In July of 2010 I spent a week in Australia attending an international psychology conference in Melbourne, then spent a week exploring New Zealand on the way home.  A separate journal describes my experiences in Melbourne.  This journal describes my experiences in New Zealand, taking three scenic train trips and sightseeing in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland.  If you have seen Avatar or the Lord of the Rings films then you have an idea of the spectacular scenery that I saw.  I have posted 35 photos of New Zealand scenery at the website  In the paragraphs below I describe some of the things that I learned and experienced.



            Sunday evening July 11 I flew to Christchurch in New Zealand, which was a 3- hour flight from Melbourne, which meant I would need a 12-hour flight to return to Los Angeles.  In New Zealand the time was two hours later than in Australia, so even though the clock said 1 AM my body only thought it was 11 PM.  I took a shuttle to a youth hostel in the city center where I had reserved a single room.  Youth hostels are less expensive than hotels, and the kitchen and lounges make it easier to meet other travelers.  A single room avoids being awakened by others or waking others, in a dormitory with multiple bunkbeds, in the middle of the night after clubbing, and provides more security for belongings. 

            Monday morning I explored the Canterbury Museum.  I saw artifacts and exhibits about the lifestyle of the Maori, who fished and traveled among the islands using canoes, before the arrival of Europeans. There also were European artifacts as well as exhibits about expeditions to the South Pole. 

            At noon, I had arranged to meet a student who is one of my advisees at Whittier College and who lives near Christchurch.  After lunch we explored an art museum, then stopped by his house to get him a warmer jacket – the temperature was below freezing since it was winter below the equator!  Then we went to the Willowbank Wildlife Preserve that offered a Maori experience.  When Maori meet they assess whether the person is a friend or foe, and if a friend they touch noses and foreheads to share the breath of life.  Nine Maori performed various dances, including the Haka that is a war dance.  It is done by sticking out one’s tongue, making noise, and having a threatening pose with knees bent and arms up.  Audience members were invited to participate, and my advisee did that while I took photographs. 

            We were then given a tour of the Wildlife Preserve, which collects kiwi eggs, hatches them, and returns them to the wild.  They are endangered as a result of the introduction of dogs, raccoons, and other animals by humans.  There were no mammals in New Zealand before being brought by Maori or Europeans. 

             Tuesday morning I took a shuttle to the train station and boarded the 8:15 AM TransAlpine train west across the Southern Alps on the South Island to Greymouth.  The scenery was spectacular.  There were many snow-capped mountains, sometimes behind hills and trees and sometimes behind farmlands with sheep or dairy cattle.  I had read that there are 35 sheep for every human in New Zealand.  But I didn't know that there are many dairy cattle, which produce powdered milk for export.  (See photos A1-A12 at

            It was a challenge to photograph the mountains without reflections in the train window.  Putting the lens next to the window eliminated the reflections, but limited the viewing angle – it was difficult to snap the picture at the right time to avoid trees and telephone poles blocking the mountains!  There was a small viewing platform outside at the end of the train car, with no window reflections, but it was cold and very windy so I didn’t stay out there long!  It was best when the train stopped at a station a few times, and I was able to get off and take photographs then!  Nonetheless, I was able to get a few good shots out of the many that I took.  That is what is great about a digital camera; I can take as many photos as I want, since I carry extra memory cards and batteries.

            After three and a half hours, the train arrived at Greymouth, where I just had time for lunch before boarding the train back to Christchurch.  The scenery was just as spectacular viewed from the other direction.  After dinner, I went to see a musical play called “Forbidden Broadway” which had famous Broadway songs with altered lyrics, such as “Rant” instead of “Rent” and “Spamelot” instead of “Camelot.”

            When I returned to the youth hostel, I noticed the following quote on one of the doors: “A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles – Tim Cahill.”  That sums up my own attitude about traveling – the best part is the people I meet from different cultures.



            Wednesday morning I took a shuttle to the train station and boarded the 7:00 AM TranzCoastal train north to Picton at the top of the South Island.  I took photos of the sunrise over lakes, and photos of misty mountains with low-lying clouds in valleys and on farmlands. I didn’t realize how beautiful they were until I edited them back home. After miles of farmland, the train travelled along the ocean, then inland again by salt flats, snow-capped mountains, and vineyards.  New Zealand is famous for Sauvignon Blanc wine.  The trip was supposed to take 5 hours and 15 minutes, but was running 45 minutes late when we arrived at Picton.  I took the shuttle bus to the Inter-Island Ferry, which was waiting for our train.  The ferry passed by green islands as it left Picton for the three and a half hour ride to Wellington.  (See photos B1-B19 at

            In Wellington, I took the shuttle bus from the ferry terminal to the train station, then a city bus to a youth hostel, where again I had reserved a single room, and left my luggage there. When I plan a trip, I always check my guidebook and online listings to find where the dance clubs are, and find a youth hostel or other inexpensive lodging where I can walk back late at night.  I reserve the lodging online.  In Wellington, many clubs and restaurants are on or near Courteney Place.  I ate dinner, and then looked for dance clubs since I didn’t plan to attend a conference or catch an early train the next day.  A club listed in my guidebook had a live band, but no one dancing.  Another club had a DJ with only a few people dancing.  But across the street was a club with a good crowd.  As usual I gained rapport with other dancers who imitated my energetic dance moves.  When I finally left, on my way back to the youth hostel I met two groups that I had seen in the dance clubs!

