In all these years of blogging, I’ve left one massive hole in my travel secret sharing. An insiders view of my very own home country – the beautiful shores of Aoteoroa, land of the ‘Long White Cloud’. New Zealand is an incredible place to explore – it’s beautiful, friendly and the brunches are world class – and I never really discovered that until I moved to the other side of the world.
I’ve written tasters here and there, snippets of fun that we’ve had between visiting family, celebrating weddings and snuggling with new nephews, but I’ve never actually put them all together in one place. I usually just patch together emails to friends and readers who have asked for recommendations as they have travelled – and who have probably seen more of my home then I have. So, when Flight Centre contacted me to about writing a bit of an insiders guide to New Zealand Holidays, I dusted off this post and filled it with a bit of home wonder.
We drifted silently through a pitch black cave on a boat we hadn’t seen except for swift flashes of a torch. One by one as the luminescent cave dwellers winked on, the ceiling began to resemble a galaxy of twinkling stars. Still sat with arms clutched tightly and our necks craned as we tried to absorb the moment, floating along a 30 million year old subterranean limestone grotto.
Our escort hand pulled us along the cave river, feeling her way along with a guide line mounted just above head level, calling out softly at one point laughingly to a fellow guide who decided to take a strange shortcut.
Honestly, I could almost just write this post as ‘wild baby dolphins’ ad finitum. Wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins. There, got it out of my system. Wild baby dolphins. Ok, now I have.
(Ps. If you don’t want to read about a dolphin love-in, keep scrolling down for the travel linkup widget that opens the 1st of Feb – we’ve all got that lovin’ feeling this month…)
We woke one morning before Christmas to calm grey skies that cleared to an endless cloudless horizon over turquoise waves, and breathed with relief. It was my third attempt to spot these elusive creatures in New Zealand coastal waters.
Our last two tries to see wild dolphins off the coast of New Zealand (in Tauranga and Kaikoura respectively) were thwarted with freak storms rending the seas dangerously high to take boats out, and I knew that if this attempt didn’t succeed that I was fated never to do it. (A bit dramatic I know…)
This time however we launched the boat from Tauranga wharf loaded with muffins and wetsuits, the plan being for us to spend an hour or so getting away from the coast into more open water (we sat back, drank coffee and tried not to get our hopes up).
Before we knew it a shout came down from the crows nest and we were sat along the bow of the boat dangling our shoeless feet (apparently the dolphins are attracted to playing with them). A pod of around 30 then a second pod of 50-70 dolphins had found us in the midst of feeding and were shadowing the boat.
Our captain told us all kinds of interesting facts – we were hanging with the common dolphin, who grow to a maximum of about 2.6 metres and have beautiful colouration of cream/grey/black and yellow in a kind of hourglass pattern on their sides. Both the pods we discovered had quite new babies swimming alongside their families, so we couldn’t swim with them this time, but honestly by that point I couldn’t care less.
LOOK ANOTHER BABY!! We were told if a little ‘un is being naughty, the Mumma dolphin will actually nip it lightly in the tail,
reminding the youngster to behave.
If your day is in any way stressful, you HAVE to watch this video right to the end, it gets better and better. Use it as a
meditation. I have, several times.
Then, with one last flick of a dolphin’s tail (and our boat’s time allocation up – the New Zealand Department of Conservation allow the boats one hour of time only to keep from stressing them out – though like our captain said he adores them because they come up to the boats and start scratching their backs and getting up to mischief alongside) we headed back to shore.
So, yeah, it was love at first sight.
We stopped in afterwards to Phil’s Place, a restaurant owned by the severely misbehaving Phil Rudd (the drummer from ACDC) for some ridiculously good lunch and a few marina-side beers.
Forget that it’s already a month after Christmas. Ignore the fact that New Years Eve has been and gone. Overlook the fact that blogs are meant to be on-topic reflections of all that is trendy (which probably isn’t my dowdy forte at the best of times). Consider it a suspension of disbelief that I’m such a tardy blogger.
Let me take you back a few weeks, to a time far sunnier and entirely upside down in a completely different hemisphere. It was Christmas Eve in New Zealand: the sun was shining, we had our drinks fridge all chilled and the ham was in the oven slowly being honey-glazed. One by one car loads of family were pulling into the drive before unloading copious amounts of kids and presents under the Christmas tree.
