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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?

Bay of Island

Heading towards Bay of Islands

On day two in New Zealand, we headed to Paihia and we had a representative from Private Transfers and Tours to come and pick us up from the Sky City Hotel in Auckland to take us to the gateway to the beautiful Bay of Islands which is in Northland, also known as the First Region of New Zealand. Paihia is approximately 250 kilometres from Auckland and within 3 hours driving distance from the City of Sails.

En route we had the opportunity to take a short stop to see a Kauri tree. Northland is believed to be the region of Kauri Trees and when the westerners came they cut down most of these trees to make way for farmlands. However, there are more trees up in the north especially in Waipoua Forest where some of the trees date back to almost 2500 years or 500 B.C. One such tree is Tãne Mahuta or the Lord of the Forest as it is popularly known and is the largest living Kauri Tree in New Zealand. At Waipoua, you can take a 4 hour signature tour known as the “Twilight Encounter” which departs in the evening and is organized by Footprints Waipoua.

We also halted at Whangarei to see the Claphams Clocks Museum which has an amazing collection of clocks – the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Established in 1940, the museum is a major attraction as you come face to face with amazing timepieces, hear the unique chimes and cuckoos whilst learning about the international history of clock making. This is indeed an educational and entertaining experience for people of all age groups. From a variety of cuckoo clocks to music boxes and even a version of the Big Ben, you find an entire range of clocks all under one roof.

We arrived at the Paihia Beach Resort and Spa which is one of the finest resorts of the region having won several awards for its property including the highly coveted World Travel Awards. The 5 star resort has 21 self contained and serviced units on 4 levels and is located on Ti Bay beach which overlooks the Bay of Islands. The resort offers stunning ocean views from each of its balconies and patios and is a couple of minutes drive from the shopping area of the region. The resort is 25 minutes from the Kerikeri Airport from where we were to take the Salt Air flight to Cape Reinga on the following day. The resort besides having one of the finest spas, was also voted by Condé Naste Traveller amongst the top ten spas in Australasia. It also boasts of an award winning sea view cum pool side restaurant called Pure Tastes which is headed by executive chef Paul Jobin and has won numerous culinary competitions and food awards.

The accommodation especially the deluxe rooms and superior suites are fully equipped comprising of private balconies or patios, kitchen facilities, DVD players, Hi-Fi Systems and all amenities that you would find in any high quality luxury resort to give you an ambience of a home away from home. An ideal place for honeymooners or family who wish to visit the Bay of Islands any time of the year as Bay of Islands is well known for its year round pleasant climate in the range of 20 to 25 degrees celcius. Paihia as a place is a town which is on the coast line and has several cafes, restaurants, arts and crafts as well as various accommodation options comprising of hotels, studios and apartments. It is the biggest city in Northland with a population of 1.2 million people. After checking in at the resort, we left our luggage and headed to the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds – New Zealand’s most historic site where the Treaty between the Maori Chiefs and the British Crown was signed in 1840, the year when New Zealand became a nation. Some of the oldest traces of Maori settlement is found in Northland and today Northland is known for its spiritual peace as much as it is known for the various thrilling adventure activities which we were to experience during our stay in this region.

Before taking our guided tour of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, we had a brief halt for lunch at the Waikokopu Café which is located in the beautiful setting of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and is extremely popular not only with the tourists but the locals as well for its extensive range of edibles and coffee including a wide variety of vegetarian cuisine. It is a child friendly place as well and this was apparent from the fact that there were quite a few families present at the Café. Thereafter we started our tour of The Waitangi Treaty Grounds which comprised of visiting the major parts of the Waitangi National Trust estate comprising of 506 hectares. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840 at the Historic Treaty House. Entry to the Treaty Grounds is through the Visitor Centre which has an artifacts gallery and Treaty displays as well as an audio-visual theatre and souvenir gallery. The grounds besides the Treaty House also has a fully carved Maori Meeting House, a Maori war canoe and exhibitions as well as extensive park-like grounds with native bird life, heritage trees and offers great views of the Bay of Islands right across to Russell. Russell is a small town which during the 19th Century was branded as the “hell hole of the Pacific” due to the lawlessness prevalent during the 1830s.

