Geysers to Glaciers It’s ‘hot’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 27 Nov 2017 15:24:26



New Zealand, a tiny nation made up of two islands North Island and South Island is a dream destination for travellers. A couple of weeks is too lessatime to explore the unique landscapes and stunning beauty . Dominated by active volcanoes, island sanctuaries, lush forests and vast green pastures, each traveller is bound to fall in love with all that NZ has to offer...

May 2016 - after crossing off one wish from my bucket list, it was time to plan the next travel. A self-drive vacation across the two islands of New Zealand seemed pretty appealing and thus began the gathering of information. Feelers were sent across to all the major travel players in the country as also to a couple of companies whom I came across on the internet.The response from the people here was disappointing-‘sorry, we haven’t got the rates for 2017’, my appeals to send the rates and the itinerary for that year fell on deaf ears. In the meantime, a mail from Chelsea Cherrie of Relaxing journeys lifted my spirits.

She also echoed the same thoughts about the rates, but when I told her I need to plan my dates because of work constraints, within a couple of days she sent me a detailed itinerary - right from the accommodation to all the other activities that she thought might interest me. Back and forth communication between Chelsea and myself helped me shape my self-drive vacation. On October 24, 2017 I, along with a couple of family members stepped off the plane, onto an island that was to be my home forthe next couple of weeks.The sixteen days spent travelling from one city to the next, from one island to the next, was a seamless experience.

At the airport, along with the car,abooklet with coupons was handed over to me, and all thatIhad to do, at every hotel, or activity was to hand over the marked coupon and within less than a minute all the formalities would be completed and I’d be ready for the adventure thatIhad planned along with Chelsea. New Zealand, spread over two islands - the North and the South is a country of hills and mountains, of plains and coasts, of deserts and lush green pastures, and if you thought New Zealand was only about Queenstown and Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, you are totally wrong. New Zealand is dominated by Maoris - the detailed maps of both the islands will bring forth one fact - rivers, cities, lakes, roads, town and cities reflect the heavy Maori influence.

The Maori domination is apparent at every nook and corner of the island nation. Towns are called Taihape, rivers are named Waikira, lakes are named Wakatipu, places are titled Whakarewarewa .... The now modern multi-cultural nation, that was named Nieuw Zeeland by Able Tasman, a Dutch explorer, still reflects its deep Polynesian influence. Surrounded by the grey, sometimes angry Tasman Sea on one side and the calm, brilliantly hued Pacific Ocean on the other, New Zealand has become famous as a tourist destination for its spectacular scenery-a scenery that is best experienced when one travels on the road. For that is the only way to soak in the beautiful landscapes that roll gently by your window.

Each turn of the road throws a new hue,anew panorama, a new terrain and you can only widen your eyes and be awed by the vista that Mother Nature is unfolding before you. Auckland, the City of Sails, is like any other modern city. The Sky Tower, reminiscent of the CNN Tower or the Needle Eye, dominates the skyline and is visible, not only from any corner of the city, it can be seen from atop the two popular islands - Waiheke known for its wineries and Rangitoto known for its volcanic activity. Starkly different, Waiheke is lush and green and Rangitoto is defined by brown and barren terrain. A must on the itinerary for this is what sets the mood and the pace for what NZ has to offer. As we leave Auckland and set south, geothermal activity becomes the centre of attraction.

The air is suffused with a strong Sulphur odour and short bursts of white clouds from crevices and fissuressignal that this part of the land is an active volcanic zone. Bubbling mud pools compete with the spouting geysers that throw out boiling hot water at regular intervals. The earth speaks, and how! Sometimes in subdued tones and sometimes rumbling angrily.

A mesmerising show of sight and sound. Rotorua, the city that isahot bed of volcanic activity sits on the banks of Lake Rotorua. Like most cities of NZ, this one too offers a plethora of adventure activities including bungy jumping, ziplining, zorbing, gondola ride, aquatic plane rides etc. If you have the time, the inclination and the money, you can enjoy all these, for NZ is considered to be the safest for any such adventure activity.

Waitomo caves - a mere two hours drive from Rotorua celebrate the tiny glow worm. The small cave, deep within the bowels of the earth, is dwarfed by the tall stalactites and stalagmites. A ten minute ride, in complete silence, in the Waitomo river that runs inside the cave, is a dazzling experience. Tiny pins of light twinkle brilliantly in the dark cave. These are the glow worms. The people managing the cave are of Maori origin and the space outside the cave is filled with posters that give information about the ancestry. It is in Rotorua that one can soak in the Polynesian spa and wash away all fatigue.

Eight different mineral and sulphur pools, all with different temperatures overlook the huge lake and one can spend the entire day pool hopping and gazing at the activities that are taking place on the lake. A lone gull will disturb the serenity, but in such surroundings it’sawelcome call. A visit to a concert at Te Puia or Te Hangi to experience Maori culture and hospitality as well as watching the Geyser spout in all its glory, amidst the dark skies sprinkled with the twinkling stars isaheavenly experience.

After a sumptuous Hangi dinner, sitting on the hot rocks by the side of the geyser with a cup of hot chocolate - its manna. Hotels and motels in this city have their own spa and heated pools. The delightful experience, thus continues even when one returns to the hotel. You just cannot pass by the bubbling hot pool and not think of jumping in. What is required - a swimming costume and a glass of chilled bubbly. The drive from Rotorua to Wellington takes about 6 and half hours if one doesn’t stop anywhere on the way. But the ‘no stopping’ is not an option.The road to Lake Taupo, one more of the scenic lakes of NZ will keep you engaged with its unusual volcanic geography.

Topography changes from lush green pastures to large tracts of plantation pine forest to barren desert land with its landmark short, bushy plants. The bright blue sky with its fluffy white clouds is a sharp contrast to the terra firma colours. The twain meet at the horizon with the tall mountains with their white crowns acting as mediators. Geothermal parks,rapids, dams, waterfalls, deep gorges - all call for a halt. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit had a scene that was filmed at the Aratiatia Rapids. The long, straight desert road offers amazing views of the Tongariro National Park’s volcanoes. Asthe carrushes south towards Taihape, the landscape, once again takes on a green hue - myriad hues of green - light, moss, dark, seagreen - flash past your vision, till the concrete jungle suddenly towers in front of you. Wellington, the Capital city, is nestled between a beautiful harbour and forested hills.

This is where the first leg of our journey ends. As we board the ferry that will take us across to the South Island via Cook Straits, we bid goodbye to the North Island. An unforgettable picturesque place dominated by one colour - emerald green. ■