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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in New Zealand.
29 DECEMBER – 1 JANUARY.
THERE’S A LOT OF COMPETITION FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE FESTIVITIES – WHY HERE?
If you want bragging rights over your buddies in the slower upper reaches of the globe, then feel free to boast about being way ahead of them in seeing the first the sunrise of the New Year.
AND WHAT’S GOING TO KEEP US AWAKE TILL THE GLORIOUS MORNING?
When Rhythm and Vines first kicked off in 2003, it had one stage and 1800 guests. These days, over 25,000 festival goers flood in to Gisbourne to check out the many musical stages hosting big-name international acts like NERD, Tinie Tempah, Tame Impala, Mark Ronson, as well as home-grown legends like Shihad and The Naked and Famous. In 2014, R&V introduced the Arcadia Spectacular, a fiery performance space based on Glastonbury’s famous fire-breathing stage. There’s also a stand-up comic stage for a little light relief.
THIS CAN’T BE JUST A ONE-NIGHT-STAND!
The festival is a three-day camping extravaganza with a range of different site options available. Our pick: the two-person eco tent provided by the organisers which looks a bit like a cardboard cubby box. Just bring your sleeping bags and plonk your recyclable fort in amongst the vines.
Baby, it’s cold outside, but not in the southern hemisphere where New Zealand is located. It’s summer and the warm sunlight is enough to beckon thousands of Kiwis to step outside to explore the natural playground that is their backyard. This country of endless coastline, a myriad of inland lakes, rivers and mountain streams means water-based activities are aplenty this time of year as well. The best way to explore the majesty of New Zealand is with a road trip across the South Island.
A quick six-day or longer itinerary allows for ample time to hike through Arthur’s Pass National Parkin Christchurch, take a scenic heli-flight over the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and bike around Mt Cook Village and Lake Tekapo.
Pencil in adrenaline-filled activities as well by malting a necessary stop in Queenstown — bungee jumping, skydiving, ziplining and white-water rafting are just some of the activities available. For animal lovers, stop by Oamaru as well to visit the Blue Penguin colony where 200 of these birds make their daily pilgrimage from the water to dry land for the night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Fly to Christchurch on South Island on Qantas Airways from Singapore with one stop in Brisbane, Australia first. Flights from Kuala Lumpur include an additional stop in Singapore (from US$713; qantas.com). For a similar six-day itinerary, check newzealand.com for their detailed South Island road trips.
Road trip like the locals and hire a campervan for a real outdoor living experience. Most campervan rental companies include accessories like gas cookers, bedding, tents and more. Escape Campervan Rentals has one of the most comprehensive packages with pick-ups and drop-offs in both Auckland and Christchurch (from US$95 per day before tax; escaperentals.co.nz).
One of New Zealand’s finest historic buildings, Dunedin Railway Station is also one of the best examples of railroad architecture in the southern hemisphere. Although not large by international standards, the station’s delightful proportions lend it an air of grandeur. It was designed in the Flemish Renaissance style by New Zealand Railways architect George Troup, whose detailing on the outside of the building earned him the nickname “Gingerbread George.”
BEGINNING OF DUNEDIN’S RAILWAY
In the early 1860s, gold was discovered in Dunedin and miners poured into the region. The money gold brought in ensured that, for a time, Dunedin was the commercial capital of New Zealand and railroads were built to transport the growing population. The first rail journey, with the new “Josephine” trains, was from Dunedin to Port Chalmers on September 10, 1872. In 1875, a second station was built in Dunedin to ease the busy first one; a third followed in 1879. The number of passengers continued to grow, so Dunedin Railway Station was commissioned.
AN ARCHITECTURAL CHALLENGE
The construction of Dunedin Railway Station was a great feat of engineering. Built on the foundations of the old harbor, iron-bark piles had to be driven deep into the reclaimed land to prevent flooding. George Troup used a number of railroad staff, whom he had trained in the art of stonemasonry, to help build the station. Machinery, including cranes, was loaned by New Zealand Railways for use during the building work to reduce costs. It is believed that New Zealand’s first electrically driven concrete mixer was used in the station’s construction. Costing £120,500, the station was seven times larger than its predecessor, Dunedin’s third station, built in the late 1800s.
