New Zealand has a multitude of spectacular treasures to offer…
It’s just a case of going out and finding them… I recently travelled round New Zealand and took from it a plethora of unmissable and unforgettable experiences. Here are 12 of the top places I saw whilst out there and my top tips…
1. Cape Reinga
Driving up to the very top of this beautiful country we watched the landscape transform before our very eyes. The further north we crept the more and more desolate the surroundings, until, reaching the last 20km stretch out of the 100km northward trek away from the nearest hint of civilization, the terrain became something strangely different, something that can only be described as wholly untouched land. Not only did it seem like uninhabited native land, but because it was so untouched it seemed in itself uninhabitable: almost as if it was hostile land. However deep down this was not a sour sight but a delight to behold in contrast to the logging of the natural forests that we witnessed at the beginning of the 100km journey. Once we reached the most Northerly Cape we realised why this place was so native, Reinga and its neighbouring bay – Spirits Bay – are the dwelling places of the Spirit world and it is thought that the Spirits leap off of the land and cross over to the spirit realm. At the Reinga Lighthouse you can also perceive the meeting of the Western Tasman Sea and the East Pacific Ocean where the two powerful clashing tides whip up and churn the surface of the water just off of the coast.
2. Wairere Boulders
A majestic and scientifically “ground-breaking” hike. Felix Shaad, the owner of the private land that is listed as one of AA’s 101 Kiwi Must Do’s, discovered this place with a keen Geologists interest. The Basalt Rocks which once filled in the 1.8km Valley, a phenomenon that occurred due to a local volcanic activity, laying the solid rock as a sheet to the top of the valley, eventually cracked and broke in to massive boulders and came to sit atop each other in the base of the Wairere Valley. Underneath these rocks runs a strong underground river, carving out the valley, which you can hear its power when walking around the constructed path. These boulders also came to be recognised as a scientifically unique phenomenon to the world as an example of eroded basalt Rocks, an occurrence which the world of Geology thought was impossible: but it is now apparent, thanks to Felix, that is not so. The dead logs that would pass along the current of the Wairere river would commonly have been Kauri trees which came from the abundant Kauri forests that used to exist in the area, the acidity of the trees would cause chemical leaching on the rocks and the flow of this acidic water eroded the Basalt causing ripples in the Rocks called Fluting. This is spectacle that is absolutely unique to Wairere boulders and it really is quite a miraculous thing to envisage walking along the hand laboured path that the Shaad family created for all to see.
3. Tāne Mahuta
A colossal ancient living relic of a lost age of the Kauri tree forests that once filled the land of New Zelands North Island. Tāne Mahuta is the largest tree in volume and size in the whole country, and only really seeing it is believing it – he is vast! Tāne Mahuta translates to ‘Lord of the Forest’, and the legend that is this tree is estimated to be over 2000 years old. Located in the Waipoua Forest the Maori people believed that Tāne was the son of Ranginui the Sky Father and Papatuanuku the Earth Mother and separates the two from the marital bond, Tāne himself fathering all the vegetation that covers the ground, in essence clothing his mother, and holding the sky up high above mother earth. Tāne was the most awe inspiring sight of our journey, we both felt a aura of sanctity in its presence that is unforgettable.
4. Lake Taupo
At the north-eastern corner of Lake Taupo is a hot sulphur spring which runs along to connect with volumes cool water river and where the two meet they create natural spa baths, where mossy pods in the rocks fill with this flowing warm water. It is a bizarre thing to first experience, but once you are fully relaxed by the soothing water you will never enjoy an normal bath as much again.
5. Golden Bay
An untouched seaside wonderland, the spit is a wildlife reserve that stretches 27km out to sea. Just before the sand bar (that looks like the beak of a big inland kiwi bird) is Golden Bay (near the Eye of the Kiwi), a short walk to a beautiful scenic shot of ocean carved rocks and luscious white sand beaches (black sand is actually more common on the West coast of Southland NZ). On this walk however, we took the advice of an old friend and took the path less trodden, which took us to the back beach, an amazing undulating series of rocks engraved by the torrents water gushing through. At low tide you are able to walk along the silicone beach back to the car park, however we did not anticipate the tide and took our own path, barefoot, bush style, following either old unused tracks or burrow with the animal tracks to pass over the rocks instead of around. We found ourselves poke out of the vegetation at the edge of a couple of cliffs, and we finished our tramp with nothing less than a couple of scratches and massive smiles on our faces – it is definitely an experience I would recommend to anyone
A quaint French Bay with excellent cheese and wine & world famous salmon. The beautiful Akaroa is particularly spectacular to view from the Hill Top Bar, naturally, at the top of the hill that encircles Akaroa’s and its Bays. Being an original French settlement in on the South Islands East Coast it is a township which celebrates fine food and quality fish. Though New Zealand is renowned for the number of winding mountain terrain roads, this twisting hilly decent is quite a view.
7. Arthur’s pass
The most necessary drive in the country: a cliff-hanging journey around “death’s corner”, a demanding drive with the most spectacular views around every corner. As we we travelling around the country in Spring, the winter ice caps in the mountains were beginning to melt with the warming of the season and the whole of Arthur’s pass was brimming with cascading waterfalls, chuting out of the rocks and down the rugged mountain faces. Here, on both occasions that we took this pass, we met a unique native NZ bird of prey, the Kea: the world’s single Alpine Parrot, and the most intelligent and strangely personable bird I have known of!
