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Queenstown, Dunedin

Queenstown, Dunedin

This was the longest drive on our itinerary, a 7 ½ hour drive to Queenstown. We decided we would stop and go, as we pleased. Early into the journey, we stopped at a place selling jade. We saw a marvelous bell chiselled out of deep green jade. It was beautiful. There were lots of other stones and shells and several interesting artifacts of which we bought a few things.

We approached Lake Wanaka at teatime so we decided to halt at Stuart Landsborough’s ‘The Puzzling World’ for tea and a much needed break. We were hungry and tired when we entered but the crazy architecture and amazing displays got the better of us and we were quickly immersed into trying to figure out the place.

The two most interesting areas were the Ames Forced Perspective Room and the Tilted House.
The technique of the illusion present in The Ames Room was used in The Lord of the Rings where exceptionally tall and short people were needed. The trick, I believe, is in replacing right angles in the design of the floor and ceiling, with trapezoids. The effect was marvellous. One appeared to grow and grow, as he/she moved from one end of what appeared to be a perfectly normal room to the other.

The second room was the Tilted House. Here, the room is tilted at an angle of 15 degrees. All the displays are normal, parallel to a straight floor and ceiling – but when you enter, your brain tells you that ‘straight’ is what the room is and everything else is tilted. The illusion was so powerful that I kept falling every few steps. It was hilarious!

Somewhere, among all the happy confusion, we remembered that we had stopped for a cup of tea and we were hungry, so we went to the Puzzling Café and between sips of tea and bites of muffins and scones, we frantically tried to solve all the puzzles lying around, each of us trying to outdo the other. It was as if we were back in school, competing with our fellow classmates!

We reached the lovely boutique hotel Queenstown House Hotel, late in the evening. Queenstown House was just that, a house, perched on top of one of the steep roads affording a lovely view of the lake and mountains. Our hostess was very friendly and helped us settle in and plan our time there.

Queenstown is the premier tourist destination in New Zealand. Some people call it the activity capital of the world. It is surrounded by the Southern Alps and rests on the shores of the lake Wakatipu giving the town the rare distinction of having mountains and a shoreline at the same time.

Lots of residential areas are in the hilly region and several roads are at a steep incline. The view one gets from any of these areas is quite fantastic. The lake is seen in the middle of the panorama and there are mountains all around with clouds floating just below the summits.

The morning following our arrival was overcast and rainy so to my great relief, the guys couldn’t go bungee jumping or skydiving. I must confess that I found those two sports very scary. Instead, we went for a ride on the Shotover Jet.

The Shotover Jet rides are located 6 kilometres away from Queenstown at Arthurs Point. They take you careening over the water canyons of Lake Wakatipu. It seemed to me that the boat was skimming the top of the water. To add to the momentum, our boatman Clive navigated the boat through several high-speed 360-degree turns and then immediately sent the boat almost crashing into the cliff -only to veer away at the last moment! We were living life on the edge! That ride must have been the fastest, bumpiest boat ride ever.

In the evening we decided to walk along the marina. We had heard of the ‘Minus 5 Degree Experience’ so we decided to take a look. The Minus 5 Degree is a pub that is completely made of ice. The furniture, the walls, the bar counter, even the glasses that one holds; are all made of ice. We had to pre-book our half hour slot so we did and we went in after we were given warm jackets to wear.

The interior looked like a winter fairyland. Everything was translucent ice! There were some fabulous ice sculptures. We were asked to set our ‘glasses’ down on mats because if we didn’t, they would slide off the counter and break, after all, ice on ice, slides! I had a non-alcoholic cranberry mocktail, which was delicious. The others had vodka-based cocktails. A half hour is about all that we could take of a -5 degree environment so we hurriedly rushed out when our time was up and stood in the warmth, slapping our hands together to get the blood circulating again. It was a lot of fun. Makes one wonder as to how do Eskimos deal with such a climate?

Very early next morning, a member of our party decided to go in for some aerobatics. He was out before we got up and was quite green when he returned. He said he had a very unique experience where the pilot of the plane took him up into the sky and executed all kinds of difficult manoeuvres. He faced six times the force of gravity as they did a vertical dive upwards and he claimed that his heart was nearly in his mouth when they dived vertically down. But he came off looking like a man who had accomplished something!

The rain continued that morning though we started having spells of sunshine. We took the Skyline Gondola, a cable car that took us to the top of a hill from where we got a spectacular view of the mountains and the lake. Over there we took a ski lift that took us higher up, to the beginning of the track of the Skyline Luge and we came hurtling down the track. The luge is a kind of mini sled on wheels and the ride downhill is very exciting.

The shopping experience in Queenstown was pleasant. There were lots of shops that sold Paua shell jewellery and most shops had merino wool garments. Many garments were a mix of merino wool, silk and possum fur. That made it very soft. The possum, which is protected in Australia, is considered a nuisance in New Zealand because it eats the kiwi bird eggs. Interestingly, flightless birds like the Kiwi and Penguin evolved because New Zealand was an isolated island environment for over 80 million years, free from any mammal predators. The birds simply did not need to fly away from anything!

When we woke up the next morning, it was bright and sunny and we were leaving for Dunedin. As a last ditch effort, we went down to the information centre and asked if we could take a helicopter ride and see the glaciers and probably do a snow landing. They answered in the affirmative and we were delighted. We packed our bags, loaded them in our car, checked out and left for the heliport. What followed was a spectacular 4 hour ride over the glaciers with one landing in knee deep snow and one landing when we stopped for a cup of coffee in a small little town somewhere below us. The panorama visible from a height of 12000 feet was to be seen to be believed. We flew among the clouds, over virgin snow covered peaks and over grass fields dotted with sheep. We flew around the tallest peak Mount Cook; we flew to the Franz Josef glacier for the snow landing and then finally returned to the heliport. It was late afternoon when we got into the car and began driving to Dunedin.

We reached Dunedin late in the evening after a 5-hour drive. If Westwood Lodge at Franz Josef was beautiful, Fletcher Lodge at Dunedin was spectacular. It looked like a mansion from a period movie, complete with suits of armour, huge chests and old fashioned, luxurious décor. Later on we discovered that the place is listed in New Zealand’s Historic Places Trust. Dunedin is New Zealand’s oldest city. In 1848, Scottish migrants established a town here and called it Edinburgh. Later on, the name was changed to ‘Dunedin’, which is the Celtic form of ‘Edinburgh’. Dunedin has a pronounced Scottish heritage. The city was slow to prosper initially but after the discovery of gold in Central Otago in the 1860s, Dunedin experienced rapid growth. The city of Dunedin has a population of around 120000. It claims to have the largest concentration of Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Indeed, wherever we looked, the buildings were predominantly Gothic, Palladian or Georgian in their architecture. The roads were broad and well laid and the city had a very clean and orderly feel to it.

Our hosts at the Fletcher Lodge pointed us in the direction of a vibrant Italian restaurant where they managed to get us a table for dinner even though it was packed. When we reached there, the restaurant was full of University students, I presume from the Otago University in Dunedin. The food served to us was excellent and the staff was very friendly.

The next day, we had to leave early in the morning because we began our journey home that evening. We packed our bags with heavy hearts, wishing we had had more time to spend at the Fletcher Lodge.

We were soon on our way to see the Larnach Castle, Dunedin’s only castle. The castle belonged to William Larnach until he took his life in Parliament House in 1898. After that the castle has been open for the public and as the pamphlets and literature will tell you, it houses many secrets. The sprawling gardens of the castle were simply beautiful. They overlooked the lake on one side and there was a forest on the other side.

We then stopped for lunch at the 1908 Café and Bar at Portobello in Dunedin. It had been a Post Office at the turn of the century and has a very old worldly feel about it. It was chilly so rather than sit in the garden, we chose to stay inside the restaurant.

The meal was scrumptious and the desserts were delectable. Thus renewed, we proceeded to the Penguin Place, which is the home of the extremely rare yellow-eyed penguin. Today, world over, there are no more than 4000 to 5000 of these birds and they are only found in New Zealand. These are the only penguin species that cannot be tamed. As a result, to protect them, Howard McGrouther set up this conservatory in 1985 with only 8 breeding pairs.

We were first taken to the penguin ‘hospital’ where the sick and injured birds were. There was one structure of a penguin with the wings held out that caught my attention. Wondering why they had this statue of a penguin amongst real ones, I asked our tour guide about it. To my surprise, he told me that that was no statue. It was a living, breathing penguin and had been standing like that for hours, to cool off and would probably stand like that for a few more hours! I mentally made a note of trying to stand that way when I felt hot in Mumbai!!

After that, we were taken into the covered trenches, which were built to hide us from the very shy penguins. We did sight a few of them in the wilderness. One of the penguins even obliged us by waddling out of the bush that he was cooling off in. The entire experience was informative and educating.

We then got back into our car and headed for the airport, to catch a flight to Auckland from where we would board a plane to come home to Mumbai. Each of us was lost in thought on the way, I suspect, promising ourselves that we would return soon.

ranz Alpine Scenic Railway

Christchurch Kaikoura Tranzalpine Scenic Railway

What would go through your mind if I told you about a place that had sparkling seas and snow capped mountains running side by side? A place where the sky was blue and the grass green, the air crisp and clean and the landscape dotted with lush foliage, displaying every colour on the palette? A place where there were several activities to be done and adventures to be had? A place where there were vast amounts of open space with friendly, helpful and cheerful people? Wouldn’t you call that Paradise?

I know a name for it – ‘New Zealand’!

New Zealand is said to be the youngest country on Earth. It was the last landmass discovered. The Maori people were the first people to migrate to New Zealand from across the Pacific. This happened as recently as a thousand years ago. Some anthropologists believe that the Maori originated from some place in Asia and travelled down to New Zealand, making it their home.

New Zealand is a country the size of the state of Colorado (USA). It comprises of two landmasses; the North Island and the South Island. In 1840, the Maori and the British Crown signed a treaty, the Treaty of Waitangi, which is New Zealand’s founding document.
Now, Queen Elizabeth II is the sovereign (1952). The Governor General is Anand Satyanand (2006) and the Prime Minister is John Key (2008).
We decided to visit New Zealand during the two-week break that we had coming up in April 2009.