THE DESIGN OF DUNEDIN STATION
George Troup (1863-1941) arrived in New Zealand in 1884, after emigrating from Scotland following an apprenticeship in architectural design. He quickly secured a job with New Zealand Railways in Dunedin, where he was employed to design bridges and stations. He was soon promoted to head of the architectural branch, and while working in this new role he designed Dunedin Railway Station. No expense was spared to create this magnificent building. The roof is adorned with red Marseille tiles, while the exterior stonework features lavish, ornate detailing— referred to as “Gingerbread style.” Inside, the mosaic floor is covered with decorative tiles, some of which feature images of railroad engines, wheels, signals, and wagons.
Beige Oamaru limestone detailing provides a striking contrast to the darker Central Otago bluestone on the walls and the finely polished Aberdeen granite of the columns.
Projecting from the sloping gable roof, these are typical Flemish architectural features.
This provides a visual counterbalance to the main clock tower.
Two imposing stained-glass windows on the mezzanine balcony depict two approaching steam engines with lights blazing, facing each other across the ticket hall.
This is covered with clay Marseille tiles from France.
Cherubs and foliage adorn this frieze from the Royal Doulton factory in England, which encircles the ticket hall below the wrought-iron bordered balcony.
These are ornately decorated with white tiles and a crest featuring the old New Zealand Railways logo.
New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame
This features imaginative displays recounting the exploits and achievements of famous New Zealanders.
These finely carved creatures, one on each corner of the clock tower, guard the cupola behind them.
Situated behind the station, the half-a mile (1-km) long platform is still a departure and arrival point for travelers.
Complete with wrought-iron balustrades and mosaic-tiled steps, a staircase sweeps up from the ticket hall to the balcony above.
More than 725,000 Royal Doulton porcelain squares form images of steam engines, rolling stock, and the New Zealand Railways logo.
By 1956, the original floor had subsided dramatically. Exact replica mosaics had to be laid on a new concrete foundation in order to alleviate the problem.
1906: Dunedin Station is officially opened by New Zealand’s prime minister.
1956: The station’s clock tower is restored.
1994: The station is sol d to Dunedin City Council for a nominal sum.
1996-98: The exterior stonework is cleaned and space is created for a garden.
The sign says it all. Ten tall letters perched high on a hillside above the airport. The original plan was for them to read ‘Welly wood’, a reference to the city’s recent contribution to world cinema. But the locals deemed this too predictable. So instead, the sign says ‘Wellington’, with the last three letters apparently blown off course by two swirly, blustery lines.
By most indices, New Zealand’s capital is the world’s windiest city — a fact with which it seems entirely comfortable. Down on the waterfront you’ll find a bronze statue of a naked man, leaning into the breeze. It’s a pose every Wellingtonian knows all too well. It doesn’t help matters that it’s a particularly hilly metropolis, so much so that many houses have their own private funiculars. But these challenges seem to have helped forge the city’s sense of identity; I’ve even heard some locals admit the icy blast of the dreaded Antarctic ‘southerly’ wind makes them feel strangely at home.
For all its dubious weather, Wellington is an impressive place, a mini San Francisco with a bohemian streak and idyllic bayside location. The seat of government it may be, but there’s a palpable coolness here that takes you by surprise. Yet that central tenet of the hipster revolution — the stripping away of bland distractions, so as to focus on what’s really of value — has been the Wellington way for the best part of two decades, ever since it first emerged as one of the world’s coffee capitals.
Nowhere is this enlightened approach more evident than in the Laneways, a series of narrow thoroughfares in the CBD (Central Business District), currently being spruced up by the city council. The pick of these is the little alley between Leeds and Eva street, home to a micro chocolate factory, bottled soda shop, cocktail bar, craft brewer, boutique coffeehouse and a tiny basement outlet (Fix and Fogg) selling intriguing varieties of peanut butter out of a small, ankle-level window. As alleyways go, it certainly packs a punch, and it’s a great starting point for any newcomer.
