It all began with a Special birthday
“So what would you like to have for your birthday?” I asked my darling daughter Ketki. After all it was her 21st birthday and a very special to all of us. Having known Ketki for that long I knew she would flash her 24 carrot smile and say in her loving tone, “I don’t need anything, Dad.. I’ve got everything” and exactly that happened. You know… the hardest thing my wife Pratibha and I have ever experienced in our entire life is nothing else but to find the right birthday gift for someone. We always struggled with it. But now the question was my own daughter’s 21st birthday gift.
Luckily, my son Kunal came to my rescue and suggested we should sponsor Ketki a holiday trip to New Zealand with a friend of her choice. However, Pratibha wasn’t comfortable letting Ketki go to a country she has never been before, even with her friend, and said Ketki should visit New Zealand with her brother Kunal. “Good as gold” said I, but the matter was not yet over. Now it was Kunal’s turn to voice his opinion. “Why don’t we all go to New Zealand as a family, Dad and have a lot of fun? It will be our surprise gift to Ketki on her 21st which she will enjoy the most.” Pratibha and I decided to take time to smell the roses. “Let’s go”, we both said in excitement.
The itinerary was planned, bookings were made, and there we were.. on our way to beautiful New Zealand – a place we had never been before but we were all so excited about for some unknown reason. We could have very easily chosen another place like Singapore or Fiji for spending quality time as a family together but apparently New Zealand was a destination chosen for us by Him.
New Zealand is the land of diverse landscapes. As we drove our way from Christchurch – New Zealand’s garden city, and traveled south to Queenstown the country greeted and welcome us with open arms. Melbourne, Australia has been awarded the title “The most liveable city in the world” a few times but New Zealand really impressed us. It was different and unique. We found a very close intimacy with a country which is blessed with nature’s scenic beauty. The air was 100% pure, crisp like anything and the freshness in air increased our excitement levels even more. The one thing which we all noticed on our arrival in New Zealand was the warmth in the hearts of people and the tremendous hospitality they literally showered on us. The staff members at every gas station made me feel very special by filling gas in my car whichever gas station we stopped by. It was just the beginning of a true family vacation which we all were looking forward to after migrating to Australia.
The one thing I would recommend to anyone traveling to New Zealand is either to take a train or to drive through this beautiful country as much as you can, instead of flying by airplane. The 300 miles stretch between Christchurch and Queenstown is an absolute driving treat for visitors. The Westland mountain ranges look stunning and the unique pink & purple flowers on both sides of the road are very catchy – you just can’t overlook them.
Depending on the time you have there are many routes to reach Queenstown, but we purposely took the Lake Tekapo route. As we reached this incredible lake I realized we had made the best decision. Rich golden landscapes bordered by brightly colored lupines paved the way for our arrival into Lake Tekapo. This glacial fed turquoise blue lake is a hive of activity for everything outdoors. Considered a Kiwi holiday hot spot, this lake offers scenic flights, walking trails, guided Alpine climbing and walking, mountain biking, kayaking, and much more.
Queenstown – a blissful experience
The Christchurch to Queenstown driving distance with stopovers is around 7 hours but it’s absolutely worth it. Queenstown, in my opinion, is New Zealand’s best town. It would seem that nature God has poured more blessings on this small country town in comparison with others. Surrounded by majestic mountains and nestled on the shores of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a South Island location with immaculately gorgeous surroundings. This adrenalin/adventure capital of the southern hemisphere is an extremely popular stop on the travellers’ circuit, especially in the winter months of July and August when the ski crew are in town.
New Zealand has always been a popular tourist attraction to Australians. But I guess, New Zealand’s sheer beauty was brought to the notice of worldwide audience by the trilogy of “Lord of the rings” – thanks to Peter Jackson. We were fortunate enough to visit a few shooting locations of this extremely popular movie along our way.
We visited New Zealand after winter, around Christmas – the best time to visit New Zealand. However, we could still experience the crowns of snow on mountain peaks. Kunal said the mountains looked very graceful from the sky. Queenstown is one of the very few places in the world where within a space of just a few days you can quench your thirst of sky-diving and bungee jumping, experience mountain vistas, ancient forests, volcanic landscapes, river jets, cruises, stunning coastline, ride the skyline gondola for iconic views across Queenstown and lake Wakatipu and much more while spotting wildlife found nowhere else on earth. There’s no shortage of things happening around the region with plenty of exciting events throughout the year.