I got busy amassing all the information I could on the country and the staff of Compact Travels ably aided me. As it eventually turned out, the itinerary they turned out for us, based on what we wanted to see and do, was so good, that we decided to follow that as our travel programme. After a flying time of about 15.5 hours (broken into 5.5 and 11 hours with a stopover at Hong Kong), we reached Auckland, the capital of New Zealand. We reached early in the morning. All the tiredness we expected to feel, somehow disappeared as soon as we stepped into the crisp air, so much so, we chose to walk the 20 minutes it took, to reach the domestic terminal for our flight to Christchurch.

Christchurch is a beautiful city, the international gateway to the South Island with a population of around 400000. It is believed to have been named after the famous Christ Church College in Oxford, U.K.
The city is compact and well laid out. The main square, where our hotel was situated was the Cathedral Square.
The Cathedral Square has a lovely quaint flea market, where one could find trousers, shirts, coats, hats, shoes, gloves and several other things.

The Art Centre and Art Gallery is located on the square. The weekends see spot performers and magicians performing for the public, out in the open, giving the weekend a very festive feel.

A bustling shopping area is less than a 5-minute walk away from the square. Also, at a very short distance is a lovely tree lined street with a stream on one side and pavement cafes on the other. It is a wonderful place to relax and have a cup of tea or coffee.

We visited the Antarctic Centre which was a place designed to give the visitor information about the Antarctic. One of the most interesting parts of the centre is a glass enclosure, called the Snow and Ice Experience. This is where one could experience an Antarctic storm.

We entered the enclosure after wearing the warm jackets and over shoes provided. The temperature inside was maintained at minus 8 degrees Celsius. Then, the wind started blowing, picking up a speed of over 25 kilometres per hour and creating a wind chill factor of minus 24 degrees Celsius. The drop in light levels, the howling wind and all the other noise effects created what I think will probably be the closest I ever get to experience a real Antarctic storm. It was certainly scary and I huddled into my jacket, trying to protect myself from the simulated onslaught of the freezing weather. This lasted for five minutes and the experience was exhilarating!

After that, we decided to go for a Hagglund ride. The Hagglund is an all terrain vehicle that is actually used in the Antarctica. The centre has created a course that duplicates traveling conditions in the Antarctic. The result was a wild ride that nearly threw us out of our seats and we got a taste of what those intrepid explorers to the Antarctic must be experiencing.

Of course the main attraction at the Antarctic Centre were the Little Blue Penguins. It was a treat to view these nocturnal little creatures. These birds here are the ones that have been rescued and now cared for. They were cute and comical with their jerky movements. One of them was limping about and then he turned to face us as if gently accusing us for making a mess of the environment!

That evening, we went for dinner to an Indian restaurant called the Raj Mahal. It was probably the most authentic Indian food I had ever eaten, away from home!

The next day, we hired a car and drove to Kaikoura, the seaside town from where we were going to go whale watching from a boat.

Kaikoura is a three-hour ride from Christchurch. It was a bright sunny day and the drive was spectacular. The route was very easy to follow and we had the efficient Global Positioning System (GPS) telling us how to proceed. The GPS had decided that it would not let us travel any faster than 100 kilometres per hour, much to the amused consternation of my husband, who was driving.

The true natural beauty of New Zealand began unfolding as we covered the distance. We took the scenic route which means we drove pretty much alongside the Pacific Ocean. The waves, crashing at some places, gently lapping at others, the call of seagulls and the rich greenery created an ambience that was breathtaking.

When we reached the Whale Spotting Station there was disappointment in store for us. The whales had moved out of the operational area so we could not see them. The operator suggested we take a cruise along the coastline and if we got lucky, we would be able to see some wildlife. Disappointed yet aware that the whales really had to do their thing and would not hang around just so we could spot them, we took the cruise.

25 minutes into the journey, the cruise guide spotted some activity and she asked the captain to take the boat in a particular direction. In a few minutes the boat stopped and we were asked to go out onto the viewing balconies and…oh…my…. gosh! There were 150 dolphins all around us, cavorting, jumping, twirling and zipping to and fro, everywhere we looked! I had never seen anything so fantastic. The dolphins were actually playing with one another. One of them put on a magnificent show for us by shooting vertically out of the water and twirling around before he dived back into the water.We were among the pod of dolphins for half an hour and all of us on that boat, had the time of our lives!

Later on we saw a few cliffs populated by seals and another couple of huge rocks dotted with sea birds.

On our return, the trusty GPS got us up to the door of our hotel, Kaikoura turned out to be a fantastic experience. The day after, we were joined by a couple of friends and the next morning we were picked up at the hotel lobby for a transfer to the railway station at 8 a.m. in the morning. We were taking the TranzAlpine Scenic Train journey to Greymouth and from there; we were going to Franz Josef to see the glacier. The TranzAlpine Scenic Train journey is rated to be one of the world’s great train journeys. It travels between Christchurch and Greymouth, spanning the distance between the Eastern and Western coastlines of New Zealand.

The train had comfortable seating arrangements and it had open viewing carriages for unobstructed viewing. We passed through the Canterbury plains and spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. The train then climbed into the Southern Alps and then descended through a lush rich rainforest to reach the West coast town of Greymouth.

From Greymouth we drove to Franz Josef. We reached there at 7 p.m. in the evening and checked into the Westwood Lodge, a beautiful lodge, set among a bush garden with a view of the Southern Alps. The use of natural timber lent a very rustic feel to the place and the fragrance of the wood, permeated the air. It was raining hard but that did nothing to dampen our spirits and we soon set off to find a place for dinner.

We found a quaint little restaurant with food that was outstanding and staff that was most warm and friendly. There was a welcome fireplace and we had a good time standing around the fire, chatting with the owners and other customers.

The rain came down relentlessly but, being in what we figured was a rain forest area, it created a very unique and romantic atmosphere. All of us spent some ‘after – dinner’ quiet time next to the fireplace, sipping on something to drink and solving puzzles and then we retired for the day…Only to wake up to more rain!

We had planned to take the helicopter up to the Franz Josef glacier but the visibility was so poor that none of the operators were flying.


Queenstown, Mount Cook, Kaikoura

It’s been exactly one year since my trip to New Zealand and therefore the month of December is indeed nostalgic for me. It is also the best time to visit New Zealand and you can continue doing so until the first quarter of next year and into our summer holidays which starts in April and is autumn time in New Zealand when natural New Zealand is at its beautiful best. The 3 hour Queenstown Highlights Tour came to an end when I got off the coach at the Shotover River to experience one of the many must do activities in Queenstown – the Shotover Jet. In fact Queenstown has so much on offer that it belongs to the group of the Leading Mountain Resorts of the World which comprises of four of the world’s most highly rated and awarded alpine resorts, the other three are the Vail in Colorado, USA; the Val Gardena in the Dolomites,Italy and the Bariloche in Patagonia, Argentina. All these four resorts- two in the Northern Hemisphere and two in the Southern Hemisphere offer superb skiing and boarding as well as a full range of year round activity covering all the four seasons of the year.

The range of activities offered in Queenstown is so varied and diverse that the best thing to do would be to visit the website www.queenstown-nz.co.nz to get an overview as truly Queenstown is the ultimate four season playground with the wide range of activities it has to offer. To name a handful of them, you have golfing, fly fishing, double decker bus tours, winter and salmon fishing, mountain biking, dart river funyaks, kawarau and shotover river rafting, Lord of the Rings Off-Road tours, fly-by-wire adventure flights, rungway, abseiling and rock climbing, world’s highest canyon swing, series of off-road adventures, helicopter and scenic flights, canyon tour, paragliding, hot air ballooning, horse riding, hang gliding, river surfing, skydiving, fly by wire the fastest adventure flight in the world or even a fly a jet simulator experience. And at the end of the day you can also experience some holistic health and beauty treatments. After all the adrenalin pumping activities. And the good thing is that you could book all of these activities here along with a wide choice of accommodation options.

With the limited time that I had , I wanted to make the most of my last day in Queenstown and I got started with the world’s most exciting jet boat ride – the Shotover Jet. The company offers thrilling rides in the Shotover River since 1970 and over 2 million passengers have experienced the twists and turns through the narrow canyons at breath taking speeds with several 3600 spins. The jet boats have departures every 15 minutes from a place which is 6 kilometres off Queenstown known as Arthur’s Point. Each thrilling ride is for about 25 minutes and if you were to do it as a stand alone programme from Queenstown you would have to set aside atleast 90 minutes including transfer times to and from Queenstown. So it is always a good idea to combine the Shotover Jet with other activities.

Shotover Jet is the only company permitted to operate in the spectacular Shotover River Canyons. It’s a thrilling ride – skimming past rocky outcrops at close range in your Shotover Jet. Along with an exhilarating experience, it is worth taking back ‘Catch the Canyons’ Photo Pack which includes your pictures taken whilst you enjoy the thrill of the jet boat ride as well as postcards, interactive CD Rom comprising of a short video, images as well as internet e-cards that you can send to your family and friends back home- an ideal souvenir to go along with a thrilling ride. You can visit www.shotoverjet.com for more details.

After the Shotover Jet experience, as I had limited time in hand, I had pre-arranged a booking with Nomad Safaris to do the 4 hour Safari of the Scenes 4WD tour to the Wakatipu Basin which included some of the sights where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot. The tour which generally leaves from Queenstown spans for a duration of 4 hours or if you do take a tour to Glenorchy then the tour can last the entire day. Our scenic tour included goldpanning, 4WD river crossings in the Arrow Gorge and a great overview of the diverse scenery of the Queenstown and the Arrowtown area – from towns, to rolling farmland, rugged Skippers Canyon, and mountains and once again to the famous Kawarau Gorge bungy ride along with views of the film locations of Misty Mountains, the Pillars of the Kings (Argonath), the site of Isildur’s fall, and the Ford of Bruinen. You’ll also overlook Deer Park Heights, where the Rohan refugees and the battle with the Wargs were filmed.The Lord of the Rings was in fact a huge financial gamble because if the first movie would have been a failure, there wouldn’t be demand for the remaining episodes of the film. Of course, it was hugely successful with lots of box office receipts and lots of Oscars as well.

