Tuesday, 8 May 2012

New Zealand in a nutshell

I think my review of New Zealand has been a little negative thus far, or at least cryptic (apart from the uberly awesome cafes that is). Tina and Natalie, whom we met trekking in Nepal, left us with a lasting legacy of the 'Top 5' game which has provided hours of amusement throughout our trip. So I thought it fitting to leave you with our top five highlights of the country along with some random observations of the place.

Valentines day feast with Vanny!
1. Vanny - Exploring New Zealand by camper van really is the only way to do it. There are so many vans on the tourist trail that you will just end up being ridiculously jealous if you don't have one of your own - we looked down on cars...boring!! We have had a 'totally awesome' time in our van and I know that when we look back on our adventures it will be a highlight of the trip. Being entirely self sufficient and having our own wheels has made us feel so free. We may even invest in an old banger when we end up back in the UK!! Buying and selling a 20 year old vehicle is nerve wracking though and despite what people will tell you, you probably won't get all your money back. We heard many horror stories from fellow van owners and were thankful that our trip went without any mechanical hitches. So, if you do ever decide to do it yourselves, go in with your eyes open. But do it. You won't regret it :)

2. North over South. Most visitors to New Zealand focus on the South Island for the majority of their trip. In many ways this makes sense; It is the South Island that is famous for it's scenic beauty, for it's sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, for it's skiing and for it's wilderness. There is also a lot of ground to cover; it packs more sights and landscapes into its small square footage than most countries twice its size can boast altogether. However, there is something about it which feels as if its tourism industry has suddenly boomed and that they are milking it for all it is worth (surely they can throw in lunch with your full day tour...nope that will be £100 supplement thank you very much!). On occasion you might also feel that the definition of tourist attraction is stretched a little far.The south is expensive, almost exploitatively so and for us it felt a bit toy town like and orchestrated. Coupled with this, a lot of the scenery in the south is reminiscent of other landscapes in the world and really, whilst it is undoubtedly beautiful,  for me it was the volcanic regions of the North that stole the show and were the truly unique draw cards for NZ. Nowhere else that I have been in the world exhibits the Mount Doom-esque vistas of Tongariro National Park and our few days spent exploring this singular terrain were truly special. Additionally Wellington was by far our favourite city in New Zealand. This little capital, highly reminiscent of San Francisco, oozes character from its quirky, shabby chic bars to its thriving cultural scene.  I would never recommend a visit to New Zealand that doesn't take in the South Island, but I would urge people not to dismiss the north as an after thought; for us, with its strong Maori heritage and varied, unique sights, it felt like the more intriguing and interesting of the islands.

3. Dolphin spotting - Also in the North Island, we went dolphin spotting. This was something I have wanted to do my entire life. The main draw in this case was the prospect of swimming with these magnificent creatures. Sadly this was not on the agenda on the days that we went. It is prohibited to swim with pods of dolphins that have babies with them and both unfortunately and fortunately, that was what we encountered . It was the most amazing experience to have a pod of about 100+ dolphins swimming and playing around the bow of the boat, responding enthusiastically to our cheers and applause; It was a truly memorable moment.

4. Mount Roy trek, Lake Wanaka - I'm not sure that this was a stand out highlight at the time, but whenever I look back at the treks we did, this one always sticks in my mind. As you can see from the photos this is unsurprising. Chris and I never planned to do this walk. We were heading to Mount Aspiring national park but were unable to get there due to the bad roads. On our way back to Wanaka we spotted this walk on the map and decided to give it a go instead. It was a relentless two and a half hour uphill trek in the blistering heat, and then a two hour walk back down, but the views were absolutely spectacular. the sun shone all day and looking back it was a real day to remember. Sometimes unexpected adventures are the best.

5. Wine tasting in Marlborough - NZ sauvignon blanc is possibly my favourite wine in the world so what better way to spend the day than by riding a bike around the vineyards of the Marlborough wine region. This is a very touristy experience but one that is done very well. Doing away with the awkwardness of trying lots of different wines and then not buying anything, most of the vineyards charge a small $5 (£2.50) fee for tasting which is refundable on the purchase of any wine or food. This means that you feel totally uninhibited and can try as many different wines as you please without feeling pressured to purchase a thing. Lots of the vineyards have lovely restaurants where you can get a full blown lunch or simple cheese platter and all in all it made for a fab day out. This sort of tour is available in all of NZ's wine regions so whichever grape variety tickles your fancy you can have a similar experience.

So there you have it, my personal NZ 'Top 5'. And now for the random observations:
1. No one seems to wear shoes...anywhere. Even in petrol stations and supermarkets. I think this is weird.
2. NZ is really American - fast food joints everywhere, big chav trucks, wide streets, weird hicksville towns...I didn't expect this but there it is.
3.The sun is ridiculously strong...I wore factor 30 and still burned almost every day...not ideal for beach lounging which is a shame as their beaches are stunning. Damn that ozone layer.
4. They are anal in some really odd ways...I mean seriously!!

5.Supermarkets, food and wine generally, are really expensive...a loaf of bread costs about £2.50!!
6. Green lipped mussels - amazing! Mussels as big as your hand...eat them!
7. All the girls wear seriously short shorts...coming from India I was a little shocked by the amount of flesh constantly on display.
8. No car in the country is younger than about 10 years old - NZ must be the used car capital of the world.
9. They are seriously good bakers - mmmm cake!
10. Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world it is the only place where we have had to pay through the nose for Internet. Not a free connection in sight. If the Mongolians can offer free wifi, surely the Kiwis can!?!?

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