Exchange to Wellington and Thames/Coromandel, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia
February 26 to March 21, 2013
By Bob Porter & Laural Engeman, Co-Exchange Directors
Thirteen Columbia Cascade club members spent from 3 to 5 weeks enjoying a pre-exchange tour of New Zealand’s South Island; Exchanges in Wellington and Thames Coromandel, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia.
Eleven adventuresome souls began our 9-day tour of the South Island that was organized by NZ Scenic Coach Tours, Geoff and Margaret Smith. They specialize in providing tours to Friendship Force Clubs traveling to New Zealand for exchanges.
We started in Christchurch, a city devastated by earthquakes two and three years ago. We had a brief tour of the City where much damage is still evident, and then headed away from the East coast of the island through Arthur’s Pass to the West coast and Franz Joseph Glacier. We had views of temperate rain forests (ferns, lots of ferns) with snow capped mountains as a backdrop.
We saw thousands of sheep, beef cattle, dairy cows, red deer, and elk that were being raised for food. Douglas Fir and Monterey Pine trees are grown on tree farms for their wood.
We enjoyed seeing mountains, valleys, lakes, fjords, glaciers, rivers and forests. Milford Sound was a favorite along with the city of Queenstown with it’s coal fired steam boat and a gondola that took us to the top of the mountain.
We felt right at home where everything was familiar, but at the same time everything was different. The landscape reminded us of the Pacific Northwest, but the native plants and animals were very different.
Our final activity on the South Island was a swim with dolphins and viewing cruise out of Picton. We were able to view Hector’s Dolphins, the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world. However, we were not allowed to swim with them and the dolphins we could swim with were not to be found. Spending all morning dressed in wet suits was for naught.
A two hour ferry ride took us to Wellington, where we were met by our hosts for our week long exchange. We were joined by Pat and Lori who flew in to Wellington that morning. So we became an exchange of 13.
The Wellington club visited us in 2011 and it was good to renew friendships and make new friends.
We had an active week of bus rides, walking tours, potlucks and barbecues. Favorite activities, other than eating and visiting with our friends, were the Te Papa Museum, “Zealandia by night” tour, a forest walk at Kaitoki, World Friendship Day shared with both the Wellington club and the Kapiti club, and a meeting with the Mayor and school children of Porirua.
We were impressed with amount of interaction and cultural exchange we received with the Maori native population.
After Wellington, Jim and Gwen went to visit friends in Nelson and then returned home; Pat and Lori went to the South Island to ride a train; and nine of us took the Naked Bus to Rotorua. We were happy that we could keep our clothes on while we rode the bus.
At Rotorua, we were met at the bus stop by the Rotorua Friendship Force Club that is no longer an official club. They loaded our luggage into their cars and vans and took us to our hotel. After check in, they took us to a potluck dinner. We were overwhelmed with food, friendship and information about what to do in Rotorua.
The next day, all of us went to Whakarewarewa, a Maori village where we learned about their culture and how they integrated the hot springs and thermally active areas into their lives.
Our second day in Rotorua, our new Friendship Force contacts showed up to haul our luggage back to the bus stop and wish us well as we continued on our bus journey.
Pat and Lori joined us again, as we all arrived by bus in Thames. Our hosts greeted us, and we were off on another busy week long exchange. We had a wonderful time of bird watching, beach combing, potlucks, take aways (take out meals), barbecues and sightseeing. Favorites were the Hot Water Beach, the Driving Creek Railway, Miranda Seashore bird sanctuary, being welcomed into the Wharekawa Marae, and visiting the Mayor.
Unfortunately our perfect week was marred by a traffic accident. Kathie Kimmy and her hosts’ car hit a van that abruptly turned in front of them. Kathie was rushed to the hospital in Thames and then sent to the regional hospital in Hamilton for more tests. The worst of her injuries was several cracked vertebras in her neck. Fortunately there was no spinal cord injury. She ended up staying in the hospital for several days and then resting with a host family (Elizabeth Jones) for another week before she was able to fly home. The FF Thames club took very good care of Kathie.
Ten of us left Thames and on a hour and a half van ride to Auckland. Hedy stayed in Auckland for a couple of days before flying home and nine of us continued on to Sydney, Australia.
We were meet at the Sydney airport by our hosts and whisked away to their homes.
Favorite activities in Sydney were the walk across the Harbour Bridge with views of the Opera House, a train ride to the Blue Mountains, the Reptile Park, and various river and harbor ferry rides. At the end of the week, five of us returned to the USA, while Emily and Bonnie went north to Cairns and Pat and Lori went to Canberra for a few days of sightseeing.
The weather for our whole trip was spectacular with sun and warm temperatures almost every day. We got to experience late summer instead of the late winter we left back in Portland.