Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

September 21, 2017

© Courtesy Dr Arthur Zilbert

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On the road in New Zealand

An MD from Halifax celebrates his retirement by driving through the North and South Islands by station wagon

After 35 years of OB/GYN practice in Halifax, I retired in July 2016. My wife Kathy and I went to New Zealand for two months of their summer, February and March 2017, to celebrate. We had been to New Zealand in 2003 and travelled the South Island south of Christchurch. This time we concentrated on new adventures.

We rented an old station wagon in Queenstown for $1800. It was great on gas, which we appreciated because fuel was about $2 a litre.

Queenstown is beautiful. We enjoyed great walks, the highlight being the Queenstown Hill trail which leads to magnificent views of Lake Wakatipu and the town. We did side trips to Arrowtown, Wanaka and Glenorchy as well as a number of the Central Otago wineries that excel in Pinot Noir. Wet Jacket was our favourite.

We drove to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and stayed at Lake Tekapo for a few days after doing the Hooker Valley Trail hike (about 10 kilometres) into Mount Cook. We had done this 14 years earlier with my brother and sister-in-law so it was interesting to see improvements in the trail, but sad to see the receding glaciers. At the top of Hooker Glacier Lake, we spread some of my late brother-in-law’s ashes. He had been to New Zealand several times and this was his piece of paradise.

Lake Tekapo is a stunning glacial lake with aqua coloured water resulting from settled glacial silt. We did a fixed-wing flight over Mount Cook, Mount Tasman and several other mountains, glaciers and lakes. Absolutely breathtaking!

Our next stop was Kaikoura, the whale capital. In November 2016, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake created havoc in the town. The seafloor lifted several metres so sightseeing boats can only leave port at high tide. Many whales have moved on to better locations. We did a fixed-wing flight because all the boat spaces were taken and saw a massive sperm whale, which kindly stayed on the surface for over 15 minutes.

It was sad to see the devastation the earthquake brought on this little town. It’ll take a very long time, if ever, for the people and businesses to recover.

Nelson at the top of the Island

After a few busy weeks, we had scheduled a long stay in Nelson on Cook Strait at the top of the South Island. There was a great movie theatre in the heart of the town, a five-minute walk from our motel. We caught up on the Oscar-nominated films.

Tahunanui Beach in Nelson is gorgeous, long and sandy. When it’s low tide, you can walk out for a long time, though the water temperature is only around 19°C that time of year.

From Nelson we did a day trip to Golden Bay to tour Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit. The drive going over/around Takaka Hill was death defying, but worth it to see the very tip of the South Island. Unfortunately, there were 400 beached pilot whales in Golden Bay that day. Although whales become beached every year, this was one of the worst disasters ever. Hundreds of volunteers came to help, but after a few days, it was obvious that most of the whales would die.

The Farewell Spit Eco Tour (farewellspit.com) leaves from Collingwood on a large four-wheel drive bus that takes you to the top of Golden Bay. These are the only vehicles allowed to drive the 15 kilometres on the spit to the lighthouse at the end of a long stretch of white powdery sand dunes. The spit is a nesting area for gannets, other birds and seals. This was a tremendous day that we’d highly recommend if your nerves can handle the drive to and from Golden Bay.

Hopgood’s Restaurant (hopgoods.co.nz) in Nelson was the provider of a fabulous meal during our stay. On Saturdays, there is a very good market with foods and crafts in the centre of town.

Walks in Abel Tasman Park

Rested and ready for our next adventure, we left Nelson for Abel Tasman National Park. Our three-day hike began in Marahau, which I did with the aid of a lovely guide named Cab. Kathy’s back didn’t permit her to walk the track, but she did it by aqua taxi meeting the guide and I at the end of each day.

We walked 15 kilometres to Anchorage on day one then took the aqua taxi back to Marahau and stayed at the Abel Tasman Lodge (abeltasmanlodge.co.nz). The next day we packed our bags and took the boat to Torrent Bay. We walked 16.5 kilometres to Awaroa. Our bags were delivered to the Awaroa Eco Lodge.

