Many people I speak with ask me if I've ever been to Australia, which is interesting, because although I enjoyed Australia immensely, the Island of New Zealand was, in my opinion, much more picturesque.
Flying to New Zealand is not an easy task. A layover in Los Angeles was somewhat boring, however a stop in Fiji proved to be quite interesting, as the South Pacific is everything one would dream of.
To fully experience New Zealand it is important to travel to both the North and the South Island. I started in the North in the capital city of Auckland, which I found to be very similar to Vancouver. It sits on the South Pacific Ocean and features warm temperatures and many outdoor cafes.
New Zealand was settled by the Polynesians in the 12th century when many of them sailed to various islands in the South Pacific. The Maori influence is still visible in countless areas and a number of inhabitants trace their roots back to that early Polynesian culture. Captain Cook mapped the island for the first time, attracting thousands of British, who still hold the majority. The English language is predominant, although there is now a large Asian population throughout the country, slowly changing the demographics.
From Auckland I travelled to Rotorua, probably best known for its bubbling sulfur springs. There's no question that you are nearby as your nose will forewarn you. The stench of sulphur is everywhere and the source of the bubbling mud and numerous geysers stem from the volcano in the centre of the North Island.
Another area worth visiting is Lake Taupo. Its pristine waters make it a great place to relax, do a little shopping or just hang out and chat with the locals.
From Rotorua I boarded a flight to the South Island and the city of Queenstown, located inland on Lake Wakatipu. The area is very mountainous and is generally known to be the playground of the South Pacific. From kite flying to parasailing, sailing, swimming, and dozens of other activities, the warm temperatures and dry conditions make it ideal for many tourists and locals as well. Flying into the Queenstown is breathtaking. I was in a DC3, flying just below the clouds and totally surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
It is also an excellent location to use as a home base for many activities such as a flight to Milford sound, a trip I will never forget. The plane I was scheduled on was grounded due to fog, so I hired a single-engine, which provided the most turbulence I've ever felt on an airplane. My head constantly banged against the ceiling as the tiny plane was jostled through the air and when it landed in Milford sound I kissed the ground vowing never to fly again. I wasn't serious and you can imagine my disappointment when I learned I could not get a flight out at the end of the day and ended up spending six hours in a bus.
The experience to Milford Sound is not to be missed, nor is a helicopter flight to the top of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain, reaching nearly 4000m. Although the helicopter ride was quite bumpy due to turbulence, once it landed everything was forgotten by the sheer beauty of the surroundings: untouched snow, bright blue skies and vistas as far as the eye could see.
I had only been there for 20 minutes, when the pilot told me we had to leave. I was surprised and expected it to be a longer visit, but he pointed to fog in the distance and as I stared at it. I was astounded at how quickly it moved. I no sooner got into the chopper and we lifted off and were totally surrounded by fog. My heart skipped a few beats, but luckily the helicopter rose above it and again I was surrounded by spectacular views.
My adventure continued onto the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, located near the western coast. It was hard to believe that only a few hours earlier. I was swimming in the warm waters of Lake Wakatipu and now I was standing on frozen ice.
I finished my New Zealand adventure with a visit to Christchurch, the city that takes you back in time to historic England. In fact, crossing New Zealand from the Fox Glacier to Christchurch one has to travel over the Canterbury Plains. These beautiful lush pastures are home to many of New Zealand's 6 million sheep.
I noticed many of the sheep had coloured markings on their back and when I asked a local farmer why this was he explained they use a breastplate on the males with coloured crayons. Then, when a ewe gives birth to twins, they know which male was responsible and keep him for future use - sounds a bit exploitive if you ask me.
If you have plans to visit Australia, stop at New Zealand first. Take at least two weeks to visit the country, you will not be disappointed. In fact, you may decide to apply for landed immigrant status and stay there permanently.
Many readers enjoy cruising and I wanted to mention that just after last month’s article about Venice was published it was announced that 2014 will be the last year to book a cruise to that wonderful Italian city. If a cruise to Venice is on your bucket list hop over to a travel agent and book it in.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com