After a long day, I grabbed a quick bite in the town centre before boarding the TSS Earnslaw Vintage Steamship operated by Real Journeys on Lake Wakatipu. I was lucky to catch the last cruise which leaves at 8.00 pm. The cruise lasts for around 90 minutes and you are taken back in time on this amazing steamship. The TSS Earnslaw is named after Mount Earnslaw which is the highest peak in the region and the ship weighs 330 tonnes with a length of 168 feet. The ship also known as the Lady of the lake, was launched in 1912 to transport goods for locals and convey passengers on Lake Wakatipu and is one of the icons of Queenstown. Today, this ship is an integral part of tourism to this region and you get to experience and see the stokers fuelling the fireboxes and hear the sounds of steam engines working aboard this majestic vessel. There are evening excursion options to Walter Peak where one can alight to dine and do a farmyard tour as well. I preferred to do the cruise only although I would have loved to spend some time at Walter Peak. However, I had a very long day and next morning I bid adieu to Queenstown and headed in the direction of the alpine village of Aoraki, Mount Cook.

It was a long drive ahead from Queenstown crossing the Lake Wakatipu region thru Central Otago to the small town of Twizel and into the Mackenzie region which is in the centre of New Zealand’s South Island. At 3754 metres, Aoraki which stands for “cloud piercer” in the Kai Tahu dialect of the Maori language was first sighted by Abel Tasman during his Pacific voyage in the 17th Century. Later, Captain John Stokes named it Mount Cook to honour Captain James Cook who first surveyed and circumnavigated the islands of New Zealand in 1770. Interestingly, Captain Cook did not sight the mountain during his exploration. And later in 1998, the official name was changed to Aoraki/Mount Cook to incorporate the Maori name.

The mountain is in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park which in combination with Westland National Park is one of the United Nations World Heritage Parks. The park contains more than 140 peaks standing over 2000 metres or 6500 feet. The settlement of Mount Cook Village (also known as The Hermitage) is a tourist centre and base camp for the mountain. It is 7 km from the end of the Tasman Glacier and the village has a population of barely 120 which rises to a population of 300 in summer. The Village is a popular base to engage in a number of outdoor activities, including walking, mountain biking, rock-climbing, mountaineering and skiing. The Hermitage is the only Hotel in this region and was first opened in 1884 and later modernized to become the Hermitage Complex in 2001 with a wide range of accommodation ranging from budget to the high end traveller. The Aoraki Wing is the luxurious wing offering picture postcard view of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Sefton from its rooms. The Hermitage also has 32 Motels and 18 Chalets which are fully equipped and can accommodate four to six people. The Hotel offers fine dining in its award winning Panorama Restaurant or you can enjoy breakfast or dinner buffet with a wide selection at the Alpine Restaurant.

As you are reading this article, a brand new planetarium called the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre will be opened at the Hermitage to offer visitors an awe inspiring star-gazing experience along with an interactive museum. An overnight stay is a must at the Hermitage as there is lots to do in the region besides enjoying the wonderful hospitality extended to all its guests by the Hermitage. One of the highly recommended must-do is the Mount Cook Ski planes which offers the only fixed-wing landing experience on a glacier in the Southern Hemisphere which is truly a magical experience. There are various other tours being offered in the region scuh as Heli-Hiking, Glacier Sea-Kayaking, Tasman Glacier Skiing as well as Horse Trekking and eco tours as well. As Mount Cook is equidistant from both Christchurch as well as Queenstown and you can reach from either of these South Island cities in less than 4 hours, it should be an integral part of your itinerary whilst visiting South Island.

After a lunch stop at The Hermitage, where Mr Denis Callesen, G.M. of the Hermitage took me on a short tour of this fantastic property, I boarded the coach at around 1530 hours to head to Christchurch which is around 4 hours from the Aoraki Mount Cook. On our way we had a photo stop at Lake Tekapo to see the Church of the Good Shepherd. Tekapo is a Maori word meaning night sleeping place (Taka is “sleeping mat” and Po is “night”) and Lake Tekapo has the clearest, darkest and most spectacular night sky in New Zealand. The University of Canterbury operates an observatory on top of Mount John. The Church was built here to the glory of God as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country and the foundation stone was laid around 1935. The builders of the Church were instructed to leave the site undisturbed and you will find the matagouri bushes and rocks around the church and the view of the Church and the turquoise blue colour of the lake with the rock and bushes around with Mount Cook in the background is truly a photographer’s delight. Near the church there is a monument of the Collie Dog which was built by the runholders of the Mackenzie County to value the contribution of the dog without the help of which the grazing of the mountain country would be impossible.

After crossing the Canterbury Plains, we arrived in the Garden City of Christchurch and as the coach was crossing Colombo Street to drop me at my hotel, I saw an interesting restaurant serving Burmese cuisine known as the The Bodhi Tree which was walking distance from my hotel. After freshening up, I walked to The Bodhi Tree expecting to get a table easily. However, the place was choc a block and I was lucky to get a table as they had a last moment cancellation and I would admit that the Bodhi Tree probably offers the best Burmese cuisine in the world, outside Myanmar(Burma) and should be on your list of restaurants to visit when you are in Christchurch and make it a point to reserve prior to visiting the restaurant. Whilst waiting for my table, I got to learn about Burmese cuisine. The ideal Burmese meal is to eat rice in the most appetizing way along with tasty accompaniments. A meal generally consist of a variety of dishes meat, vegetable, salad, seafood and soup with the whole meal being served simultaneously.

The dishes are smaller sized portions and you can easily have two dishes per person along with rice. The meal is generally cooked in olive oil and at times with a combination of canola oil. I chose to have the Le Pet Thoke as an appetizer which is a famous tea salad comprising of pickled tea leaves mixed with lentils, nuts, sesame seeds and chili followed by Ono Hin Ye which is a coconut and chicken soup and Nga Kin which is a boneless filet of fresh fish baked in the oven along with rice. The desserts too were interesting and I chose to have the Majidi Ye Ke Mot which is a tamarind sorbet, very tangy and refreshing and the entire meal came to 37 NZD ( approximately Rs1300), great value for money especially for world class Burmese cuisine. The place should be a must include for anyone visiting Christchurch. After a sumptuous meal and a long day, I looked forward to the penultimate day of my tour where I would be going Whale watching at Kaikoura. At around 8 am the coach arrived from Canterbury Leisure Tours to head in the direction north of Christchurch to Kaikoura.

Kaikoura lies on the east coast of South Island and is 180 kilometres north of Christchurch and the town has a population of just over 2200. The drive to Kaikoura is spectacular as you go thru a hill country of North Canterbury to arrive at the place rich in a wide variety of marine mammals. Kaikoura is comprising of two words kai which means “to eat” and koura which stands for “rayfish” as the crayfish industry is a major contributor to the economy of this region. However the region is very popular to view the giant sperm whales and schools of acrobatic dusky dolphins. It took us a little under 3 hours to arrive in Kaikoura and we were transferred to a whale watch tour which operates subject to weather conditions. We were lucky to get good weather and I was indeed glad to know that the boat would operate. For those who are prone to sea sickness, you could hire or purchase wrist bands which will gauge your pulse and ensure that you do not suffer from sea sickness when on the boat to view the whales.

Kaikoura is one of the few places where you could see the giant sperm whales almost all year round and we were lucky to get some sightings from close quarters. The giant sperm whale grows upto 20 metres and is undoubtedly the highlight of the tour and it is quite common to also see dolphins as well as other species of whales, migratory birds and sea birds including the Royal Albatross. From across the sea you get a spectacular view of the bay of Kaikoura with the mountains in the horizon. At Kaikoura there are tours where you can go swimming with the dolphins and you can also take some of the walking tracks to go and see the southern fur seals on the edge of the town especially when the tide is low.

We had the opportunity to see some seals basking in the sun and you can really go close to them as the ocean gives way to a rocky base which is easily accessible by foot. One of the reason that Kaikoura is so rich in marine life is because the peninsula extends into the sea south of the town and this results in currents that bring in rich marine life from the nearby Hikurangi Trench. The town has lots to offer as there are scenic wine cellar tours, sheep shearing tours as well as animal farm tours in the area. You could visit the Kaikoura winery, Fyffe House which is the historic whaler’s home, lavender farm as well as Donegal House which is famous for its country Irish pub and garden. There are several cafes and restaurant in the area including an Indian restaurant called Plaza India Kaikoura. In the area, you also have activities which include golfing, horse riding, adventure and 4 wheel drive tours, scenic flights, kayaking, diving, bird watching, quad biking, cave tours as well as fishing. You can easily spend a couple of nights in Kaikoura if you want to be closer to marine life and enjoy some of the activities in the area. If the sea is rough you can also do whale watching in Kaikoura by taking a light aircraft or a helicopter whale viewing flight although in my personal opinion the boat tour is the best option to get closer to the giant sperm whales.

On our way back we had the opportunity to stop at a North Canterbury vineyard as the region is extremely rich in wine and after some wine tasting we headed back to Christchurch. It was time to bid farewell to New Zealand and I had the opportunity to see a lot of New Zealand in these 17 days. However the country has so much more to offer that it would take several trips to include other areas, be it Wellington – the cultural capital, Dunedin – the Edinburgh of the South, the rugged Wilderness of the West Coast, the amazing coastline of the Marlborough Sounds, the sun-sand and serenity of the Coromandel, the volcanic country of the Tongariro National Park or the underground activities at Waitomo. These are just few of the several experiences that one can get in naturally New Zealand.


Queenstown, Fiordland, Arrowtown

The drive from Franz Josef which is approximately 400 kilometres took us a little over 5 hours to reach Queenstown. The view along the way traversing along the West Coast past spectacular mountain ranges, native forests and lakes to the Haast Pass and then following the shores of Lake Hawea and Wanaka was simply spectacular and was an extension to the stunning views that we got to see on the Tranzalpine. There were several places where you could stop and take postcard pictures, however being on the coach, it was not possible to halt on the way except for refreshments and short toilet breaks. Hence, I would strongly recommend visitors travelling to South Island to rent a car and do a self drive as you can stop along the way where you feel to appreciate the fine beauty of the region.

