Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ancient New Zealand forests descended from Gondwana

A hairy  frond unfurls from the middle of a tree fern
Almost everything is different in New Zealand, but it was the forests that most captivated me. They’re called podocarp forests — a lineage that goes back hundreds of millions of years to a time when New Zealand was part of the super continent of Gondwana. Before being separated by continental drift it included most of the landmasses in today’s Southern Hemisphere, including Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar and the Australian continent, as well as the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.
 The same rich nutrients that made podocarp forests so luxurious also were attractive for farming, so many of the vast forests have disappeared from New Zealand.

Podocarp forests in New Zealand have plants found nowhere else on earth.

Some tree ferns grow to great heights, but none are as old as mauri trees which live thousands of years. 
 But one still exists near Wharekauhau, which was featured in my most recent Kiwi Kronicles story and can be found at
Almost everything that grows in New Zealand can be found no place else in the world. Tree ferns, which grow in shady areas,  were almost everywhere I traveled, from Wellington to Taraunga and the Coromandel Peninsula. They have umbrella like tops, similar to palms, but have a curled frond protruding from the top of the crown in many cases. A silver fern was the popular insignia for New Zealand’s All-Blacks rugby team, which won the world championship just before I arrived in November. A tree fern frond is also found as a logo of Air Zealand.

Kiwi Dundee lathers with water added to a leaf he picked from the undergrowth

On the Coromandel Peninsula I joined Kiwi Dundee, also known as Doug Johansen, for a trek into the bush where vines snaked across and along the path and a high leafy canopy arched overhead. Walking — what kiwis call tramping — is a popular pastime in New Zealand and it’s  Johansen’s claim to fame. He charms the birds from the trees and sometimes brings crumbled bacon along to feed to an eel he's named that lives in a stream.
Johansen has worked tirelessly to ban both logging and open pit gold mining in the region because even though there’s plenty of gold beneath the earth,  removing it would damage the environment. He’s documented New Zealand’s oldest kauri tree, a monster that’s more than 2,000 years old and knows the ancient Maori sites like the back of his hand.  If you go to this part of the world be sure to book a guided walk before you leave at

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Train an easy choice from Wellington New Zealand

Tranz Metro is a commuter division of KiwiRail

The Wellington train station is not much different from train stations throughout the world

Taking a train from Wellington to Wairarapa in New Zealand gave me an excellent glimpse into the lives of  local folks who commute between the city and the rural areas where sheep stations, vineyards and small towns provide an idyllic way of life. The Tranz Metro service runs five trains a day in each direction (six on Fridays) for a journey that takes slightly less than two hours. Trains run less often on weekends, but Wellingtonians take them to visit Wairarapa vineyards, wine and food festivals, horse races and to take short breaks in the country. Special trains are scheduled for events such as the popular Toast Martinborough Wine, Food and Music Festival  which takes place the third Sunday each November.

Watch the world of New Zealand's North Island go by from a comfortable seat on a train

Along the way we passed through the five and a half  mile long Rimutaka tunnel - nothing compare to our Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, but the the second longest tunnel in all of New Zealand.

The train is very straight forward and easy to negotiate, even for folks who don't live with regular train transporration in their lives.A cruise through the website has convinced me that next time I visit New Zealand I'll be booking train tickets for part of my explorations.

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