Encompassing a vast array of breathtaking sights and fascinating customs, New Zealand is a country like no other, writes Kris Goodbody.
New Zealand lies fourteen and a half thousand miles away from our little green island, yet it is simultaenously completely different and frighteningly similar. The rolling green, sheep-filled countryside passes by and a relaxed familiarity takes hold, when suddenly a gigantic mountain range or a forest of prehistoric trees bounds into view. These sights provide a sudden reminder that this is totally different place, a strange new world.
Most flights will arrive into Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city far to the north, an unfortunately charmless place which feels like a mix between a European city without the history and an Australian city without the scale and vibrance.
Deep into the countryside sits the small coastal town of Hahei, home of the hot beach. This beach lies on a geothermal vent heating the water to near boiling point, mere feet underground. So in the dead of night, armed with pots and pans as makeshift spades, a few intrepid Travelexplorers hitchhiked to the beach to dig a jacuzzi in the sand. Drinking whisky in a geothermal hot-tub is another of those feeling very far from home moments.
A quick stop in a tiny, one-horse-town called Waitomo to absail through caves into the bowels of the island leads to Raglan. This is a treat for anyone but for surfers, it is is paradise.
Cheap accomodation is found in little log cabins nestled in the forest overlooking the water, providing a Lord of the Rings style wilderness and that edge of the world feel, while looking out at the Tasman sea in the driving rain is an unmissable experience.
New Zealand has a population of a mere 4.2 million, 14 per cent of which is native Maori. The Maori have survived much better than the Aborigines in Australia against the onslaught of European settlers and have a firm place in Kiwi society today.
Rotorua is a town steeped in Maori culture. It lies in an area of huge geothermal activity and until quite recently, many of the houses were heated directly from vents in their back gardens. The huge sulpher pits that dot the city make beautiful smoke plumes rise up from the ground, but unfortunately, they also make the whole town smell of rotten egg. Consequently, it’s a very strange place indeed.
It seems strangeness breeds strangeness, as Roturua is the home of the fine sport of Zorbing. This is when a person or two are placed inside a massive plastic ball filled with water and then rolled down a hill- simply the most fun twenty seconds you can have.
The beautiful capital city of Wellington is a small area that was built up from humble beginnings as a whaling town. It’s home to an astounding museum, the Tiki Ora, a beautiful display of the country’s anthropological and environmental history. Learning about things like the extinct indigenous giant eagle, big enough to sweep down from the sky and carry a grown man away, leaves your head spinning.
Flying from Wellington south west towards Australia allows a view of the beautiful Southern Alps and when falling suddenly into the Tasman sea, the truth that the natural wonders of New Zealand can be found nowhere else is inescapable.