I’m finally sufficiently over the post-holiday blues to write about my trip to New Zealand. In one word it was fantastic. I expected to be impressed with the place, enjoy the scenery and like the people (I know a few Kiwis and they’re all thoroughly nice people). I’d also seen photos, slide shows, spoken to people who live / lived / will be living there and read portions of the Lonely Planet guide so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. But nothing was going to prepare me for what I saw and how much I would love the place.
If you can’t be bothered reading my account then skip to the photographs here.
After our few days in Singapore we flew to Christchurch on the south island. Expecting to be jet-lagged we’d booked ourselves into a hotel for the first two nights before staying with friends who’ve just moved back over. They would be our base of operations. But travelling business class with those amazing flat folding beds we felt surprisingly well. Apart from having a few early nights you’d never have known we’d just flown around the world. So we had a bit of time to wander around Christchurch (the main city in the island with a population of around 330,000) and get used to the place. The sun was shining (a John Conners nice day no less) and we were ready for an adventure.
Our hosts suggested a driving route. We’d go with them over to the west coast (nicknamed the Wet coast on account of the high rainfall but we weren’t to see any of that) and stay at Punakaiki for a couple of days. Then we’d part company and while they went home to Christchurch my girlfriend and I would begin a road trip all the way around the south of the south island in an anti-clockwise direction taking in some of the main sights and places to see before returning to Christchurch. If you think New Zealand is small then you’re dead wrong. We spent nearly two weeks driving around the south of the south island covering about 3000km and hardly saw anything! You could spend a lifetime exploring the place.
I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the trip because I could write a novel about it (you know how I like to be a bit long-winded at times) but I’ll save some of the stories for those “have I told you about the time…?” moments. The main highlights for me included going to Queenstown, the extreme sports capital of the world, where bungee jumping was invented, and going on a steamboat ride! Awesome. We went whale watching in Kaikoura, sat and looked at breaking waves for hours on many different sandy beaches, went to several sites that Lord of the Rings was filmed (including the mountain range in the opening scene of The Two Towers), went into the heart of Fiordland (literally a wilderness of sheer mountains, trees growing on cliffs and scale that is beyond human comprehension).
But the most jaw-dropping moment for me was a trip out Milford Sound. You see, I love mountains. And Milford Sound is surrounded by mountains. The drive from Te Anau to this isolated place is amazing. You go from flat country to alpine terrain to cliffs the likes of which I’d never seen. We stopped at one point and the more I turned my head to look at the mountains around us the more amazed I was. There were so many cliffs and tough, glacier carved terrain that I was in geologist’s heaven. Of course when we actually got to Milford Sound and went out on the water I was even more blown away. As you’ll see from the photos, the mountains rise almost uninterrupted from the water as sheer cliffs. What is difficult to put into perspective is just how large they are. There’s nothing to give you scale until you get really close to them and look straight up to realise that these impenetrable mountains are actually a mile high. Jaw-dropping. And I’ve seen the Grand Canyon so I know what big is.
My main take-home point from the holiday isn’t the scenery (which was incredible). It’s not the weather (which was pretty good the whole time). And it’s not the mountain biking terrain (which is excellent). It was the lack of people. Coming back to the UK it amazes me that so many people can live in such close proximity without more trouble than there is. A lot of the things that I hate about the UK would instantly go away if there were less people. The laid-back lifestyle that we adapted to in New Zealand is to a large extent a product of lower population. Even the city of Christchurch is so spread out and filled with parks and gardens that it has a really non-city feel to it. All this terrorism threat, fear-inducing news reporting and paranoia has turned the UK into a pretty miserable place really. It took a while but I stopped caring about the outside world while I was away and I liked it. After all, I’m just living my life and I’ll be damned if I’m going to live it in fear. It’s too short and precious. Hang on, maybe I’m not entirely over the post-holiday blues…
The end result of the holiday has been quite unexpected. I didn’t think I’d be re-evaluating where and how I’m going to spend the rest of my life. But I am. Watch this space.
Anyway, check out my New Zealand Photo Album. I know there are a lot of me but I didn’t want to blow other people’s anonymity here. I took dozens and these are just a snippet of them.