After close to two years of writing this blog I finally have a reason to write about a very beautiful little country at the bottom of the world and it just so happens to be where we are from.
You don’t appreciate the beauty of a country when you live there but go away for a year and it can amaze you like the first time. New Zealand packs a whole lot of everything you want in a holiday into a small and easy to get around country. Scenery, adventure, relaxation, and of course great coffee!
We spent a month visiting family and friends over the Christmas break. We pretty much saw the full length of the country and got to reconnect with what we love about New Zealand while travelling around.
Let me start by saying Air New Zealand you are awesome! The best service of any airline I have flown on bar none. We all know travelling economy class for at least 24 hours isn’t the best pastime but Air NZ make it a lot more palatable than most other airlines. And when you land at Auckland airport there is a little coffee caravan right out the door serving very fine coffee. Nothing quite like a quality “pick me up” after a long flight.
Christmas was spent in rural Wairarapa, in the lower part of the North Island. It’s not high on the priority list of most travellers but it has some gems that are worth taking a detour off the main highway. We were staying just outside Masterton which is a pretty typical New Zealand country town, lots of 4×4’s and farm machinery dealerships. It does have one of the best airshows in New Zealand if you are visiting in January, unfortunately we were flying half way around the world when it was on. Beside the airshow, you have to visit Castlepoint about 40 minutes away on the east coast. It is a lovely sheltered beach surrounded by a natural rock sea wall with a rugged beauty that is hard to beat. The sunrise here is well worth getting up early for, as it is a beautiful sight.
The other places that are worth a visit are Greytown with it’s antique stores and artisan food shops, and Martinborough, home of the Wairarapa wine region. I recommend the Te Kairanga Pinot Noir’s. I’ve done a little research at the wineries so I could give an informed opinion for this blog.
Next stop was Wellington to catch up with friends and sort a few important life issues ( like getting our mountain bikes to England ). I have a little bit of a love hate relationship with Wellington, having lived there for close to 15 years I know it well and I really love the place on a nice day. When the wind is blowing I don’t like it so much, luckily this visit treated us to beautiful sunshine and very little wind. There is lots to do and it has some of the best restaurants in New Zealand. I think the highlight of this trip for me, and I’m sure Kate will agree, was taking our granddaughter to see the dinosaurs at Te Papa (the National museum). Dinosaurs take on a whole new life when seeing them through the eyes of a three year old.
The South Island was beckoning so we flew to Christchurch and grabbed a rental car for the road trip south. Why not just fly to Invercargill? Because travelling through the centre of the South Island is one of the best drives you can do anywhere. I’ve done it at least a hundred times and it still makes me smile. You travel from the Canterbury Plains, with hectares of wheat and massive irrigation machines, through the foothills up to the Mackenzie Country where man made electricity generating lakes, mix very well with the Southern Alps (think Lord of the Rings scenery) then back down off the plateau to the Southern Lakes, with the towns of Wanaka and Queenstown nestled in scenery that is the equal of anything I have seen in the French Alps.
Invercargill is where I grew up and it holds a special place for me. It is the southern most city in New Zealand and as such the weather can be a little variable but as per usual when we visit it was glorious. I even got an unintended swim in at Oreti Beach while looking after our granddaughter. As per usual we had a great time catching up with everyone.
We weren’t planning on doing any more travelling than this but when you get asked if you can drive a car from Tauranga to Masterton you think great, another opportunity for a road trip. This time in the North Island. So it was back on another Air NZ plane for a flight to Tauranga and if you are there you have to catch up with friends, visit the beach and go out for dinner in the “Mount”. This is a great area of New Zealand and if we head back I think I’d like to live there. Lots of sun, beaches, restaurants and it is only a couple of hours from Auckland airport when we want to head off on holiday.
The road trip through the North Island is quite different to the South. The first couple of hours out of Tauranga are dominated by geo-thermal activity and it isn’t uncommon to see steam coming out of the ground on the roadsides, most of the lakes were created by some volcanic event and the centre of the island is dominated by three volcanoes. It is different to the grandeur of the South Island but no less spectacular.
Once you are through the volcanic plateau it is a lovely drive along the Rangatiki river south, the farm land around this area is quite unique with deep valleys and quite steep grass land. We made a quick side trip to Wanganui to visit family, it’s nice to see some of the smaller places in New Zealand redeveloping their inner city areas. Wanganui is doing it well. After a night of chatting and laughs we headed back to Wellington to get ready for our flight back to a UK winter.
As the title says it is a long way but it is a very worthwhile journey. You don’t get many places that pack good weather, great beaches, big mountains, volcanoes, quality restaurants and as much adventure activity as you could wish for all in to one little country.