Well, we have recovered from the jet lag, washed and ironed our holiday clothes, sorted out the photographs – though note yet labelled them all, counted the cost (eeek) and changed back the unspent NZ bank notes. What to do with a bag of NZ coins though? Any takers? What did we think of our fourth antipodean experience (for the other three have been in Australia).
As with any travel experience there were good parts and less good parts. So here we go.
It was a long way to go – eleven and a half thousand miles and twelve time zones is wearisome, even in the relative comfort of modern aeroplanes. The best part of two days faffing around airports or trapped in an aluminium cylinder is not my idea of fun, but it has to be done.
Similarly, New Zealand is a large country. We traveled three and a half thousand miles by road, in three weeks, mostly driving our (comfortable) hire cars. Although we could stop and start when we chose, it was still a lot of driving, and on almost entirely on single lane roads and often behind slower vehicles (grrr). Still we chose to see as much as we could so that had to be born.
New Zealand cities are not all that attractive. NZ’s built heritage starts in 1830 and the twentieth century modernists have pretty much despoiled much of the charming Victorian buildings. It is hard to admire concrete and glass shapes, other than for their engineering prowess. Would that budding architects had had more than Lego to play with as children.
Don’t expect NZ to be cheap. It isn’t. Hotels, restaurants and, oh yes, wine are about 20% more expensive, like for like than their UK counterparts – but then we didn’t go there to save money. The local taxes on wine render a good bottle of their local produce more than in the UK. Governments so enjoy taxing sins.
That’s the negatives. Now the positives.
NZ is breath-takingly beautiful. Awe-inspiring is an over-worked phrase, but it is. Countryside, rolling hills, green fields where stock grazes, or fruits and vines grow in abundant and neatly tended rows abound. NZ’s economy is principally agriculture and boy, do they make the most of it. Travelling among this is a privilege. Wherever the eye pauses it settles on something that is pretty. It is almost fairy-tale pretty but without the castles.
North Island more closely resembles upland England – though going back in time. South Island is more magnificent in its grandeur. Its mountains, the Southern Alps, are spectacular – high, glaciated, topped with snow, surrounded by wisps of cloud and largely bereft of tracks and lanes. The lakes at their feet are long, deep (though we only saw the surfaces) and in fine weather are mirror-like offering reflections of their companion hills in an intriguing symmetry. The main highways cut through the gaps, but the by-lanes are few. It looks like a fell-walkers paradise. Imagine the remoter parts of England’s Lake District (e.g. Wasdale or Blencathra) raised to the fourth power. There is little evidence of recreational fell-walking though. Tramping, as it is known, requires expeditions of several days.
We loved the fiords in the south west – stark, grand and impressive, we loved the lakes –Taupo in North Island and, Lake Wakatipu on which Queeenstown sits and Lake Wanaka in South Island and we loved the primeval vegetation.
New Zealanders are most welcoming. They smile and are invariably friendly, helpful and quietly proud of their beautiful country. We never encountered a sullen face – but then they were taking money off us in quantity.
Was it worth it? We spent a pile getting there and propping up the NZ hotel industry, to say nothing of keeping the wineries working overtime, but the answer has to be yes, yes, yes. Such a trip should be on everyone’s “bucket list”. Just take a week or so longer than our three and maybe leave out the Bay of Islands in the North, a long and perhaps pointless journey.
Would we return? Well the Rossell bucket list still has a few far flung opportunities, so NZ would have to wait, but if we are spared, then yes.
That’s it then for this story. If you have been reading this blog, thank you.