‘Jandal’, ‘sweet as’ and ‘togs’ were all relatively unfamiliar words to me before my trip down under, but having been informed (by a Kiwi) that the New Zealand accent is the most attractive in world I set to learning the local lingo. New Zealand is not only a country of supposedly attractive accents, however, but also attractive scenery, and boasts many opportunities for nature lovers and thrill seekers alike to embark on their own adventures.
My ‘sheep tour’ (as a friend put it) began in Auckland, where there seemed to be a definite lack of the four legged animals. Instead, Maori culture and artwork, shops and restaurants greet visitors with a remarkable blend of city and scenery. The City of Sails – so called because of the number of boats in its two harbours – is the largest city in Polynesia and a place of beautiful paradoxes. From the tall buildings in the business centre to the dramatic coastline and views over the water to surrounding islands, this city has much to offer. With a population just shy of 1.5 million, it feels relaxed and spacious, especially compared with cities like London with 8.3 million inhabitants, twice the population of New Zealand.
Mount Eden provides panoramic views of Auckland that can only be rivalled by those on offer 220 metres up the Skytower in the city centre. With people rocketing at 50 mph past the windows on their 11-second descent to the base of the tower, visitors are able to do more than just take in the views while drinking a cup of tea as I opted to do (although it felt like the most extreme cup of tea I’ve ever had as I sat in the tallest building in New Zealand). With jumpers including Tom Cruise and Beyoncé, as well as a certain Mrs Olive Henry, a 79 year old grandmother (worth a watch on YouTube), it’s every adrenaline junkie’s dream.
Breath-taking views are a constant theme in the land of the long white cloud. Volcanoes shape the landscape and an interesting section dedicated to them is displayed at the Auckland Domain Museum – which is itself located in the crater of Mount Pukekawa. But the opportunity to not only look at nature but immerse oneself in it is nowhere more enticing than in the warm waters at Rotorua. Just a 20-minute drive from the site of the erupting Pohutu geyser, the beautiful water at Okere Falls is the perfect setting for white water rafting. Our guide proudly informed us that the seven metre Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River is the highest waterfall in the world that can be commercially rafted. We not only rafted but swam, jumped and splashed our way downstream, even reciting a Maori prayer along the way as we asked for safe passage.
Hobbiton is the base for Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures (we certainly had an adventure getting there – I would recommend better signposting) and this was our next stop. A short bus ride through farmland (that holds 13,000 sheep) located in the shadow of the Misty Mountains, brings visitors to the Shire and begins a two hour trip to LotR paradise. The intricate details from the washing lines to the vegetable plots make the set a believable part of JRR Tolkien’s story and provides an insight into the vision of Peter Jackson. Location scouts travelled far and wide before discovering this site on the outskirts of Matamata, and a fellow guest expressed everyone’s thoughts: “I hope those location scouts got pay rises”. Our group of intrepid fans were treated to many interesting stories, including the revelation that Peter Jackson had his own special 1 per cent beer brewed for filming so that the crew could continue shooting the party scenes at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring without the actors feeling any effect. While this beer was not on offer to visitors, drinks were provided at the Green Dragon. Here I participated in Janettas Far Away competition where the aim is to photograph their ice cream tubs as far away from St Andrews as possible for the chance of winning free ice cream – and you can’t go much further than Middle Earth!
However there is more to New Zealand than The Lord of the Rings, and while Peter Jackson’s trilogy has attracted visitors, New Zealand itself has inspired and astounded them during their visit. Cape Reinga is one of these incredible places which is located at the most northern point of New Zealand, where the Tasman and Pacific seas meet. The Maori believe that spirits pass to the underworld from a kahiki tree named Te Aroha on this spot and that the merging of both the female and male seas symbolise the creation of life. Such interesting culture and nature requires exploration, and can lead visitors on their own unexpected journeys.