But, in reality, it doesn’t require much planning to catch Wellington at its sparkling best. Within my first 48 hours here, I’d watched an Iranian documentary at an arthouse cinema; dined three tables away from Peter Jackson; drank craft beer in a converted garage; watched chocolate being made from scratch; sipped nitrogen-enriched iced-coffee dispensed from a pump; and eaten oysters by the waterside. Compact, cosmopolitan and full of character, Wellington really is a first-timer’s dream. Just remember to pack a few layers.
SEE & DO
WELLINGTON CABLE CAR: It’s hard not to fell for Wellington’s elderly yet distinguished 114-year-old cable car. Having trundled gracefully up its tracks, it delivers passengers to the city’s hillside Botanic Gardens, where alongside fitting views, they’ll also find Carter Observatory, home to the Space Place planetarium.
ROXY CINEMA: A 1920s theatre that was turned into a shopping mall in the 1960s, the Roxy was restored to its former glory and given a new purpose in 2011, having been bought by Weta Digital founder Sir Richard Taylor. Located in Miramar — Wellington’s movie-making district — it hosts film and documentary festivals, and even has its own restaurant and cocktail bar.
WETA CAVE: The starting point for the Weta Studio Tours, where enthusiasts can marvel at fake guns, custom-made vehicles, latex heads and remote-controlled battle helmets — in short, many of the eye-catching props Weta crafted for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, plus other films such as King Kong and District 9. The Cave is also a retail store and an exclusive documentary is shown at regular intervals.
CUBA STREET: Wellington’s ‘spunkiest’ thoroughfare is worth more than a cursory glance, filled as it is with many of the city’s best and most bohemian restaurants, bars and cafes, not to mention the obligatory vintage clothes shops, street art and laudable busking. A great spot to meander if you’re feeling lazy or a little weather-beaten.
FIELD & GREEN: Having relocated from London with her business partner, chef Laura Greenfield drew upon her Jewish roots to produce a menu of ‘European soul food’ — essentially, high-quality comfort dishes. While lunches and dinners are reasonably elaborate and pricey, it’s the small yet filling simpler dishes on the all-day menu — Welsh rarebit, homemade crumpets, sardines on sourdough — that make this restaurant both affordable and special.
SHEDS: Housed in a Victorian woolshed in Lambton Harbour, Shed 5 really plays to Wellington’s strengths: stunning seafood dishes accompanied by fantastic Kiwi wine. The seafood risotto changes daily, ‘depending on what the tide brings in’, while anyone who can resist the oysters must be tired of life.
HIPPOPOTAMUS RESTAURANT & BAR: If you came to Wellington hoping fora hipster dining experience, then French fine-dining might seem a stuffy option. But stuffy it ain’t, and, besides the food, the impressive third-floor harbour views and fancy decor make this a smart choice. Located within the Museum Art Hotel.
GOURMET STAY: A 13-room boutique hotel wit h a strong European design ethos near Cuba Street, offering varying levels of affordability, from smart-yet-basic hostel-style rooms with shared bathrooms to apartment-style family suites, all the way up to a rooftop studio with a terrace and outdoor hot tub.
COMFORT HOTEL WELLINGTON: A good mid-range option, not least because it puts you right in the heart of Cuba Street. The location means you probably won’t need to frequent its cafe, restaurant and bar, but they’re t here should you wish to do so, as is a lofty, and rat her welcome, swimming pool.
MUSEUM ART HOTEL: This aptly named silk purse of a hotel positively bulges with art, be it painted, sculpted, daubed onto its outside walls or grafted onto the upholstery of a well-placed bedroom chair. Similarly ornate views of the harbour accompany breakfast, during which guests can ponder how, in 1993, the entire five-storey hotel was shifted wholesale 120 metres across the road to its current site.
A gorgeous country with friendly people and lots of things to do, New Zealand has become a top destination over the past few years. Like Australia, European settlers made homes in New Zealand in the 1800s and learned to live alongside the indigenous people. But don’t be fooled into thinking these two countries are similar. They may be neighbors, but New Zealand and Australia are very different countries with their own unique identities. If the two countries were human, Australia would be the fun, active party type, while New Zealand would be the laid back, smart, and cool.
