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, A Land of Faraway Delights

Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand

As alluring as it is to many, New Zealand 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 of the last few years that spending a week there does not sound as outrageous as it once might have down. Another thing is that a break away from the political and economic turmoil that has struck the U.K. In recent months is causing me to holiday beyond Britain and Ireland for the sake of getting away from everything for a while.

After all, a recent three-part BBC documentary series showed just how dramatic this part of the world can be. Firstly, there is the geology for the North Island has steaming mud pools, superheated lakes and rivers as well as steaming geysers thanks to its position in the Pacific ring of fire. Then, there are the frequent earthquakes with some causing extensive damage like the one that struck Christchurch a few years ago. That constant movement of tectonic plates means that the glacier-sculpted Southern Alps of the South Island still are growing. Passage of storms and other sources of heavy precipitation mean that water has its part in shaping the landscape too with tumultuous torrents raging downhill after a heavy dump of rain. Dramatic waterfalls abound too as does temperate rain forest with much of that nestling in inaccessible corners.

Much of the 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.

That is why there is a collection of National Parks and other conservation areas overseen by the Department of Conservation. In spite of the name, there is plenty here for the outdoors lover too for there is much information on walking routes around the country with range extending from short strolls to longer multi-day hikes like the Milford Track and Te Araroa. 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 visitor websites like those for Auckland and Christchurch & Canterbury, do have a use for working out what walks are there to be enjoyed while both the Waiheke Island and Tourism Waiheke websites do the same for their area.

What has been offputting until now has been the flight times from Europe but a longer break allows for two days of global travel and I am sure that Air New Zealand would be happy to oblige with their services. That longer distance may explain why many engage the services of companies like New Zealand Encounters when organising an outing from half way around the world. For an independent traveller though, a strong countering attraction is that the antipodean seasons are the reverse of ours so what we would consider to be a mid-winter break would be a real getaway to somewhere in the throes of its summer season. Once there, the services of KiwiRail could be used to get an overview of New Zealand's delights and they offer KiwiRail Scenic Journeys too if we want a mix of activities, some of which are organised by others and some that are self-organised.