It is then that the British Government appointed James Busby as the British Resident in New Zealand who arrived in Paihia in 1833 and settled in Waitangi and later played an active role as a mediator between the British and the Maori people. The main feature of the agreement was to ensure that the two people the Maori and the European settlers primarily from Britain would live and work together as one nation. Even today the agreement guarantees the rights of both the Maori and non-Maori citizens in New Zealand.

As part of our tour comprising of 90 odd minutes we visited the Treaty House, the Maori Waka or Canoe which is on display and is 35 metres long. Known as Ngatokimatawharorua, the canoe requires a minimum of 76 paddlers to handle it safely on water and is on display since 1940 as part of the Centenary Celebrations of the historic treaty. The canoe was made from three massive kauri trees felled in the Puketi Forest and is a larger version of the waka which was used to carry visiting and raiding parties on long coastal voyages before and after the first European settlers arrived in the region. We also visited the Te Whare Runanga or the Meeting House which was also opened for display during the Centenary Celebrations and stands alongside the Treaty House. Runanga which means “to discuss in assembly” is unique as it can be shared by all Maori Tribes. There are various carvings within the house which depict ancestors from several tribes.

Later in the evening, we headed back to our resort and we had the opportunity to experience the facilities at the resort or take a walk along the coast. We ended our day by enjoying some fine international cuisine at the award winning Pure Tastes restaurant at the resort in the pleasant company of Robyn Bolton, the General Manager of Destination Northland who played an active role in co-ordinating the itinerary for our visit to this wonderful region.

The next morning we were glad to experience some fine weather and we were well on track to take the 6 seater Cessna flight which would take us from the Kerikeri Airport flying over 90 mile beach and landing south of Cape Reinga – the northernmost tip of New Zealand and the meeting point of the Tasman Sea with the Pacific Ocean. The entire tour by flight takes around 5 hours and includes one hour flight and thereafter a 2 ½ hour experience on the Top of New Zealand which includes exploring Cape Reinga, and Te Paki quicksand stream where you can do sand tobogganing on the giant sand dunes. Thereafter we took the one hour flight back to Kerikeri Airport. The tour is operated by Salt Air Cape Reinga and you can return back to Paihia in time for lunch if you start at around 7.30 in the morning. However, for those who might experience air sickness it is strongly advisable to go on a light stomach on the Cessna and have a wholesome meal after returning back.

There are options of doing the Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga by road as well. However, that would take the entire day and instead it would be recommended to do a Fly and Drive package which can be done in half a day and would cost 365 NZD (approx Rs 11000) and is well worth a trip. The flight over 90 mile beach including to and fro from Cape Reinga is spectacular and offers panoramic views of this beautiful region. One of the interesting facts to note is that the 90 mile beach is in fact only 55 miles or 88 kilometres long and in 1932 was used as a runway for flights from New Zealand to Australia for airmail. When the tide is low, you can drive along the 90 mile beach also known as the sandy highway on a luxury Waverider Coach and enjoy some scenic wonders of the North of New Zealand.

On our way back we had lunch at Nine which is one of Paihia’s newest restaurant and a wine bar and a popular meeting place for locals. Thereafter, we checked in with Fullers Bay of Islands at the Maritime Building to board the Excitor and take the high speed boat to take a cruise through the Hole in the Rock. The 90 minute cruise takes you zooming through the islands to Cape Brett passing by the Motukokako Island through the “Hole in the Rock” into the majestic Grand Cathedral Cave and back past Cape Brett Lighthouse. We were fortunate to get a glance of some dolphins swimming across although there are exclusive cruises not only for dolphin and whale watching but also you can swim with the dolphins as well as experience a 20 minute Nautilus Submarine Undersea Adventure on Urupukapuka Island on taking a full day cruise with Fullers Bay of Islands. The full day cruise costs NZD 105 ( approx Rs 3200) with a dophin sighting guarantee.