Queenstown which has a population of around 11000 with a floating population going up to 30000 in winter as it is famous for skiing and is built around a long thin lake known as Lake Wakatipu. Also referred to as the Vegas by the Lake, the town probably got its name from a local gold digger who exclaimed that the town was fit for Queen Victoria. The town has year round appeal and boasts of a wide range of adventure and leisure activities to complement its breathtaking scenery. Nestled on the shores of the majestic Lake Wakatipu, the town overlooks the spectacular Remarkables mountain range. An ideal place for those who require an adrenalin rush, Queenstown is where you will find the first commercial bungy site in the world. Besides bungy, you can ski in winter, go white water rafting, do tandem hang-gliding, paragliding and even skydiving or jetboat down canyons. In the evening you can take a relaxing steamboat cruise, a gondola ride or stroll along one of the area’s scenic hiking tracks. You can even do a 4 x 4 or quad bike safari, try gold panning at the historic Arrowtown or visit the nearby Lake Wanaka which is just over 100 kilometres from Queenstown.

As the place is full of activities and extremely popular throughout the year it is advisable to pre-book most of your activities with your travel consulant in India especially during peak periods so that you can make most of your stay . A minimum duration of stay recommended is atleast 5 days in this region of Central Otago. Besides adventure, you can go wine tasting to try out some fine Pinot Noir in nearby Arrowtown and in winter along the Mount Ruapehu, you can ski from one of the four main mountain skifields – the Cadrona Alpine Resort, Coronet Peak, the Remarkables or the Treble Cone, all within short driving distances from Queenstown. The town also has a vibrant nightlife and some fine dining experiences along the lake front. And who can forget the famous trilogy of the Lord of the Rings which was filmed in several locations around this region and there are special tours that take you to the locations of where the film was shot.

After checking in at the hotel, I took a walk to the town centre known as the Queenstown Mall and thereafter I walked towards the Skyline Gondola which is just a 5 minutes walk from the downtown area of Queenstown. I boarded the gondola which in quick time took me upto the height of 450 metres which is almost 1500 feet from where you get the most spectacular view of Queenstown. The 220 degree panorama from the top offers stunning views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables as well as the surrounding mountains. No wonder, the Skyline is one of the most popular sites of Queenstown and has attracted over 10 million visitors since it started its operation in 1967. The Skyline infact is reputed to be one of the steepest lifts in the Southern Hemisphere and has various observation decks up at Bob’s Peak offering awe-inspiring and breathtaking views. There is plenty on offer once you are at the altitude of 790 metres which is where the top terminal is located.

You can go down an 800 metre fast paced path on the Skyline luge and be taken back up again on a chairlift or tread your way back on a walking track. There is also a live performance of Maori Culture offered thru the Haka Experience, fine cuisine in exclusive dining restaurants or for adrenalin junkies there is mountain biking, para gliding as well as bungy jumping on offer. After doing loads of adventure stuff in Rotorua, I preferred to dine at one of the restaurants – a perfect place to be on a clear day, fine cuisine with stunning views of the region. It was a long day for me starting off from the Glacier Region and into the region of the Southern Lakes and after a fine meal I headed back to the hotel as I was looking forward to the next day to explore the region of Milford Sound.

Milford Sound is a 5 hours drive from Queenstown and the best option would be to do a seat-in-coach from Queenstown and then take a flight back the same day. However, the flight is subject to weather conditions. Milford Sound is located in the south west of the South Island and is a fiord which is situated within the Fiordland National Park which is part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site. The Te Wahipounamu which means the “place of greenstone” in Maori incorporates several national parks including Aoraki or Mount Cook, Fiordland, Mount Aspiring and the Westland.

Also known as the eight wonder of the world, a name given by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound takes its name from Milford Haven in Wales and the Cleddau River which flows into it is similarly named for its Welsh namesake. The Maori name for the sound is Piopiotahi which means the first native thrush. The region enjoys over 300 days of rainfall and is the wettest place in New Zealand and probably one of the wettest places in the world. Milford Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by rock faces which rises over a thousand metres on either side. Nowhere in Fiordland do the mountains stand as tall, straight out of the sea. In the foreground stands Mitre Peak, a remarkable presence dominating the skyline.

I was booked on a Real Journeys scenic cruise and after the pick up from my hotel at around 8.30 am the coach went along the southern arm of Lake Wakatipu to Lumsden and onward to lake Te Anau. Along the way the scenery changed dramatically from tussock covered grasslands with flocks of sheep along the way to glacier hewn valleys closer to the Eglinton Valley and thru the breathtaking Hower Tunnel into Milford Sound. Along the way we stopped at the Fiordland National Park which is synonymous with waterfalls and fiords. Especially after a heavy rainfall, here you can see a multitude of small waterfalls cascading down rock mountain sides. We halted to take a walk to the Chasm – a place where the Cleddau River is squeezed through a narrow “chasm” dropping several metres. We made another halt at the spectacular mirror lakes and it didn’t surprise me that nature lovers come here to walk the Milford Track – one of New Zealand’s popular walks and there are over 14000 people who walk this track every year, most of them between late October and April.

Not surprisingly, the last few kilometers into Milford Sound, it rained heavily as expected thus creating dozens of waterfalls cascading down the cliffs, some of them running down thousands of metres. A view that attracts over 550000 tourists each year to this region making it one of New Zealand’s most visited tourist spots inspite of its remote location. Accumulated rainwater can at times cause portions of the rain forest to lose their grip on the sheer cliff faces, resulting in tree avalanches into the Sound. The regrowth of the rain forest after these avalanches can be seen in several locations along the Sound and hence this is one segment where we do not recommend you to take your own vehicle. Rather it is advisable to do a seat-in-coach tour and in case you find the day too long to travel to and fro from Queenstown, you could do an overnight cruise at Milford Sound – a truly romantic experience of the fiords especially for honeymooners. The day return coach would cost you around 215 NZD (Rs 6500 approx) , however the overnight cruise inclusive of the coach can cost you around 35 to 135 NZD more than a day return depending on which time of the year you are travelling. You also have option of doing one way scenic flight and one way coach and that would cost you around 564 NZD (Rs 17000 approx).

The boat tour ranges from a duration of 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the departure times of the cruise and the company which operates the cruise. Besides spectacular scenery and stunning views, you can buy snacks and refreshments on board and you could even pre-order lunches with the cruise company. After a 2 hour view where we could see a few dolphins and several waterfalls including the famous three sisters rock formation where you see three waterfalls that come cascading down from the steep rocks, we headed back to the harbour. Unfortunately, the weather was not suited for the flights to operate and we had to return back by coach which was a long drive back to Queenstown – an opportunity to take a nap after a wonderful trip to Milford Sound.

The next morning, I had booked myself for the Queenstown Highlight Tour – a half day city tour which is highly recommended as this extensive tour starts with a visit to the Queenstown Hill where you get view points of the town, Lake Wakatipu down below and the Remarkables Mountain Range. The tour thereafter follows the route along the Frankton Arm and into the Wakatipu Basin, past stunning Lake Hayes, which is the home of several protected bird species. Thereafter, we had a halt at the mouth of the Kawarau Gorge, one of the many filming locations of the Lord of the Rings and on crossing the Kawarau river there are great views en route until we reach the next stop – the world famous AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge – the birthplace of bungy jumping. Here we did a short tour of 20 minutes known as the Secrets of Bungy which started with an 8 minute multi-media show at the Bungy Dome. The Bungy Centre is a state of the art facility which offers great viewing of the Kawarau suspension Bridge and the Bungy jumping platform.

As I had already done my Bungy jump at Rotorua a week ago, I was all geared up to take the Secrets of Bungy tour which is highly recommended to get an overview of behind the scenes look at how bungy jumping started, the technology used as well as restricted access to the live bungy jumping site. At the end you are handed over a certificate known as “the secrets of bungy tour confidentiality agreement” with your name printed – a good souvenir to take home from the birth place of bungy, especially for those who do not want to take a leap from the world’s first bungy site which was established in 1988. You also get a part of a bungy cord which is harnessed onto the jumper as a souvenir and it was surprising to know that the material used for the cord at some of the bungy sites come from Kochi, India!

Our next stop was a short drive up to the Gibbston Valley Winery – one of pioneering vineyards in the region which has gone to win several awards for its fine wine produce. After visiting the winery and doing some wine tasting, we had the opportunity to visit the Gibbston Valley Cheesery which is located on the site itself, probably the only place in New Zealand where you can get cheese and wine at the same place. The Gibbston Valley vineyard is nestled in the heart of Central Otago frequently hosts a series of wine tasting events at the winery and organizes private and public wine tours for those wishing to truly experience of the magic that this stunning wine growing region offers.

Located in one the most picturesque regions, it’s an ideal place to have an afternoon meal in the courtyard along with some fine wine and cheese to go in tow.. You could easily be spending a couple of hours at the Gibbston Valley especially if you visit the wine caves, do the cellar tour, along with wine tasting and have lunch. It was time for us to move on to our next stop which is the gold mining settlement of Arrowtown and the tour was so enjoyable that we did not realize that we had travelled over 21 kilometres from Queenstown to reach Arrowtown. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone who visits Queenstown as in one tour you get to experience spectacular views, do wine tasting and appreciate fine colourful history and colonial style architecture in Arrowtown.

This picturesque town retains its old world charm thru careful preservation of it’s colourful history and architecture. The Lakes District Museum is worth a visit and besides the museum, the town has fine restaurants, cafes and tracks for walking and mountain biking besides fishing, horse riding and gold panning experiences. This artistic town has on exhibit several galleries and exhibits fine displays of the European Settlement and the gold rush era of the 1800s. An excellent place to walk around and a visit to the “Remarkables Sweet Shop” is a must. Like many regions in and around Queenstown, Arrowtown too was one of the places where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed and the gushing Arrow River and its bush-clad walkways is an internationally preferred site for location filming of movies and commercials and a delight for photographers as well. Our 3 hour tour concluded at Arrowtown and we headed on our way back to Queenstown via the world famous Shotover Canyons where I got off for a spectacular jet boat ride experience on the Shotover Jet which I had pre-booked for on the first day of my arrival in Queenstown.


