There are some places you visit that live up to your expectations: Venice, New York, Key West. There are others that exceed them: the Grand Canyon, Paris, Santa Barbara, CA. As most of you know, I had very high expectations for New Zealand, and it falls very strongly into the second category. The land itself is magnificent, the food and wines are delicious, and the people are, without exception, naturally friendly and welcoming. You realize you will always be returned a smile and conversation for conversation initiated. The Kiwis have a woderful sense of humor and enjoy a good story. It is easy to talk to total strangers and you soon get over the feeling of shyness that every new-comer has in any foreign country.
Last night we had fresh seafood in a local cafe (http://www.smokehouse.co.nz/) on the waterfront in a tiny little village, Mapua, just 10 minutes from where we are staying. We had an outdoor table looking over a little bay with a few small sailboats and dinghies anchored. The sun was setting over the mountains behind Nelson, and with the tide low, the water was calm. The air was delightfully cool. There were several tables of locals and a few tourists. A young couple came in with three children, two little girls, and a baby about 4 months old. After ordering their food, the mother saw me admiring the baby, picked him up and brought him over to our table to introduce "Joseph" to us. He smiled a big happy dimpled smile at me, and she handed him over for me to talk to him for a minute or two. It was the most spontaneous and friendly encounter. Now, where else have you been lately where that might happen?
We spent the morning yesterday kayaking in Abel Tasman, It was cool and slightly overcast, so we avoided the danger of getting sun-burned. A bag lunch followed, then we were taken by water taxi to Onetahuti for a walk back down the Tasman track to Bark Bay. The sun was shining by this time, but we were in heavy shade for part of the track with 50 foot fern tress and heavy green moss on the forest floor. There were two sparkling waterfalls, golden sand beaches, and crystal clear emerald water. We saw a colony of seals on one of the islands, had a good 2 hour walk which was pretty steep in several places, and then joined our water taxi (right on time, again) for the return trip ot Kaiteriteri. It was a great day, and we returned to our cottage for a cold glass of Pegasus Bay riesling. It just doesn't get any better.
The landscape is so beautiful. The towns look like the 1960's. Of course, we are still on the south island, and there are fewer people here than on the north island, but there is just no traffic compared to the US, and all two-lane roads. By the way, the music that is played in cafes and pubs is all 1960's Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, etc. Bill and I can sing along with all of them!
I'll post some pictures this afternoon.