New Zealand as you never imagined it - Australian travelling through NZ
Trying to convince my boyfriend to accompany me on a summer holiday to New Zealand was no easy feat. The excuse was a family friend's wedding but I was keen to spend a few weeks exploring the country as well.
Like many Australians, however, my boyfriend was highly skeptical as to whether there was actually anything to see in New Zealand besides the ‘nice' scenery. Not being an adventure sports daredevil or sheep enthusiast, he argued he would prefer to spend the time and money traveling somewhere ‘more interesting' that was ‘actually different to Australia '. Yes, he agreed the national parks and wineries sounded nice, but could it really be awe-inspiring enough to justify weeks there?
Luckily I managed to lure him into the trip despite all his misgivings because our month long driving tour of the country was inspiringly beautiful and proved New Zealand to be a wonderland full of natural beauty and scenery radically beyond the realm of ‘picturesque'.
We began our trip in the South Island . After flying into Christchurch and spending a day wandering through its multitude of charming antique stores and book shops, we began driving down to Fiordland, where we planned to do the Milford Trek. On our way south we stayed by the dazzling Lake Tekapo , with electric blue water against a backdrop of massive stony mountains. The next day we drove into Mount Cook National Park through a pass that weaved between peaks towering so high above us that my boyfriend was prompted to swear in a wondrous and disbelieving tone at regular intervals.
The national park was the place where Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his Everest expedition, and the visitor centre is named after him. We did a short walk to a lookout over a glacier, where we watched huge blocks of ice shearing off with almighty thundering cracks into the glacial melt (not the result of global warming we hoped). On arriving back at the visitor centre we were greeted with the sad news that Sir Edmund Hillary had died that day. Flowers were placed in front of his statue, and candles lit in his memory.
The next attraction was the Milford Sound. We opted to do the four day walk which has been described as one of the most beautiful in the world. I can now confidently agree with that sentiment. Although we found the walk challenging at times (I admit to allowing my boyfriend to carry my pack for the last hour of one long day) the sheer magnificence of the wild alpine landscape is unable to be captured in words or photos.
Heading onwards we drove around the southern-most coast where we were lucky enough to have a close encounter with a family of sea lions. While we observed them from a respectful distance, one very foolish tourist approached within inches to take a photo, and was chased across the beach screaming by an enormous male sea lion and an excited pup. The other highlight of this remote area was sitting on the beach at Curio Bay and watching Hector's Dolphins (the smallest in the world) perform acrobatic feats mere metres from the shore. Heaven for animal lovers.
Our next stop was Dunedin , where the wedding was to be held at Larnach Castle (“ New Zealand 's Only Castle” as the brochures boast). After a fantastic celebration in the atmospheric great hall lined with stag heads, and a night in the castle lodge with rooms overlooking the whole of Dunedin , we headed onwards to the North Island .
Though two Swedish women we met at our hotel warned us of terrifying swells and vomit on the decks, we got lucky with the weather and our ferry trip to Wellington was pleasant and uneventful. Wellington itself is a lovely city with bohemian cafes and vintage clothes stores, great art galleries and a truly brilliant museum – Te Papa. This is a great place to learn about Maori history and culture, and the wars between the British colonizers and Maori tribes.
From Wellington we headed up through Tongariro National Park . After our success on the Milford Trek, we didn't hesitate to do a dramatic one-day walk that skirted active volcanoes and climbed precipitous crater brims. The eerie mars-like landscape featured hot sulphur vents and emerald-colored mineral pools, as well as stunning views of volcanoes towering above the clouds.
Our next stop was Rotorua – a pleasant town that seems very unordinary until it is revealed that there are pits of boiling mud in the local park and a lake you could boil pasta in that sits adjacent to the soccer field! Oh, and did I mention the smell of suphur that you just can't escape? We made a worthwhile visit to Te Puia where you can experience spine-tingling Maori cultural performances and learn about traditional Maori arts and crafts such as carving and weaving. Whilst the geysers were impressive, we were disappointed to find that due to the very hot and dry summer, many of the mud pools had completely dried up, so perhaps a winter visit would have proved better for visiting Rotorua.
Finally we headed up to the Bay of Islands where a sizeable contingent of the Maori community shared our camp ground with us in preparation for Waitangi Day. We woke to the bone-chilling sound of the Haka being practiced early in the morning, and watched during the day as the Maori kids practiced for the ceremonial Waka (canoe) race.
On our last day in New Zealand we explored Auckland . The art gallery was a highlight, as were the vibrant Otara Markets to the south of the city, where Polynesian food, music, jewelery and colourful clothes can be found.
So after our month-long holiday, I can confidently assure cynical Aussies that there is far more to New Zealand than many of us realize. You definitely need to be able to appreciate natural beauty and wilderness to get the most out of the country, but that's surprisingly easy even if you think of yourself as a city lover. The country also encompasses a rich cultural mesh of Maori, European, Polynesian and Asian influences, fantastic art galleries, café cultures and museums. So if you're looking for a holiday to unwind that will leave you refreshed and inspired, New Zealand 's really quite a good choice after all.