The Beauty of New Zealand’s South Island – If New Zealand is known for one thing, it’s the incredible natural beauty. The country has everything from lush rolling hills to majestic, snow-covered peaks, from fjords and lakes to gorgeous beaches. It doesn’t get more beautiful than the South Island, though, particularly the West Coast. While you’re there you can see the Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier, which can be accessed by helicopter for an unforgettable hike through the ice. Go during ski season and hit the slopes as well. Don’t miss Milford Sound in the South, where you’ll see dramatic waterfalls and fjords. Hiking, kayaking, and jet-boating are popular ways to view the beauty there, or relax and take it all in on a scenic train tour.
Middle-earth – Peter Jackson arguably put New Zealand on the map, tourism-wise, after shooting his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies there. The movies took advantage of the amazing landscapes in this country. They were perfect for creating the other-worldly feel the movie required. You can visit many of the film locations and see where it all happened with your own eyes. The green rolling hills around the town of Matamata became the setting for the Shire, where Bilbo Baggins lives. Tour are available for you to see the sets. The “Hobbiton” sets were built but then removed after the first films were made, and then the whole thing was rebuilt for the Hobbit films and is now there to stay. The majority of the famous filming locations for The Lord of the Rings movies are located on the South Island -yet another reason to visit the South Island.
Maori Culture – Kia ora! Learning about the Maori culture is a must while in New Zealand. The Maori people, originally from Eastern Polynesia, predated the European settlers by more than 500 years and developed their own distinct cultural practices. You’ll no doubt encounter the art, language, and people on your travels through the country, but you can also arrange to be part of a tour that focuses on discovering more about the Maori culture. Learn about the way their ancestors greeted visitors, the games they played, and the way they cook food in the ground; find out about the significance of the face tattoos, the common design elements in Maori art and architecture, and of course the haka. Many cities feature these kinds of tours, including Kaikoura, Rotorua, and Waimarama.
Get Your Adventure On – Helicopter tours, hiking, kayaking, jet-boating, and skiing, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to do in New Zealand. The country is also a hot spot for extreme sports and adrenaline-pumping activities like skydiving, white water rafting, zip lining, and Zorbing. It was a New Zealander, A. J. Hackett, who started organizing commercial bungee jumping, in 1986, seven years after it appeared in the U.K., and its not difficult to find bungee operators in New Zealand now.
The Geothermal Features of Rotorua – Rotorua stinks – literally. This town in the North Island smells like sulfur (that not-so-delightful rotten egg smell) because of its intense geothermal activity. Visit and you’ll see bubbling mud pots, steam rising from the hot pools of water everywhere, and bursting geysers. These features aren’t very common in the world; only Japan, Russia, Iceland, and the U.S. have areas of similar geothermal activity. So it’s an incredible opportunity to see one of earth’s rare wonders. To really get up close and personal, consider going to a spa where you can soak in the health benefits of the mineral waters in hot baths and mineral pools. While you’re at it, get a massage, too – after all, you’re on vacation.
Glow Worm Caves – Glow worms are insects that glow with bioluminescence, like fireflies, and they’re plentiful (relatively speaking) in both Australia and New Zealand. Make the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves part of your itinerary, and you’ll see thousands of these little creatures light up the cave as you travel through by boat – a truly wondrous site. Waitomo is located in the North Island, not too far from Rotorua.
Whales, Dolphins, Seals, and Penguins – New Zealand is a great place to see an abundance of wild animals you might otherwise never see in your lifetime. Head out on a whale-spotting sea tour. Two good places to try are Auckland, a city in the North Island, and Kaikoura, in the South Island. You’ll likely also encounter some dolphins on your boat trip. You may see the common dolphin, the bottle-nosed dolphin, the dusky dolphin, or even the rare Hector’s dolphin, which lives only in the waters off New Zealand. After whales and dolphins, go check out some seals. In Kaikoura, you can walk out to see the seal colony up close and personal – but not too close -watch out that you don’t trip over a seal sunning herself.
