from the Volcanic Isle
From my vantage point on
top of the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand looked pretty good.
After spending almost two
hours negotiating ice steps which had been cut for someone much taller than
me, I was surveying the scene around me feeling exhilarated and unable to
wipe the smile from my face. I had just climbed up a glacier and was about
500 meters above sea level. I was part of a 10-person half-day tour led by
The Guiding Company. Our group had two guides – one which took the lead
and another at the back to hurry up any stragglers. Two of the many guides
from The Guiding Company leave for the glacier at 8am and carve out the
steps each morning. They then join either the half-day or day group.
The Guiding Company
supplies spiked shoes, woolen socks, gloves, hats and wet-weather gear which
are fitted at the premises before the drive to the glacier in a bus that
should have been pensioned off long ago. It only takes a few minutes to
drive from the town to the glacier car park and then there is a short walk
through a beautiful rainforest. This track leads to the riverbed which the
glacier carved out of rock thousands of years ago. After a 40-minute walk
along the river and a crossing between the Australian and Indo-Pacific
plates, our group was staring up at the glacier’s terminal face.
Ropes attached to pegs had
been driven into the ice to help us up the steeper stretches and once I
gained my footing on the slippery ice I had little trouble. While on the
glacier I walked through a stunning pale-blue ice cave, drank from a glacial
spring and slid through a crevice. On the way down the weather closed in on
us with an avalanche higher up the glacier and stinging hail storm but that
was all part of the adventure.
This was only one day out
my 16-day New Zealand fly/drive holiday in October 2000 with my husband. We
spent eight days on each of the country’s islands with two days each in
the major cities Auckland and Christchurch, and capital Wellington. The
remainder of the time was spent driving several thousand kilometers covering
countryside which ranged from white beaches and jagged mountains to thick
forests and beautiful architecture.
Auckland seemed to be more
a regional center than a major city, compared to Sydney where we live. Sheep
and cattle grazed on farms located right on the fringe of Auckland. A short
drive from the city was One Tree Hill, an old Maori pa (battle fort) with
one lone pine tree supported by wires. The view from the top of the pa was
far-reaching and magnificent, explaining why the site was chosen in war.
Auckland’s famous Sky Tower (or The Needle) also boasts a fantastic view
across the city and outlying suburbs. The city’s harbor area is very
cosmopolitan and a hot spot for eating at one of the many restaurants or
cafes, which we enjoyed one night.
Next stop was the Bay of
Islands at Paihia where we enjoyed a cruise out to the Hole in the Rock,
seeing dolphins, seals and penguins along the way. The cruise company,
King’s, gave us a taste of traditional Maori culture with a Powhiri, a
challenge issued by a Maori warrior to the passenger chosen as the Chief,
who on this occasion was my husband Nick. The warrior placed a fern leaf on
the ground in front of Nick, who accepted the challenge by picking up the
leaf. Later on in the cruise the warrior spoke about the traditional Maori
tribes in the area and dragged Nick up to perform the Haka, a threatening
dance often performed by New Zealand sports people before their game.
Nick’s Australian interpretation of the Haka moves was a delight to the
Bubbling mud pools were
dotted all over Rotorua, evidence of its extremely volcanic nature. The New
Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute not only provided a great history
of ancient Maori dwellings, religion and craft but also had the amazing
Pohutu Geyser which erupts up to 25 times a day as high as 30 meters. The
Institute is also a carving school for young New Zealanders wanting to hang
on to their heritage. We were also very impressed to see the country’s
endangered flightless bird the kiwi in an enclosure set up like a forest,
the bird’s natural habitat.
A 15-minute drive from
Rotorua lies the Buried Village, the remnants of Te Wairoa village left
after the eruption of Mount Tarawera in June 1886. We walked around the
village and saw artifacts dug from the mud and ash and ventured into some of
the buried buildings. Archaeologists are still digging for buildings within
the village. Wai-O-Tapu is another highly volcanic area on the way to Lake
Taupo. It also has a geyser which erupts daily but what fascinated me
was the colors produced by minerals such as sulphur, gold, silver and
mercury in the thermal pools. A brilliant copper red bank gave way to
bubbling turquoise water in one pool with bright yellow deposits lining
Wellington lived up to its
name the “Windy City” but it was also a hilly city, cultural city and
beautiful city. The free Te Papa museum was a great way to lose a few hours
on a rainy morning. The exhibits were fantastic and had a wide-ranging
appeal. Our last day on the North Island was spent shopping and exploring
the harbor. The tram trip up to the Botanic Gardens was well worth the
effort to see classic buildings and wonderful gardens with views across the harbor
as a backdrop.
The weather had not been
very good for the week we were on the North Island making the Interislander
ferry trip from Wellington to Picton on the South Island quite an ordeal.
