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Things To Do In New Zealand
The tiny nation of New Zealand, a jewel so to say of the Southern Hemisphere, is a paradise for adventure seekers. The country has so many different things to offer that listing would be impossible. From gliding in the sky to kayaking through crisp water, there is always something for everybody. New Zealand is so diverse that it would take months to explore the entire country. But there are some things that cannot be missed if one is in the island nation; like the Waitomo Caves tour or the light show near Lake Tekapo. Here a few of the best things to do while on a holiday in New Zealand.
Waitomo Caves Tour
Situated in the north island, the Waitomo Caves are one of the most visited places in New Zealand. The caves are located in Rotorua; about 2 hours 40 minute drive from Auckland. A true natural wonder, the Waitomo caves get their name from the Maori language in which ‘Wai’ means water and ‘Tomo’ means hole. The ceiling of the caves is adorned by glow-worms that light the place up. Visitors describe them as looking like stars in the night sky making the visit to these caves a magical experience.
The tour begins by zip-lining into what is called the throat of the cave. People then walk through the cave to get to one of the longest flying foxes in a cave. Zipping through the black labyrinth of the caves is one of the most exciting parts. At the end of the flying fox lies a jump into the waters that flow in the lake. The black water rafting now commences. Moving along the flow of the water through big and narrow crevices, rafting here is super fun. After a long journey through the caves, you climb out against a water fall and rough rapids to exit the cave.
Exploring the Fox Glacier or the Franz Josef Glacier
The Fox Glacier is a huge valley of ice, flowing down all the way from the peaks of the Sothern Alps. Located in the West Coast of the Southern Island, the Fox Glacier is also referred to as the Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier got this name from a geologist called Julius Von Haast; and he named it after Austria's Emperor Franz Josef I. This miracle of nature is definitely a site to visit. The glacier flows from a height of about 2600 m all the way into the nearby river very close to the sea level. Given that it flows down to such low altitude, this glacier is one among the more easily accessible glaciers on the planet.
The sheer scale of this glacier can only be understood from air and for precisely this reason there are helicopter hikes to the glacier. Underneath the white surface lies an intricate network of blue and make for some brilliant pictures. With proper guides, exploring the glacier is one of the most rewarding things in New Zealand.
The lightshow near Lake Tekapo
Nestled amidst the many mountains of the Southern Alps is Lake Tekapo. The eroding mountain rocks that get deposited in the lake by the glaciers give this lake its beautiful turquoise colour. Lake Tekapo is one of the major attractions in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. This lake has one of the best views of the Southern Alps and it is breath-taking. The region is also well known for stargazing; in fact the lake is one among the many Dark Sky Reserves named by UNESCO. Due to limited light pollution, the area makes for one of the best spots for stargazing. In specific months, this region of New Zealand is also treated to an epic lightshow in the night called the ‘Aurora australis’ or more commonly known as the Southern Lights. Usually occurring only in the poles of the earth, this magical display of colours in the night sky is one of the major attractions to tourist world-over. Sometimes lasting for over 4 hours, the aurora australis is the show you wouldn’t want to miss.
A walk to the Milford Sound
Milford Sound is considered to be the most beautiful place in New Zealand and Rudyard Kipling had rightly called it the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Located on the South-western region of the South Island, Milford Sound is about 1 hour 45 minutes from Te Anau and about 3 hours 45 minutes from Queenstown. With black waters, thick forests and towering mountains, Milford Sound is truly awe-inspiring.
The ‘Milford Track’ as it is commonly called, is a walk to the Sound and is the most popular way to explore the region. The walk is spread over 4 days and involves stops at three huts before reaching Milford Sound. While there are several agencies that will help set up the trek for you, one can also do it individually.
Day 1 begins with an hour and half long cruise up the lake Te Anau. The cruise takes the trekkers through the Clinton Valley and some of the most gorgeous landscapes to reach Glade Wharf. The walk on the first day is the shortest, going up the Clinton River to reach the Clinton Hut taking about an hour and half. On reaching the Clinton Hut, visitors can enjoy the many swimming holes in the region or take a dip in the Clinton River.
