11 July 2015

New Zealand, Lord of the Rings and confessions of a guilty expat

The most I had ever seen of New Zealand’s South Island was in Lord of the Rings movies. There, I said it, my guilty secret.

For all the world that I’ve been lucky enough to travel, I’ve carried a skeleton in my travel wishlist with me that made me ashamed to call myself a New Zealander. Most Brits that I’ve met remark on how Kiwis and Aussies on their OE have explored more of the UK in their (usually) 2 years, than the Brits have in their entire lives. It’s the hometown tourist enigma – why would you want to travel there when it will always be there, right?

Christchurch New Zealand Adventures of a London Kiwi
Pastoral farmland...
Christchurch New Zealand Adventures of a London Kiwi
...to alpine mountain ranges...
Well, New Zealand has two main islands (not to mention a few smaller, isolated ones). I grew up in the North Island - as an ex-navy kid we lived in a few towns – I guess you could say I was raised with travel in the blood. But, despite living for a stint in Wellington, our capital city at the end of the North Island and only a short ferry to the South, I had never bridged the gap between the two.

Yes. Despite hopping to Paris for lunch, exploring a continent on the other side of the world, cruising around America and a few short trips to Singapore and Australia, I had never managed to explore one half of our island nation. Luckily, my passport hasn't been seized despite this and the Kiwi border agents kept letting me in...

Nelson New Zealand Adventures of a London Kiwi
...tropical islands to...
New Zealand Volcanoes Adventures of a London Kiwi
...to snow capped volcanic lakes, all in one 2 hour flight.
 Most tourists are told to fly into Auckland before hopping to the South Island for the truly gorgeous scenery Aoteoroa is famous for. Compared to the picture postcard magnificence south of the Bombay Hills, Auckland gets a rap that it doesn’t deserve, but when we flew home recently, having caught up with family at Christmas with a return trip planned in 12 months, our surprise short trip on the cusp of Autumn and Winter provided us with an unexpected opportunity to discover some of the other half of my home.

Cardboard Cathedral New Zealand
Christchurch's now infamous cardboard Cathedral
Public transport is a little skeletal in the North Island, and whilst it is possible to navigate without a private set of four wheels, it makes for much less of an experience in the South Island, where like Skye, Scotland, I’m told you want to stop every 5 minutes to admire the ever changing view. As an unexperienced car driver and a Mr who doesn’t drive, it did present a few problems in a country where car is king. As such we decided to condense our trip a little (fitting in more room for family hugs) to puttering around the top half of the Island, leaving a few surprises for another time.

Christchurch cafes New Zealand

We decided to make Christchurch our base for the whirlwind trip (literally 2 days in Auckland, 3.5 days in Christchurch, 3 days in Tauranga and another 1.5 days in Auckland before flying back to London – the joys of an annual leave entitlement restriction – hey, can’t complain at circumnavigating the globe 3 times in 12 months though!).

Christchurch cafes New Zealand

Still very much recovering from the devastating Earthquake 4 years ago, Christchurch broke my hear twice - once with the rubble strewn building sites and a second time with the wonderful can-do spirit of city-dwellers, some who still don't have their homes back.

Christchurch Earthquake damage New Zealand

We witnessed a couple of wizards enjoying a coffee, experienced a train crash, had our breath taken away, discovered kindness, ate way too many pies and experienced a touch of disappointment. More to follow soon...

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