Posted: 2002-12-10 01:40:00
A lot of Australians are under the impression that to have an awesome overseas holiday, you've got to travel to the end of the world. What many people probably don't realise is that one of the best overseas holiday destinations is found just across the Tasman Sea from Oz in New Zealand. I've travelled to many different corners of the globe, from Europe to South America and Asia to Africa but one of the most breathtaking places I've ever been to is New Zealand. It has everything to offer the holiday maker, whether they be young, old or completely insane. I flew into the city of Christchurch at the start of my trip and although the journey over the Tasman was quite short, I felt as it I'd landed smack bang in the centre of an entirely new world. Fish and chips were called fush and chups, people wore jandals, kept beer in chilly bins and drove over jutter bars instead of speed bumps - and everybody kept talking about sex! "That'll be sex dollars and sexty-sex cents, thanks." It was all very confusing at first but the people were really friendly and surprise, surprise - not a single one of them was shagging a sheep. After getting over the language barrier and taking a look around the very English city of Christchurch, we made out way south to check out the spherical Moeraki boulders and the then the quiet town of Dunedin. Dunedin is a very pretty little place full of students who doss around at the local university. It's also situated near the Otago Peninsula, which is well worth taking a look at if you're into wildlife. Fat, smelly sea lions laze around on rocky outcrops along the coastal road and a sizable albatross colony is perched on Taiaroa Head at the end of the peninsula. Cutting across to the western side of the south island past beautiful Lake Te Anau, a day was spent sailing up and down Milford Sound, which is one of the most visited tourist attractions in New Zealand. Milford Sound is in the fjordland region of the country and the scenery there is spectacular to say the least. Towering over the fjords at 1695 metres, Mitre Peak dominates the prisitine landscape, its' reflection mirrored in the calm waters that lap at the foot of its' sheer face. It was onto Queenstown next, a town that acts as a magnet to those insane folk that I mentioned earlier on in this article. Whether you want to jump off a bridge with an oversized rubber band strapped around your ankles or do as I did and fly upside down over the neighbouring Remarkable mountain range in an open cockpit bi-plane, you can do it all in Queenstown. Skiing, snowboarding, parachuting, paragliding, hang gliding, white water rafting, river surfing - the list of adrenaline-pumping activities on offer there is endless. Jet boating is something that you definately must try if visiting Queenstown, but if you've got a habit of shitting bricks in scary situations then bring a spare pair of undies with you in case those that you're wearing get shit over whilst you're speeding down the Shotover. A nice place to chill out at after running amok in Queenstown is the Mount Cook National Park. Whilst at Mount Cook I stayed in a classy hotel called The Hermitage. A night here would probably blow the budget of most backpackers however it's money well spent as the service is superb, the food is delicious and the view from outside the hotel is incredible. When in season, a sea of colourful mountain lupins blanket the ground in front of The Hermitage and magnificent Mount Cook looks down over it all, which is nice to wake up to first thing in the morning. A stones throw away from the Mount Cook National Park are the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Donning a pair of hobbed nail boots, I slipped and slided my way up Fox Glacier into a surreal world of blue ice pinnacles and crevasses. The Fox Glacier is growing at a rate of about half a metre per day, and every so often large chunks of ice break off and crash into the freezing stream that flows beneath its' icy end. My time in the south island was coming to an end. I loved the place so much that I could have spent an eternity there, and still not seen eveything. After travelling up to coastal town Picton via the art deco city of Nelson, we caught a ferry across to Wellington, my first port of call on the north island of this amazing country. I've been on some pretty shocking boat trips in my time however have never been as sea sick as I was on the day that I crossed the Cook Straight. It was blowing an absolute gale, the sea was disgustingly rough and the boat was thrown all over the shop. Funnily enough, it was windy in Wellington when we arrived there. Windy Wellington is a relaxing place to spend a couple of days - stroll along the waterfront and marvel at the Beehive, which is a rather peculiar building that is frequented by Kiwi politicians. Driving straight up the centre of the north island, we stumbled across the Tongariro National Park. Full of active volcanos, the region contains some quite impressive scenery. We stayed at the Grand Chateau Hotel and it lived up to its' name as it was very grand indeed. Sitting at the foot of Mount Ruapehu, the Grand Chateau - like the aforementioned Heritage - is one of the most famous hotels in New Zealand. It's only a short distance from the ski fields on Ruapehu and sits in the shadow of a couple of active volcanoes. Ruapehu blew its top a few years back and severely disrupted the ski season of that year, however things have settled down a bit now and it's business as usual - until, of course, the mountain next starts spewing out ash and hot rocks onto the slopes. Another place of interest on the north island is Waitomo. The Kiwis are an imaginative bunch and seem to do anything for kicks. A local tour company in the town of Waitomo takes people on black water rafting tours through a series of underground rivers and caves full of glow worms, and I'd go as far as saying that it was one of the best things that I did when I was in New Zealand. You dress up in a wet suit and a hard hat, hop inside a rubber tube and float down these eerie underground streams, jumping off water falls and venturing into a dark world where the only things lighting the way are the irridescent larvae of the fungus gnat. It's a trippy experience that will leave you freezing your tits off, and a heap of fun to boot! Off to Rotorua and to face the stench of rotten eggs. The sufurous fumes from thermal activity in the area makes the air in this interesting town thick enough to chew. If you can handle the smell, a visit to places like the aptly named Hells Gate, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and Waiotapu will leave you in awe. The thermal activity that you can see here is unsurpassed - boiling mud, geysers, thermal waterfalls and steaming pools - they're all there to be seen. The Lady Knox Geyser at Waiotapu is particularly impressive. Every day at 10am, the hole of the geyser is blocked with old rags and soap suds are poured into the crater. For one reason or another, a massive jet of water shoots into the air, showering the area with boiling water from deep beneath the ground for about an hour. Rotorua is also a great place to learn more about the rich Maori culture, as well as seeing and partaking in some of their activities. See tattooed Maori warriors dance the Haka, watch beautiful Maori ladies swing their Pois and feast on the food that they prepare as part of a Hangi. It's really interesting stuff and a fantastic learning experience. We left Rotorua behind us and headed to Auckland after a scenic drive through the Coromandel Peninsula. It was here that I sadly boarded a plane and jetted out of Aotearoa - the land of the long white cloud. New Zealand was a wicked place. There's heaps to see and heaps to do - and I can think of heaps of reasons why you shouldn't be headed there soon. If you've not been there, you don't know what you're missing out on!
"what a long strange trip it's been...."