8. Mount Cook & Fox Glacier
The ever growing largest mountain in New Zealand, capped and coated with ever shifting and changing glaciers, is supposedly named as such because it does anything but cook. Fox Galcier is astounding to see the speed in which it has shrank over just this last century. Although between 1985 and 2009 it seemed to be increasing its 13km length by an average of a metre a week, from 2009 until now it is shrinking at a rapid speed. We walked up to see this glorious monumental power, gorging out such a vast valley in its wake and were blow away as it was the first glacier we had ever seen. It unfortunately proved that Fox is not a force to be underestimated as whilst we were travelling NZ only a week after seeing the glacier there was a reported plane crash killing 6 tourists and the pilot on an aerial tour of the glacier (some helicopter tours even land on the glaciers).
9. Tasman Glacier & Lake Pukaki
Rare and fleeting natural beauties which sadly may not exist for much longer. The Tasman Glacier is the closest glacier to neighbour Mount Cook, however I do not wish to pair Tasman with Cook as it is Tasman’s old relationship with Lake Pukaki which is more focal. The Tasman Glacier used to feed its white-grey, mineral rich glacier water through a series of rivers in a vast valley which, a whole age ago, used to be filled entirely with glacier ice, into the effervescent, most astonishingly blue, Pukaki Lake. It is the settled minerals from the glacier that creates this amazing bluest blue you have ever seen, though, alas, as the world has been warming, the capillaries connecting the lake to its source have withered and the Lake no longer has a supply. So now, as the beautiful blue water evaporates under the sun, it only has rain to fill it up again, constantly diluting the gem-like glacier water until it will be no more… so hurry and see it because you will never see water like it.
10. Milford Sound
A natural awe-inspiring wonder of the world: fiords at the southwest edge of the country are long, narrow inlets of sea water with sheer cliff walls and sheer mountain sides sculpted by ancient glacial erosion. These grand scale corrugations in the rock are simply otherworldly. Driving to the secluded paradise we had to pass through a tunnel (the only route to the scenic land) a pathway gouged through a mountain. One the preceding side the sheer cliff face is grey and rocky, but once through the tunnel every inch of surface is covered in luscious greenery, quite a stark and mesmerising contrast. Next time we travel to NZ we plan to set aside a wedge of cash to spend in this majestic place Kayaking around the meandering waterways amongst the giant rock spines
11. Mount Sunday
Here is where you will find the pasture lands of Rohan and the solitary City of Edoras protruding out of the flat ‘seas of grass’. This humped fortress of earth is Mount Sunday, the lazy single peak sitting in the middle of a sprawling archaic river bed (what once was clearly the seat of a giant glacier) enveloped in a frame of the huge Southern Alps. Mouth Sunday seems dwarfed against such a monumental backdrop, the languid Sunday morning summit to the imposing rich and ragged peaks of the surrounding mountain-scape. This really was a sight to behold, driving along the Mt Somers track you can just picture scenes of the Lord of the Rings manifest before you.
12. Lake Wanaka & Glenorchy
We picked up a hitchhiker in Hokitika and drove for 11 hours to get down to a spot he once freedom camped at in Wanaka, a beautiful little spot just outside of town with a river and world class rock climbing overhangs. It was a quaint spot where we proceeded to find two more lovely hitchhikers and we became a multicultural car-full. We all drove on to Queenstown, a spot which nearly every person I spoke to about my travels to New Zealand, before and during, insisted was a must-see, and though it was a good spot to spend the day and drop off our first adventurer, the car-load of us agreed that being city bound is not for us. So the wonderful French trekker, from the town of Evian, took us on a bypass out of Queenstown to a remote settlement down a quiet road along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, a very little town called Glenorchy. The scenery is picturesque the whole stretch of the 84km Lake (the largest glacial lake in NZ). Arriving in Glenorchy and having set up camp, with beer in hand, perching on the pebble clad bank of the lake looking across to the snow dusted mountains that cradles the lake at its far perimeter was a scene like no other.
New Zealand is a beautifully colourful country with the greenest greenery and the bluest waters. I would strongly recommend visiting the country in the Spring months as you will get to see the last sprinkling of snow atop the mountains and hopefully also not freeze to death, so you get the best of both worlds. Additionally, there are so many quiet roads which, even from the driver’s seat, grant you magnificent views at nearly every corner, making it perfect for independent travel. Whilst we were organising ourselves at the very beginning of our journey around NZ, it was a close toss-up between hitchhiking and tramping, and hiring a car. New Zealand is probably the only place in the world where hitchhiking is as safe* and as easy (*Bear in mind that it is still illegal) and because we had a car we thought it only fair that we pick up a couple of hitchhikers ourselves. I would highly recommend either route – the hitchee or the hitcher – but certainly, the next time I visit the country it will be to camp and tramp in the summer months living closely with the land.
I will definitely be returning as, though I have seen many of the wonders of this country, there are still so many more things to see and do and so much more to discover and explore. Not to mention Mount Monganui and the Bay of Islands in the North Island which are also beautiful spots. Monganui provided excellent surf and the Bay of Islands is an excellent drive full of beautiful views. Plus two extraordinary spots out in the styx of the South Island, full of nature and wildlife, firstly, is the Mirror Lakes, which are pretty self-explanatory and amazing when you catch them on a still day, and Moeraki Boulders, a beach where there are bizarrely natural occurring, perfectly spherical boulders which are very impressive when you see them for yourself.