Did you know that New Zealand is almost as far away from Singapore as England is? We say almost because it is ~10,000km from Singapore to London by flight while the same to Auckland is around 8,400km. This means a 10+ hour flight.
Thus the “reason” that we had not covered the country in as much depth as we probably could if it was only nearer… But on the two occasions that we journeyed to New Zealand, we did carve out an entirely difference experience from that elsewhere. Perhaps it is isolation of the country so deep south towards the Antarctic.
First colonized by the pacific islanders more than 1000 years ago, the two islands are part of the pacific ring of fire, forged out of the movement of the tectonic plates. Until today, the islands remain seismically active, with a string of quakes occurring every few years that wrecked havoc to the lives of many. Today the country with roughly the same population size of Singapore has most of its people living on the north island while the south still maintains a ratio of more sheep than people!
Appreciating Maori culture is a must do, just don’t bang your head into another in order to have your nose touch someone else for the traditional greeting.
Actually the story behind how we made this trip way back in 1995 is rather quaint. And we shan’t spoil it for the actual essay here.
But here we were in Auckland (the city of sails) in the depths of winter. Barely having enough clothing to weather the cold, we were forced by circumstances to buy some locally. It didn’t really fit into our wardrobe but this experience taught us to research ahead of every journey. Fortunately New Zealand is not buffeted by thick snow all the time, and this is because it is surrounded by the Ocean on all sides. However this meant that the wind chill factor looms high and we paid a price to learn from an early adventure how to adjust to winter.
And because it is winter, we had limited scope to explore much of the island save two spots.
First, we headed to Rotorua, a fantastic base from which to head out to the hot springs and thermal wells. These include not just a few geysers and mud pools. To be honest in those days there were only film camera and Mel wasn’t exactly an accomplished photographer (still not today). Thus you will see in our island story rather grainy pictures from well over 20 years ago!!
But that was not all, for we headed on down to Lake Taupo which does not freeze in winter. Cannot remember why we did it, but sailing all the way out to see the Maori rock carving at Mine bay was not exactly smart. Because of the wind, the waters were choppy and Suan nearly fell overboard.
Hey! We too were young once.
Knowing that we will be moving to Europe soon, we chanced upon a great flight deal to Christchurch in 2001. This was quite a spontaneous journey and a welcome adventure for we had not returned to New Zealand since that time.
And it was a fantastic trip. Taking advantage of the learning that we picked up from the last journey, we planned a circuitous route all around the island starting from Christchurch. You know, we tried very hard to whale watch, but as fate would have it – no deal. First, the winds came up and the seas got too rough. Then we took the plane which circled for well over an hour. Still no whale! In the end we ended up visiting a seal colony…
Dunedin was the perfect spot to stop for a few days to do some wildlife exploration. Otago peninsula is a must to arrange a day’s adventure to see the colonies of birds that migrate and nest here in the summer. Here was also where we visited a penguin sanctuary.
One thing that we did in this journey was to take trains.
Queenstown is really the place to be. We spent quite a few days here enjoying various sports – no bungee jumps though. It’s really a beautiful town, set amongst the lakes and mountains. Here is where we saw the long white clouds – ‘Aotearoa’ that New Zealand is famed for. It’s so strange, the clouds are not high up in the sky but hugs the crest of the hills. We did not go to the Milford sound, it being so similar to the Norwegian fjords we were told…sigh. Never mind, do your own research and definitely seek from more than one source for information.
The northern side of the south island is a range of mountains and glaciers, two of which bear the names of famous explorers. Franz Josef glacier and Mount Tasman were both our targets. But we eventually settled on hiking up Fox glacier instead, and flying with a helicopter trip to the top of the glacier to view Mount Tasman and see Mount Cook.
What a way to end the journey.
It’s fun reminiscing about the old days. When we do return to New Zealand, we intend to make the journey to the Bays of islands in the northern tip of the north island and revisit the geysers.