Over the course of the next few days we gathered around the kitchen table for feasts (Mr Kiwi turned to me at one meal and goes “this will be your favorite moments of the holiday won’t they?” I gulped my drink in answer…), played some seriously competitive games (some unnamed adults elbowing other adults off the slip and slide), snuck a wedding in, spend the maximum time running about on the lawn, dragged the clan to the beach (Mount Maunganui, the same that I spend last Christmas Eve on) and just revelled in the family time.
It was so much fun I caught a few moments on film… (don’t worry, this is as close to vlogging as I’m EVER going to come…)
We eventually made our way back up to Auckland for New Year celebrations. After two days of drizzly rain and movies (by that point actually
a rather welcome reprieve from a busy Christmas and the sun for our almost
translucent London complexions) we wandered out of our hotel towards the busy
waterfront area of Auckland harbour. Our New Year plans were
simple; watch the fireworks then retire for a celebratory drink back at the
Well, if the wind and rain played ball.
Luckily, for my first home New Years evening for nearly a
decade, around 6pm the miserly grey seemed to lift (not always a guaranteed
thing in Auckland, our city of sails) so we watched the sunset play out from our
17th Floor Balcony.
The last New Years Eve we actually planned to celebrate
the clocks chiming was under Big Ben in 2013/2014, literally half a world away. We
had to wear thick duvet-esque coats, knee-high boots under our jeans and pack a
flask of hot chocolate liberally spiked with whiskey.
This year, we wandered
around in T-Shirts and popped into a pub here and there for a beer or two
before meandering our way along the marina pier. Families milled about, couples armed with selfie sticks
puckered their pouts and yaughties lounged on their moored vessels, full
vessels in hand. We had been recommended the Wynyard Quarter (or the Parnell
Rose Gardens) for the atmosphere and views – they didn’t disappoint.
< Insert gratuitous pavement photograph >
Sure, it’s no London extravaganza with 2 million people gathered
and a gazillion more watching it live on TV, but we do pretty well for such a
small country. *cough* Rugby world cup *cough*
The last month has been wonderful. Full of chaos, sunshine, excitement, watching the rain from a comfy seat, Christmas Jumpers, making friends with camels called Sheila, too much cake, skyscrapers, wild dolphins, champagne, cheese and crackers on the beach, a family wedding and so many more memories.
We skipped away to New Zealand (well, I say skipped, but it involved an 8-hour flight to Dubai, a 15-hour flight to Brisbane that should have been 13 which is bad enough, a much delayed 3.5 hour flight to Auckland and an urgent call over an airport tannoy which was pointlessly stressful) but upon landing it was worth every second.
Christmas ornaments + palm trees = necessary selfie
We began with brunch over glasses of New Zealand rose with London friends, as our delayed suitcases followed us a day behind from Australia (but it worked out better for us in the end & is a case in point – apologies for the pun – for taking at least one change of clothes and your favourite bathroom stuff as carry on) before we made our way to the New Zealand coast for some much anticipated family celebration.
Greeted by gardens full of birdsong, a pool “for the kids”, a gigantic chiller for filling with bottles of plonk and cupboards full of our favourite treats, we left our shoes at the door and simply wandered barefoot for the next two weeks. Utter bliss.
My lovely Englishman dug his first Hangi, exercised the rules of beer pong, braved the UV rays slathered in sticky sunscreen, impressed the family with his beer drinking skills and spent his first summer christmas in amused bewilderment.
I bang on a little about how much I adore hugs, I guess that’s the expat in me – they matter so much more when you decided to make another country home, and this year I have been ridiculously lucky in the quantity that I’ve had. 3 visits to the other side of the world in one year is crazy, so I’ve made the utmost of them whilst they were there.
Whilst there we also managed to fit a couple of touristy visits – we watched wild baby dolphins frolicking, celebrated in the 2016 New Year along with the first city in the world and drifted on a cave boat under a canopy of glowworms. That is the joy of holidays – no place to be that your heart doesn’t desire, no alarm clocks except for early start fun and simply being able to switch off.
We ended our trip with a ridiculously good brunch, laughter with my Sister, soft jazz and a backwards glance towards the Skytower nestled in amongst rain clouds.
Getting back from New Zealand we opted for a lengthy stopover in Dubai before returning to the arctic conditions of England in January (which I’ve spent mostly planning as many distractions as I can fit in) and a plentiful supply of piping hot tea.
I can’t wait to share more of our adventures – I took a quick strawpoll on the Twitter and instead of bombarding y’all with a barrage of adventures I’m going to share it over the next few weeks, so stay tuned…