Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

New Zealand: Faraway Islands with a Multitude of Delights

Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand

As alluring as it is to many, New Zealand (known in Maori as Aotearoa) always has felt a little too far away for me to entertain anything other than mere curiosity. However, such are the changes that have happened in my circumstances during the last few years that spending a week there does not sound as outrageous as it once might have done. However , spending longer there sounds better since rest is recommended after long flights and it takes time to find one's feet anyway. That may mean taking a leave of absence from a day job instead of using up most of an annual leave entitlement at one sitting. As wonderful as New Zealand may be, there is something to be said for splitting up getaways to keep oneself adequately rested throughout the year. After all, there are other places that can be visited too and they can be nearer at hand.

Turbulent Geology

The inspiration for what you find here largely came from watching a three-part BBC documentary series that showed just how dramatic this part of the world can be. Since then, I have been reading Insight Guides' guide to the place as well as Lonely Planet's Hiking and Tramping in New Zealand in an effort to find out more about the place. Even finishing these means that there remains much more to learn but it often takes an actual visit before it all makes more sense.

What draws so many outdoors enthusiasts is the dramatic scenery and all that is due to active geology. New Zealand is sited on part of the Pacific ring of fire so you get steaming mud pools, superheated lakes and rivers as well as steaming geysers on the North Island. More destructively, there are the frequent earthquakes with some causing extensive damage like the one that struck Christchurch a few years ago. The same movement of tectonic plates also ensures that the glacier-sculpted Southern Alps continue to gain height much in the same fashion as the Himalaya.

Unique Fauna & Flora

Much of New Zealand's wildlife is unique too with penguins and sea lions rearing their young among woodlands for a start. It is not just the behaviour though for ground-dwelling kiwis are the national birds for a reason. Another unique speciality is the kea, a mountain-dwelling parrot with intelligence, inquisitiveness and associated destructiveness too. Large carnivorous snails with disgusting eating habits and reptiles dating from the time of the dinosaurs continue the uniqueness theme with the recent ingress of modern humans and their landlubbing European mammalian companions threatening much of New Zealand's fauna since the island broke away from Gondwanaland much earlier in geological history than other places.

Humanity has been in New Zealand for such a short time that there are trees still growing that predate our arrival and that even includes the indigenous Maori people. After all, some of the trees have been living for between 1,000 and 2,000 years so it is easy to see how this might be. It all comes together to build up a picture of our existence there as being less dominating than in other parts yet we still have disrupted things to the point that conservation has to be an ever present thought.

Changeable Weather

New Zealand stretches from subtropical latitudes through temperate ones into the subantarctic so there is a variety of weather ranging from the warmer north to the cooler south. The roaring forties ensure the passage of much rain and snow so that some places get more than ten metres of rain a year. With that, it is little wonder that tumultuous torrents abound and rivers can rise quickly. It is not for nothing that there is temperate rain forest to be found.

Distinct seasons exist in mountain areas such that hiking excursions may be best between November and March every year. Otherwise, you could meet with full winter conditions that can be slow to leave so summer arrive later than expected. It is not for nothing that the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council have a website named The New Zealand Avalanche Advisory and they also operate Adventure Smart, which is useful year round. Such are the safety warnings that starting with day walks may be best until you get to know the place better. Another alternative would be use the services of a guiding company.

Outdoor Delights

That unique mixture of special landscapes together unique flora and fauna is why there is a collection of National Parks and other conservation areas overseen by the Department of Conservation. The North Island has three National Parks: Tongariro, Egmont and Whanganui. There was a fourth at Te Urewera before that passed from Crown control in 2014 to a committee involving the local indigenous people and the relacement legal entity continues to be administered according to National Park principles. National Parks are more numerous on the South Island: Abel Tasman, Kahurangi, Paparoa, Westland, Mount Aspiring, Fiordland, Aoraki (Mount Cook), Arthur's Pass and Nelson Lakes. Stewart Island then has Rakiura National Park and that completes the set. After those, there are a variety of Marine Reserves and heritage sites that they manage.