Later we alighted at Russell to do a mini-bus tour of this wonderful town which once was known as the Hell Hole of the Pacific. Around 1820 at the waterfront of Russell, there were several brothels and liquor shops. It was once quite a busy place with as many as 40 ships on shore at Russell at any given time. A lot of people who came here especially prisoners used to jump ships which were heading to penal colonies across in Australia. Today, this town has about a 1000 people living here and in January you find as many as 10000 people here as most of the houses out here are holiday houses and during the summer months you have people coming to stay in their holiday homes as well as there are tourists coming as well. There is Oyster Farming, commercial fishing and big game fishing which are the activities that are popular in Russell. There is also arts and crafts and tourism is a great employer of people of this town. A lot of retired people live here and the new millionaires such as the plumbers, carpenters and electricians have also brought property in Russell.

We boarded our bus and started the one hour tour and the driver cum guide gave us some interesting information about this town. It was Zane Grey, the American Novelist who came to Russell in 1930s and he put Russell on the international map as a place for big game fishing. The holiday homes in Russell are extremely popular and some of the better known properties are sold at a price between 1.5 and 2.5 Million NZD. We started our tour to get a closer insight into New Zealand’s earliest European history and the itinerary included short stops at the Cannon which was first sighted in 1917, the Maritime Visitors Centre, Pompallier, Clendon House, Anglican Church, Russell Primary School and the highlight being the spectacular views that you can get from Flag Staff Hill.

Russell in Maori is known as Kororareka and the legend goes that a Maori chief wounded in battle asked for some penguin broth to be brought to him and after drinking the broth he said “Ka reka te korora” which meant how sweet is the penguin. Eventually the town got its name of Kororareka from korora- the blue penguin and reka which means sweet. The unique feature of the town is that over the years it has continued to preserve its historic character and maintain its tranquility inspite of having a very turbulent past especially in the middle of the 19th Century. Later that evening we had some Indian cuisine at Paihia at The Indian Aroma restaurant which is on the waterfront at the Hansen Café within the Maritime Building itself.

The place that we missed out on was Kerikeri which is in the northern part of the Bay of Islands and is the largest citrus growing area in the country with oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruits, kiwifruits, avocados, olives and macadamia nuts also grown in the region. Kerikeri is historically important as it was the first Mission Station where the missionaries came and it also has some of the most historical buildings in the country. The Bay of Islands is a natural harbour and there are as many as 300 yachts a year which come across the Pacific and they come here to enjoy the summer before heading to Fiji, Tonga and other Pacific Islands. We bid adieu to the Bay of Islands and headed back to Auckland the following morning to pick up our 4 x 4 vehicles from Budget Rental Cars to explore the Bay of Plenty. After leaving Auckland airport around noon time we headed south from Auckland airport towards Hamilton in the direction of Tauranga which is a 3 hour drive from Auckland. I must admit that the best way to see New Zealand is by self drive.


Exploring Auckland the City of Sails

My first visit to New Zealand was in the peak of New Zealand summer in December and unlike the summer in India where the scorching sun is beating upon you, the temperatures in New Zealand during summer are pretty moderate, around the mid – 20’s Celsius. If you were planning a visit during our summer holidays which is autumn or the beginning of winter in New Zealand, the autumn hues are truly spectacular and a sight to die for.
New Zealand , in the Southern Hemisphere experiences climates opposite to what we experience in India – the winter months are from June to August, followed by Spring from September to November, Summer from December to February followed by autumn from March until May. As the climate is very rarely extreme –either in winter or summer and places like Nelson receives sunshine almost all year round, New Zealand is pretty much a year round destination to visit.


When you look at New Zealand on the map and its proximity to Australia, you might think of combining both these countries which is not what we would recommend. As the diversity that New Zealand offers across its three islands – it is a stand alone destination that you need atleast 3 weeks or even more to explore.
I started my visit in North Island in December 2006 with a group of other Kiwi Specialists and we flew on Malaysian Airlines with a transit stop in Kuala Lumpur. New Zealand has flight connectivity from India via Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Korea (as on September 2013) . The average flying time is between 16 hours and 20 hours including transit and it may be a good idea for you to break your journey on the way back from New Zealand. Most airlines fly in and out of Auckland, whereas Singapore Airlines also have flights to/from Christchurch in the South Island.
To optimize your flying expenses, it is best advised to plan your holiday for atleast a fortnight if not more as the right balance of a holiday is one where your length of stay should be equivalent to the flight duration to reach your destination.


