As Philip wrote, we left Kerikeri the day before yesterday—but not before sitting down to tea with our hosts, who introduced us to mincemeat pies (yum). We then learned a bit about New Zealand history at the beautifully maintained Waitangi Treaty Grounds (see www.waitangi.net.nz), had lunch on the beachfront deck of the venerable Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell (once known as the "hellhole of the Pacific" but now a quaint village), and drove back to Auckland. This time I was behind the (right-hand side of the car) wheel, and I thought it was quite the accomplishment that I no longer accidentally activated the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal by the time we reached Auckland.
Yesterday morning we took a turbulence-filled flight (yikes!) to Christchurch, which was hit by a severe earthquake a few months ago. You can still see masonry damaged here and there, as well as lots of scaffolding around a number of the old stone and brick buildings, but the city looks in surprisingly good shape. The area around Cathedral Square feels like a theme park version of England. Punts (the English version of gondolas) wind their way down the Avon River and the streets are lined with neo-Gothic buildings. If you want to place a call, red phone booths are at your disposal.
We enjoyed the Maori performance in Auckland so much we decided to attend a longer version yesterday evening. The program required audience participation, so Philip and I learned how to do a haka, which, we discovered, means “breath of fire.” Our Maori teachers told us it’s not simply a "war dance," since it can also be performed as a lament or even as a celebration. I think Philip and I need plenty more practice not to make total fools of ourselves. Also, I made the mistake of wearing glasses instead of contacts—not a good idea considering that bulging eyes are essential to a haka! After the performance a guide took us to see a couple of elusive kiwi, among other native birds. The flightless and homely-looking kiwi evolved in an environment without any mammal predators, so imported animals—especially possums—have devastated their numbers over the last several hundred years. Now it’s morning again, and we’re off to Dunedin—apparently New Zealand’s theme park version Scotland.