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Yale 62

“Some of the Most Pleasant Places in the World”

By Howard H. Kaufman, MD

Perth, in Western Australia


Last December and January, I enjoyed a visit to some of the most pleasant places in the world, Australia and New Zealand. Parenthetically, I was married in Perth in 1974 and have been back several times and seen much of the country, but still have many places I would like to tour.


A friendly quokka

For two weeks, I visited Perth, Australia, where my father-in-law, an Orthodox rabbi, was celebrating his 101st birthday. Perth is about the farthest place on earth from the US and the farthest place from another major city. It’s situated a few miles up the Swan River where it opens into a large lake with ten marinas. The city is very modern with interesting buildings, museums, and a variety of other sights. There’s a cliff on the river above the city with a park larger than Central Park. It has wonderful forests and lawns and gardens with unique native plants and lakes and views of the city and lake. It’s a memorial to soldiers lost in various wars, with plaques on many trees commemorating them. On the sea side of the city there’s a series of resorts with marinas and restaurants dedicated to the enjoyment of fish and chips raised to gourmet quality and the city of Freemantle. Freemantle has a maritime museum with an America’s Cup winner and a shipwreck museum filled with information about the many disasters that befell the early explorers of the coast. Out about 10 miles is Rottnest (from rats’ nest) Island populated by small, friendly marsupials called quokkas (initially thought to be rats). While having lunch, I looked down to see a young quokka who had infiltrated the restaurant and was delicately munching on a French fry that had fallen under the table. To round out the attractions of Perth inland is the Swan Valley, home to several wineries, where during lunch I saw a kangaroo lounging on a nearby golf green. There were no major fires in the west near Perth, but it was affected by the drought, so most grass and some bushes were brown.

I then joined a cruise around New Zealand. The country is built on volcanoes arising at the junction of tectonic plates and its main problem is the related earthquakes. I visited the three major cities. The first was the commercial capital Auckland, partway up the North Island where the land is only a km wide with ports on both sides. The day I arrived, the sky turned dark and red – smoke from the fires in eastern Australia a thousand miles away – but cleared in a few hours. Auckland is built on 40 or 50 volcanoes, but none have been active for hundreds of years. The central city is being rebuilt with new roads and a subway. The waterfront has a port, marina, and many restaurants, and a New Zealand America’s Cup boat. It has all the amenities of any major city, including the Sky Tower, with observation floors at 55 stories. There’s a large park with a memorial dedicated to those who fell in war and many Maori artifacts. There I saw a Haka, the traditional dance where the warriors exercised with their weapons, stuck out their tongues, and yelled. Fairly scary. There is another museum which has many portraits of Maori chiefs who had full facial tattoos, including one depicting a chief being tattooed. Because of lack of sterility, the tattoos became infected, so they were created one part at a time, to avoid a fatal outcome.

I also visited the capital of Wellington at the southern end of the North Island where the national court and parliament meet. The national museum is one of the best in the world and focuses on natural history and Maori artifacts. I went on a “behind the scenes” tour by two Maori ladies and saw many carvings, musical instruments, and feather capes, including the one worn in Olympic parades. One of the ladies had the traditional tattooed lips and chin of the women. We finished the tour with native foods and a prayer. The Maori are very spiritual, but paradoxically were also cannibals. A great deal is being done to foster the local culture, though not cannibalism!

The third city is Christ Church on the South Island. Again, a very modern and attractive city. Wellington and Christ Church had both been hit by major earthquakes in the last few years, but were largely rebuilt and were very modern. All the cities are on the sea, and I have never seen so many sailboats as in New Zealand.

Cruise around New Zealand

There is much else to see, including magnificent fjords with high mountains, steep walls, glaciers and waterfalls. There is great whale watching. I saw three – they rest just under the surface, taking on enough oxygen every minute for several minutes under water, then flip their tails (which is what to capture in a photograph) and dive. The ones there are large males with lots of blubber who are not bothered by the cold water and can dive deep for giant squid. The females and calves stay near the equator where it’s warm and the living’s easier. We were supposed to go to Stewart Island south of the South Island to see wildlife, but a storm came up with 30-foot waves, so we headed north to avoid it instead. I also saw beautiful farmland with grazing cows, horses, and sheep, and farms with grapes, olives, and kiwi fruit. The landscapes are beautiful and the country manicured and spotless.

On our ship was the most famous Maori master navigator, who explained Polynesian history, Maori culture and especially Polynesian navigation. He told the story of how the skills were revived just when the last two navigators (from the previous generation) were the only ones left. The current sailors had built sailing canoes and eventually sailed around the world using the traditional techniques, landing in New York and San Francisco. A movie is being made about the trip and will be released soon.

Australia and New Zealand are fascinating places to visit, and I particularly recommend a cruise around New Zealand as an excellent way of visiting it.

We invite your comments.

3 comments to Australia New Zealand

  • Bob Breault


    Having been to just about all the places mentioned, I want to compliment you for taking the time to compose this well written documentary. There is all that and more. I hope to get to New Zealand this year again.

    Bob Breault

  • Dave Hummel

    I love New Zealand having been there seven times. Back in my more active days I went on two hiking expeditions and four helicopter ski trips on the south island mountains. The Kiwis are the most friendly people in the world.

  • Thanks Howie, I love Australia. I remember well my trip to Perth when in the navy in 1964. Our ship visited Adelaide, Perth and Geraldton. We were the first US ship to visit Geraldton since WWII snd the Aussies treated us like royalty.