Gisborne, New Zealand, 2/1/2023, National Geographic Orion
National Geographic Orion
Australia and New Zealand
Today we had a choice of three different visits: the National Arboretum, a tour of some local wineries, or the Waipura Station, a working sheep and cattle farm located just outside of town. All three choices were well worth the effort, but my time was spent at Waipura Station, and it offered such wonderful insight into a lifeblood of New Zealand.
Our first stop was the shearing barn, where we were treated to a shearing demonstration and an orientation about a typical sheep farm. We headed off to the main house for a cupper (some tea and coffee) and some treats and finished off with a muster of the sheep by the dogs of the station. The MacLaurin family owns the station, and they could not have been more welcoming. It was hard to get everyone onto the buses for our trip back to the ship.
Steve Morello has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world. Born in New Jersey he was lucky to be able to summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Whether it was exploring the tidal pools, snorkeling along the beach, or hiking in the dune...
The last excursion of this great voyage began with heavy rain. Hopefully this weather is the tail end of an incredible easterly rainstorm that has battered Auckland with the highest rainfall in recorded history. Located in the Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland region, Great Barrier Island was no exception. Our intention at Great Barrier Island, also called Aotea locally, was to visit Glenfern Sanctuary, a predator proof peninsula. Aboard National Geographic Orion, we received a briefing from Steve, the park manager, who explained the incredible history of the peninsula. Ranging from early settlers to World War II bases, the history of the island is rich. Part of this story is the beginning of a guest house in the late 1800s when the park was logged from ancient podocarp forest into grass farmland. More recently, an Auckland sailor had a vision to create a bird sanctuary in this damaged ecosystem. Glenfern began with a predator proof fence to keep out pests like rats, stoats, and cats, followed by a mass native tree planting project. Aboard Zodiacs, we traveled to the peninsula in thoroughly wet conditions…thankfully, smiles were still on our faces! We split into different groups and headed for three main destinations: Sunset Rock for peninsula views; the ancient Kauri for a treetop experience; and the ancient Puriri tree for a look inside the temperate subtropical forest of northern New Zealand. The heavy rain continued, and many of the trails were running with water. The expedition remained unbothered by this as we searched for some of North Island’s unique birdlife and rainforest. Today, we were lucky to see kākās, red-fronted kakariki, fantails/pīwakawakas, New Zealand storm petrels, and tūīs. These were special sightings! One of New Zealand’s most famous tree species is the kauri. It is one of the most striking Northland trees, capable of living for up to 2,000 years. At Glenfern, we had the privilege of clambering into the lofty canopy of a ‘young’ ancient kauri. A final highlight from the 3rd of February was a circumnavigation of Little Barrier Island during dinner.
Overnight, we sailed north in roiling seas from Gisborne around East Cape, the northeast corner of New Zealand. From the dock in Tauranga Harbour, our multifaceted excursion took us south to Rotorua and Te Puia. First, we were welcomed into an intricately carved Maori meeting house with formal greetings, exchange of the hongi, whakapapa chant, and haka. Songs, dances, and stick games followed, the significance of each explained by our guides. In the dark of artificial night at the Kiwi Conservation Center, we watched two kiwis use their highly developed sense of smell, long beaks, and sensitive whiskers to forage for insects among the leaf litter. Flightless, rotund for their size, and nearly blind, kiwi are fascinating and endearing birds. No photos were permitted as even a small amount of light can disrupt their nocturnal behavior, but we certainly enjoyed seeing them up close! Part of a larger geothermal system on the edge of the 240,000-year-old Rotorua volcanic caldera, Whakarewarewa terrace features several active geysers that regularly erupt hot water and steam into the air. In this region, rainwater percolates deep enough to be heated by molten rock far within the Earth; the hot water then rises to the surface and generates geysers, fumaroles, mud pools, and hot springs. Today, the bubbling mud pools gurgled, boiled, and plopped even in a downpour – natural playfulness with a strong sulfur smell. We also toured the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, a nonprofit educational organization founded to train new generations in traditional skills, provide demonstrations to the public, and preserve Maori culture. Mentors and students showcased their abilities and answered questions as they worked with wood, bone, and pounamu carving, as well as flax weaving. Our visit concluded in a gallery of completed student pieces, each stunning in its complexity and artistry. This evening, guests were treated to two National Geographic Orion special events: a multicourse gourmet dinner and the crew show! Exceptional food was followed by songs and dancing that highlighted the hidden talents of the crew who have treated us like family during the voyage. What wonderful ways to share good spirits and memories as our trip around New Zealand enters its final days.