We arrived in Auckland – the gateway to North Island and New Zealand , also known as the city of sails. If you are transiting Australia to enter New Zealand it is important to have a transit visa for Australia or else you may be denied onward passage to New Zealand.
One of New Zealand’s greatest asset is its relatively geographical location – one of the reasons that the air you breathe in is so pure as it is a country known for its lush vegetation, farming and natural beauty and major parts of the economy are dependent on the country’s environment. Less than 10% of the world’s pest and disease occur in New Zealand and for this very reason, there are restrictions on importing food, plant and animal products and our Destination Experts should be able to advise you items to avoid before your travels.

Auckland Harbour Bridge

On our arrival we check-in at the SKY CITY HOTEL – centrally located in Auckland’s CBD , 45 minutes drive from the airport and in a complex that houses two hotel properties, a casino and the Sky Tower – the tallest manmade structure in New Zealand- known for the adventurous Skywalk and Skyjump as well as a stunning view from its 360 degrees revolving restaurant.
Auckland and its environ has lots to offer and you could easily spend a couple of nights in Auckland. Auckland has over 1.5 million habitants which is more than 1/3rd of the 4.4 million population of New Zealand. Within the area there are 21 regional parks, 50 volcanic sites and a coastline of over 1600 kilometres. The CBD is a good location to stay stretching from the Sky Tower down to Wellesley Street and up to Queen Street – which is the main area for shopping.


A visit to Auckland is incomplete without a sail boat experience and during my visit , we had the opportunity to sail on an ex-America’s Cup Grand Prix racing yacht which was one of the highlights of our stay in Auckland.
Whether it is a Maori Guided Walk, or a visit to the Fish Market on Jellicoe Street, or a sailing course on the Waitemata harbour or a bush and beach half day wilderness experience on a historic luxury launch, Auckland has a wide variety of options for the discerning traveller. The Dolphin and Whale Safari Expeditions or a visit to Snowplanet – an all year indoor snow resort or a spa at Spa du Vin at the Heritage Hotel are some other interesting experiences that Auckland has to offer. For wine lovers, you needn’t go out of the city centre as in the city itself you have New Zealand’s Winemakers Centre where you can do souvenir shopping and take back wine gifts at the corner of Victoria and Elliott Street which is within walking distance of Queen Street- the main shopping street in Auckland. For those who miss out on the South Island and the International Antarctic Centre, you have the Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Centre in Auckland. There is also a Butterfly Park which is very close to the airport.

Auckland Wine

During my visit , I got the opportunity to visit the Sky City Complex . Here you could spend an entire day as there are lots of activity which are open up to the wee hours of the morning. The complex itself besides its two casinos, has an east day spa, a rooftop pool and gymnasium where you can burn your calories after eating at any of the 17 restaurants, cafes or bars. The complex has a theatre as well as a convention centre and live entertainment as well. The highlight of our stay at Skycity was the visit to the Sky Tower . We were fortunate to not only get a clear day but also we could see a rainbow across the horizon. The Sky Tower is 4 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris and stands at 328 metres. The Sydney Tower in Australia is at 324 metres. At the Sky Tower, there are three viewing platforms which offer breathtaking views of the city. The Sky Tower is truly an architectural wonder as it is made from 2000 tonnes of reinforced steel and can withstand winds of upto 200 kmph.