Even this list does not encompass all of their activities for there is much work to do to ensure the continued survival of indigenous flora and fauna. The latter includes countering Kauri Dieback so there are areas where you are not to step on the roots of these ancient trees and there are disinfecting footbaths where you need to immerse the soles of your footwear. Battling against introduced species like stoats, rats, deer and possums to ensure that native birds and other unique animals do not go extinct is another part of their continuing work.

With all that, you might think that they do cater for outdoors enthusiasts but nothing could be further from the truth. For instance, they maintain a number of multi-day trails that they call New Zealand's Great Walks. The Milford Track, the Heaphy Track and the soon to be completed Pike29 Memorial Track are but three of these. Some are so popular that you need to make any bookings for them in advance in order to hike along them. Handily, this can be done online and may need to be done several months in advance for the likes of the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track, such is their worldwide renown. For those with more time to spare, Te Araroa is New Zealand's end to end national trail so the Great Walks are not the only multi-day hiking possibilities.

Given how well frequented some of the Great Walks are, it is just as well that there are other possibilities. After all, many of us fancy a day hike instead of a multi-day trek. The range extends from short strolls to more adventurous day long affairs like the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, taking part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

That is not all for other land and marine recreational activities are covered too so it is not just a case of starting with New Zealand's visitor portal for getting this kind of information. For instance, cycling enthusiasts can sample the delights of the New Zealand Cycle Trail. Though more of a driving tour between Dunedin and Queenstown, the Southern Scenic Route also passes many trail heads for self-propelled outdoors outings so that is a possibility too.

Local Destinations

There is a wide variety of local visitor websites to be found in addition to the national visitor and Department of Conservation portals mentioned already. Major cities like Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton, Hastings, Nelson, Rotorua, Whangarei, Invercargill, Palmerstone North and Dunedin all have one. It almost feels that there is one associated with every physical i-SITE visitor centre so we get ones for all sorts of other areas too: Cambridge, Devonport, Doubtless Bay, Gisborne, Northland, Hawkes Bay, Puke Ariki, Ruapehu, Paihia, Bay of Islands, Kerikeri, Taupo, Bay of Plenty, Te Aroha, Thames, Coromandel, Waitomo, Wanangui, Matakana Coast, Whitianga, Akaroa, Marlborough, Hurunui, Kaikoura, Methven, Stewart Island, Fiordland, Great Barrier Island, Rangitoto Island and Lake Wanaka. Both the Waiheke Island and Tourism Waiheke websites do the same for an island that is not far from Auckland.

Organising Travel

From somewhere like the U.K., New Zealand is a long way away. Even air travel times are so lengthy that avoiding deep vein thrombosis becomes a consideration. Breaking up the journey only helps a little because you need to keep your limbs moving more often than you might be tempted to do. After that, it may take a few days to decompress afterwards and there is the fact that seasons are swapped. That may make heading this far south attractive in many ways, especially during a northern hemisphere winter, but there is the consideration of its being a shocked to your system if you are unaccustomed to such a sudden change.  Much of this thinking is enough to make thoughts of multi-week trips more likely and this may explain why many engage the services of companies like New Zealand Encounters when organising an outing from half way around the world.

Being more of an independent explorer though, I quite fancy organising things myself so I got to surveyed air travel possibilities using Skyscanner. That is when spotted possibilities offered by Singapore Airlines with a stopover on their own turf. Handily for me, these start from Manchester too so that is why they caught my eye and it helps that Singapore Airport is well regarded by many travellers. Naturally, there are other options and you cannot overlook Air New Zealand either.

Getting there is one thing but you need to get around the place after that. It is true that choosing one part to explore in depth might have its advantages but even that needs some travel planning. New Zealand's national rail network appears to be mainly for the transportation of freight but KiwiRail does offer some transport services and the more scenic rail routes are described on The Great Journeys of New Zealand. Earthquake damage has put the Coastal Pacific route out of action until the line is fully repaired but the Northern Explorer and TranzAlpine ones are available. Also include is the Interislander ferry crossing between the North Island and the South Island.

Apart from these, interurban bus services compensate for the lack of an extensive rail network with operators like InterCity and Nakedbus covering much of the country. For local services, you can check with the likes of Auckland Travel where there is mix of rail, bus and ferry services that can be used. Some of Auckland's ferry services are operated by companies like Fullers and Sealink. Finding out about public transport in New Zealand may take effort but there are useful services available.