New Zealand – the A to Z
The complete article first appeared in Escape from America magazine.
A small selection of extracts for your delectation……..
B is for ……
What is there to say? If you fancy leaping off a bridge with nothing between you and the river but a huge rubber band, go ahead! The idea originates from Vanuatu – where young studs launch themselves from towers, attached to vines, to prove their manhood. Oxford University’s Dangerous Sports Club began to experiment with the idea in the 70s and, soon after, a certain Kiwi called Mr. Hackett was inspired to throw himself off the Eiffel Tower. He went on to set up the first bungy site in Queenstown. There are now five located around the adventure capital – practice your yodeling as you descend. In fact, why not go the whole hog and jump from a helicopter at 1000 feet – it’s all the rage.
I is for …..
The International Antarctic Centre
Located close to Christchurch airport, it’s not to be missed. Recreating the atmosphere of Antarctica with video, interactive features and a replica of the Scott Base, it’ll have you hooked. There’s even a room of real snow and ice, with a constant temperature of minus 5 Celsius. You can slide down an icy slope, shelter in an ice cave and brave the wind chill machine’s frosty minus 18. Experience an Antarctic storm – with stunning light and sound effects and 40 km/h gusts. Luckily, warm jackets and overshoes are provided.
M is for …….
The Moeraki Boulders
Hundreds of giant spherical stones litter the windswept beach – looking rather like meteorites or the eggs of some wayward sea-monster. Maori legend has it that they are food baskets swept from the canoes of their ancestors. Some are an immense 4m in circumference and around 65 million years old. These larger than life boulders have a curious geological history: created on the sea floor by a layering process similar to that seen in oyster shells, they became part of the coastal cliffs when the seabed rose. As the cliffs eroded, the balls of ‘crystal’ tumbled down onto the sands. They’re definitely worth a look. Moeraki also boasts its own yellow-eyed penguin sanctuary, a seal colony and a lighthouse.
N is for ……
Ninety Mile Beach
Actually, it’s more like 56 miles – but it’s a sight to be seen nonetheless. With so much open beach, it’s not difficult to find a spot to call your own. On windy days, the sand moves rhythmically before your eyes with a mesmerising rippling motion; on clear ones, the water-washed beach mirrors the blue of the sky so effectively it’s as if the earth has disappeared altogether. This northern-most tip of NZ is home to varieties of plants and trees found nowhere else on the planet and certainly has a landscape that stands alone. The eagle-eyed may see a northern green gecko or a rare flax snail. A trip to Cape Reinga lighthouse is a must but, if you have time, why not try dune surfing, blo-karting (using a lightweight micro land-sailor), horse riding or surf casting (throwing your line straight over the lively waves).
Although it’s a designated highway, driving your rental car along the sand isn’t recommended – unless you are happy to brave unexpected waves, hidden holes and quicksand while voiding your insurance; corpses of wayward vehicles can be seen half-buried in the dunes along the top of the beach. Luckily, it’s easy to join a bus group or a small 4×4 excursion for the day. If you do want to drive up, stick to the main road – which is unsealed for the last 12 miles.
O is for ……
The Otago Peninsula
This slice of NZ in miniature is home to rare yellow-eyed penguins, Hooker sea lions, albatrosses and the ubiquitous fur seal as well as a host of birdlife – waders in particular: herons, spoonbills and plovers. Cape Saunders headland’s 250m high cliffs are romantically dubbed Lovers’ Leap and The Chasm and stunning, windswept beaches are found on its Pacific side; there are very few visitors – even in mid-summer. Victory Beach has ‘The Pyramids’ – rocks resembling the ancient Egyptian monuments – while Sandfly Bay is named for the sands which are blown up by the wind; the path takes you through banks of wild flowers, down 100m sand dunes (among NZ’s tallest). The panoramas along this picturesque coastline are unforgettable. Stay at Larnach Castle or rent a cottage with its own sea view.
P is for ……
The Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki
Strangely enough, lots of rocks stacked upon each other like pancakes: 30 million years old and fabulous. An easy pathway takes you through this amazing phenomenon by the sea. Either side of high tide, water arcs up through the blowholes, giving you even more to oooh and aahh about. Utterly unmissable.
Q is for……
Otherwise known as Thrill City, it plays host to all those mad young things queuing up to cheat death. Living on the edge is a full-time occupation and, after a day spent simulating suicide, everyone heads to the bars to celebrate being alive with a cocktail or two. Not a place for quiet contemplation or anyone who likes wearing a suit. Middle aged visitors tend to escape to the restaurant atop Bob’s Peak for an all-you-can-eat buffet extravaganza – reachable from town via a rather quaint gondola which carries you up 450m. Views of the Remarkables compensate amply for the brain damage you may sustain from being trapped with the live band – old Elvis numbers a speciality.
S is for …….
With ten sheep to every New Zealander, it’s not hard to find a rack of lamb on the menu. 48 million of them freely roam the hills and dales, munching on lush green grass; it’s a sheepy idyll. To see them in action, visit Rotorua’s Agrodome – the bleating stars strut their stuff on the woolly catwalk as we learn who produces the best wool for carpets, wigs, suits or sweaters and who gives us the tastiest chops. One hapless sheep delivers itself to a public shearing, leaving it looking like a skinny supermodel sans fur coat. Don’t forget to swing by the gift shop – you’ll be grateful for a nice lambs’ wool polo-neck once you hit those mountains; it might even put an unexpected spring in your step.
V is for ……
Rotorua sits on the edge of a volcanic crater. It may smell foul but this mud-spewing gate to hell may be your idea of heaven. Dipping a toe in the Devil’s Bath isn’t an option – unless you want to cook yourself like a lobster. Steamy lakes of killer stew seethe and simmer, so keep carefully to the paths or you may find yourself the final ingredient in the acidic broth. Some like it hot – scaldingly hot. It’s not all demonic though; the greens, yellows and oranges of the sulphuric mix are deliciously jewel-like. Don’t forget to pop along to watch the Lady Knox Geyser erupt each morning – at 10.15am, courtesy of a dose of washing-up liquid.
Z is for ……
To zorb or not to zorb, that is the question. Moreover, do you get wet ‘n’ wild with a squirt of washing-up liquid and a bucket of water inside your personal bubble or do you opt for the dry run. The latter involves strapping yourself into the giant plastic ball and tumbling head over heels down the slope; weigh your chances of emerging covered in vomit. The slippery option allows you to slide around the zorb; bring your friends and share the laughter.