Christchurch, Tranzalpine Glaciers

After bidding adieu to the group who were heading back to India, I took my flight from Auckland to Christchurch and within 1 hour 20 minutes I landed at the garden city of New Zealand. Christchurch which has a population of 350000 is the international gateway to South Island. I decided to do the South Island on a seat-in-coach basis and my itinerary of 7 days comprised of visit to Christchurch where I would be spending one night before taking the Tranz Alpine which is rated as one of the top six scenic train journeys in the world and arrive in Greymouth. After Greymouth, I would spend an overnight at Franz Josef Glacier before heading to Queenstown. Thereafter I would be visiting the region of Mount Cook and back again to Christchurch to do a day tour of Kaikoura in North Canterbury before taking my flight back to India.

On arrival at Christchurch airport, I made my way to the International Antarctic Centre (IAC) which is walking distance from the airport and on arrival at the domestic terminal, all I had to do is follow the blue “footprints” painted on the pavement to 38 Orchard road. The walk from the airport is for about 8 minutes. The other option is to catch a free shuttle from the airport which takes you directly to the attraction and bookings can be made at “Next Stop Antarctica” which is at the airport’s domestic terminal.

The Antarctic Attraction at the International Antarctic Centre is one of Christchurch’s leading attraction and has won several tourism awards. In fact, I would say that a visit to Christchurch is incomplete without a visit to the International Antarctic Centre which is open from 9 am until 5.30 pm in winter and in summer it remains open until 7.00 pm. I spend the next 60 odd minutes at the centre where I learnt a few interesting facts. It is from here that many Antarctic missions are organized and the experience for visitors is filled with fun and excitements and instills a feeling of our commitment towards conservation of the environment. The IAC was opened in 1990 to support Antarctic Scientific Programmes and is home to New Zealand, US and Italian Antarctic Programmes.

The tour of the Antarctic Attraction begins in the Four Seasons Room with a 7 minute sound and light show depicting the four seasons of Antarctica. This is followed by a visit to the Scott Base to discover the life on ice thru’ touch screens where current updates are uploaded by staff at Scott Base on a daily basis. Scott Base is New Zealand’s modern Antarctic Station which was opened in 1957 and later rebuilt in 1976. After visiting the interiors of Scott Base , the next stop was at the indoor attraction known as the polar room where I got to experience the Antarctic Storm where the temperature dropped to a chilling -18 degrees celcius. The Snow and Ice Experience is great fun for all age groups and you are given a snow gear that you have to get into before entering the storm room. The gear comprises of warm jackets and overshoes which are provided to all visitors who wish to experience snow and snow storms . After a chilling encounter, it was time for the Little Blue Penguin Encounter – the newest attraction.

The Little Blue Penguin is the smallest and most nocturnal of the 18 species of penguins in the world and are found off the shores of South Australia and New Zealand. The Little Blue Penguin is a flightless bird and barely 40 cms in height weighing less than one kg. It was a great experience to see the 26 little blue penguins in a 600 sq metre enclosure backed by comprehensive audio and visual displays – a visual delight for the kids and adults as well. For those who want to have a personal experience can opt for the Penguin Backstage Pass which gives an opportunity to get up close to these wonderful snow creatures. In between it was very interesting to traverse thru various audio visual areas where you learn how Gondwana was split to form land masses around 180 million years ago which we know today as Antarctica, India, Australia and South America.

Antarctica, today is the windiest, driest, highest and coldest place on earth and is truly a land of extremes. The indoor tour concluded at the souvenir shop but And within 20 odd minutes I reached Colombo Street to check in at the Copthorne Central Hotel. Christchurch and the region of Canterbury has lots of offer and the city which has the Avon river passing thru is a great place to halt for atleast a couple of nights whether it is to ride a gondola or cable car or experience thereapeutic hot pools at Hanmer Springs, the French settlement on the Banks Peninsula of Akaroa where you can swim with the dolphins or go for whale watching in Kaikoura. Christchurch is the largest city of South Island and is renowned for its expansive gardens and it is recommended to go Punting in the park on the Avon river. The region itself is laden with activities such as hangliding, mountain biking, bungy jumping, ski-ing, snowboarding, jetboating, white water rafting, skydiving, mountain climbing, paragliding, hot air ballooning, 4 wheel driving, star gazing, wild life cruising, eco touring or even experiencing some Maori Culture. there was more in store as I also had the opportunity to experience the Antarctic Hagglund Ride. The Hagglund is an all-terrain amphibian vehicle used in Antarctica and travels at 3.5 knots in water and even operate in temperatures as low as -40 degrees celcius. On land it can reach a maximum speed of 55 kph. It has caterpillar tracks and is equipped to climb steep and difficult terrain which I experienced in the 15 minute ride which is a must for all visitors who wish to experience the thrill of an exhilarating ride backed by entertaining commentary. Our Hagglund comfortably climbed over mounds which looked highly improbable from a distance and then steeply descended into pools of water which was the perfect finish to a very entertaining and informative tour of the International Antarctic Centre. At the exit of the centre, the coach had arrived on time.

The city features some fine grand stone buildings, excellent opportunities for shopping and is home to over 400 bars and restaurants. That evening I dined at the Barcelona Bistro bar which is located at the Corner of Oxford Terrace and Worcester Boulevards. The restaurant offers some fine meals which are simple yet incredibly tasty. Excellent cuisine though a bit pricey with the average meal costing in the range of 35 New Zealand Dollars inclusive of a light main course and a dessert. The following morning, I had an early check-out to take the 8.15 am train from Christchurch station to arrive into Greymouth in about 4 hrs 30 minutes on the Tranz Alpine which is rated as one of the world’s greatest scenic rail journeys which goes from one coast to the other and en route there are spectacular views ranging from river valleys to the magnificent Southern Alps. Rated as one of the top six scenic train journeys in the world, the train traverses the huge and fertile patchwork farmlands of the Canterbury Plains and winds its way over massive viaducts, spectacular river gorges and the stunning Waimakariri River Valley.

It tracks its way up and across the Southern Alps via the alpine village of Arthur’s Pass which is located 737 metres above sea level before descending through lush beech forests, Lake Brunner and arriving to the West Coast town of Greymouth located on the Tasman Sea. It is highly recommended for honeymooners as well as those who wish to experience stunning scenery. The total journey of 223 kilometres crosses 16 tunnels and 5 viaducts reaches Greymouth in time to continue your onward journey on the same day to the Glacier Region. Greymouth is situated at the mouth of the Grey River and is the largest town on the West Coast. The area offers a wide range of outdoor experiences including quad bike and 4 x 4 off road, mountain biking, river and cave rafting, canoeing, caving, climbing and scenic flights. On arrival at Greymouth after one of the finest rail journeys that I have ever taken, we drove south and within 40 minutes arrived at Hokitika for a lunch stop.

Located by the Tasman sea, at the mouth of the Hokitika River, the town has a vibrant artisan community with a population of only 3500. The region has diverse raw materials such as jade, gold and minerals and Besides grabbing a sandwich, I had ample time to visit the Hokitika Jade Factory which houses one of New Zealand’s largest range of quality and affordable Jade as well as the Pounamu carvings and sculptures on display. From hand carved pendants, jade jewellery to Ornaments and tumbled stones, you find a wide variety of Jade products. Hokitika has become internationally renowned as a centre of creative arts and is home to the annual Wildfoods Festival. It was once the largest town on the West Coast during the gold rush boom of the 1860s. Today the town is well known for coal, tourism and timber besides the Jade Factory which is a must visit for all visitors.

After a short transit stop, we boarded the bus to head to the Glacier Region comprising of the Franz Josef and the Fox Glacier and under 3 hours we were at Franz Josef after travelling south from Ross – a city which is 27 kilometres from Hokitika and the place where the largest gold nugget was found in NZ – a massive 3.1 kgs. The Glacier Country attracts over 300000 visitors a year and comprises of glaciers which are active remnants of the ice age, from the vast snowfields of the Southern Alps just 300 metres above sea level. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are ideal bases for glacier explorations – from air safaris to heli-hikes and quad biking. You can even take tours for kayaking or horse back riding.

After checking-in at the Scenic Circle Hotel which is located on the edge of the Westland World Heritage Park, I walked across the hotel property to book the Twin Glacier Helicopter Ride with The Helicopter Line. The 30 minute rides takes you over the head of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier and we did a helicopter landing on the Franz Josef Glacier to get an incredible view of the masses of ice and snow glowing against the setting sun. The experience is highly recommended, although it is subject to weather conditions. I would have loved to do the Glacier Walk for which you need atleast 3 to 6 hours and to do that you need to stay atleast two nights in the Glacier Region. In my case, I checked out after breakfast on the following day and after crossing Fox Glacier which is 20 kilometers from Franz Josef and the Haast Pass which is the lowest crossing over the Southern Alps, we headed to Queenstown where we arrived in 4 hours time from Fox Glacier to explore the adventure capital of the world and one of the most beautiful towns located in South Island.




Rotorua fun with adventure…continued

Although it was just the seventh day in New Zealand and our second day in Rotorua, the range of activities that we had experienced were incredible and amazing. After spending a couple of hours at Agrodome, we headed off in the direction of Amoore Road which was less than 15 minutes drive from Agrodome to arrive at Offroad NZ – an ideal place to spend a couple of hours to enjoy some high quality pulse racing, adrenalin pumping adventure activities. Here you can test your driving skills to the absolute limit. Currently managed by the Tew family who are originally English, their passion for outdoor adventure has made this place a must visit not only amongst leisure travellers but also incentive groups who wish to have unique experiences such as climbing vertical slopes on a 4 x 4 Monster Thrill Ride or having team building challenges in a “bush camp” created with catering facilities or testing one’s skill at claybird shooting.

