Many of my followers and friends are aware of my most recent, life-affirming winter break across the ocean at the far end of the globe: New Zealand. The journey itself was long and exhausting in a span over two days, from Birmingham, via Amsterdam and Guangzhou, with an 13 hour time difference between the UK and NZ. It was precisely because of the long distance, John once said to me: If I ever go to New Zealand, I’m not coming back!
We went, in the depth of winter on this side of the world, just before heavy snow grounded a number of international flights across the country – what a lucky escape and great timing, and we came back, reluctantly and with sadness. The air is still filled with a winter chill, but we have the most treasured memories of an unforgettable trip, with nearly four thousand pictures I took and many mini videos I have made, to share and to keep, in the tender part of my heart.
In today’s post, I will share with you some of my best loved places and happiest moments of my trip Down Under. Three weeks were hardly sufficient to explore fully this amazingly beautiful country, hence our decision to concentrate on the North Island this time. We also had a very special reason to be at the North Island in December 2017, which will be revealed towards the end of my next post, and of course, some of you on my social media networks are already in the know :-).
Without further ado, here are my top picks and recommendations, if you are ever lucky enough to pop over for a visit ;-:
- Bays and Beaches: Honestly I have lost count of how many bays and beaches I have been to during this trip, and as someone who loves the sea, sand and the sound of the waves, I have been to many stunning beaches in my life time. I must admit that New Zealand boasts some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever laid my eyes upon. They simply took my breath away. Just look at the pictures below and tell me that you can’t agree more.
- Boat Trip from Auckland: We were lucky! We have family members living and working in NZ. My sister-in-law’s brother, a successful business man, resident of Auckland, took us for a fabulous ride into the stunning part of the South Pacific Ocean on Christmas Eve. He anchored his boat near a few small islands some twenty kilometres from the largest NZ city Auckland which is surrounded by the sea. In the crystal clear water under the shining sun, our family party enjoyed diving, kayaking, snorkelling and swimming. Even though not a great swimmer, I decided to take the plunge. I mean, when will I go swimming in the Pacific Ocean again next? Isn’t this the most perfect Christmas gift?
- Gardens, Parks and Tropical Flowers: As the chill of the winter deprived many plants of their flowers in the UK, New Zealand was blooming with a variety of summer flowers wherever we went. There were dahlias of different colours from my sister-in-law’s garden, as well as one of my favourite tropical flower, Bird of Paradise, and other species, many of which I have no name but a deep fondness for. In urban areas, there are many parks and gardens and we visited a few, including the Auckland Domain and Cornwall Park, where I happily snapped away. Thanks to my Facebook friend Pieter who is living in Hamilton for suggesting that we visited Hamilton Gardens. We did, on Christmas day, joining many local residents there on a fine day. The many fine gardens of this world (Chinese, English, Indian, Italian and Maori etc) were featured here, not to mention a fabulous rose garden too!
- New Zealand Food: I am a foodie and I enjoy sampling different foods of the world. New Zealand didn’t disappoint. I had the freshest oysters and New Zealand mussels, and not to mention one of the best ice creams in the world. I know the Italians would say that they invented ice creams and have the best on offer. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law would probably disagree. At every place we visited, they were keen to show us the best ice-cream place and the Kiwis give you the most generous potions! I would say that the Italians have more variety, and the New Zealand offerings have more quantity in terms of cream composition and serving volume. After all, New Zealand has probably more cows than people. John and I were also served many fresh, organic vegetables grown and prepared by our sister-in-law. On top of that, we were recommended the best Sichuan restaurant in the country located in Hamilton, again curtesy of my Kiwi friend Pieter. An authentic taste of China and my home region served to further fire up my love for this land.
- Native Maori Culture: You cannot visit New Zealand without coming in contact with the Maori culture, and we did what we could with the limited time we had. Following recommendations from another friend Julian, who flew his whole family down there last Christmas, we visited a number of tourist places in the North Island. In Rotorua, we spent a few delightful hours in a Living Maori Village, Whakarnewarewa, where the chief guided us through a journey of discovery. Nestled in a unique geothermal valley, we were greeted with Pohutu Geysers, thermal pools where they still cook and bathe. When some were too hot to handle, they served as a reminder how powerful Mother Nature was, and how incredible some of the natural creations were. Our visit to Wai-O-Tapu was another experience which will be deeply embedded in our memory. This thermal wonderland, with volcanic dome of Maungakakaramea (Rainbow Mountain), was covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles. Some of the most unforgettable sights were the Champagne Pool, Sulphur Cave, Inferno Crater and Devil’s Bath. I know people who belong there ;).
I would conclude the first part of my New Zealand blog here, and I hope that the very brief introduction and selected pictures have given you a reason to visit New Zealand one day, or at least, a reason for you to come back soon for more virtual tour of this amazing country.