Travelling New Zealand
Travelling in the Land of the Long White Cloud
As the small Freedom Airlines jet passed over the Tararua Ranges and onto the undulating pastures of New Zealand's lower North Island farmland, one comment could be heard repeated above all the rest, "Isn't it green!"
The praise came mainly from Australians escaping the Queensland summer (all obliviously underdressed for the cooler climate they were about to enter). Looking out the window, I could not but agree.
It's a feature of New Zealand that separates it from its enormous neighbour over the Tasman more than any other. Lush, succulent green. Mile upon mile of it. In fact, there is little of this country that is not covered by some shade of emerald.
From landing at Palmerston North (the cheapest route to be found from Brisbane), it's only an hour and a half journey down the coastal motorway to Wellington, with some worthwhile sights along the way, not least of which is Kapiti Island.
A small bird sanctuary off the coast of Paraparaumu, Kapiti Island is a well-kept secret. Charters will take small groups of tourists across to a world where humans are the oddity and the birds feel safe enough to land on you.
With lunch provided and a guided tour, the excursion, depending largely on the weather and how one copes travelling a choppy stretch of sea in a small boat, is a delightful day-trip. It offers a unique look at New Zealand's birdlife and a taste of what the early settlers would have found. Bookings are essential.
Continuing south is New Zealand's capital, one of the most picturesque harbour cities in the world; as well as the hilliest. Navigating in this city is achieved by locating whatever small mountain you're nearest, and you're always near one.
This, though, is one of the beauties of Wellington, the view from such lookouts as Mt Victoria or the hilltop Botanic Gardens as panoramic and breathtaking as any you'll find. From such vantage points, on a clear day, can even be glimpsed the mountain ranges of New Zealand's South Island, the scene strikingly crisp, enticing the traveller to experience more of this scenic wonderland.
Other then chartering a private boat or plane to take you across the Cook Strait, a volatile 40km stretch of water separating the North and South Islands, you have two choices: Commercial airline or the Cook Strait Ferry.
If you're in a hurry, take the plane. A trip by ferry, including all the waiting to embark and disembark, load luggage and claim luggage, can take a good five to six hours of the day or more. But the journey is worth it.
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Once again, pick your day. Wellington is known for its wind. On a breezy day travelling the Strait can become a nauseous experience; to but it mildly. On board, a plethora of strategically placed wet-vacuums and a felled forest of travel sickness bags provides evidence of a crew well versed in tending to tourists who wished they chose the plane.
On a good day, however — It's heaven!
With a capacity of around 500, the ferries are not small, and though I'd hesitate to recommend the restaurant, the ship does have many other features to enjoy; including activities for the kids. For the first hour, one of the joys of the journey is discovering what's on offer.
It's just when you start to get bored that the ferry enters the Marlborough Sounds
and it's here that the true beauty of New Zealand begins to unfold. Whereas the North Island holds the bulk of the countries population and industry, it is the South that upholds the countries reputation for spectacular vistas.
Not the most beautiful of the Southern fjords, the Marlborough Sounds is still a sight that will seduce you to get the camera. Look over the side and you'll likely see dolphins racing the ship. But don't rush, it takes almost as long to get through the Sounds as it did to cross the Strait.
By the time you reach the Port at Picton, you've been confined on board just long enough to make disembarking an exciting experience, ready and raring to make the half-hour trip to Blenheim. From there you have to decide to either travel down the West Coast or the East.
If your holiday period is long enough you can travel down one and up the other. If you can't, then here are a few pointers to help you decide. For those who like 'established' tourist spots offering souvenirs, eating houses, guided tours… take the East Coast. An easier journey, it also has many interesting sightseeing locations that cater to the less adventurous but just as ardent traveller.
The West Coast is more ruggedly beautiful –with weather to match!– and is perfect for those with more individualistic tastes; those not afraid to be isolated from the crowd. If you like meeting different and interesting people, and do different and interesting things –like climbing the Franz Josef Glacier– take the West Coast. However, you'll only get two-thirds of the way south before running out of road. From there, unless you're into hiking across rugged, untamed countryside, you have to head inland.
And inland is where you'll find New Zealand's heart. The South Island has a string of mountains like a backbone stretching centrally down almost its full length; with some of the best skiing resorts in the Southern Hemisphere. Nestled within these mountains are possibly the most visually inspiring sights to be seen.
Queenstown or Wanaka
Most have heard of Queenstown; New Zealand's most famous tourist destination. With its deep mountain lakes and clear crystalline waters that so idyllically reflect the unique landscape…[Sigh] I need a holiday.
However, as many have discovered, Queenstown is also a quick way to spend your tourist dollar; prices hiked up in response to tourist demand.
For something less commercial but just as beautiful, Wanaka is perhaps one of the most perfect spots to be lost in. Spectacular in spring and autumn and dreamily pleasant in summer, it is found at the south of Lake Wanaka, 50km north of Queenstown. For those with time-shares, Wanaka has some top facilities with the added bonus of the Cadrona ski fields only a relatively short drive away; with an open season-spanning much of the year.
Though growing, Wanaka still maintains the quaintness of a small country town, but with the available services of most full resorts; and the trademark of New Zealanders worldwide, friendly locals.
Ever thought of visiting a power station while on holiday? Sound boring?
The Lake Manapouri hydroelectric power station near the south-westerly tip of the south island is an exception. Accessed by a ferry transporting tourists to the entrance of the station, it is then a dizzying 2km bus trip straight underground via a tightly spiralling road. Carved out of some of the hardest rock to be found, the tunnel took 4 years to blast at the cost of 16 lives and has no need for man-made supports.
The station is built under the man-made lake, relying on gravity to supply water to the turbines. From there the spent water rushes along 19km of underground tunnels to discharge in the lower Lake Te Anau. Let me tell you, standing 2km underground with a lake above your head cannot but arouse some small foreboding; but remains awe-inspiring.
One of the greatest appeals of New Zealand is that within such a compact country is bundled such an abundance of travel-worthy destinations, all being unforgettable.
With no place being more than 70km from the coast, ski resorts aplenty, Lakes, forests, fantastic rivers, and some of the friendliest people on Gods earth, the Land of the Long White Cloud –Aotearoa– really is a special place. All should see it at least once, there is truly something for everyone.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Richard Parr