My trip to New Zealand should go down as one of the most unforgettable holidays I have ever experienced. Ever since I got back, I often wonder what makes the land so special. And one thing strikes me the most - the tourist places in New Zealand - whether extraordinary or not - are invariably marketed under an alluring package of comprehensive safety, exceptional discipline and well organised schedules for visitors from the world over.
But does that mean the country is far from extraordinary? Of course not! The beauty of New Zealand lies not in what it offers but in what it is.... the sheer beauty, the rich variety of the landscape makes every sight nothing short of breathtaking. No wonder, whatever the purpose of one’s visit, it’s the journey that’s etched in memory forever, not the destinations.New Zealand is the kind of place that kindles the philosopher and poet within each one of us!
New Zealand’s spectacular landscapes incorporate the vast mountain chain of the Southern Alps, the volcanic region of the North Island, fiords, glaciers, lakes, rainforests and extensive grassy plains. New Zealanders, like the neighbouring Australians, are Outdoor people. The lifestyles invariably include a wide variety of sports and leisure activities. Tourism reflects this defining character of the country in full measure.
Surprisingly for a lush-green island country, New Zealand is free of snakes, reptiles and wild animals. In sharp contrast, neighbouring Australia has these creatures in abundance. Even as you speed through the deserted roads laden with green cover, you hardly ever come face-to-face with any creature – just a few small unfortunate ones that got crushed under the speeding cars.
New Zealand boasts a rich variety of marine life and thanks to the meticulously designed tourism programmes, the visitor views the scenes from extremely close quarters, yet the natural habitats and activities are never disturbed. The visitor is a silent spectator at all times.
Here’s a list of locations that have enriched my travel experience and help me get an intimate feel of this beautiful country.
St. ARNAUDS LAKE
A few hours drive from Nelson airport this lake is easily one of the most beautiful lakes. Crystal clear water, quiet natural surroundings and almost untouched by the trappings of a tourist place.
Feeding the ducks and swans and watching them flap their wings and run after you are guaranteed to make anyone feel like a child again. The walking trails of this place are excellent.
The place is known for its arts and crafts. Visitors can catch the artists in action and witness the celestial transformation from raw materials to exquisite pieces of art and jewellery. The Jade factory brings you cost-effective jade carvings and sculptures along with free educational tours and workshop visits, Heritage jade houses high-end jades. One can watch the master glass blowers hand crafting glassware, art glass, giftware, souvenirs, tableware and glass beads. The Maoris consider Jade holy and spiritual.
The highlight of this place is the Jade shopping. Though jade is very popular amongst other tourists, it might not appeal to Indian tastes, neither in terms of beauty nor price. It is a visual experience nevertheless. But, do note that most of the shops here shut by 5p.m.
Although 140 glaciers flow through the Southern Alps, only the Franz Joseph and fox glaciers reach the lower rainforests. There are various options for guided tours to the glaciers including walking trails, peripheral walks (for those who can’t bear the cold) or helicopter rides. The most interesting part is the view of melting glaciers during summers. The casual and fun approach of the locals makes it a haven for bag packers with majority of accommodation tailored to their needs. Even modest motels offer services like Spa and Jacuzzis. To find a VCR and video cassette in this age of DVDs and blue rays is both refreshing and nostalgic. And the free pop corn makes the experience innocently delightful. As far as sheer beauty is concerned, there are bigger glaciers in India but the comfort and infrastructure of this place will force the visitor to repeat trips or extend stays.
The densely populated Dunedin (by New Zealand standards, not Indian) is one of the principle cities of New Zealand, undoubtedly a crystal maze with its numerous roundabouts and interlinked streets. The strict lane discipline and car park rules amaze and annoy the Indian traveller in the same breath. To add to woes, the GPRS is not much of a help and could in fact prove confusing. And there are one-off instances of road rage. On the lighter side though, the New Zealand version of road rage is only a cautionary horn blowing, just in case you seem faltering while driving around.
