last updated: 26/01/2003

Greetings from Middle Earth. We finally have finished updating our web album with photo's from Hawaii- New Zealand pics are in progress. First, the North Island. We drove to Rotorua following Auckland. Rotorua is the hotbed- and we mean HOTbed-of geothermal activity. We're talking pools of boiling mud and sulphuric bubbling boiling hot water- its the spa capital of the New Zealand. We "took the cure" and went to a spa called- of all things-Hell's Gate! That's because it is filled with boiling mud pools, which the boys especially liked. All five of us took a mud bath, it was pure...mud! Then Baruch and Elyse had a massage. Pix of the mud bath will be up soon, so you can see it for yourself! We also attended a Maori concert, as Rotorua and the north island are the scene of Maori culture. The Maori were a tribe famous, and proud of, their warrior history, and all their dances, songs, and even children's games were designed to inculcate the skills of warfare. Very interesting. The Maori culture is, like other native cultures, in danger of dying in another generation as its kids acculturate to non-Maori life, and the only economic advantage of being Maori at this point is to sell it to the tourist industry. We mused after the concert about how it would seem to bring busloads of tourists to see a Jewish concert and try and explain Judaism to them in a dinner and concert- especially if Judaism was on the verge of dying! (G-d forbid...)A sobering thought.
We have arrived in the South Island, and the scenery is gorgeous. There's a reason the mountain range is called the South Alps. We're in the area where Lord of the Rings was filmed.
Following Hawaii is a hard act to follow, and at first, we were- oh, ho-hum, another gorgeous vista. I mean - how many beautiful landscapes can you encounter in one day? But the road to Queenstown was truly spectacular. We've received many reports on how cold and snowy Toronto has been- while we're enjoying unseasonably beautiful (and unusually dry) weather (especially for the West Coast - nicknamed the Wet Coast). Our bus driver grumbled: 'We get over 5 metres of rainfall annually- especially wet months are Jan., Feb., Mar., ... (and he then continued to enumerate all 12 months)... Nov., Dec., so you're bloody lucky it's not raining right now. In fact, our half day hike on Fox Glacier was truly special, and only at the end of the hike did it cloud over, and we were [briefly] rained on! This was an incredible hike right onto the ice of the glacier (prounced here as glay-see-ehr, NOT, as we were corrected several times, "glay-sher")with special clampons on the bottom of our huge lunky boots, and ice sticks for balance. What a thrill! The lack of rain has meant that everything is brittle dry, and rivers are incredibly low, but we were treated to views of mountain peaks that are normally shrouded in cloud. One set of peaks is eponymously called the Remarkables!
We also took a cruise on Milford Sound, where we saw families of fur seals lying on the rocks. This will be our last update from NZ as we leave in two days for Australia. Our first stop is the island of Tasmania. We are praying that the terrible drought and the even more terrible bush fires they are experiencing will subside. We heard it was 40 degrees C (thats about 100 F) in the city of Melbourne! Here in the South Island it has been , well, rainy! but pleasant, if a tad cool for this time of year- but it ain't Toronto! Well, cheers, as they say here, talk to you from Oz (as they say there!)

updated: 20/01/2003

Kia Ora from Aotearao- the land of the long white cloud! New Zealand is more Pacific/Polynesian that we had known, as the native Maori culture is quite prevalent here in the North Island, and that culture has alot of similarities with other Polynesian native cultures. Although not as official as a bilingual country, many towns and street names are Maori- and signs in public buildings like libraries are labelled in English and Maori.

Not surprising, perhaps, are the similarities to Hawaii as island communities- in terms of isolation, volcanic history, and the issues of native (the word of the day: endemic) flora and fauna vs. introduced 'alien' species. New Zealand has made a concerted effort to eradicate certain pests, and has had some success although they still have a population of 70 million possums who deforest their lush green vegetation. Some enterprising entrepreneurs have tried using their soft fur mixed with sheep wool with some success! In Hawaii, for example, we saw several mongoose crossing the road, indicating that they are not all that rare - and they severely impact on local bird populations.

We arrived in Auckland after a 9 hour flight from Honolulu, an overnight flight that none of us really got any sleep on! But the kids were real troopers, and we made it! Our first impression of Auckland was, to tell the truth, not all that great, because we ended up in a crummy hotel in a small boring suburb-imagine being a tourist to Toronto (with no car) and finding yourself located in Etibicoke or Scarborough. (Some of our clothing even got stolen from the dryer on the last day!). After a few days, though, things started looking up. We had Shabbat dinner with our friend Deb Filler's mom Ruth, and on Saturday we joined in services with the Progessive synagogue, and they couldn't have been warmer or more welcoming. The president of the congregation went out of his way to welcome all visitors, introduce them, and people at the kiddush all came up to us to make us feel at home. A lesson other shuls could learn...We left Auckland on Sunday and arrived in Rotorua, home of the Maori culture, and also a beautiful city on the lake. We found a great cabin right on the lake, and had a great day at a working sheep farm, where Micha got to hand feed baby lambs and all of us hand fed emus, sheep and ostriches. Tomorrow we are going to take a mud bath and see the geysers! The day after we leave by plane for the south island, known as the Alps of New Zealand. We will check in with you at the end of our time there...We miss you all!