Milford Sound is a fjord (a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created in a valley carved by glacial activity) at a distance of 6 hours one way from Queenstown. It is right in the middle of a rain forest. The journey to Milford Sound is as spectacular as the destination itself. You can also drive to Milford Sound by car but I would highly recommend taking a cruise, just like one shown above.
Famous English story writer, poet, and novelist Rudyard Kipling described Milford Sound as the “eighth wonder of the world”. Milford Sound was carved by glaciers during the ice ages, thanks to nature’s incredible phenomenon. This gorgeous Sound looks amazingly breathtaking in any weather… beauty which cannot be expressed in words. The fiord’s standing-tall cliffs, rise vertically from dark waters and remind you of the strong ancient warriors protecting you from all sides. From the cruise the mountain peak seem to be touching the sky and the waterfalls, some as high as 3000 ft. cascade downwards. It often rains in Milford Sound and these waterfalls multiply with magnificent effect during the rain.
Judged in an international travel survey as “world’s top travel destination”, Milford Sound is acclaimed as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination. Stunning views all along the journey, the crisp and fresh air, and nature’s majestic beauty offers you a guaranteed “wow” experience. You get a real taste of turbulent water of the giant sea when the cruise enters the sea and makes a “U” turn bringing you back to the origin of the tour. It is only then you realize how difficult sailing in the sea would be for the fishermen who risk their lives every day for making a living.
Bay of islands
After our lifetime experience of South Island, I must admit, we were little biased about it. We were not even sure if North Island will fulfill our expectations. Even if the internet technology these days offers great information and pictures of places there is no substitute to experiencing the nature yourself. The North Island did not disappoint us.
Bay of Islands is the north-west region of North Island of New Zealand not far from the northern tip of the country. We were lucky to get a booking in a hotel at Paihia, a bustling seaside town also popularly known as “Jewel of Bay of Islands”. South Island is more about nature’s majestic beauty while North Island is about enjoying activities and adventures. Both islands are very different to each other and maintain their uniqueness in all respects.
One of the “must do” tours in Bay of Islands is “Hole in the rock” tour. Piercy Island (often known simply as “The Hole in the Rock”) is located off the north coast of the North Island. This 60 feet long and 60 feet high hole at sea level was created over centuries by wind and waves making it one of the most naturally beautiful sites in New Zealand. This half a day jet boat ride offers unique opportunity to watch dolphins and experience the silence in the middle of the sea. When we visited this place the waters were calm and our jet boat went right through the hole giving us the opportunity to look at the rock texture inside the hole.
If you really want to experience the beauty of Bay of Islands you must visit the northernmost tip of New Zealand to see the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet at Cape Reinga. When the torquise blue waters of these two seas mix with each other they create a canvass of unique colors which gives a feeling of tranquility. So how far are you from NZ?
Ninety mile beach
Ninety Mile Beach is the narrow strip of sand that stretches on the west coast of North Island. This beach is officially a highway, but it’s only suitable for 4WD vehicles. Car rental companies won’t allow their cars on the sand due to safety reasons while private cars are not covered under insurance. Beach activities range from surf casting and swimming to body boarding (tobogganing) down the sand dunes. Both Kunal and Ketki enjoyed this.
The name Ninety Mile Beach is little misleading because it is actually only 55 miles long. When missionaries traveled on horseback on an average a horse could travel 30 miles in a day before needing to be rested. The beach took three days to travel therefore earning its name, but the missionaries did not take into account the slower pace of the horses walking in the sand, thus thinking they had traveled 90 miles when in fact they had only traveled 55. The “Hole in the rock” looks gorgeous from this beach as seen in the background in the above picture.
Another place of interest in this region is Puketi Forest. It is an ancient kauri forest located in Northland near Keri Keri. With the Omahuta Forest it forms one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland. The tour guide told us it has 15,000 hectares of kauri, podocarp and hardwood trees and a rich diversity including hundreds of recorded species of plants, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.
The huge trunks of the trees, some of them as big as 12 feet in diameter, blew my mind. I have never seen tree trunks as huge as that. One of the shops in Paihia displays a spiral staircase and a big sitting bench carved out of such massive tree trunks.