            Thursday morning I took a bus out to Weta, which is the studio that produced the special effects for Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and other films.  They do puppets, prosthetics, makeup, and computer effects.  They showed a video about the studio and had small models of the many characters and monsters they had created.

            Upon return to downtown, I explored the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa.  It had exhibits about plate tectonics, which revealed that New Zealand was next to Australia and Antarctica when all of the continents were joined about 250 million years ago.  Other exhibits said that the first humans in New Zealand, the ancestors of the Maori, were descended from Polynesians who had come from Southeast Asia to Samoa, Fiji, and then the Cook Islands about 3000 years ago, and from there traveled north to Hawaii and east to Easter Island 1200 years ago, and south to New Zealand only 800 years ago.  They came on large outrigger canoes with sails and a pontoon for balance, using stars for navigation.  They brought tropical plants and animals with them, but not all of the plants and animals survived in the colder New Zealand weather. 

            I walked from the museum to a cable car that took me up a mountain to the Carter Observatory. I watched a planetarium show about the Southern Sky.  There is no star similar to the North Star in the northern hemisphere, which stays in the same position as the earth turns, but the Southern Cross is often visible.  I also saw great exhibits about each of the planets in the solar system, as well as the sun and other aspects of the solar system.  After the big bang, the universe was full of hydrogen, which coalesced into stars, which converted most to helium but under tremendous pressures also created the other elements, including carbon, which is the basis of life on this planet.  As Carl Sagan said, we are made of star stuff!

            I took the cable car halfway down the mountain to Victoria University.  I explored the university and located the psychology department.  I know two of the psychologists there, but they were out of town.  That night after dinner I went to see an avant-garde play called Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland, which was a little hard to follow as a foreigner since it jumped between past and present events.  That night I had to forego clubbing in order to catch a 7:00 AM train.



            Friday morning I boarded the TranzScenic Overlander train to Auckland.  It passed many miles of farmland and rivers.  There also was a large mountain that resembles Mt. Fuji in Japan, and has been used as a substitute for it in films!  (See photos C1-C4 at

            Although the trip was long, it was pleasant.  I enjoy riding trains, and have ridden them all over Europe and Japan, and parts of Canada and the US.  It is less tiring than driving, and you can look at the scenery instead of the traffic.  It is less cramped than a bus, and you are able to get up and move around.  But I have trouble sleeping on a train now, even though I did it the first time I went to Europe years ago.

            The train was supposed to take 12 hours, but after we left Hamilton with an hour and a half to go, the train stopped and backed up to the station.  There had been an accident up the tracks between a freight train and a car in which someone was killed, so they didn’t expect to clear the tracks for hours.  So we boarded buses for the rest of the trip.  Fortunately I was able to grab the front seat so I didn’t have a seatback pressing on my long legs. 

            I checked into a youth hostel near K’Rd, which is where the dance clubs were supposed to be.  Listings of dance clubs in guidebooks get out of date, since there often is a turnover in clubs, and online listings may include dozens of bars without dancing.  But usually you can find dance clubs with DJs and pubs with live music easily if you know the area where to look.  As you walk by, you look for the crowds and listen to the music, then pop your head in if it sounds promising.  But on K’Rd it was more difficult to tell from outside.  Some of the bars had dance music without dancing, some were casinos, and some were brothels.  The street got sleazier the farther west, so I quickly backtracked.  Finally, I found a club with dancing, and danced for three hours.

            Saturday morning I slept in then explored the Auckland Museum.  I watched a Maori performance that was similar to the one in Christchurch but without the audience participation.  Exhibits traced voyages of Polynesians, and showed the same general routes but with slightly different dates:  4000 years ago to Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, 2000 years ago to the Cook Islands, and then the same 800 years ago to New Zealand.  The museum had many Maori artifacts.  From an exhibit about volcanoes I learned that the hills around Auckland are volcanic craters and there are more than two dozen of them.  The museum also had memorials to New Zealanders involved in various wars around the world.

            I took a bus to the Sky Tower, which had an observation deck at 623 feet.  It had great views of the entire region in all directions.  I arrived before dusk and stayed until the night lights came on. 

            When I arrive in a new city, I always look for travel brochures in airports, train stations, and tourist offices.  There usually is a tourist booklet listing museums, festivals, and other events, along with ads for hotels and restaurants.  But it usually doesn’t list all of the plays, concerts, live music in pubs, or dance clubs.  However, there often is a weekly underground newspaper that lists these things, and is available in music stores, universities, pubs, and other places where young people hang out.  I had found that for Auckland in a music store, and was surprised to find little happening that week except for an international film festival.

            But I remembered that I had emailed a colleague who had lived in New Zealand to ask about sightseeing and dance clubs, and she gave me the name of a friend in Auckland.  I called him, and then met him and a friend of his back at the youth hostel.  As we walked to the wharf, he pointed out a building with big letters saying “The White House” which had American flags on a small sign that said “White House Entertainment Center.”  He said that it was a brothel, and that prostitution is legal in New Zealand!

