‘Nature’s wonderland-New Zealand’ as I call it. It is also called as ‘Paradise of the Pacific’ consisting of two main islands named as North Island and South Island, this archipelago lies roughly 2000km southeast of Australia. New Zealand was the last landmass on the earth to be discovered, making it the youngest country on the earth. New Zealand’s area is 300X of Singapore; however, bewilderingly population is equivalent to Singapore (4.5 million). That is how one can relate to the densely populated Singapore vs. sparsely populated Kiwi country. Free of traffic, free of queues, free of noise, free of pollution, and free of hustle, bustle, and jostling visitors. On this trip, we had planned to discover the nascent landscapes of southern island starting from Christchurch-Greymouth-Franz Joseph-Queenstown-Mt.Cook-and back to Chirstchurch. We had seven days strewn between these locations.
Boarding a flight from stunning Sydney, we landed in charming Christchurch. Amazingly awesome weather as a melange of autumn, winter, and monsoon was an ecstatic experience. ‘Autumn is a season where every leaf is a flower’-Albert Camus. I have always been fantasized by the fall season captured and displayed beautifully on the big screens. The maple leaves in the movie-Mohabbatein have enormously enticed me that I landed in its lap in Chiristchurch. Maples leaves detached from their autumnal boughs formed a sunset orange carpet for us. Like a kid and with other kids in the garden I rolled, jumped and played with the bunches of yellow and sunset orange leaves. Your body blossoms and skin radiantly glows in such weather of fall’s colours, cold breeze, and tiny raindrops.
A catastrophic earthquake created havoc in Christchurch in Y2011. It was a dreadful sight for New Zealanders that killed 185 people and shattered the infrastructure of around $15 billion. Some economists have even estimated that it will require 50-100 years for New Zealand economy to recover. However, the pace at which the construction works are going on in the city one can be optimistic about its fast recovery and growth.
After a day in Christchurch, we boarded a train to Greymouth. Tranzalpine train journey is one of the most scenic train trips anywhere in the world. It is operated by kiwi rail from Christchurch via Arthur Pass following the winding Waimakariri River to Greymouth on the South Island’s westcoast. Train has huge glass windows and one open coach to feel the climate, witness the gorgeous clouds cruising the misty mountains, and for taking pictures of the terrific terrain. We had a halt of around 2hrs at Greymouth station. It was a spectacular sight of bikers getting ready with their bikes, mountain hikers with their backpacks, walkers walking through the walking trails. New Zealand is a country with thousands of kilometres of tracks to choose from whether it’s for biking, hiking, or walking. There are some legendary cycling and biking events, which are internationally recognized and attracts the enthusiasts from all over the globe.
I was quite amazed with the conversation I had with a girl traveler or backpacker from The States. Her story or journey truly implicates what travelling is. She was in New Zealand from past three months traveling along the North and South Island all alone. Staying at backpackers lodge, working for living, new country, new odd jobs, earning for just living and exploring, then fly away to another place like a free bird. This is what travelling is, to experience, to explore, to adventure, and to leave the comforts behind to find new thrilling life. People here were willing to pay not for pleasure but for experience. At the start of our journey, we were pleasantly surprised to meet girls travelling alone but then we came to know it was so common for girls to travel alone in such countries. It defines the standard of safety and security in this country as well as the guts and practice of travelling with which they are grown up. Ironically, we go for holidays and call it as ‘Travel’. In my wildest dream, I have never imagined to travel alone. However, I definitely want to travel with my partner for at-least a month without any hotel, rail, or bus bookings in advance, without knowing the next stop, without comfort, working for just living, relaxing and exploring, just adventure pure adventure.
From Greymouth we had a coach to Franz Joseph. Franz Joseph Glacier is one of the best locations to witness exceptional scenery of the mountains covered with snow in the west coast of southern island. There are guided scenic helicopter flights, which offer an hour-long flight tour to view the Glacier as well as a quick halt at the top of Glacier. The view of the Glaciers from the scenic flight is breath-taking. We had booked a cottage in the valley of Franz Joseph Glacier surrounded by dense rain-forest and ice capped mountains. Weather was extremely chilly with temperature as low as Zero deg C. There was an electric heater system in the bed apart from the usual room heater, which made our stay comfortable and relaxing. Our room was equipped with a cooking range. So, we had our own cooked food with Australian Red Wine-Blend of berries minced with spicy pepper. If I had to name heaven on earth, I would definitely name it Franz Joseph. There are only 300 permanent residents in Franz Joseph that comprises of hotels, motels, and restaurants staff. This Celestial place leads to a spiritual orgasm in the arms of Mother Nature.
Next day early morning, we boarded a coach to Queenstown. Their Pilots (Driver) who gives interesting commentary of the surrounding areas, history, and specialty of the places, rivers, and peaks distinguishes coach travel in NZ. There was free Wi-Fi available on the coaches as well; however, the outside beauty surpasses your interest from fabricated pleasures. We made our way passing through Lake Matheson, which was formed around 14k years ago from the Fox Glacier and is famous for its perfectly calm water that reflects the surrounding forests and New Zealand’s highest peak Mt.Cook and Mt.Tasman. It was a picturesque view of cerulean water with the reflection of the majestic mount peaks, misty clouds, and surrounding terrain.
We headed towards Wanaka and Otago region crossing the bridge named Gates of Hasst through Hasst Pass. As we travelled through, we discovered seemingly endless open pastures, colourful orchards, and sun drenched wine yards. Farms are the chief and most significant part of the New Zealand way of life. Island features sprawling farming landscapes, grazing black & white cattle and sheep in lush green lawns. While sheep, cattle, and dairy farms are most common, you will also notice deer, goats, horses, pigs, and stunning dogs in the entitled areas all over the country.
to be continued in Part-II