Edit Blog Post
Published: October 17th 2007
The harbour ferry crosses from the city to Devonport.
"The land of the long white cloud", or Aotearoa as the early Polynesian settlers called it, on sighting it's beaches after their sea crossing,is an incredibly diverse and beautiful place - simple words cannot do it justice. It had always been one of my life long ambitions to someday visit "Lord of the rings" country and I was fortunate to have recently achieved this by spending an unforgetable three weeks in the north and south islands and it surpassed all my expectations. The descendants of European extraction live alongside their Maori countrymen very well. I was very pleased to see that there was still a strong Maori identity which is protected with a fierce pride. Something that other countries with an indiginous population around the world could do well to emulate.
I started my travels as most people do in the vibrant city of Auckland with it's cafe culture and bars and restaurants,where almost a third of the NZ population live. This is an extremely welcoming city of sails and volcanic cones, where nearly everyone has access to the water or a boat of some kind. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming,they put themselves out to make it an
Dormant volcanic cone rises out of the sea,offshore from Auckland city centre
experience never to be forgotten. They live in an isolated part of the South Pacific many miles from their nearest neighbours, but I got the impression that they are acutely aware of how far visitors have travelled to be here in New Zealand,it's not as if you can stop off on your way to anywhere else.My base for my stay in the city was at the charming victorian guest house villa "Moana Vista" in the leafy suburb of Herne Bay, a short bus ride away from downtown. The city is ringed by several volcanic cones,the most recent eruption and by far the largest volcano, Rangitoto Island, was formed within the last 1000 years, and its eruptions destroyed the Maori settlements on neighbouring Motutapu Island some 700 years ago. Rangitoto's size, its symmetry, its position guarding the entrance to Waitemata Harbour and its visibility from many parts of the Auckland region make it Auckland's most iconic natural feature. It is quite an awe inspiring sight especially with the rising sun behind it. I got a good close view of the island as I sailed on the ferry to Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf located only about 35 minutes from downtown
Setting sun illuminating the mountains that dominate the town and Lake Wakatipu.
central Auckland. The second-largest after Great Barrier Island of all the gulf islands, it is also the most populated and the most accessible due to regular ferry services. It is well worth taking a day trip out here for a break from the city to visit Oneroa beach, which is great for just sitting on and watching the world go by,it's only a 15 minute walk from Matiatia where most of the ferries dock, it's also the first stop for the buses from Matiatia Bay.It has banks, several restaurants, cafes and fast food outlets, so there is no need to go hungry. The island has a mild all year round climate so the art of winemaking is alive and well here with some good quality wines to try.
The best commercial flight I can honestly say I have flown on in all my travels, was on the 2 hour internal sector with Air New Zealand from Auckland and down to Queenstown. It was a beautiful clear day with high wispy cirrus clouds and the captain who was probably aware that the flight was full of visitors,grabbed the flight attendant's microphone and decided to give us a running commentary from
Minus 5 Ice Bar
Looking a bit drunk at the "coolest pub" in Queenstown.
the front of the passenger cabin whenever something of interest needed to be conveyed to us. I thought this was a nice touch, the guy was obviously very proud about showcasing his New Zealand, better than the usual robotic impersonal aviation babble they normally chant about cruising altitude. He started out by saying, "folks, you are in for a real treat today as we have the unusual situation that both the North and South Islands are totally free from cloud and you will be able to see the country laid out like a map as we fly over." True to his word he reappeared from time to time during our flight and pointed out Mount Ruapehu the tallest volcanic mountain in New Zealand and Wellington as we flew high over head, we soon crossed the short stretch of water,the Cook Straits and down over the Southern Alps covered in snow that form the back bone of the western side of the island. He returned back to the "driver's seat" in the front office for the spectacular approach into the alpine mountainous holiday retreat of Queenstown. Some local kiwi passengers who were sitting next to me commented that he was taking
Vodka Cocktails in Ice glasses served at Minus 5.
a slightly indirect route into the airport and were happy too that he was flying down the length of Lake Wakatipu, affording everyone a spectacular entry to Queenstown.
