The Land of the Long White Cloud

Sudha Padmanabhan firmly believes that life is like a great big canvas and that you should throw all the paint you can on it. She recently painted shades of New Zealand on one such canvas and she takes us through the ‘splashes’ here. A long post but a good one.

Kia Ora – Welcome to New Zealand!

“Hi, I would like to know if there any banks nearby”.

“Hello. Are you looking specifically for a bank or is an ATM okay?”

“I’m looking for a bank”.

After posing a whole bunch of other questions around the nature of transaction I was looking to make, where I was heading, and my mode of transport, the cheerful elderly lady at the information counter in the airport then thought for a while before trying to explain the directions to me.

With a cab waiting outside for me, I was beginning to worry about how long our conversation would go on for, before I got the directions. She then proceeded to draw boxes indicating the stores I would have to go past (labelling each of them), street names and any other useful information. I smiled and waited for her to finish. After about 15 minutes, I told her that I had enough information to find the bank she was describing.

Lesson 1 learnt – Be prepared to set aside roughly about 15 minutes if you ask someone something!

My experience of New Zealand and what I was in for, during my holiday there, started long before I even set foot in this breath-takingly beautiful island country. Refusing to budge from the comfort of my couch, I bombarded myself with all the information I needed, to plan our road-trip. In the process, I got a taste of the Kiwis and their friendliness. I did read that New Zealand’s friendly and down-to-earth people would be one of the things one would treasure most about their visit and was pleasantly surprised when I experienced it.

Browsing endlessly to find the best accommodation, I made several enquiries on the availability and the mode of payment to multiple holiday homes, beaches and farm stays, and the response I received from them was surprising, and unbelievable in certain instances. Some of the holiday homes did not have an online payment facility, and when asked about the payment options, here is what I got for a response: One landlady wrote “I don’t do credit card payments but you could pay my neighbour Jack – brown house with large white gate and he can give you the key”.  (Jack, btw happened to be 78 years young and walked across the road in pitch darkness, with a small little torch guiding him. He then showed us around the stunning holiday home and I was left secretly admiring him).

Another landlady wrote “The keys for the cottage will be in the letterbox and can be left on the kitchen table along with your payment when you depart”. I was hoping a third would say, “Oh, we don’t make you pay. Just come and stay!” Hehe.

One of our lovely holiday homes

NZ 1After weeks’ of non-stop research, I was convinced that we had reservations at the best of holiday homes and was contemplating getting out off the couch. But then, I now had to work on refining our itinerary. The plan was to do a South Island road trip and some of our essentials included:

 Swimming with the dusky dolphins at Kaikoura
 Glacial valleys – Franz Josef and Fox glacier
♦ Nature cruise at Milford Sound
 Hiking shoreline tracks of tranquil lakes
♦ Of course, a visit to the South Island would not be complete without visiting the   adventure capital – Queenstown, one of NZ’s top visitor destinations.

On a bright and sunny day, we started off with the dolphin encounter that left us enchanted and the dusky dolphins in the wild were at their acrobatic best. Dolphins and dolphin shows I have seen many, but looking at a pod of them numbering anywhere between 100- 300 was an experience of a lifetime! It was an absolute delight for the swimmers to get up close and personal with the dolphins in their natural environment.

Swimming with dusky dolphins

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An incredible world of ice was awaiting us at Fox glacier– the longest glacier on the West Coast, descending from the Southern Alps down into temperate rainforests.

Glacier trail

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Paths we had to negotiate during the glacier climb

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Glacier wall

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With the frigid single digit low temperature keeping its icy grip on us, I found myself rather irritable for the first few minutes of the glacier trek and was wondering why my gloves were sitting pretty in the car while my fingers were freezing.

Glacier Pathway

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It was then that Sir Edmund Hillary came to my mind, and I decided to confront the glacier, if not the world’s highest mountain :).

Outfitted with instep crampons, along our climb, I was fascinated by the details of the natural history of this landscape. Walking across valleys carved out by ice during the past ice ages, I was overwhelmed by the power of ice – the crevasses, the beautiful ice formations and walls, amazing blue pools and the stunning scenic views around.

Stunning views at the summit of the glacier

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On what seemed like the wettest day of our trip, we set out to do the scenic nature cruising at Milford Sound. After a leisurely breakfast at our charming heritage home, we nearly missed our cruise!

Enroute to Milford Sound

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Driving on a wet, wet, day and unsure of the exact location of our cruise, we made it to the car park and had about 10 mins to make a dash to the cruise. I can’t remember the last time I ran that hard, but run I did and we made it just in time! Once on board the cruise, looking at the magnificent scenery shrouded in mist, teamed with a drizzle, I knew that it was worth every bit of the run!

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Cruising close to the waterfalls cascading into the fiord, I soaked myself in the beauty of the luxuriant rain forest, clinging to sheer rock faces and watched curious seals and seal pups enjoying themselves, perched on the rocks.

Seals perched on the rock

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Destination Queenstown – the perfect setting for hardcore adventure, with a capital ‘A’. Take your pick from bungy jumping, sky diving, canyon swinging, jet boating, horse trekking and river rafting, luge rides or just ride the skyline gondola for iconic views across Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

My pick of course, was the luge and gondola- safe. I had no intention of swinging the canyon, which by the way happens to be the biggest swing in the world, or the bungy. My pals however, harboured such plans.

After watching them do the biggest swing in the world, we returned back to the office, to collect the videos and photos, when suddenly one of them wanted to do the bungy. We almost wrapped up with things at this adventure hub, by which time I had heard enough about the ‘swing’ experience and was coerced enough. However, the thought of being lifted out above the launch deck, suspended 160 metres above the canyon floor, and suddenly being released towards the other side of the valley at 120kph, did not exactly make me comfortable. Also, having to pick from options such as swinging upside-down, backwards, forwards, alone, with a friend, tandem etc. added to my woes.

I’m still clueless about my decision to do it anyway! The lesser I write about the drama that led up to the swing, the better. However, post all the action, I was relieved that I did not walk away from that place without the experience of a lifetime!

Queenstown canyon swing- the biggest in the world

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What a wonderful eclectic mix of activities that was! From walking Llamas on one day, it was swimming with the dolphins the next, to trekking glaciers on another day, to letting loose in the adventurous bungy and swing, to being immersed in the spectacular sights of the nature cruise, not to miss out on the stunning fall colors, dramatic alpine lakes and some eel feeding after a delayed flight.

Eel feeding at the Avon River, Christchurch

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Llama trekking

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Lake Tekapo

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Lake Pukaki

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Fall colors at Arrowtown

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Though we didn’t have a checklist of places to tick off, we did have one thing on top of our minds when we came across an empty highway – we just wanted to act like adults, quit playing games and JUMP as high as we could for some crazy shots, because it was not the destination that mattered to us, just the change of scene!

If you’re planning on a trip to New Zealand, you may want to leave a comment for Sudha here.

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About Shruti Bharath

Social entrepreneur and developmental writer, passionate about creating workable solutions in the areas of improving employability of youth and women through skill enhancement/training and generation of productive and sustainable employment opportunities.

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