Editor at large: Zip-lining on chilly Waiheke Island

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    Chris and Natalie taking a walk through the forest after ziplining in New Zealand.
    Chris and Natalie taking a walk through the forest after zip-lining in New Zealand.

    It’s early spring in the Southern Hemisphere –about the equivalent of March back home.

    We knew this before we left. We had packed some light jackets and sweatshirts to layer in case it was a bit chilly while we were here. However, we did not prepare for 50-degree highs, rain and 30 mile-per-hour gusts.

    That’s my estimate of what we experienced yesterday, anyway. Without cell phone data, it was impossible to track the exact weather at its worst.

    But we had already scheduled a zip line, wine and dine tour on Waiheke Island, northwest of Auckland, and we were not going to let a little bad weather get in our way.

    I had never been zip-lining before yesterday, but the experience provided splendid views of the forest treetops. The longest zip line reached approximately 50 kilometers per hour, which is faster than the speed limit for vehicles on the island. The sound of the zip line whirring above me made me feel like I was flying even faster. I braced myself more than necessary as I approached the “zip brake” at the bottom of the line.

    All the while, rain drops icily stabbed my face. I was glad I wore my glasses for just a little extra protection against the rain.

    The zip line traveled over the top of the forest canopy. Other islands are visible through the mist.
    The zip line traveled over the top of the forest canopy. Other islands are visible through the mist.

    After the third and final line, our group of eight (Chris and I were not the only ones crazy enough to go zip-lining that day) took a 20-minute trek through the forest we had zipped over back to the base at the top.

    Everyone’s hands were the color of ripe tomatoes–most shoved them into their pockets for the walk back.

    The forest canopy sheltered us from the rain, but the gusts of wind could not be stopped. We all walked quickly back to the top.

    Waiheke Island is beautiful, exactly the kind of thing you would expect to see on a small island in New Zealand. Lush green cliffs sink all the way into the ocean bays surrounding the island. Smaller islands, just as green, can be seen peeking out through the mist on the horizon. While the rain froze me to the core, our guides told us island dwellers are glad for the rain, as the only access to water most homes there have is from rain water tanks. Last summer, there were a couple of points where the island went more than 30 days without rain and everyone using water tanks had to go to the community center for showers.

    Our guides also talked about how crowded the beaches can get in the summer, how the microclimate of consistent heat on the island makes it a great place to grow grapes and olives, and how we came on the coldest day of the year.

    The view from the top of Waiheke Island.
    The view from the top of Waiheke Island.

    Well, if we had come on the best day of the year, it wouldn’t be a Chris and Natalie travel experience. We laughed together, even though my face was so numb I couldn’t tell if I was smiling.

    After the zip line, we met up with a different travel group for a “Taste of Waiheke” tour, which included two wineries, a winery/brewery/distillery and an olive oil processor.

    The climate on Waiheke Island is perfect for about 10 varieties of olives and several varieties of grapes. However, that connection was just made about 18 years ago or so, so the wine and olive industries are still very young.

    The growers and processors, however, do not lack enthusiasm and create great products. Even Chris, who does not like wine and comes wine tasting just to humor me, found a Sauvignon blanc and a rose that he would drink again, and he managed to drink the Bordeaux red blends without making a face.

    The last winery is perched at the top of one of the highest points on the island. Our guide brought us to the top to enjoy a panoramic view while sipping on a Bordeaux red blend. Auckland was visible in the distance, easily identified thanks to the Sky Tower, at 1,076 feet the tallest point in the Southern Hemisphere (for comparison purposes, Seattle’s Space Needle is 605 feet.

    After the tour, we piled back onto the ferry to return to Auckland. The feeling finally returned to my hands inside the cabin.

    The wind made for a choppy ferry ride. Approaching Auckland from the water, the city reminded me of Vancouver, B.C., with a modern hotel right on the wharf, surrounded by a combination of ferries and privately-owned boats.

    Away from the water, Auckland feels relatively small, especially when we knew that 30 percent of New Zealand’s population lives here. We have already walked through most of the city center between the day we landed and yesterday, even with the cold weather and Chris catching a bit of a cold on the flight over.

    But it is beautiful, with a couple of large parks and green areas. We’re also never more than five minutes away from a local coffee shop, and so far, all of the coffee we have had has been amazing.

    We have also never been more than a block away from a construction project — it is clear that this city is expanding rapidly.

    Today is our last day in Auckland, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Tomorrow, we head to Rotorua via the Waitomo glow worm caves.

    –By Natalie Covate

    Just-married Natalie Covate, editor at Lynnwood Today, is writing about her honeymoon adventures.

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