We are in the Southern Hemisphere, where, contrary to expectations, people do not walk upside down, but the laws of nature are indeed the opposite of what we are used to. It is warmer in the North and colder in the South, winter in the Northern Hemisphere is summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the moon rises from left to right, and the Southern Cross (as opposed to Polaris in the Northern Hemisphere) serves as a reference point in the starry sky.
The North Island is a sort of preamble to the South Island, more populated and dynamic; it is home to the country’s two largest cities: the official capital Wellington and the actual Auckland in terms of activity and size.
Auckland is where we began our exploration of this faraway land, which has prepared us with a lot of amazing discoveries. It is perhaps the only metropolis in the country. Contrasting and free. Skyscrapers and bustling streets are replaced by quiet streets and deserted parks, and the hustle and bustle of the city is replaced by a spirit of adventure on the shores of a beautiful bay, soaked in sea air and the cries of seagulls.
Auckland is home to the tallest building in the country (and the Southern Hemisphere), the Sky Tower. The TV tower can be utilized in many ways. Dine in one of the restaurants, enjoy the views from the observation deck, take a half-hour walk along the open parapet of the tower, secured by a rope, or, finally, jump from a height of 192 meters in free fall. We were among the extremists who tried the last two options. Unforgettable sensations!
When you drive even a short distance outside the city, you immediately enter a different Zealand – farming, quiet, measured and peaceful. Vegetable, fruit and berry farms, pens of alpacas and deer… And endless grazing sheep – one of the firmly established symbols of the country (not without reason: there are about 8 sheep per person).
A real discovery for us were the vast lavender fields, which were stereotypically associated with the French Provence. Turns out, lavender is not only the soul of Provence, but also one of New Zealand’s many jewels.
Fans of the movie probably know that Peter Jackson’s famous Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand. However, not everyone can imagine that Hobbiton – a fairytale town – actually exists and you can go there.
The iconic place, which became a filming set, is a wonderful village of dwarves, a magical world in miniature. Hobbiton is a huge private farm that caught the director’s eye when he was looking for a movie set.
The property is private, owned by the Alexander family, and a tourist visit is a well-organized procedure that can only be done under the supervision of a guide. Even a person with no great love for the genre or movie, the whole staged fantasy world is nothing short of mind-blowing. Houses, gardens and orchards, a lake, a mill and even a tavern where you can drink refreshing apple cider.
The thirst for impressions drives us, and we go deeper into the middle of the island, into the natural zone of Wai-O-Tapu, where the greatest number of geysers and mineral springs are concentrated. The small town of Rotorua is located here, which immediately makes it clear that being here, you will obey its natural laws: punctual geysers allow you to observe at exactly the appointed time, on the shaky soil it is better to move by paved paths, in the air there is a peculiar smell of hydrogen sulfide, and bubbling springs are nestled right between houses….
The local national park is organized by several routes, on which you inevitably come across amazing places. Each pool, crater, spring has its own name. “Artist’s Palette”, “Devil’s Coffee Maker”, “Oyster Lake”, “Champagne Pool”…. There are incredible colors all around: due to settling mineral precipitation, trees and bushes are “painted” in unusual shades. You can’t believe that all this was created by nature and not by the masters of special effects.
The earth breathes and puffs, and the processes taking place are hard to comprehend. New Zealand is part of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire zone, within which there are 328 active volcanoes out of 540 known volcanoes on Earth. Five of the six volcanic zones are located on North Island.
Our next goal is the island-volcano Bely, one of the admittance “to the body”. A half-hour helicopter flight over the boundless expanse of first land, then the Pacific Ocean, and we find ourselves in the very crater of the volcano. The space landscape, clouds of vapors rising from the cracks, boiling black tar mass – everything is so amazing that you begin to doubt: are you on Earth?
There are no animals on the island, the volcano is active, the last eruption occurred in 2012.
Until the early 20th century, sulfur was mined here, but after the disaster that destroyed the plant, mining was stopped, and since then the island has been deserted. Except for brief visits from scientists studying changes in soil, chemical compositions, temperature, and tourists like us.