The Cadbury chocolate factory at Dunedin offers an educational and entertaining tour where one can see the clinical process of chocolate making. Children will relish the trip to the in-house store in particular. The highlight of the place is the chocolate fall. It’s a great sight to see a ton of chocolate drop from the five-storied silos.
But the factory lacks the glamour of Willi Wonka and his chocolate factory. A nice experience, but the place can surely be replicated. Maybe we can have something like that in India too. Dunedin boasts of the steepest street of the world. Driving
is fun here and a walk will surely take your breath away (pun intended)
Located between Christchurch and Dunedin, this small town is the New Zealand’s largest scientifically monitored colony of the world’s smallest penguins - the Blue penguins. A daylight tour shows them in action or you could see them come ashore during nightfall. Here, they run an adoption system which is nothing but a donation for the centre’s fund raising. Though extremely small as a place, the sheer dedication and commitment of the country to its environment makes the promotion of this unique marine life a significant achievement. A location that many commercially operated tours may miss out but a must see.
The adventure capital of New Zealand, this lake city offers the whole range of spine chilling adventure sports. To say that it is the Mecca of the adventurous would be an understatement. The extremely friendly operators and equally friendly locals add to the charm.
The biggest of them all- the sky dive is a jump out of a normal aircraft with just a parachute to guard your dear life. Choose from 9000ft, 12000 ft or 15000ft. The Shot over Jet is a unique jet which can float over less than an inch of water giving you the thrilling experience of a 360 degrees turn. With swing canyoning, bungee jumping, water rafting and the ride on a giant monster sized truck, the city is a gold mine of adventure sport.
For the less adventurous, Queenstown offers leisurely cruises round the lake and a pulsating nightlife, especially the loud and hip hop kind. Like most of the cities of the south, it also offers a variety of spas for relaxation and rejuvenation. Most of the hotels in this city have scenic lake views. The Ski town has been transformed into a ski destination during the winter, the remarkable Ski field being a great tourist attraction. Milford Sound is a must see for a leisurely cruise, road travel or helicopter ride to soak in the beauty of hills, glaciers and the Milford sound, all packed in just over 3 hours.
Just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown, one has the option of rewinding to another era back in time. Arguably one of the richest sources of alluvial gold in the 1800’s, this place still retains its old world charm and character of small cafes, quant boutiques and old shops. One can also experience the hospitable, courteous and friendly café owners ready to share their life stories and views. Every romantic’s dream comes true; the Arrow town keeps you engaged in historic delight.
The crystal clear waters with picturesque snow capped peaks in the background are relatively unknown to the tourists but just an hour away from Queenstown. The peaceful Wanaka is a perfect picnic spot with its water sports and the challenging maze and mind boggling illusions.
Christchurch is a beautiful garden city flanked by modern buildings and gardens and bears an old worldly charm full of trams punting alongside. A walk alongside the waterfronts is the best way to soak in the beauty and culture of the place. Christchurch has lots of pubs and offers a slice of peaceful and serene night life too.
One of the main attractions of Christchurch is the Antarctica centre. An exciting place, it educates the traveller on life in Antarctica and simulated environments like artificial snowfall or Antarctica-like conditions complete with blizzards and igloos.
It’s indeed heart warming to note the rehabilitation of injured and disabled blue penguins that cannot survive in the wild; the tourist can also feed the penguins. The penguins are cared for and looked after in extremely comfortable conditions and there’s no stench or shabbiness whatsoever. The Do-it-yourself balloon ride is a great experience - a much-needed exercise after the heavy doses of cheese one invariably savours while in New Zealand.
The whale and dolphin watching at Kaikoura is a spellbinding experience, especially the sight of the second largest whale in the world- the Sperm whale. As the whale spurts out the water, goes full length and dives back into the water head on, one cannot help but marvel at this majestic creation of God. One might also sight the world’s smallest dolphin playing hide and seek with the boat and entertaining all on board. Beware of the lazy seal, the seemingly harmless but highly temperamental creature. The tour operators use special frequency sensors to detect the movement of the whales and promise a certain percentage of refund in case of no show. The boat is extremely well maintained, speedy and gives a reassuring sense of safety and security. Overall, the town is small but friendly and home to some cosy hotels.