Cement block walkway in a garden

On our agenda was the 4WD Bush Safari and sprint car racing. We hopped on to a 4WD vehicle and each of us would take turns to negotiate the various challenges set in a beautiful native rain forest like environment. This included challenges such as manoeuvring of the 4WD thru’ tunnel, steep slopes and negotiating waterfalls and puddles of muddy water. The interesting part is although the vehicles get dirty, you stay clean after the exciting adventure. It is a fun experience mostly seen in adventure Hollywood movies. Here you have the opportunity to be part of the act rather than being a mere spectator. Importantly, all the participants are given a comprehensive safety briefing before the adventure commences. The experience is simply exhilarating and lasts for about 45 to 50 minutes and costs about NZD 80 per person (Rs 2500 approx) with up to two persons per vehicle. You need to carry your driving license along to get started on the 4WD.


Our next activity was the Sprint Car Racing- 12 laps of the race track to experience the thrills of car racing on a concrete circuit and test your speed on these roaring machines fitted with roll cages and racing belt harnesses. It is fast, yet extremely safe and you get a print out of the lap times including the fastest lap time. It is an exciting activity for all age groups as the children are allowed to ride as passengers for free as long as they are atleast 1.5 metres in height.

We had a quick round of the place and we were impressed to find out that besides clay bird shooting, 4WD bush safari, sprint car racing and monster 4×4 thrill rides, the place also offers archery and golfing activities as well.


The Luge which is extremely popular at Sentosa Island, Singapore in fact originated here in Rotorua and it was in fact designed and built in Rotorua. The 3 wheel car which works on gravity has a unique braking and steering system where the rider is in full control and can maneouvre the speed of the Luge at his convenience. Over 13 million people have experienced luge rides in New Zealand itself and that itself is testimony to the popularity of the Luge which is now being offered by many countries. In Rotorua itself over 6 million riders have enjoyed the exhilarating descent from top of the Mount and then the riders are taken to the top once again on a specially designed chairlift. Skyline Skyrides offers 3 different tracks for beginners, intermediate and advanced levels ranging from 1 to 2 kilometres and the ride is scenic thru Skylines own Redwood Forest. Children under 6 years of age can ride tandem and the intermediate as well as advanced tracks offer thrills such as riding thru tunnels, spirals with exciting bends and dips although for the advanced track the minimum age recommendation is 10 years.


Besides the luge and the chairlift, the adventure seeker can also do a Sky Swing or take a Helicopter Ride and for those who love to take a stroll there are walking and nature tracks which offer you some spectacular views along the way. You could easily spend half a day at Skyline Skyrides and between the various rides and experiences you also have eating and shopping options as well. It is undoubtedly one of the fun places not to be missed during your visit to Rotorua.


The region is one of the country’s premier holiday destinations and is located 2 hours 30 minutes away from Auckland. We started from Auckland airport and headed south towards the direction of Hamilton. As we reached Bombay Hills, we turned in the direction of State Highway 2 which would take us to Tauranga. Whilst driving on highways the maximum speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour whereas in the city and urban areas the limit to be maintained is 50 kilometres per hour. After spending a couple of hours at Skyline Skyrides, within 15 minutes driving distance we arrived at Te Puia – a 5 star attraction at Rotorua for its Maori and Geothermal experience. Let me clarify here, 5 star in terms of quality and not in terms of price. At Te Puia, you get and intimate cultural experience and you can also enjoy the traditional Hangi where food is steam cooked by hot rocks in the earth. A visit to Rotorua is incomplete if you do not visit Te Puia for its geothermal experience and there is plenty to see and do here where the locals here love to share their stories, culture and beliefs. Te Puia can be visited in the day or you can experience Cultural show and dinner in the evening known as Mai Ora or the Evening Experience.


At Te Puia, you can start your tour by visiting the Whakarewarewa Valley where you see the hot geysers, hot springs and mud pools. The Maoris believed that this is the place where Gods once breathed and as a result the geysers erupt and you have steam hisses and bubbling mud pools. We were indeed lucky to have witnessed the eruption of the Pohutu which is one of the 7 active geysers and the big splash that the Pohutu made rose to a level of almost 30 metres in height.


Other attractions worth visiting at Te Puia is the Kiwi House, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute where training is conducted in wood carving and weaving. You can also witness the Maori Cultural Performance and we not only got the opportunity to see the Haka – the traditional Maori dance being performed but also participated in the Haka .Although the Haka looks to be very entertaining, it does consume a lot of energy and you can feel the passion and pride of the Kiwi whilst performing the Haka which has become almost a ritual for the All Blacks Rugby Team prior to the start of any match to intimidate the opponent. In fact this ritual has rubbed off to teams of other sports such as volleyball and basketball as well, probably cricket being the exception!


In fact, the significance of Te Puia is so prominent to Rotorua, that most of the tourism and trade brochures invariably has the picture of the bubbling mud pools of Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley. After Te Puia, our next stop was at one of the top 10 medical and thermal spas in the world for 4 consecutive years from 2004 onwards as per the Condé Nast Traveller magazine. I am referring to the Polynesian Spa. Located at 5 minutes walking from the CBD of Rotorua, the award winning Spa overlooks the Sulphur Bay on Lake Rotorua. Established as a privately owned company in 1972, the Polynesian Spa has 27 hot mineral pools and the Lake Spa Retreat offers a complete rejuvenating experience with a comprehensive range of spa, body and skin therapies. There are adult only pools, a family spa, deluxe bathing and private pools to choose from and the perfect way to end an adventure filled day in Rotorua is to experience one of the relaxation spa therapies be it the hydro therapy or the dry therapies starting from NZD 80 per half an hour session.] I personally opted for the Aix Spa Massage which is a relaxing massage with fragrant coconut oil under jets of warm water. Importantly, you have to pre-book your therapy as the place is extremely busy and popular and after a nice massage, you can dip into one of the 27 hot mineral pools to get rid off whatever fatigue or muscle ache you might have.

After quite a long and eventful day, what was missing is some Indian cuisine and Rotorua does have a handful of them and we visited the award winning Indian Star Tandoori Restaurant in the city centre for some fine dining to bring an end to our fantastic stay in the city of adventure and geothermal activity.

Rotorua has plenty to offer and stay of atleast 3 days is highly recommended. Besides Agrodome, Off Road NZ, Skyline Skyrides and Te Puia, a visit to Paradise Valley Springs is worthwhile for those who appreciate flora and fuona. There is also the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, renowned for its colourful geothermal reserve and wide range of activities including volcanic craters, boiling mudfields and limestone terraces. The Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a valley full of wonders where you can see the Frying Pan Lake – the world’s largest hot stream and you can also take a cruise on Lake Rotomahana. Rainbow Springs and Kiwi encounter are other popular attractions of the regions and for those seeking further adventure can do rafting on Kaituna River which boasts of the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 7 metres. You can go mountain biking at Whakarewarewa Forest or ride a horse or a 4 x 4 quad bike at Mountain Action. There’s lots more in and around Rotorua which makes it one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand.

The following morning we drove back to Auckland in quick time and had a one night transit stop in Auckland. After a 3 ½ hour ride, we arrived at the Heritage Hotel located on Nelson Street which is very close to the city centre and in walking distance from the Auckland Viaduct. After leaving our luggage at the hotel and having a quick meal at the Waterfront Café located in the Viaduct Harbour, we boarded Sail NZ on Auckland Harbour and off we were as part of the crew of the 1995 America Cup’s yacht. As there are atleast 30 people on the large yacht, you have a choice of either being a passive sailor or participate as a crew and navigate the yacht including maneouvring the sail as per wind directions. It was an exhilarating 2 hour ride on seas which were quite choppy at times.

The following morning after visiting the Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World and a short halt at the Butterfly Creek to see the Tropical Butterfly House which hosts more than 700 free flying butterflies, we headed for the airport. I bid adieu to my colleagues who were heading back to India as I took the flight to Christchurch to explore South Island for the next 7 days. On arrival at Christchurch airport, I made my way to the International Antarctic Centre (IAC) which is walking distance from the airport.

ROTORUA - Fun with Adventure

Rotorua Fun with Adventure

It was day six in New Zealand and after our breakfast at one of the waterfront cafes, we left Mount Maunganui on our way to Rotorua – the birthplace of Tourism in New Zealand. It was way back in the 1840s that the first visitors were attracted to the Pink and White Terraces in Rotorua and later in 1901 Rotorua had the distinction of being the first place in the world to have a national tourist department. Rotorua is New Zealand’s best known tourist destination not only for its geo thermal activity with the bubbling mud pools, hot springs and geysers but also it is the heartland of Maori culture and the ideal place to enjoy a Maori concert followed by a traditional maori meal or the Hangi. The city is today one of the world’s renowned spa destinations and also an adventure playground and we got to experience all of this during our two nights stay in the region. As a travel consultant, I would ideally advise you to stay atleast 3 days in Rotorua as the region has lots to offer.


To start with, we arrived in less than 3 hours from Tauranga to the heartland of the Maori culture and we were fortunate to get some fine weather. Rotorua is known to have year round pleasant climate and around December it was a pleasant 220C with clear skies an ideal time for us to head to Rotorua Airport for the ultimate adventure experience – the first for many of us. We were greeted at the airport by the warm and hospitable NZONE team who briefed us to experience the Ultimate Jump from a plane at an altitude of 12000 feet. Skydiving which was once an extreme sport is now mainstream and there are several people from across the world who fly down to New Zealand to skydive – the safest place in the world, be it for tandem or solo skydiving.


NZONE is the most experienced and longest operating Skydive operator in New Zealand and is a recipient of several prestigious NZ Tourism Awards and offers facility to Skydive in Rotorua as well as Queenstown in South Island. Hence, if you plan a trip to New Zealand and include North and South Island you could book your skydive here in Mumbai with Compact Travels and experience the Ultimate Jump – an experience of a life time. The amazing part of the whole experience is that you can even freeze the incredible moment of adventure in the form of a DVD movie from the time you are in your jumpsuit, your jump from the plane and your landing on ground as your entire experience is captured by a photographer who jumps out of the plane with the still and video camera hooked on to the helmet to capture the adventure from start to finish. The DVD and photos are worth the investment to take back home and share your images with your friends and family.