Set on a 2,400-hectare working sheep and cattle station, The Farm isn’t yet 10 years old, but it feels like it’s been here forever. Perhaps the most beautiful of Julian Robertson’s stable of super-smart New Zealand lodges, it has 22 rustic-chic bedrooms and a wonderfully stylish private house, the Owner’s Cottage. All are dramatically positioned on a grassy ridge overlooking its superb 18-hole championship golf course and surrounding farmlands, with the orchards and celebrated winelands of Hawke’s Bay in the distance. On a clear day it’s possible to make out snow-capped Mount Ruapehu on the horizon. The main structures resemble a cluster of farm buildings, with a domed silo that houses a wine cellar in its basement and an intimate snug on the ground floor.
Throughout the property, wonderful farm-related objects – old tractor seats, metal cartwheels, wooden grain boxes – are deployed as artworks and the Colorado-based interior designer Linda Bedell has used plenty of tweed and leather to keep the rural dream topped up. Chef James Honore sources the best produce from this bountiful region – cheese from Havelock North, mushrooms from Napier, Hawke’s Bay lamb – and supplements them with his own home-grown sweetcorn, fennel, lettuce and tomatoes. From fresh laid eggs with crispy New Zealand bacon for breakfast in the farmhouse kitchen to pre-supper canapes by the open fire, The Farm really does deliver the whole New Zealand package – and on a wonderfully grand scale.
Somewhere above my head, R2D2 and the Clangers were having a right old ding-dong. At least, that’s how it sounded, filtered through a mass of heavily bearded branches. First a shrill volley of robotic whistles flew through the canopy. Back came a quizzical warbling, provoking a further barrage of trills, chimes and peeps. On the spat raged, accompanied by angry swishes as the combatants chased each other through the leaves. Finally, the adversaries emerged: not space raiders but a green -feathered korimako, or bellbird, retreating from a belligerent tui. In the depths of the Goblin Forest on Mount Taranaki, that fantasy sound battle seemed entirely in keeping: this photogenic volcano in the south-west of New Zealand’s North Island is genuinely Middle-Earth otherworldly.
True, Taranaki didn’t actually star in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings epic s (though it did body-double for Mount Fuji in Tom Cruise vehicle The Last Samurai).
But its near-perfect cone, diverse habitats and Maori heritage are the stuff of travellers’ – and, particularly, trekkers’ – fantasies. Iencountered the avian rivals on a new walking route, the Pouakai Crossing, which winds around Mount Taranaki’s northern slopes. New Zealand’s second-tallest summit (2,518m), called Egmont by European colonists, has long been a magnet for peak-baggers. But this recently mintedi8.4km hike aims to attract those who might otherwise tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, 130km to the east – widely known as the world’s best one-day walk. I joined a small group to see how the Pouakai Crossing stacks up against its better-known rival.
In a land long ago… One benefit of the Taranaki trek is clear even before stepping out: it’s really convenient. New Plymouth Airport, served by numerous low-cost flights, is less than 30km north of the mountain; half an hour after my shuttle-bus pick-up I was clipping up my daypack at the walk’s start, North Egmont Visitor Centre. Alongside me on that balmy April morning was Nick Brown, my softly spoken, twinkle-eyed guide, and John Haylock, a local hiker and amateur geologist who provided a hearty helping of volcano knowhow. The visual treats began at a viewpoint a little above our drop-off.
To the north, surf rolled in to the shores of New Plymouth, guarded by the humpback Sugar Loaf Islands and Paritutu Rock. Behind us loomed the scarred slopes of Taranaki, and to the east, hazy on the horizon, rose the hefty cones of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro – the volcanoes that form the backdrop for the more-famous crossing. Partly thanks to Hobbit celebrity, the popularity of the Tongariro Crossing has boomed over the past 15 years: more than 100,000 now hike between those forbidding craters annually. Yet while there’s no denying its muscular beauty, you won’t have it to yourself. In contrast, only a handful of walkers set out from North Egmont that autumn day, most heading for the summit -for now, a mere 2- or 3,000 tramp the path winding around Mount Taranaki each year.
Like any hiking trail worth its salt, the Pouakai is rich in heritage, human and natural. The history lesson started just steps from the visitor centre, at the Camphouse – “the old redcoats (British soldiers) building,” as Nick called it. This prefab corrugated-iron cabin was erected as army barracks in New Plymouth during the 1860s Taranaki land wars between local Maori and pakeha (European settlers). Relocated towards the end of the 19th century, today its abunkhouse used mainly by summiteers, and a reminder – the first of many – that this land was far from uninhabited before the British arrived.
