If you were in New Zealand, you’d be kayaking rather than reading this right now. Or swimming, or rafting or surfing or boating or scuba diving or mountain biking or running or… phew! New Zealand showed a mirror to my lazy self and the image was not that good. I had always thought that a holiday meant getting up late and lazing around the whole day, and heading out to dinner in the evening. But for the Kiwis, it is getting up early and indulging in their favourite sport. Every house I saw there had a camper van, and it was normal to see people heading to the beach at all hours, speedboat in tow. And by people I mean men, women, children, and granddads and grandmothers — age no bar!
At lake Taupo Waterfront in North Islands, while we sat on the riverside with our feet dangling and letting just that much of water touch our touristy self, the Kiwi family next to us couldn’t be satisfied with a mere touch and go. The five-year-old in the group was the only one not in the water — because he couldn’t find his life jacket. The other three kids, no more than 12, were all scuba diving, swimming and kayaking. Even at Rotorua, 10-year-olds beat me in entry-level luge car rides. Luge is a small flat boat-like car with minimal controls, that one has to drive down a track built atop a mountain. One can reach the mountain top by a cable car or gondola. We took the gondola for both onwards and return journeys. Most Kiwis just rode down on their bikes. Yep, those 10-year-old children included.
In New Zealand, I realised, nature was not something to be watched at from a distance, but to be engaged with wholeheartedly. Feeling that I ought to do something outdoorsy too, I swallowed my fears and went for an hour of jet boating on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. The weather was perfect and the water a deep shade of blue (I got to know later that the water was 99.99 per cent pure. You could drink it directly from the lake!)
After half an hour of jumpy sailing, we arrived, dripping with water, at the end of the 43-km lake. While we took a brief halt, our guide explained that it was the same spot where the Fellowship of the Ring spots the statues of the two kings of Gondor while sailing from Lothlorien. On the side of the mountains were the forests where Boromir gets killed. I sighed. I was at the same spot where my beloved Aragorn rode on the river.
After the adrenalin rush of the jet boat, my husband and I spent a lazy afternoon in the park right next to the river. I watched as the paragliding enthusiasts, cyclists and tourists walked by, while warming myself in the sun, which can get really hot during summer. A family pack of sunscreen is a must if you are travelling in summer — we realised after we came back with tanned skin peeling off our faces. But though it was hot, Kiwi brewed beer kept us cool.
We weren’t exactly greeted with magical weather the next day in Christchurch, where it was raining right from the time we landed. Our Air BnB was far from the city centre, and with no car in our possession, the husband and I spent a quiet day at home. Our brother-in-law’s friend, settled in Christchurch for the past five years, contacted us via Facebook the next day. We couldn’t be more thankful — local knowledge helped us see Christchurch in a new light. The city is still under construction after the devastating earthquake of 2011 — the Christchurch Cathedral, one of the oldest and biggest in the city, has been destroyed beyond repair.
Christchurch is an artist’s city. It is also one that epitomises rebirth in every sense. Every wall is a canvas and there are art installations everywhere. An entire shopping mall has been made with discarded shipping containers. Its construction cost next to nothing and it is absolutely earthquake-proof. The city is also constructing an earthquake-proof court complex with the capacity to house people (and feed them) for three days, in case of a calamity. We topped off Christchurch by punting on the Avon River in the city’s botanical garden and enjoying a delicious Thai meal at its famous restaurant, Tuk Tuk.
On our way back to Napier (our base camp for the trip), we visited the Gallipoli exhibit at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington. The life size structures — 24 times life size to be precise — of the generals, soldiers and nurses of World War, I along with videos, audio clips and pictures, are as vivid as can be.
We ended our journey with a tour of the movie set of Hobbit village or “shire” — again, from the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit trilogies. This was our Mecca, the pilgrimage without which our New Zealand trip could not have succeeded. The set of the “shire”, also called Hobbiton, is situated in Mata Mata, North Island. To join the tour, you can directly go to Mata Mata (if you have your own/rental car) or, reach there by special shuttles from Auckland, Hamilton or Rotorua. We were lucky to have a friend drop us all the way to Mata Mata on a picturesque drive from Napier.
Hobbiton, situated on Alexander Farms and stretching across thousands of acres, was destroyed after the original filming of The Lord of the Rings. It was recreated while filming The Hobbit Trilogy, after which, it was made a permanent site for fans. It is very difficult to distinguish between real and fake on the set. According to our tour guide, part of the film’s production crew comprised leaf designers, whose only job was to design and put the correct leaves on the trees on the set! For good measure, we took a picture inside a hobbit hole, although, we were a little disappointed that the hole was just a storeroom for keeping umbrellas.
It was a hot day, and a cold glass of apple cider, especially brewed for the Hobbiton tour, was had with much relief at the Green Dragon Inn. Then, after a few days of tasting all kinds of Pinot Noir in Hawkes Bay (Napier), we said farewell to New Zealand, hoping to visit more of this beautiful and adventurous country, soon.