Day 2 is a much longer walk involving a slow climb towards the Clinton Canyon. The route starting from the Clinton Hut, moving towards the west branch of the Clinton River into the Clinton Canyon takes travellers through thick forests with tall trees, river banks with steadily moving water and almost 50 odd avalanche paths. The walk can get dangerous if there is rainfall and hence moving along continuously is of absolute importance.
Day 3 is one of the most rewarding of them all. The route passes through a climb to the Mackinnon’s pass and then descending about a kilometre to the Arthur Valley before reaching the Dumpling Hut. The view on this walk is phenomenal. Atop, the pass makes for one of the best panoramic views of the many mountains here. With steep valleys and soaring peaks, this is one of the best views in the country.
The final day marks a walk through Arthur Valley to reach Milford Sound. The walk takes you through two major water-falls and several other famous sites before reaching Sandfly point from where you take a boat to the Milford Sound.
Hike to Mount Cook
Mt Cook, located in the Canterbury region of New Zealand is the highest peak in the country. Legend has it that Aoraki and his brothers had been frozen to stone by the cold winds of the south when they were on a sea voyage and these brothers formed the peaks of the Southern Alps. Mt Cook also referred to as Aoraki Mount Cook is one of the many wonders New Zealand has to offer. It is said that Sir Edmund Hillary trained here before his conquest of Mt Everest in the Himalayas. While the climb to the peak of Mt Cook is not very hard, the conditions could change drastically, given the proximity to the Tasman Sea, making it quite risky.
While only trained mountaineers are advised to try the climb to the peak there are plenty of trekking routes that are more suitable for amateurs and these routes are extremely scenic too. The climb usually begins with a helicopter ride to the Plateau Hut from where the actual climb will commence. The climb is not too steep but there are tiny rock-falls every now and then. The view from the top though more than makes up for it.
A 2 hr drive away, in the countryside of Matamata is a stunning representation of Tolkien’s Shire. The little hobbit town, named Hobbiton, designed for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Hobbit Trilogy, is one of the most visited places in the country. The set stretches over 12 acres of land and is home to 44 hobbit holes, farms, a gorgeous little pond all sprawled over rolling hills on a green countryside exactly as described by the creator. The set even has the ‘Green Dragon’ at the centre of the set. In fact, it is one of the main attractions here thanks to its hobbit ale and banquets prepared to heighten the experience. The food is, in fact, prepared from the farms in Hobbiton.
The tours must be booked in advance and happen 4 days a week. The tour of Hobbiton comes with a tour guide who is well informed of all the anecdotes related to the place and its history. The tour starts during the day and visitors are encouraged to explore as much as they please. This is followed by the feast at the Green Dragon, by which time the sun would have set. Hobbiton acquires a magical glow at dusk, with all the holes lit up in warm amber lights and with smoke drifting away from the many chimneys. The guide walks the visitors back giving them one last look at the Shire.
Food and Wine Festivals
Food and wine festivals in New Zealand are not only a great way to explore the variety of cuisines but also a portal to attending classes from world-class chefs and a forum to meet others as passionate as yourself. Taste of Auckland is one such festival, with the top restaurants in the city showing off their work. Wellington also hosts a memorable festival, ‘Wellington on a Plate’, that explores different parts of Wellington over half a month, with events specialising in particular dishes or beverages.
The Festivals held at the countrysides are a different experience altogether. The seafood festival at the coastal town of Whitianga for example, not only has tables of delicious dishes but also all the fun of a beachside festival. Bluff Oyster and Food Festival serve their famous Bluff oysters along with a mesmerizing array of other fresh seafood.
In the wine section, Marlborough Food and Wine festival, with vintage classics like the sauvignon blanc served against the backdrop of the Brancott Heritage Estate vineyards, tops the list. Hawke’s Bay Food and Wine Classic on the east coast is another festival worthy of mention.