If you like playing on the edge! Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world is for you! It has a well deserved reputation, earned through the actions of a number of locally residing thrill seekers who have developed several unbelievable, adrenalin stirring, sanity-reducing adventures in a wildly exciting environment. Bungy jump, skydive, climb mountains, ski, raft, kayak, fish, horse ride, cycle, walk, take a scenic flight, sail, river surf, jet boat, hang-glide, snowmobile, snowboard, dance, go canyoning, heliski, parapente.This is a place that you either love or hate, me I just loved the place. I met up with my friend Alan and his wife who moved over to New Zealand and had quite a few good nights out consuming the local beer. Yes, it's a bit touristy but what a lively night time bar culture it has! In the hight of summer it was quite surreal to be kitting myself out in arctic clothing just to visit a bar,mind you when it's called "Minus 5", that should give a clue as
Exhilirating,adrenaline filled jetboat ride through the narrow Shotover River Gorge.
to what to expect. The pub is inside a large freezer with all the tables chairs and counter tops made from 100% frozen H2O. Even the glasses are made of ice! There is so much to keep you occupied here if you love the great outdoors. Shotover Jet is the only company permitted to operate in the spectacular Shotover River Canyons. I did this with a group of other slightly less sane people like me. It's a thrilling ride - skimming past rocky outcrops at close range in the Shotover Jet 'Big Red', as I twisted and turned through the narrow canyons at breath taking speeds, close to the unforgiving rocky walls and with the skilled driver at the controls doing 360 degree spins, a major highlight not to be missed. Quite mad really, but totally unique to this southern land.
Another highlight that I did after a few early morning false starts and waiting four days for the optimal cloud conditions for scenic flying over the mountainous area surrounding us, was taking a helicopter flight up into the snow capped peaks to set down on a glacier. Absolutely incredible experience for me! When the rotors of the chopper
Walking around next to the chopper on a river of ice high in the mountains.
shut down and we got out to walk about guided by our pilot, I became very aware in the still silent mountain environment, that this river of ice was indeed moving a significant amount every day, I could hear all the creaking coming from below my feet. We stayed there for about 40 minutes taking in the beauty of the place, then we were all ushered back to the helicopter for our flight down to Milford Sound. I sat up front with the pilot and he said on leaving the landing site that I should look down through my feet and out the bubble canopy as it would take my breath away,he wasn't wrong, we hovered for an istant whipping up a cloud of loose snow,then he dipped the nose of the aircraft and we slid forward and flew straight off the hanging glacier and out into space with a drop of 2000 metres stretching far down below. I gasped and said, I felt as though I had just gone over a hump backed bridge at speed. The pilot laughed and said he got that feeling everytime he did that manoeuvre too.We landed just a few minutes away at sea
level at the spectacular Milford Sound, a 22-kilometre narrow fjord off the Tasman Sea, which is enclosed by towering brooding cliffs, peaks and waterfalls. Because it's on the western coast next to the Tasman Sea,it often has rainfilled skies, so I was especially lucky to have the early morning sunshine beating down on me. The mountain peaks rising from the waters of the Sound are almost flawless and the place has an overpowering mystic calmness about it. The cruise ships that bring visitors into Milford Sound, resemble toys against the backdrop of sheer cliffs and towering mountains. The Milford Sound landscape is instanly recognisable as pure NZ. I think I commented to somebody that it was pretty startling that we were the only ones standing on the beach taking photographs, I expected more people. The pilot said," just you wait, all those tour buses are on route as we speak!" I forgot they set off early on the long drive and tooking the long way round the mountains. I forgot we had the easy option over the top. Almost as soon as I said that it was like an army was descending on this pristine place, as several buses parked
Ripples in the sand reflect the towering Mitre Peak.
up and large groups of Japanese tourists started milling about snapping at anything with their Nikons. The moment of tranquility was gone but it is still in my head. Time to head off in my helicopter and leave it for the next wave of sightseers. I felt very priviledged to have seen it in all it's glory.
