Driving in Kiwi Land – Reflections

February 20, 2016

In planning our trips, I occasionally screw up. Today I planned to drive from the worms in Waitomo to the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi. It was a long drive. We left the temperate zone of the north island and reached the subtropical zone in the north. After the 4 inches of rain yesterday, I was concerned that we could be attempting the impossible. Nonetheless, we sallied forth.

New Zealand has few real highways of two lanes each way. Most of the passing other cars, buses, trucks happens in passing lane sections that frequent the two lane roads that constitute the bulk of the intercity communications. This seems to work in a country of 4.5 million the size of Japan. Most people live in cities like the rest of the modern industrialized world. One in three Kiwis live in Auckland through which we would pass today. Traffic jams there are routine. The current transportation strike has added to the problems.

We drove through Hamilton without much problem. Much to my surprise we soon found ourselves on Motorways and Expressways to Auckland and beyond. The drive was pretty easy instead of the slog I was dreading. Of course, you do need to slow to 30 mph at every town every few miles. The Kiwis do not believe in bypassing any towns.

The drive through the heart of Auckland was surprisingly easy. Maybe because it was Saturday or maybe because SoCal freeways are good training. I wanted to stop on the Auckland Harbor Bridge for a picture but Peggy wouldn’t let me. I wanted to get a good picture since the harbor represented one of few childhood connections with NZ. At the end of March, 1942 my father Sergeant Victor La Porte of the 41st Infantry was in the harbor having completed a transit across the Pacific on the troop transport USS Uruguay. The commanders denied shore leave as they needed to get the troops to Australia ASAP to head off the Japanese in New Guinea. The troops had been rationed one quart of water per day ever since embarking in New Jersey. When my Dad saw the young Kiwi girls waving beer bottles on the dock, he managed to fall overboard. He always had a warm spot for the Kiwis and Auckland. Our drive was much less eventful.

At the northern end of the Auckland metropolitan freeway we saw a sign for the Northern Toll Road. We stopped and paid the toll. I was excited that the toll road might quickly whisk us closer to our destination. To my dismay the road became the usual 2 lane road after about 10 kilometers. I thought it was a cruel joke. We persisted though the admittedly beautiful hilly country side and stopped for a picnic close to our destination on the Bay of Islands. The bay was so named by Captain Cook in 1775.

We wandered the coastal road and arrived at Paihia on the Bay of Islands in time to be caught up in some sort of celebration. Plenty of people and a large cruise ship was anchored in the bay. We took a few pictures and headed for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where in 1840 the Maoris signed over a great percentage of NZ to the Brits. The British had had missionaries on the ground since the 1820s and the first settlements were down the street from out hotel.

The buildings and grounds where the treaty was signed are now part of a Maori operated museum that just opened a couple weeks ago. The cruise ships were sending their passengers there today. We had just seen many of the same artifacts and Maori creations in Wellington. However, we did not realize that Bobbie had connections with a Maori chief that we met. The two young people in the picture were familiar with Yupik Eskimo culture from a class at the university. We almost ended up bringing them along. The tongue sticking out is a customary greeting used before fighting. The famous NZ All Blacks Rugby team warms up for every opponent with that facial expression and an intimidating dance called the Waka. We left before Bobbie either was attacked or became an honorary Maori.

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