It’s best to be honest at the outset here – I was not exactly too convinced if New Zealand would be entirely my cup of tea. After all, under no circumstances do I bungy jump, no matter how spectacular the scenery. I’m not a trekker or a hiker or into white water rafting, kayaking or jetting – or any other type of self-confessed adrenaline-junkie. I watched Lord of the Rings under great duress (after about 5 years of marriage my husband simply insisted I set the record straight), and hiring a campervan and driving through the country which most tourists do, with no blow dryer on hand was pretty much my idea of “roughing it”. Besides, just the mere thought of the almost 11 hour direct flight from Singapore to Auckland with our feisty 16 month old made me less-than-excited.
It turns out I could not have been more wrong. After all, there is a reason why New Zealand consistently ranks as amongst the top 10 places to visit.
I knew we were on a pretty special trip of a lifetime, when almost every other day brought forward a magnificent, magical moment – one that truly made me close my eyes, savor the moment and think wow. Wow. Vibrant city life, coupled with volcanoes and geothermal hot springs? The North Island has you covered. Majestic mountains, rugged nature and beautiful breathtaking fjords? The South Island is your choice. North or south, New Zealand’s magnificent and diverse scenery, the fascinating native Maori culture, the beautiful beaches, the bustling harbors, the cosmopolitan cities, the utterly fantastic locally produced food, and the friendly people – all had us floored. As it turns out, whether you’re a nature lover, an intrepid traveler, an ardent Lord of the Rings fan, an adventure seeker or just a family of 3 like us looking for some rest and relaxation – New Zealand will blow you away with all it has to offer.
Its urban, its scenic, its bustling, its relaxed and its very very cool indeed. Contemporary Auckland is vibrant and multi-faceted and your one regret will be not being able to sample all it has to offer. This is a place where the people cross wide roads in four directions at once in a slow motion balletic show of pedestrian efficiency. Aim to spend at least 3 days here to fully appreciate Auckland and soak in the beautiful sunsets by the waterfront, explore its many hidden boutiques and coffee shops in beautifully refurbished harbor buildings, and enjoy the sheer ubiquity of water. Situated on a narrow isthmus of land between two grand natural harbors, and built on dozens of extinct volcanoes, Auckland is a city that truly embraces the elements and forces of nature.
From the moment visitors enter Rotorua, they know they are somewhere like nowhere else. Lazy drifts of steam escape from cracks and crevices in thermal parks, among manicured gardens and even via gratings. The distinctive tang of sulphur lets people know they are in New Zealand’s only geothermal city.
Rotorua boasts a stunning natural environment, awe-inspiring earth forces, a sense of adventure and the spirit of the Maori people and culture. The picturesque cobbled streets, beautifully laid-out gardens and striking Tudor architecture celebrate the city’s colonial past, while an impressive array of cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs celebrate its contemporary lifestyle. The city is laid out on the southern shore of Lake Rotorua, which is only one of dozens of volcanic lakes dotting the hilly landscape covered with pristine redwood forests.
Rotorua is the ideal base for a couple of enticing day trips: within an hour’s drive, the town of Matamata hosts the sheep farm which served as the location of ‘Hobbiton’ in Peter Jackson’s adoptions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Amidst impossibly green rolling hills, which appear to be a transplant of idyllic rural England, the hobbit holes created for the film have been preserved for tourists to visit. South of Rotorua, the grandest volcanic lake of them all, Taupo, lures visitors with its quaint watersides eateries, dramatic cliffs and scenic drives, as well as Tongariro National Park, which boasts no less than three volcanoes towering over a volcanic desert.
While crossing from the North to the South Island, Wellington was our perfect 1 day stop in between. Nestled around yet another impressive natural harbor, and built in terraces on the slopes, New Zealand’s capital has a relaxed, yet vibrant Euro-centric feel to it. Whether due to its character as a student city, or due to the notorious wind whistling down its steep allies, Windy Welly as its known by the locals is one of the undeclared coffee capitals of the world, and the choice in coffee shops is mind boggling indeed. In order to truly enjoy the city’s geography, take the cable car up Mount Kelburn to enjoy the panorama of Lambton Harbor, before enjoying a walk in the adjacent Botanic gardens.
Make sure to also pay a visit to the Te Papa National Museum right on the bustling harborfront, which not only features an interesting anthropological exhibition on Maori culture and European settlement of New Zealand, but also hosts a number of children’s activities to keep the little ones busy. And the best thing: admission is free!
QUEENSTOWN & SURROUNDING AREAS
They always tell you to the save the best for last, and we made sure to cross over to the South Island at the end of our trip. If you have watched Lord of the Rings, you will understand that there is a reason why the majority of shooting locations are concentrated in the southern half of the South Island. Magnificent is the only way to describe the nature and scenery, transporting you right to the breathtaking landscapes of Middle-earth. Rugged mountains, unspoiled forests, majestic lakes, crystal clean air and a sense of truly raw wilderness blend together into a glimpse of a pure, fantastic world.
Nestled on the shores of beautiful Lake Wakatipu, the mountain resort of Queenstown is framed by the imposing Remarkables mountain range, and serves as the perfect launching pad to explore the region. Make sure, however, to not spend too much time in the town, which has developed into a highly commercialized tourist trap. Taking the lakeside road to Glenorchy, the scenery is truly stunning, but what is truly remarkable (just like the mountain range) is the fact that only a few miles out of Queenstown one is driving in pristine nature, bare of any trace of human settlement. It is the closeness of the amenities of Queenstown and pristine nature that makes the place so easy and family friendly.
New Zealand Visa: A visa for New Zealand is easily available via the New Zealand Visa Application Center at 20 Cecil Street, # 11-02, Equity Plaza, Singapore.
Transportation and hiring a car: While one doesn’t need a car in the major cities like Auckland and Wellington, it is a good idea to hire a car to explore areas such as Rotorua and Queenstown.
Hotel Recommendations: Choose the well-known Heritage Hotels/City Life for a comfortable stay in New Zealand, for further information visit www.heritagehotels.co.nz.