We were about 10 of us and we were all pre-booked for a jump from 12000 feet and our group comprised of people in age groups of the early 20s to the late 50s. We were greeted by the Nzone team and then we were shown a video to take us through the entire exercise from boarding the aircraft, the take off, the jump and the landing with all safety procedures explained very elaborately. What we were to do in the next 15 odd minutes was tandem skydiving and there were a couple of brave volunteers who stood up and after getting into their jumpsuits made out of space age materials, very strong and at the same time light in weight, they boarded the aircraft after which they were harnessed to a jump master and after seeing them safely landing with their parachute and a glee on their face, even the reluctant ones were keen to go for the ultimate jump. Soon it was my turn and after putting on the gear, we boarded the plane.

The entire experience including the escalation of the aircraft to the altitude of 12000 feet was being recorded by the professional photographer. And then the door was flung open, the first volunteer harnassed to his jump master jumped off the plane, then the photographer who was capturing each moment from take off till the opening of the door of the aircraft jumped off and finally, it was my turn and the greatest challenge for me was to fight the fear within me of daring to jump off the plane. I was asking myself as to what was the crazy thought that compelled me to jump off from such an altitude when I could have very well taken a scenic helicopter flight or flown in a micro light plane rather than challenging my mind and body to try out something which was nothing short of being crazy. I could feel the sensory overload of my mind, body and soul which created a resistance of asking the lady pilot to turn the aircraft and get back to ground. However, then I recalled the gleeful faces of the first two volunteers who jumped off and landed safely, I told myself it’s now or never and finally took the ultimate jump of my life.

And lo, experiencing a free fall at the speed of 200 kph, my face puffed with the cool breeze touching it and at that accelerating speed I suddenly felt someone holding my hand for a split second it was the photographer who asked me to smile to capture my image and soon the parachute opened at around 5000 feet and then it was a very smooth ride including the landing. I knew I made it. Even before reaching the ground I felt on top of the world literally, a feeling which I haven’t had ever before in my life – mission impossible achieved and I admired the scenic view from around 5000 feet slowly descending along with the jumpmaster and the fluorescent coloured parachute. I was all excited to share my ultimate experience not only with my colleagues who were waiting out there but even calling up my family back in India to let them know of the extreme adventure that I had just gone thru. I admired the scenic view of the Rotorua with the lake at a distance and it was as if I was making a landing literally out of space.

The smooth descent and the very comfortable landing reiterated the fact that New Zealand is undoubtedly the safest country in the world to sky dive as their safety standards are second to none and Nzone is one of the most experienced companies who handle the entire experience with a very high degree of professionalism. My jump master Eric patted my back on landing, although for him it was probably the fifth jump of the day and unlike the feeling I had before jumping out of the plane, now I truly admired the way Eric and his colleagues who carry out the task of being a tandem jumpmaster day in and day out with such high level of safety. The experience I went thru, not only was I keen to share with my family but I was looking forward to bringing them back to New Zealand in the near future and making them experience skydive the way I did and definitely go for another jump from a plane myself whenever I get the next opportunity. I did share with one of my friends, that skydiving in New Zealand is probably safer than crossing a street of Mumbai, it’s indeed a very safe flight with a safer landing. I could feel the adrenaline rush even a couple of hours after the jump and the overload of confidence thereafter was so high that I was looking forward to giving a shot at bungee jumping the following day at Agrodome – the place to be for a series of adventure activities.

After a hi-flying morning, we checked in at the Royal Lakeside Novotel Hotel which is located on the picturesque Lake Rotorua and overlooking the lake as well as at a walking distance from the city centre. After a quick lunch at Freo’s Licensed Café which was merely a block away, we headed to lake Rotorua with our swimming gear on to take the Kawarau Jet trip across the Lake through the Ohau Channel and en route we had a few 360 degree spins on our jet boat before reaching the Manupirua Natural Hot Springs located on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. The big yellow high speed boats takes you back and forth from the Manupirua Natural Hot Springs in less than 2 ½ hours and is a good outing for a family or even those on a honeymoon and if you are with your family and if the kids are under 5 years of age, then they travel for free. In fact the Hot Springs are only accessible by boat and it is one of the best ways to spend your afternoon in Rotorua, by soaking in the pools for 30 to 40 minutes. It is an amazingly peaceful place where you are sure to avoid large groups of people as you can only access the place by boats. So hiring a boat or a kayak or even going on a Kjet and spending your afternoon is the best way to unwind the day especially if you have returned from a Skydive or an Agrodome after having experienced some fast paced activities.

Later that evening after returning to the hotel, we visited the Tamaki Maori Village for a cultural evening experience followed by the Hangi – the traditional Maori meal. Located around 15 kilometres to the south of Rotorua, the Tamaki Village takes you to a journey of the ultimate Maori Cultural experience filled with high energy, passion and challenge highlighting the pre-European village life of the Maori people as well as sharing their traditional – skills the sound of ancient Maori instruments, the various traditions, performance, songs and dance and the entire experience lasts for around 3 hrs 30 minutes which terminates with fine traditional cuisine with plenty of vegetarian options.

You are familiarized with the Maori terms from the time you board the bus from your hotel. The coach trip is known as the Waka and the guide on the coach familiarizes you with the background of the Maori people before you arrive at the Marae or the meeting grounds where a Powhiri or a welcome dance is performed welcoming the guests to Tamaki Village. The entire welcoming process is known as the Te Wero or Challenge which includes the Karanga or the call of welcome followed by the welcome dance after which you enter the village complex where you can see demonstrations of weaponry displays, hand games, reciting chants and a wide array of activities of the bygone era.

Thereafter you are welcomed in the meeting house known as the Wharenui where a welcome speech is made by the Maori chief followed by song and dance. You are served the Hangi in the Wharekai or the Food House and the evening comes to an end with a Poroporoaki or a Closing Ceremony. After a long and eventful day from skydiving to 360 degree spins in the jet boat on Lake Rotorua, a relaxing session at the mud pool followed by a traditional Maori evening, we headed back to our hotel. The following morning, there was more of adventure in store for us and although Queenstown in South Island is known as the Adventure Capital of the World for its range of activities, I would put Rotorua as the adventure capital of North Island for the range of activities that it has to offer and we were to experience these on our second day in Rotorua.

The day started at Agrodome where adventure seekers can easily spend a major part of the day as it has over a dozen activities lined up all in one place. Located a mere 9.5 kilometres from Rotorua, the Agrodome can be accessed from Auckland as well as it is a 2 ½ hour drive from the City of Sails. There is lots that one can do here and the activities are for all age groups – there is the Agrodome Sheep Show which is extremely popular and lasts for about an hour comprising of edutainment, ideal for the young kids. You have activities such as cow milking, sheep dogs working, lamb feeding and the major part of the show has active participation of the audience to highlight the sheep farming and shearing demonstration which is one of the prime agricultural activities in New Zealand.

You can do a 45 minutes Agrodome Farm Tour to see the farm animals and fruits grown in New Zealand and this interactive tour gives you the real down-on-the-farm experience comprising of visits to the kiwifruit orchard, tasting of kiwifruit wine and fruit harvesting in the season besides getting a very close view and experience of hand feeding sheep as well as an insight into working of farm animals such as cattle, deer, ostrich and emus.

For us, we had altogether different items on the agenda at the Agrodome and our day began with Swoop and Bungy – the hi-flying swinging activities. We started with the swoop which can be done solo, tandem or triple – subject to weight. The interesting concept of swoop is that you are securely harnessed inside a modified hang gliding harness and raised to a height of around 40 metres (131 feet) and you are raised from ground level in the harness and then the jump master who is stationed at the top of the tower pulls the rip cord and you swoop or swing towards the earth at a speed of 130 kph and you feel as if you are flying to and fro till the harness comes to a complete halt. It was truly a mind and body moving experience which put us in true perspective to try the next adventure activity – the bungy jump.

Although the first commercial bungy jump site in the world is located in Queenstown at A.J.Hackett which I was to visit later in my trip, it was at Rotorua that I had the first opportunity to do a bungy and after having skydived the previous day from 12000 feet, a jump from 43 metres or 142 feet didn’t seem much of a challenge.

Like, skydiving, New Zealand is also one of the best places to do a bungy as the jumpmaster calls out “3, 2, 1 and bungy” you have to take that leap towards earth attached to a bungy cord and the most interesting aspect was that I was told that some of these cords are in fact assembled in Kochi, India. So off I volunteered to be the first one to try the bungy and in no time I was on top of the tower and this was the second time in 2 days that I was trying to do something crazy- the only difference was here I was all alone and not harnessed to any jump master and as I heard the call of bungy, I took the plunge head down and as I went down at a speed of over a 100kph I could see the Ngongotaha River below only praying that the cord could hold my weight till it came to a complete halt after around eight to ten vertical swings and I was couple of feet above the ground. Yet another great achievement! I finally did it and later I was amused to read the certificate given to me which stated that being of sound mind and body, jumped from 43 meters and that eventually put me into the Bungy Hall of Fame. More importantly, I was glad that I maintained the impeccable safety record of bungy jumpers at Agrodome.

And as the saying goes – make hay while the sun shines and so far I had a 100% success record of the adventure activities and I headed next to get on the Agrojet, a 13 foot 450 hp race boat which reaches a speed of 100 kph in 4.5 seconds- one of New Zealand’s fastest jet-boating experiences and the excitement of it all was the tight turns and thrills experienced in a space of 900 metres of narrow water passages between artificial land masses producing g-forces comparable to the Formula 1 race cars.

At the Agrodome, there is also the Xtreme Freefall which is a skydive simulator where you experience the sensation of flying unattached as an aircraft propeller lifts you upto 3 meters in the air – the only freefall skydive simulator currently in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere. It’s the closest you can experience to jumping out of a plane although there is no experience comparable to the real thing – the actual jump at 12000 or 15000 feet. So I decided to give this a skip and preferred to roll down the mountain in a Wet Zorb. Like bungy, skydiving, blokarting, zorbing too is a Kiwi invention where you experience going downhill in a rolling ball for 200 metres and you roll inside the Zorb having a 3.2 metres dimension. A few buckets of water is filled into the large plastic ball and one, two or more people get into the ball and the ball is pushed down the steep hill. You can be as imaginative in the ball as you want, either go with the flow and roll 360 degrees or alternatively try a summersault or keep pace with the ball going downhill by running in the same direction as the ball rolls down. It’s a bizarre experience and the best thing to do is scream your lungs out as you roll down the hill. Like bungy and skydiving, zorbing too has spread to various corners of the globe.