Still we sat on the eighth floor to enjoy the view as we sailed out through
the heads and into Cook Strait. Some opportunistic seagulls accompanied the
ferry but were disappointed by the lack of fare provided. As we saw the
first landmass of the South Island I was amazed to discover houses on these
far-reaching islands which were only accessible by boat. I don’t know what
the people living in these houses do if they feel like some chocolate at
Picton Harbour was much
smaller than I expected for a major port, but then again most towns which
rate a mention on the New Zealand national map only have a few houses and a
store or pub.
We skirted national park on
the way to Westport on the South Island’s west coast and stopped to see a
seal colony just outside the town. Families of sleek black seals sunned
themselves on the rocks at the foot of the cliff Nick and I had just walked
along. When the sun got too hot they just slid effortlessly into the water
for a quick dip to cool down. The younger pups were still learning how to
move along the rocks and kept close to their mothers. Driving along the
coast we watched the rough seas as the waves crashed against rocks jutting
out of the ocean, evidence the coastal cliffs have been subject to much
erosion over the years.
One of New Zealand’s idiosyncrasies
was the number of one-way bridges making it necessary to stop and give way
at regular intervals along the roads. This phenomenon was even more amazing
just outside Greymouth where we crossed a one-way road/rail bridge. Not only
did we have to give way to cars, but we also had to watch out for trains!
This was a shock to the Aussie system.
The resort town Queenstown
is geared towards extreme fun. Activities ranged from jet boat rides on Lake
Wakatipu to tandem parachute jumps or a luge ride from Bob’s Peak high
above the town. Even though it was late October the ski fields had
experienced fresh dumps of snow that week and keen skiers had converged on
Queenstown to take advantage of the white powder. The Remarkables mountain
range edged one side of the Queenstown area and it looked spectacular set
against the brilliant blue sky. This mountain range gave way to many other
amazing peaks which we followed on the way to the Fiordland National Park
and Milford Sound.
Milford Sound is actually
incorrectly named because a sound is a sea-flooded valley but this was a
fiord, a valley carved out by ice. The water in Milford Sound was 300 meters
deep and the mountains rose for a mile from the water level. Never have a I
felt so small in my life as when we took a Red Boat cruise through this
magnificent fiord out to the Tasman Sea. The fiord contains salt water but
also holds a layer of fresh water on top from the many meters of rainfall
each year. These conditions make it perfect for deep water animal and plant
life to live because sunlight cannot penetrate very far. An underwater
observatory has been built alongside one of the sheer rock faces in Milford
Sound. Inside the bottle-like observatory we saw fish, starfish, sea
anemones and coral we will never see anywhere else in the world (unless we
go deep water scuba diving).
Larnach Castle is situated
in the Scottish city of Dunedin. The castle was built more than 100 years
ago by extremely wealthy banker/politician William Larnach and is open to
the public. Ducks and chickens roamed the extensive gardens and delighted
visitors to the property. Mr Larnach brought in tradesmen and materials from
all over the globe to build his dream home on a hill overlooking Otago
Harbour. Dunedin also boasts the World’s Steepest Street which we drove
up, passing a woman pushing a pram. Brave walkers receive a certificate if
they make it to the top.
Our last stop was
Christchurch which was buzzing with keen Rugby fans in town for grand final
between Wellington and Christchurch (Wellington won) and the Labor Day long
weekend. This influx of people posed a problem finding accommodation, which
we hadn’t experienced anywhere else in the country, but we found
comfortable lodgings eventually. After our hectic two-week holiday we
decided to take our last two days slowly taking in the tourist sights and
shopping. Christchurch’s free Shuttle bus was a must to find our bearings
in this beautiful city. On the Sunday morning we joined the locals at
Riccarton Markets held at Riccarton Racecourse and spent the afternoon
driving around the city’s port of Lyttleton and other seaside suburbs.
Our last few hours in New
Zealand were spent hunting for presents for family and friends before we
dropped our hire car off at the airport and boarded the plane for home. New
Zealand is a nation of vast differences. In one day you can easily see a
beach, rainforest, glacier and snow-capped mountains. The people are very
welcoming (as long as they have recently beaten Australia in the cricket or
rugby) and proud to show off their beautiful country.
The Guiding Company, Franz
Josef Glacier, New Zealand, 0800 800 102 or http://www.nzguides.com.
The New Zealand Maori Arts
& Crafts Institute, Hemo Road, Rotorua, New Zealand, (647) 348 9047 or www.nzmaori.co.nz.
Milford Sound Red Boat
Cruises, Milford Sound, New Zealand, 0800 657 444.
Larnach Castle, Otago
Peninsula, Dunedin, New Zealand, (643) 476 1616.
About the Author:
Johanna Roughley is
a Sydney-based journalist. She has worked at several community newspapers as
well a newspaper association magazine as a journalist and marketer. Besides
travel, her interests include reading, films, surfing the Internet and
walking along coast where she lives. Johanna has a Bachelor of Arts
(Communication Studies) from the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia
with a major in journalism.