whangerei and drove south about 250 miles to Rotorua, where we will be for the next three nights. This is one of our favorite spots in New Zealand and we are looking forward to seeing the mud pools, geysers and steam that are at just about every turn in the town and surrounding area.
Bob and Molly
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