The track is broken up by ferry stops. The walk between Torrent Bay and Bark Bay is about two hours, but it was swarmed with people. There are some tracks that have strict access rules, but not here. After Barks Bay, the foot traffic thinned dramatically in both directions.

The next day we waded through a stream and went to Totaranui, 10 kilometres away. We came across several wekas, which are often mistaken for kiwis. The walking track was blessed with fabulous views, but it was a bit strenuous for an out-of-shape retiree. My toes objected to my hiking shoes and I was hobbled for a couple of days.

Kathy enjoyed the beaches along the track and even managed a swim in the cool, but pristine Tasman Sea. We met her at Totaranui and then took a magnificent water taxi ride back to Marahau where we had left our car and most of our luggage.

Our last stop on the South Island was Blenheim to enjoy some of the famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The view from Brancott Estates was spectacular and their wines excellent.

We had a marvelous month in the South Island. The roads were challenging — narrow and very windy with crazy road signs — but well worth the aggravation to see beautiful sites. Locals told us that it was a cool summer, but compared to a Canadian winter, it was great. We experienced very little rain and temperatures averaged 20°C.

The North Island

The Interislander Ferry (greatjourneysofnz.co.nz) leaves Picton and goes to Wellington on the North Island. It sails through the Queen Charlotte Sound into Cook Strait and takes about three hours.

We explored the downtown and waterfront area easily, and did the very informative hop-on, hop-off bus tour. We went to the Te Papa Museum (tepapa.govt.nz), which is a free national museum. They had an exhibit about the Anzac involvement in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 that was riveting. We went to the Whitebait Restaurant (white-bait.nz) for dinner. It was one of the best meals of the entire trip.

We departed Wellington for Greytown and more wineries in the Wairarapa region, then drove 2½ hours to visit friends from Dartmouth, NS who had a farm in Feilding. Besides having the best lamb dinner ever, we got a tour of their daughter’s sheep and cattle station, which was close by. Beautiful and huge, it requires tremendous organization to manage. We were treated to a display of talent as the sheepdogs herded the sheep from one pasture to the next.

One feature of New Zealand that is different from most places that I have gone is that they have many public restrooms that are well located and marked. This was apparent even in the small villages and a distinct bonus as we age!

Lake Taupo and Rotarua are in the thermal areas so hot springs, geysers and mud pools are easy to find. In Rotarua, there is a large Maori presence. Te Puia (tepuia.com), owned and run by a local Maori tribe in the Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, houses areas for Maori to learn wood carving, weaving and other native skills from trained masters. The Maori show and traditional dinner were both excellent.

We finished our trip in the Bay of Islands staying not far from the centre of Paihia. Our logic was that this was the most northerly part of New Zealand and thus would still have the best weather in the early fall. The day we arrived the heavens opened up for four days of tropical rainstorms. Many areas outside of Auckland had major flood damage. When the weather finally cleared we went across to Russell on the ferry to the Duke of Marlborough Restaurant (theduke.co.nz). It was a spectacular spot for dinner with great views of the sun setting over the bay. We went twice —the food was stellar.

We drove 90 minutes to Kaitaia to do Harrison’s Dune Rider tour (harrisonscapereingatours.co.nz) of Cape Reinga and the 90 Mile Beach (actually only 90 kilometres). We had a wonderful sunny day with fabulous views of the spot where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet.

We did an Explore Group cruise (exploregroup.co.nz/en/new-zealand) of the Bay of Islands that goes out into the Pacific to the Cape Brett Lighthouse and Hole in the Rock. We also did a day trip to Otehei Bay where you can do water sports and walking trails. We found Vinnies Takeaways in Paihia had the best fish and chips ever.

After two months, we reluctantly drove our serviceable old car to Auckland Airport to fly to Sydney for a few days before we headed back to face the tough Canadian weather.

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