Today began with an early breakfast while the ship was moored in Torrent Bay in Abel Tasman National Park at the top of South Island. Departing on Zodiacs, we joined a local operator to explore the beautiful coastal park.
Abel Tasman is usually known for turquoise water, sandy beaches, and warm sun. We experienced the tail end of a big rainstorm that dropped a summer’s worth of rain in one day on the northern part of New Zealand. As we began our walks through the forest of the park, the rain subsided, giving us an accurate experience of New Zealand’s temperate coastal forests!
Abel Tasman is a recovering ecosystem after deforestation led to most of the ancient kahikatea and tōtara forests to be felled. Our walk took us through a mature kānuka forest with large groves of silver ferns called ponga. Our guides showed us how the forest is recovering with secondary canopy trees like rimu.
Alongside the ponga groves were swathes of kawakawa, an important shrub for the Maori who used it in all sorts of applications because of its medicinal properties. Some bolder members of the group even copied the kererū and ate the kawakawa fruit, which has herby orange flesh. Arriving back at Torrent Bay, we split into groups to wander the stunning beachfront and swim in the warm water.
We were welcomed back aboard with an incredible feast of pizza and other scrumptious, well-earned food after the morning walk. With the anchor pulled, National Geographic Orion set off to reach the town of Napier on the East Coast. Our route took us into the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands, which was astoundingly calm and mirror flat.
As we cut through the still waters, Tua Pittman, the ship’s Cultural Navigator, regaled us with stories of amazing ocean voyages aboard traditional double-hulled wakas. The history of these incredible canoes is full of traditions and designs, and the canoes once sailed across this wild stretch of water in the Cook Strait.
National Geographic Orion
After breakfast, most of the guests walked off the ship at the Port of Tauranga and took a bus ride to the fascinating area of Rotorua. The drive through the outskirts of one of New Zealand’s largest provincial cities was interesting enough, but when we got to our destination – Te Puia Rotorua – a whole new adventure began. We were met by our guide and walked into the facility to view the area best known for geothermal wonders, breathtaking natural beauty, and a vibrant Māori culture. Our first stop was to observe spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, steaming vents, boiling lakes, and colorful sinter terraces. The viewing area took us up close to the action, and the smell of sulfur was in the air. We also learned about New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, and conservation efforts to protect the species. We observed a couple of the quirky, flightless birds digging and foraging in their special nighttime enclosure. Then we were treated to a traditional Māori greeting and invited into a Marae for a superb cultural performance. An excellent buffet lunch at the Pātaka Kai restaurant followed. Then we enjoyed a visit to the Ahua Gallery to learn about Māori arts and crafts, including woodcarving, weaving, and stone and bone carving. It was an exciting, informative, and wonderful excursion.