- A fantastic trip including many New Zealand classic destinations: From Auckland on the first day we visited Rotorangi Island and a first experience of Tui's singing; North Island Robins hopping round our feet; Weka chicks; raw solidified lava and native bush establishing itself. On to Rotorua, and a traditional Maori hangi helped us understand the Maori creation view; a fantastic walk along the Waimangu valley to experience the thermal springs in their natural setting; a quick stop at Huka falls - what a lot of water; disappointment at Tongariro - the weather prevented walking the crossing, but we felt that those who knew it, were not going to put us in danger by risking it. Instead we were taken on The Old Coach Road on the edge of the National Park, and learned some of the history of New Zealand European settlement - tea and biscuits included in the middle of a viaduct! Windy Wellington did not disappoint; Te Papa museum worth longer attention than I gave it; the crossing from here to South Island was worth staying on deck for, including great views of both Islands and sea birds like Albatross and Shearwaters.
South Island was something else. Fantastic visit to Motorua Island from Picton, accompanied by dolphins and a peek at a blue penguin, then on the boat again to Ship's cove for a walk on the Charlotte Track. A visit to Abel Tasman National Park was specatular - walking through wonderful native bush and finishing with a refreshing paddle on a tropical beach in Bark Bay. A drive down the West coast including a Jade workshop at Hokitika and an opportunity to walk along the cliffs to a seal colony and a stop at the spectacular Pancake Rocks. As we continued to Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, the weather deteriorated and kept us from seeing any glacier in the next couple of days. Instead we learned about the New Zealand gold rush at Ross. Driving over the Haast pass revealed more amazing scenery carved by glaciers, and led us to beautiful Wanaka. Everywhere, the native bush was lush, green and fascinating with unfamiliar(Tui, Bellbird, Grey Warbler) and familiar(Chaffinch, Blackbird, Thrush) birdsong. Wanaka's jewel is the lake, surrounded by mountains; a great place to spend 2 nights. On to Arrowtown historical gold mining settlement and Queenstown via the Cardrona pass and a welcome coffee and log fire at the old gold mining pub on a cold day. A ride on the Gondola once we were in Queenstown and an optional, but worthwhile walk up to Ben Lomond saddle for a very cold but stunning view, encounters with Tom Tits and a Kea and the opportunity to pull up wilding pine seedlings where they aren't wanted. Torrential rain in Queenstown that evening was clearly falling as snow because our trip to Te Anau was beautified by icing sugar sprinkles of snow to a lower level on the mountains. We included a walk on part of the Kepler track - a mesmerising trek through native temperate rain forest; a natural fernery inhabited by mosses, birds and ancient trees. An early start the next morning for our much anticipated trip to Milford Sound. A walk was scheduled in on the way on part of the Routeburn track taking us up the side of the glacier valley through bush and out onto alpine wetland at Key Summit. We enjoyed our walk in the dry, but Milford Sound provided what it is almost guaranteed to do - rain. However this didn't detract from a great boat trip under sheer, weeping, glaciated walls of rock. It was worth getting wet on the outside of the boat to experience a sense of insignificance in the face of some magnicent creation. The next day was a long day of driving but through the different terrain of tussock grassed McKenzie country to Mt Cook village. A glimpse of Aoraki/Mount Cook didn't prepare us for the stunning day that followed without a cloud in the sky. It was our tour guide's day off, but the majority of the group walked together up the Hooker Valley to Hooker Lake for a picnic lunch together in the sun - under the gaze of Aoraki and Mount Sefton and their courtiers. Our last full day was a long drive across South Island to ancient, volcanic Akaroa. What a beautiful place to end our tour! If only we could have stayed! Our tour was completed in Christchurch where reconstruction work continues after the 2010 earthquake. The Botanical gardens and the Museum were worth more attention than we were able to give them before we embarked on our homeward flight. Our tour gave us a wonderful overview of what New Zealand has to offer while enabling us to have a few in-depth experiences of her riches. No tour can ever be repeated step for step, and in particular the mix of participants can never be predicted, but I found that the group personalities and dynamics enhanced the whole experience. Everyone made an effort to get to know each other and ensure that no-one missed out. The experience was topped off by our tour guide, Gabi Plannger, who performed her role to an exceptional level.
Published on: 07 December 2016