One of the most visited tourist destination of New Zealand, and also one of the wettest areas. But the rains bring with it lush greenery on the mountains, wonderful waterfalls cascading from great heights and seals, dolphins that inhabit its waters only add on to its beauty. Though Milford sound is as beautiful as the rest of the country it is the ride to this location that is wonderfully scenic. A luxury cruise, road ride or by helicopter, whatever route you choose- the Milford sound is sure to dazzle its visitors with its beauty and grandeur.
Now as we move to the north of New Zealand-
The biggest and the most populated city of NZ, Auckland has the largest number of Indian inhabitants. It’s the country’s hub for corporate centers, educational institutions and restaurants. The 63-storyed Sky city, the tallest building of New Zealand, offers you a variety of adrenaline pumping activities like Sky jump or walk on a thin railing with the mere support of a harness. It’s windy, cool and breathtaking. The sea appears like a sparkling white wine (waitemata) reflective of the spot-clean maintenance of the city. The staff guys are prompt, friendly and resourceful. The Sky city also houses a casino for gamblers in the making. One can unwind over a drink and enjoy the flurry of the money making (or losing). The avante garde Sky City Hotel is certainly the best attraction of the place. For a densely populated city, Auckland has some exquisite, clean beaches like the Shakespeare Beach where peacocks and seagulls move at will. And true to the country’s image, the air is pure and the people are courteous.
The Waitomo caves enroute Rotorua from Auckland is worth a visit. The ice caves are centuries old, complete with glow worms. A small boat manned by a Maori makes the journey to the caves special although there are various walking tracks and picnic spots as well.
The Rotorua Geo-thermal Park is the most active geothermal field of New Zealand, spluttering mud and smoke from the earth. The smell of sulphur greets the visitor as Rotorua comes closer. Hot geysers are visible throughout the city along with smoke-like sulphur emerging out of street gaps. One can also enjoy the Gondola ride and Luge and the Zorb balloon ride at Rotorua.
And with all the natural splendour, Rotorua is a developed city. India needs to learn a lot from New Zealand on how to develop and promote a natural wonder without affecting its beauty. Sustainable tourism is the key word here. Rotorua is the heartland of the Maori culture with about 35% of its population comprising the aboriginals- the Maoris. The Kuirau Park offers the visitor a good peek into the Maori culture including the various gods and deities, the holy stone and water, the stories and photographs of their origins and most interesting the Maori song and dance form- the Haka. One can visit the Haka show and enjoy the dance and song extravaganza. Once again, while the culture part is interesting, the Indian dance forms - Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi or any of the tribal dance varieties can give the Maoris a run for their money.
The Hararu Falls here are the Niagara Falls of New Zealand. You have the luxury of fall-facing hotel suites which create a tremendous feel of a grand fall straight into your room. Somehow, the place reminds the Indian of the beautiful Bedaghat in Madhya Pradesh, which if promoted well can surely attain the same status.
BAY OF ISLANDS
Gum diggers Park is a rich ancient gum reserve made of Kauri tree (one of the most expensive wood in the world). It houses the 2200-year old Tane Mahuta tree, oldest known Kauri tree in the world. Though the representation of a Day in the life of the gum digger is interesting; one cannot but help feel that India can design umpteen tales of this nature and with good effect.
Hole in the rock is a beautiful sight especially for dolphin lovers as they get a view of both common and bottlenose dolphins. The cruise past the majestic place is an enduring great sight.
As you take a ferry from the Bay of Island, the experience of taking your car along on the ferry is quite unique. Being the first European settlement this idyllic waterfront city still feels like the sixteenth century. The city has some of the finest houses and bungalows, the kind which make you feel like leaving all the mad rush of life and settle there. Whether you sit in the gardens, take a walk and explore this city or spend time at a lazy café sipping coffee this place is going to charm you to come back as soon as you can.
And now like a true Indian- a few comparisons and a some lessons from this small yet successful nation
Lessons for India