Kayaking on Tasman Lake
Glacier and Mount Cook in background
Much of New Zealand, and Queenstown in particular, seem to exist as the gatekeeper to a myriad of high adrenalin (and sometimes, high octane) pursuits. For only NZ$ (insert arbitrary price here) one can throw oneself out of a safely flying plane or from the security of a sturdy bridge, or disturb the serenity of an otherwise unspoilt gorge in a jet-propelled boat. It’s even possible to do all these things in one wallet-busting, adrenalin-overdosing day.
Being the wrong (or right? Discuss.) side of 30, we opted against jet propelled boats, choosing to raft and kayak along a few of the South Island’s waterways. That said, as our raft made its way through the rapids, the screaming Japanese women in the raft behind created their own special atmosphere.
The glacial Tasman lake, which sits at the foot of Mount Cook, and Marlborough Sound, were both ideal for pretending we were expert kayakers. At the former, we were in a group of 12, led by an enthusiastic ‘Old Mountaineer’, who despite presumably having done so hundreds of times before, was hugely excited at the prospect of drinking whisky with the half-millennia-old ice found floating in the lake. No doubt about
it – it was a nice touch, and Ben also drunk Mina’s unwanted share, as we listened to the loud cracks from the glacier echo across the lake and valley it created.
Marlborough Sound, where meandering inlets eat into the hills, is completed by isolated coves. At one, reached by a narrow winding road, we rented more kayaks from John, a grizzled and slightly grumpy old ex-pat from Rochdale. Wherever we go, there seems to be a Brit at the end of the long road. We forgave him for his grumpiness when his kindly neighbour (who also lent us his ‘Ute’) explained that he was just about to drive John to the nearest hospital, probably about two hours away, as he was suffering complications to a recently punctured lung! Before we’d even lowered the kayaks into the cool salty water, they were off in the car, curving around the coastline, back the way we’d come.
It would have been remiss to visit the Marlborough region without doing at least some research into the local wine industry. Purely for the benefit of our loyal readers, we hope you understand. And what better way to visit neighbouring wineries than by
combining the trip with another love of ours, cycling. Unfortunately, the generous tastings render our memories of the afternoon as something of a blur. An aromatic blur of sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs. Truly, some were excellent, although it’s difficult to remember which right now.
It seems a cliché to say of a newly-visited place that ‘everyone was really friendly’, but on most of our trip, it’s been the case. New Zealand was no exception, with people going out of their way to chat to us, help us, give us advice and answer our silly questions. Back home, foreigners’ ignorance and occasional cultural faux-pas are too often met with looks of irritation and, possibly, a grunt. We heard that tourism is now New Zealand’s biggest industry; it seems all are willing to play their part.
The Department of Conservation campsites are dotted across New Zealand and are a great way to camp in scenic locations – by lakes, rivers and quiet valleys. Ok, so they don’t usually have amenities like showers and shops, but they cost next to nothing (or even literally nothing at some locations) and regularly took us off the beaten track, down gravel tracks to
A nice cup of tea and everything will be ok
Partially flooded lakeside campsite. Nothing stops an Englishman enjoying a cuppa.
spots of simple beauty we would otherwise have missed.
Our journey on the North Island took us first to the capital Wellington, and later to its largest city, Auckland. Both cities house not-to-be missed museums. Te Papa (‘Our Story’) and the Auckland War Memorial Musuem. Te Papa is a multi-media extravaganza, with an overwhelming amount of things to see, hear and touch. We arrived as it opened and had the Maori house and Polynesian voyage reconstructions to ourselves. After about two and a half hours, we’d seen about a third, and ‘Our Story’ had become the story for legions of Wellingtonian children, so we stepped out into the bright sunshine and ventured on.
Several days later, we arrived at Auckland’s slightly confusingly-named musuem just in time to see a Maori ‘cultural performance’. It’s only just over half an hour long, but the memories of the soulful and at times joyful singing will stay with us for a lifetime. The players are visibly proud of their culture, to perform its songs, body-slapping dancing, juggling, and, of course, the war-chant, the Haka. They are probably justifiably proud to be putting on a great show for us too.
numerous museums of various sizes during our trip to the other side of the world. (We’ve barely had space to mention the strangely absorbing whitebait-industry exhibition at Hokitika Museum.) We noted with amusement that whenever a shameful period of these nations’ past is mentioned (e.g. treatment of indigenous peoples), in museum text or in conversation, the blame is often laid upon the English! It is as if the current white inhabitants of these lands share no genes with these ancient English visitors, who presumably must have disappeared, with their evil ways, from the Antipodes without trace.
One element of antipodean culture that we were fully aware of before crossing the equator was Christmas Day on the beach. We didn’t miss our first opportunity to spend the day splashing in the warm water, thinking of all our European friends and family, waking up in the cold and damp, hours later. We hope you had a happy Christmas, nevertheless.
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