The journey was nearing it's end, but not before my next stop a brief visit to Wellington, the most southerly capital city in the world, situated in the "roaring forties" latitudes. The city centre is very compact and easily walked on foot and gives a great chance to sample some of the many restaurants and bars. I think somebody told me there were over 300 establishments which is not bad considering it's size, sadly not enough time to go check them all out. A tour of the parliament buildings is very interesting and ideal if it starts to rain and you are looking for something to do indoors. I stayed at the Lambton Heights bed and breakfast which was fantastic, I can highly recommend it for the quality of accomodation, the huge breakfast in the morning and the hospitable owners, who couldn't
Thermal mud pools.
have done enough for me. The view from the bedroom was spectacular looking out over the harbour.
The final stop before heading back to Auckland Airport was a few days in Rotorua, situated on the southern shore of Lake Rotorua a huge volcanic caldera. This was a fascinating place where all the Earth's immense natural geo-forces are most prominent, with spouting hot water geysers and bubbling mud pools. The city is also nicknamed "sulphur city" because of the smell that comes from some of the thermal areas, but I didn't find it nearly as bad as people had warned me, in fact it rather added to the whole experience of my visit. I had a few problems with weather and flight cancellations at Wellington, so the limited time I had available to me had to be filled wisely. That is where the local knowledge and customer focus of my hosts Lyndsay and Graham at the bed and breakfast at the Ngongotaha Lakeside Lodge kicked in, what a lovely couple, she is very focused and aware of customer needs and organised three siteseeing activities in one day for me if I was up for a challenge, starting at 8am and
The summit of Mount Tarawera.
not finishing until after midnight, you bet, couldn't let an oportunity pass me by because of a simple thing like tiredness. First mission of the day was a 40km road journey from Rotorua by 4 Wheel Drive vehicle, through rolling farmland, and up to the edge of the massive Tarawera craters which last erupted in 1886 killing over 150 local Maoris who inhabited that area. We did a short crater walk and hiked up to the 1111 metre high summit and for the more adventurous like me, were offered the famous scree slide into the crater on the way back down, absolutely thrilling and not as hard as you might imagine, I just dug my heels in and let gravity slide me down over rounded volcanic pumice.
On arrival back in Rotorua, I was met with a vehicle and whisked down to the lakeshore to check in for yet another helicopter flight, this time 25 minutes flying time out offshore and into the South Pacific to the constantly geologically active marine volcano of White Island, so called because it always has a shroud of white steam and smoke hanging over it. The flight was very interesting, on our approach
Maori War Canoe
Cultural evening at Mitai with the Maori warriors paddling the war canoe.
to the volcano the pilot spotted a pod of dolphins heading in the same direction and came down low and slow behind, as our cetacean escorts introduced us to what I can only describe as a slumbering giant looming out of the mist and fumes, it looked eerily like King Kong Island. We walked about the crater for an hour, stopping on occasions to put on our gas masks when the sulpur fumes became too much. The sulphur caused a mild irritation as the gas came into contact with the moisture in my throat and eyes to form a mild sulphuric acid, thank goodness for goggles and gas masks!
The final mission of the day and for that matter in New Zealand was on landing back in Rotorua, where my bed and breakfast hosts had transport arranged to get me back to my accomodation to wash up and get dressed for a Maori cultural evening of food and dance at Mitai. An evening at Mitai gave me an authentic introduction to Maori culture and left me amazed and in awe. I was enthralled by the natural bush setting and seeing the warriors in traditional dress paddle an ancient warrior
canoe (waka) down the Wai-o-whiro stream. Another memorable moment was when all the lights illuminating the trees were switched off and I was able to see glow worms casting their natural light in their own habitat. I was amazed at the clarity of the crystal clear water full of eels and trout, that flowing directly from the earth at the sacred and spiritual Fairy Spring. The traditionally cooked hangi meal lifted from the ground was delicious. I was captivated by the displays of weaponry and combat, coupled with the grace and beauty of the poi dance and of course amazed by the spine tingling haka finale. The Mitai cutural experince created a sacred and spiritual place that gave me a glimpse into an indigenous Maori cultural experience like no other.
A perfect end to a long, but thoroughly enjoyable day and a fitting closure to a perfect holiday, one that I will remember for a long time to come. I look back with fondness for the country, it's great people and heritage and can't wait to someday come back soon. Thanks NZ.......
Tot: 2.616s; Tpl: 0.1s; cc: 12; qc: 58; dbt: 0.054s; 2; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.5mb