The love lives of volcanoes – On this cloudless morning the peak seemed close enough to touch – though touching is unwise. “The mounga (mountain) is male, and the summit is his head,” explained Nick. “Standing, sitting or eating at the very top is considered tapu – very disrespectful.” I’d never really considered the sex of volcanoes until now. But in New Zealand, where legends come landscape-sized, it’s an important factor, as in the torrid rivalry between Taranaki and Tongariro, which goes back way beyond the creation of hiking trails. “Long ago, the Maori say, Taranaki lived with other volcanoes in the centre of the island,” recounted John. “He and Tongariro both fell in love with Pihanga, a beautiful female mountain – and fought a mighty battle over her. Tongariro triumphed, and Taranaki – his wounds still visible today – fled south, finally settling alongside his new partner, Pouakai.”
Quite a tale – but then this is quite a country. Beyond the Camphouse we mounted steps delving into Goblin Forest – not a Tolkien-esque invention but I a recognised term for this emerald woodland, furry with mosses, liverworts and ferns. Rarely has a wood seemed more alive, plants layered on other plants. And among the branches of the twisted kamahi trees I heard the weird warbling of the tui for the first time. “They’re angry little beggars,” smiled Nick. “And amazing mimics – they can even imitate cellphones.” This one, though, merely trilled and peeped, showing off its gleaming blue-black plumage and the white dog-collar tuft that prompted early settlers to dub it the ‘parson bird’. Egmont National Park, which embraces the mountain, is a birding hotspot, harbouring kiwis as well as rare whio (blue duck), which have been reintroduced to its remoter stretches.
Yet even here they’re not safe from predators; though New Zealand has no native land mammals, numerous stoat traps alongside the path betray the presence of rapacious invaders introduced by early settlers. After 20 minutes or so we punctured the treeline and veered west, the trail levelling out as we began to trace rather than bisect the contour lines. And over the following few hours the variety of the track became apparent. There’s curious geology, if that’s your bag. Mount Taranaki is classified as an active but quiescent stratovolcano: although it has snoozed for a couple of centuries, the volcano’s layers of ash, lumpy cumul o-domes, pyroclastic flows and lahars are testament to tens of millennia of eruptions.
Thick congealed lava streams streak its flanks like melting candle wax, or ice cream dripping down a cone. Under the Dieffenbach Cliffs we strode, a lofty organ-pipe rock formation named after the German-born naturalist who first conquered the volcano in 1839. Not that anyone really conquers such a giant; even on this relatively gentle track, it pays to be cautious. At Boomerang Slip, a sign warned us to proceed one at a time, and not to linger: landslides are common on these ever so friable mountainsides.
Stepping carefully – Then there’s the botany. Nick plucked fronds of edible kiokio (Tike cabbage leaves dropped in sand”), and pointed out rot-resistant totara trees, used by Maori for waka (canoes) and the central poles of whare (houses). We encountered several more reminders of the region’s Maori heritage along the trail. To our right, the Kokowai stream trickled into a smudge of rust-hued ochre deposits, coloured by iron and manganese oxide. This spot remains culturally important for Maori, who historically used ochre to decorate their faces, canoes and buildings. By midday the spring sun was sauteing the back of my neck a deep shade of red, and I was grateful for a lunch halt in the shade of Holly Hut.
Here Nick doled out a curious green nugget, a little like an unripe fig: my first ever feijoa. “it’s a Brazilian fruit that grows well here,” he explained, demonstrating how to score a line around its middle in order to suck out the floral nectar inside. Botanical connections with South America continued with sightings of relic species left when New Zealand separated from the ancient Gondwanaland supercontinent: rimu podocarp trees and tussocks of fluffy-headed toetoe, akin to pampas grass. From Holly Hut we descended to Ahukawakawa swamp, a grass-clad wetland fed by the Hangatahua (Stony) River, its waters tinted orange by more ochre. Despite its soggy under layer, Ahukawakawa looks for all the worldlike African savannah -I half expected to spot lions stalking buffalo among the tall grasses and sedges. Yet this serene swathe is a unique ecosystem home to endemic plants, rare birds, insects and – Nick insisted.
