From North to South

Nelson, New Zealand

Relish, a small café in town, served up gigantic blueberry-chocolate-nut muffins for our drive to Wai-O-Tapu this morning. It was another sunny day as we climbed rolling green hills, passing grazing sheep and cows, on the 25-minute trip outside of Rotorua.

Wai-O-Tapu is a geothermal “wonderland” that showcases many of this region’s phenomena. We started at the Champagne Pool, formed 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption, with its bright orange sinter ledges. The various colors are natural and caused by varying mineral deposits, like silica, sulphur, manganese oxide and iron oxide.

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From a lookout, we took in Lake Ngakoro, a rich green body of water with rising steam indicating its activity. Kaingora Forest, the largest man-made forest in the southern hemisphere, along with the cooling tower of the Ohaaki geothermal power station sat off in the distance.

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Passing glistening terraces (formed by silica deposits), we walked along a boardwalk to an empty portion of the park.

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On our way out, we stopped at the nuclear green Devil’s Bath, whose color is the result of excess water from the Champagne Pool mixing with sulphur and ferrous salts.

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Rotorua Airport was quiet when we arrived. We were surprised that the Air New Zealand service rep didn’t ask us for identification before happily printing out our boarding passes. We were even more surprised when passengers subsequently streamed onto the airplane without a single security screening — not a metal detector, not a bag search, not a pat down. Nothing. In all my travels around this world, this flying experience was, by far, the most laid back.

Our propeller plane didn’t climb high, offering views of farms and the late spring snow blanketing the countryside.

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After a short layover in Wellington, we arrived in Nelson, a seaside town of about 50,000 on the South Island. We picked up another Toyota and drove to Villa 10, a loft that we’re renting for the next few days. The apartment was more than we could ask for — with views over the sunny Tasman Bay and plenty of space to unpack and unwind. Even a washer and dryer for laundry.

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In town, we walked among bars, coffee shops, art galleries and yoga studios. Shops were closing down as local residents boarded buses home. There were Victorian houses interspersed with industrial warehouses. Nelson showed — and proudly wore — character on its sleeve.

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Given the location, we didn’t think we could go wrong with dinner at the Boat Shed, which sat on a wharf by our apartment. We were mistaken. The food was overpriced and mediocre — and the portions just not adequate. It was our first truly lousy dining experience in this country.

Guess not even New Zealand can be perfect.

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