However, I would definitely endorse New Zealand if you wish to try out most of these high adventure activities as New Zealand is where most of these activities were invented.After swinging, flying of a bridge, rolling down the mountain and a high speed jet boat ride, our next stop was at Off Road New Zealand yet another place for adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers where you can drive a 4WD off the road for a bush safari experience and challenge your driving skills to its optimum or try out a monster 4 x 4 thrill ride down a vertical slope or even record your fastest lap in a sprint car on a race track.

Bay of Plenty

Self Drive and plenty at Bay of Plenty

Self Drive is undoubtedly the best way to See New Zealand and I personally experienced the advantages of Self Driving in New Zealand as we started the next leg of our itinerary. We picked up 4 x 4 vehicles from Budget Rent-a-Car from Auckland airport.

Before you plan to Self Drive in New Zealand, let us look at what are the advantages for the Indian traveller. Firstly, driving in New Zealand is on the same side of the road like India. Secondly, your Indian driving license is valid and you do not need to apply separately for an international driving license. However, it is important that your date of birth and name in the driving license is the same as on your passport as at times there may be discrepancy and in such cases your license will not be accepted by car rental companies. Thirdly, you should have an international credit card which is swiped by the car rental company at the time of handing over the keys to you to recover any liabilities that may be due such as fines for speeding, etc.

Personally, I have driven in Switzerland as well as from Montreal to New York and I did find that for a first timer who has not driven outside India, New Zealand is the best place in the world to Self Drive as firstly the roads are not very busy, secondly it is easy to navigate across the country and the only thing you need to adhere to are the basic principles of following the traffic regulations and guidelines and you can definitely explore more of New Zealand self driving rather than taking a seat-in-coach tour.

There are various car rental companies who offer one way rentals. So you could start your self drive from Auckland and cover major regions of North Island and ferry your car across Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton and then explore South Island. You should be equipped with a good map book and have a navigator sitting next to you who can assist you in taking the right route to your destination.

One of the better map books worth investing is the New Zealand Travellers Road Atlas by kiwipathfinder and you can get it at any bookshop in New Zealand for less than 30 New Zealand dollars (under Rs 1000). It is worth the investment whether or not you are self driving as it gives you a detailed maps of the entire country including town maps, North and South Island touring routes and much more. So even if you are taking a seat-in-coach tour, you can keep track of your route with distances by referring to your map book.

After picking up our vehicles from Budget Rent a Car, we first chalked out the route to head towards Tauranga which is also known as Bay of Plenty, a name given by the 18th Century Navigator James Cook as the Bay is a haven for nature lovers, adventure seekers and is set in a natural harbour surrounded by vast, clean, ocean and beaches.
The region is one of the country’s premier holiday destinations and is located 2 hours 30 minutes away from Auckland. We started from Auckland airport and headed south towards the direction of Hamilton. As we reached Bombay Hills, we turned in the direction of State Highway 2 which would take us to Tauranga. Whilst driving on highways the maximum speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour whereas in the city and urban areas the limit to be maintained is 50 kilometres per hour.

We checked in at the Oceanside Twin Towers Resort which is a luxury five star accommodation located at the foot of the Mount and offers stunning ocean and harbour views from private balconies which face the coast.
The resort has a wide range of accommodation starting from one and two bedroom suites which are fully equipped with kitchens complete with fridge freezer, oven, microwave and complimentary tea and coffee. The two bedroom apartments can accommodate upto six people and is ideal for larger families. Then they also have the honeymoon suite as well as executive studios and large luxury apartments.

We were to spend two nights at Mount Maunganui and the Bay of Plenty as the region has plenty to offer. So after a quick check-in we were joined by a local Maori guide Mere who took us for a cultural walk up the Mount. During this 40 odd minute trek up the mount, she narrated to us how the Maoris came here. It was drizzling and the walk was one of the most exciting experiences of our trips as not only did we get breathtaking views of the Tauranga Moana Area but also got an insight into the history of the Maori people.

Later that evening we had the opportunity to explore the area. Across the Main Beach there are a number of cafes and the downtown areas offers a wide array of restaurants besides opportunity to shop in one of the boutique shops as well. The region is very popular for surfers, swimmers and those who want to try out some of the water sports activities and hence one can find many youngsters and sports enthusiasts frequenting this area.

Later that evening we dined at the award winning Latitude 37 restaurant which offers international cuisine. I would highly recommend any visitor to this region to visit the restaurant located at 37 Maunganui Road not only known for its culinary innovation but also for the ambience. It is one of the newest restaurants in the area.
The following morning after breakfast, we headed to Whakatane which is 90 kilometres from Tauranga and in about 1 hour 30 minutes we reached this coastal town which is the main base for trips to White Island – New Zealand’s only live marine Volcano which lies around 50 kilometres off the coast of Whakatane. White Island can be accessed either by boat or by helicopter.

We did not know whether it was possible to step aboard the Peejay and head towards White Island and this would be our first experience to walk on an active volcano. I was pretty excited and before boarding the Peejay we had to check-in at the White Island rendezvous located on the Whakatane wharf where the crew gave us a briefing before we boarded the vessel.

Our boarding the vessel and alighting on White Island was subject to weather conditions and therefore it is always a good option to have a back up plan in case the tide is high and it gets difficult to get to White Island.

There are several places that one could visit such as Te Puke or the Kiwifruit Capital of the World which is located very close to Whakatane and is 25 kilometres away from Tauranga. Kiwi360 offers the largest visitor attraction in the Western Bay of Plenty and is the international home of Kiwifruit. You can climb aboard a Kiwicart and tour the orchards as well as visit the Horticultural Theme Park and discover why Kiwifruit is the world’s healthiest fruit. It grows better in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world.
Although it was drizzling a day earlier and there was cloudy weather as we left Mount Maunganui, there was good news as we were told that the Peejay boat would be heading to White Island. The entire duration including going and returning from the island by boat is 5 to 6 hours. The trip from the wharf is 80 minutes. If you get fine weather you could enjoy a smooth sailing along with view of active marine life. We happened to see a few seals on the way perched on a rock. We were first given a briefing about the do’s and don’ts of the trip and were handed some safety gear which consists of a hard hat. However, we were unlucky as within a few metres of proximity of White Island the sea started getting rough and we were forced to turn back. So we missed out on what would have been an exciting trip.

However, the crew on board knowing our disappointment did tell us what the tour generally comprises of. Once you are close to White Island, you are ferried across on an inflatable boat to a concrete jetty and after climbing a short ladder and negotiating a few boulders, you reach the shore where the tour of the active marine volcano begins. You walk along the inner crater and see the remains of old sulphur mining factory up and close and view the bright yellow sulphur crystals as you reach the main crater’s edge. Here you can here the hissing, roaring and feel the steam rising from the crater lake and feel the awesome power of Mother nature. After this experience, you board your boat and have lunch before heading back to the shore.

In our case we headed back within the first 80 minutes due to bad weather but that gave us the opportunity to visit the Comvita Visitor Centre which is located close to the Paengaroa village at a short distance after the intersection of State Highways 2 and 33 as you head from the Whakatane Wharf back to Mount Maunganui. It is located on the road which leads to Rotorua.

At Comvita we had the opportunity to visit the education gallery to experience live bee displays and sample the native Manuka honey of New Zealand. After a short halt at Comvita, we proceeded towards Longridge Fun park which was a few kilometers away. We were greeted warmly by Geoff and Mary Brown – the owners and operators of this wonderful child friendly place which gives you a truly KIWI experience. After a quick lunch, we spent the next couple of hours on this 125 acres property which has loads of activity for children of all ages and is a place to spend an entire day.

You can do a farm tour and feed farm animals or take a jet boat on the Kaituna river and get the thrill of 360 degree jet spins besides enjoying a 30 minute ride through a narrow, native, bush-clad gorge thru one of North Island’s most scenic river. You can walk in the orchards and pick your kiwifruit or even go on a 4W U-Drive on an adventurous track or even do white water river rafting. No doubt it is extremely popular for kids as we did see a school bus full of kids who were out enjoying themselves on a day excursion at Longridge Fun Park. Later in the day, we visited Blokart Heaven which is in close proximity at Papamoa on the way when you head back to Mount Maunganui. A blokart is a small, highly maneuverable wind-power kart and is a combination of go-kart and a wind surf sail weighing about 29 kilograms and this is the only place in the world where you can experience the thrill of this adventure sport on a purpose-built blokart speedway and maneuver your vehicle keeping in mind the direction of the wind. It’s an ideal place to test your skill and it is the ultimate place to test your skill on this land yacht.

This invention over the years has gained enough popularity that there are international blokarting tournaments and this invention of Paul Beckett has today become the world’s number one land based sail sport. Because of its small size and maneuverability, once you learn the skill to use it blokart can be used anywhere – on beaches, in sports and recreation areas and even on ice. It is portable as the 29 kg blokart can easily fit in the trunk of a car. It takes a few minutes to either assemble or pack it that too without the use of any tools. There are several blokart clubs across the world. Blokart is one more invention from New Zealand – the most innovative country for adventure sports. After a long day and loads of activity that we experienced we headed back to Mount Maunganui and later we dined at Bombay Brasserie- an Indian restaurant in the downtown area of the Mount. Indian food is indeed popular in New Zealand and you find Indian restaurants almost everywhere and not just in the big cities.

Bay of Plenty has plenty to offer and we had the opportunity to try out some of the activities that the region is well known for. The next morning we headed to the birth place of tourism almost a 100 years ago – ROTORUA the land of geysers, spas, adventure and Maori culture and what better way to start our tour of this city than to jump from an altitude of 12000 feet and free fall at the speed of 200 kmph?