In a mere 40 seconds you can with the help of three glass towers reach the Main Observatory Level located at 186 metres and right below you have the Sky Lounge Café where you can enjoy a coffee and get a fine view of the city. Orbit is Auckland’s only revolving restaurant located at 190 metres and to get a night view of the city, you can even enjoy dinner at the Observatory Seafood Buffet Restaurant located at 194 metres and is well known for serving the finest seafood in New Zealand. The Observatory is the highest dining location in New Zealand. The adventurist can do a vertigo climb which takes 15 minutes and takes you up to 50 metres to reach the height of 270 metres, nearly 1000 feet above sea level.
The Sky Jump is one of the high adventure falls from a height of 192 metres and in mere 14 seconds and at a speed of 85 kph you can reach nearly ground level and you come to a gentle halt. Unlike bungy, you do not hang upside down but you are tied to a harness and all you have to do is jump and the ground rush is unbeatable. This 630 feet jump is New Zealand’s highest jump and is ideal for daredevils who love life. Even Tom Cruise couldn’t resist from Sky Jumping during his visit to the Sky Tower. If your adrenaline has not reached an all time high after the Sky Jump, not too far from the Sky City you can try the reverse bungee where you are suspended by elastic cords and by a push of a button, the chair wherein you are seated leaps into the air and there is an upward thrust which is quite reverse to the Sky Jump.


I was already looking forward to going to Rotorua which was part of my itinerary as I had a few of the adventure activities lined up for me including Sky diving, Bungee Jumping and a few other high adrenaline activities.
Later that evening, we went to the Viaduct Basin or the Waterfront which is the best place to be in the evenings with the cafes and bars lined up and you get a lovely view of the harbour with hundreds of sail boats as well as high speed boats docked along the shore.
Auckland has several Indian restaurants and we dined at the Tagore Restaurant which is in the heart of the Viaduct Basin. Thereafter, we visited the coolest place in Auckland which goes by the name of Minus 5, now renamed as Freddy’s Ice house. Located at the Princes Wharf on Quay Street, Freddy’s Ice House truly offers a unique experience – a not to be missed place when in Auckland. This unique ice bar is the invention of two Kiwis – Barry and Lenin, who found themselves driving across Russia to meet up a friend. These intrepid travellers were driving in extreme climate on icy plains and the car came to a halt. On close inspection, they found out that the radiator had a problem as the water was missing and they were stuck in ice and surrounded by snow.

Local Area

Lenin, removed the car door window and came up with an idea of using it as a magnifying glass and when the sun rose in the morning, it melted the ice, the water of which was used to fill the radiator and they were off in the morning. Sitting in the car without the door, the temperature further dropped and Lenin gasped “it’s got to be below zero” as he had another beer to which Barry added that “it’s bloody Minus 5 and the beers are frozen and asked Lenin to pass the vodka. Lenin added “Of course, the vodka, you want to hear a crazy idea Barry and the crazy idea was to start the Minus 5 ice bar and possibly the franchisee was sold over the years and now you can visit Freddy’s Ice House.

Sky Tower

The amazing experience begins from the front desk where you are handed over a cool gear comprising of an overcoat, a hat, shoes and gloves which you can wear over your clothes and you are all set to enter the ice lounge where the temperature is maintained at -5 degrees celcius. On entering the lounge, you are handed over your drink in the glass which is frozen in ice and you can enjoy your drink in extreme temperature and at the same time have a look at the various ice statues that surround you in various shapes and sizes.
The experience of surrounding yourself with nearly 18 tonnes of hand sculpted ice including the walls, the bar, the sculptures, the seats and even the glasses in which you can enjoy a vodka based cocktail truly makes it a chilling experience and at the same time delights your senses.
Our next stop the following day was at PAIHIA – the gateway to the beautiful Bay of Islands in Northland


Interesting facts about Sky Tower:

  • Sky Tower was constructed in 2 years and 8 months using 15000 cu.m of concrete, 2000 tonnes of reinforcing steel, 660 tonnes of structural steel and 170 tonnes in the mast.
  • You can travel up the Sky Tower by lift in 40 seconds which is 4.6 metres per second.
  • Sky Tower weights 21 million kilos which is equivalent to the weight of 6000 elephants.
  • There are 1267 steps from the base of the Sky Tower to the Sky Deck and it would take a person 29 minutes to reach the Sky Deck walking at 4 km per hour.
  • The glass floor panels of Sky Tower are 38 mm thick and are as strong as concrete.
  • Sky Tower regularly treats visitors to the city as well as local Aucklanders with stunning lighting displays for special occasions like Christmas, the Sky City Starlight Symphony, outdoor concert and major local events.