“People feed the eels, which return to the same spot each day in hope of a free lunch,” he claimed. A steep trail led us out of the swamp and onto the Pouakai range, among the skeletal, bleached-white trunks of pahautea (mountain cedars). These were the victims of either the saline sea winds or gnawing possums – more invaders introduced by 19th-century settlers. The ridgetop path dipped between rows of dense kamahi and kawaka trees, trunks twisted and gnarled – as they might well be, after seven centuries living with a grumpy volcano. Emerging from the woods, the path traversed a scrubby saddle, winding east to the showcase flourish. Pouakai tarn is an unremarkable sight in itself: a smallish, roundish pond.
But stand just to the north and you get the bigger picture – one that adorns countless postcards: Mount Taranaki, reflected and framed in the tarn’s still waters in all its symmetrical, multicoloured, majestic, mystical, grandiose glory. So, lpondered, Tongariro versus Taranaki: which triumphs in the day-trek stakes? It seems unwise to take sides in a tiff between volcanoes, but here goes. In terms of visual drama and scale, Tongariro’s craggy craters, fumaroles and colourful lakes have the edge. Yet the Pouakai’s less overt charms are many: it has turbulent geology, epic beauty, Maori heritage and diverse nature, but also delightfully sparse traffic – we passed only seven other trampers, three of whom were Department of Conservation workers. So for the sheer pleasure of walking, I’d have to pick the Pouakai Crossing, just don’t tell Tongariro.
Gorge on Flavor While Hiking Through China – Nestled in the mountains of northern Yunnan, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the most rugged and scenic hiking spots in the world. Your reward for tromping over the steep trails between Lijiang and Dali? Some of the most delectable Chinese food you’ll ever have, served at a number of authentic guesthouses set up along the way. The Naxi Family Guesthouse is a highlight; a family-run operation that you can reach only by foot. It‘s a great place to meet other travelers and feast on regional specialties, including kung pao chicken. You’ll also get a kick out of western-themed options, like a sweet flatbread with banana slices. Everything is prepared using fresh ingredients from the mountains, making for an experience that can’t be had anywhere else.
Cook What You Catch In New Zealand – If you want to try your hand at living off the land, head to Big Bay, one of New Zealand’s most renowned surf spots Situated on the country’s southwestern coast just outside Mount Aspiring National Park. Big Bay has become a haven for foraging and cooking in the wild. Big Bay offers glassy swells, beautiful hikes, and an abundance of sea life to catch for supper. Awarua Guides hosts expeditions and provides tips for campfire cooking come sundown. You’ll feast on hand-caught lobster, mussels, and trout. When supplies run low, you can always make a run for the supermarket, which is Guides proprietor Warrick Mitchell’s loving nickname for the ocean. Meat eaters can enjoy venison caught in the hills surrounding the camp’s main cabin, which Mitchell’s parents built in the ’60s when they settled the area with a dozen other families.
Scenes from a sabbatical
Over my post graduation summer, before most young men my age would (or are supposed to) settle down into a life-long career and a solid ten-year financial plan, I decided to pack up my bags and spend three months working and backpacking through New Zealand. One of the months 1 spent woof-ing for a nice elderly couple who own a little farm growing hazelnuts, just an hour’s drive from Christchurch. I spent most of my days working and travelling around the country with them, experiencing what it truly feels like to lie treated like family in a total stranger’s home.
They taught me a very important life lesson: that we are all born equal, and that it is every person’s equal right to be loved. To love a stranger unconditionally, not knowing or holding against them who they are or what they did, that is something that I will never forget. Ever.
Unfortunately, what I only realised on hindsight was that summer in the Northern Hemisphere meant winter in the South. But beyond the constantly chilly hands, a close encounter with frostbite, and the tragic loss of a camera lens over a cliff, winter meant great opportunities for glacier hiking, comfortably uncrowded tourist spots, and spectacular sunrises. If I had to do it all over again, I would – but perhaps in the summer this time round.