            There were many restaurants around the wharf, and we had dinner at a Belgian cafe.  I had developed a head cold, so I didn’t stay out late clubbing that night.

            Sunday morning I explored the Maritime Museum, which had exhibits about many kinds of ships, including Maori outrigger canoes, European sailing vessels, and modern yachts.  Auckland is known as the City of Sails, and has a long history of shipbuilding and participation in yacht racing.  The exhibit on the Maori said that they arrived about 1000 years ago, instead of 800, so those differing dates at various museums are all estimates.  More precise are the dates of European explorers.  Magellan cross the Pacific in 1519-1522 but did not reach New Zealand.  Tasman explored New Zealand on his voyage in 1642-1644, and Cook claimed New Zealand for the British Crown on his trip in 1768-1771.

            In the 1800s there was trade between Europeans and Maori, but as more European settlers came, there was increasing armed conflict between them.  Inter-tribal conflict among the Maori also became more deadly when some obtained muskets from the Europeans.  In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed making New Zealand a British Colony.  It promised certain rights for the Maori, but the quick Maori translation by a clergyman included additional rights not in the English version to make it more appealing to the Maori.  Disputes about Maori rights continued.  For more than a century the government tried to eliminate Maori and culture and language, similar to efforts in the US in which Native Americans were taken from families and put in boarding schools.  But in the 1970s the government formally recognized Maori culture and made the language an official language of the country.  Maori language schools have opened, and museums now try to present Maori culture with respect.  For example, the Carter Observatory in Wellington presented Maori creation myths alongside scientific explanations of the origin of the universe.

            The Maritime Museum offered a harbor tour on a sailing vessel, so I went on that.  I enjoy riding on small boats and large ships.  My family had a motorboat when I was a teenager in Oregon, and I’ve gone boating with my brother in recent years.  In 2002 I taught on a Semester at Sea voyage around the world.  As we went under a bridge on the tour there was a sign to watch out for the bungie jumpers.  There also is bungie jumping from the Sky Tower.  There are many opportunities for high adrenalin activities in New Zealand!

            I took a bus to see the Auckland Art Gallery, but the main gallery was closed.  The annex just had two small exhibits.  I took another bus to see the Victoria Park Market.  It had many shops with arts and crafts.  I found a pendant for my wife that was a kiwi bird with a pretty blue shell.  I met the friends that I had dinner with the night before, and we drove along the coast to a couple of viewpoints where we could see the skyline of the city across the water.  We had dinner at a Thai restaurant. 

            Monday morning I explored the University of Auckland.  It was the first day of classes after a six-week winter break.  So there was a DJ in the student union, and booths for various organizations, such as the international club.  I found the psychology department but didn’t recognize any of the faculty names that were listed.  I then walked a few blocks to the Auckland University of Technology, and found its psychology office in a high-rise building.

            I decided to go to the Stardome Observatory, and walked to where my guidebook said to catch a bus.  There was no bus stop there, but I found one a block away, which had a listing of bus routes.  It said I could catch the right bus at stop M6 or M7.  Since M6 was closest, I walked there and waited half an hour, but no bus came. Usually they run every 10 or 15 minutes.  Fortunately I had my US cellphone, which works on roaming in New Zealand (but not Australia).  I called the bus company and was told that that bus doesn’t stop at M6 but does at M7.  So I walked there and finally caught the bus.  After riding for 45 minutes, I came to the observatory, only to see a sign saying that it was closed that day for renovation.  I waited 10 minutes for the bus to take another 45-minute ride back downtown.  I always check my guidebook and travel brochures for open times, since many museums around the world are closed on Mondays after being open on Saturdays.  But renovations are not always announced!

            I joined one of the friends that I had been having dinners with, and two of his colleagues, at a Japanese restaurant.  On the way back to the youth hostel I found a Comedy Club and decided to attend the show.  Sometimes you miss some of the humor if it is about politics or events that are unfamiliar to a foreigner, but these comedians joked about relationships and other topics that were easy to understand and were in fact hilarious.

            Tuesday morning I flew from Auckland to Los Angeles.  Fortunately, I had an exit row seat that I had paid extra for.  I wasn’t able to sleep in spite of wine and melatonin, so the 12-hour flight back seemed longer that my previous 15-hour flight to Melbourne.  Due to crossing the international date line, I regained the day that I had lost going in the other direction, and as a result arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday “before” the time that I left Auckland on Tuesday!

            While waiting for my luggage in LA (an internal-frame backpack, which is much easier to carry than a suitcase), it was announced that the luggage was delayed due to construction which required going around the building.  Later it was announced that all of the luggage had been unloaded, but there were still more than a dozen of us waiting.  I complained to an airline official, and they finally found another container of luggage.  By then two other planes had landed, and there were long lines for customs.  My wife was waiting outside, and kept texting me, but when I was in line I lost cellphone coverage.  Normally it takes about 45 minutes from the time of landing to get through customs, but it took almost an hour longer this time.  One must be patient and flexible when traveling!