Travel: Connect with nature in New Zealand
If there's one reason to take a nearly day-long flight to New Zealand, it's to connect with the earth in a way that you haven't before
A newspaper, on most days, any journalist will tell you, reflects the deepest concerns of the society it's printed for. So, while Mumbai may be obsessed with every little pothole that appears, Delhi is currently going to be bothered with air pollution. Which is why, when you read a headline that says, Town 'crawling' with rabbits, on the front page of Otago Daily Times, you can suspect that it's about more than just a lazy news day.
At Fox Glacier Village, try your hand at kayaking at Lake Mapourika, which was formed by a glacier. A forest lines the lake and we are told that the government once planned to construct a highway through it. However, conservators soon discovered a rare form of the Kiwi bird which was until then though extinct. The forest was then declared protected land Pic/www.glacierkayaks.com
Native, native, native
The weekend before flying into Christchurch was spent scrubbing Juhu beach off the shoes - we didn't want to be caught in a situation like our cricketers have been where they were fined for bringing in dirty shoes. New Zealand is notoriously strict about maintaining its bio-diversity. Seeds, foreign soil (stuck to your shoes), plants will cost you a fine that could go up to 400 New Zealand dollars, which equals Rs 80,000. The aim is keep every flora and fauna on this island nation - which became a British colony in 1841 and a dominion of the empire in 1907 - endemic to the region. It's why even animals like rabbits and deer, which one would consider harmless, are considered pests to the environment.
The instructors at Skydive Fox Glacier make jumping off a plane a smooth experience. It lasts less than 20 minutes overall. You'll want to give it one more shot
And environment is precious to the country where tourism is the highest revenue generating industry. New Zealand is an outdoor lover's paradise. With no predators in the natural environment, not even snakes, scorpions or venomous spiders, you can trek anywhere you want, spend time overnight in a forest, or the afternoon by the river without worrying about attacks. And, literally, there's a national park, a nature trail, a river or some quiet cover among trees within every half an hour. And don't worry about driving. People are polite drivers, signals are few and the one red light jam we saw was in Queenstown when there were four cars ahead of us.
Called the pikopiko, the circular design of this plant is very sacred in Maori culture and is often represented in various designs
Raise your kids like the Kiwis
The one thing you can do in New Zealand that will help you ease off your plastic angst, is carry your own water bottle. "The tap water here is potable," everyone will tell you. In fact, even the rivers and lakes are said to be so clean that you can drink right off them. But, if you are in New Zealand, why not drink right off the glacier? On the west coast of the south islands, is the Fox Glacier - a 13-kilometre-long temperate maritime glacier located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Flying Fox is a company that will you fly you in on a helicopter, and strap you in with warm clothes and shoe spikes.
Do not miss cycling on the Otago Central Rail Trail. Once a rail track that was decommissioned, it was converted into a cycle track in the 1990s and now runs a length of over 100 kilometres. Hire bikes and guides at www.bikeitnow.co.nz
Our guide for the day is Prasang, a Nepali, who divides the year between seasons in the Himalayan country and here. Tread carefully. While in most places the ice is 200km below ground, some places it could be more treacherous. Stray from the guide's path and you could be in for a fall. In fact, so much so, that even when we drop a bottle in which we have filled precious glacial water (it's the freshest water you'll ever taste), Prasang says it's better to let it go. "I can't believe that I am the only Kiwi who is going be littering," cries our host Carol Tredrea, a New Zealander. She sighs with relief only when Prasang manages to pull up the bottle. But, Tredrea's momentary horror at having littered (even if entirely by mistake) is one of the many things that the Kiwis do right while raising their kids. "Children are taught that littering is bad," Tredrea tells us. Values such as recycling are also enforced at a young age. It's why the country's roads don't need daily cleaners. Yep, they never get dirty in the first place, we are told.
The helihike guide Prasang. Weather is mercurial in New Zealand and our hike was cut short by an hour due to sudden coming in of clouds. You can spend the night in a specially equipped cave
The land of the Maori
Before the settlers from Europe came in, New Zealand was home to the Maori tribes, who settled in the north and south islands between 1200 and 1300. While relations between the two communities were largely better than, say how the indigenous tribes were treated in Australia, land became a point of conflict. Approximately 30 years ago, the New Zealand government acknowledged the error and started returning to the Maori tribes lands and rivers sacred to them. Tangi Weepu, is a Maori elder, whose tribe now lives around River Arahura, near Hokitika a beach town on the western coast. The traditional Maori greeting involves lightly touching your noses together (in a sense, breathing in each other's praana) and introducing yourselves by your name and your river - which as a provider of food is a sacred water body for the community. What's also special about Arahura is that it's bed for the greenstones, precious stone with a mythical tale attached to it that Tangi shares on this one-hour tour. During the tour, Tangi also helps you identify and pick greenstones on the beach, and drill them to make pieces of jewellery out of the healing stones.
Maori elder Tangi Weepu conducts Greenstone walks along River Arahura and will show you how to make jewellery out of the stones. www.greenstonetours.co.nz
But the Maori cultural integration goes quite deep within New Zealand. All children in the school system are taught the Maori language. Many hotels retain Maori names as do rivers. In fact, on one nature walk, alongside the Latin names of the trees, proudly displayed were Maori names. A cultural integration lesson we could learn from, perhaps?
Fear? What's that?
The last lesson that you will learn before you leave New Zealand is to get over your fears. Especially if you have a fear of heights. Kiwis don't seem to have the fear gene. If it can be done from a height, they will do it. Sky diving and hang gliding were obvious enough. But, there's more. There's a tree top walk, a drive from Hokitika, that really drives this in.
If you love coffee, try the Flatwhite. It's like a cappuccino, minus the froth and much stronger.
A maze of bridges, 20 metres high, has been constructed through the foliage of Rimu and Kamahi trees that lets you see trees and witness birdlife from an angle that you can't imagine. It also reminds you of Jurassic Park and you almost expect a friendly neighbourhood dinosaur to pop-up. And, if this vantage point wasn't enough, the walk also has a tower, which stands at 47 metres, that you can climb for a better view. If you feel yourself swaying, breathe. It's just the tower that's earthquake resistant.
The Hokitika Gorge is a natural granite which lends this colour to the water. You can cross the swing bridge, see the Hokitika River, and explore the Lake Kaniere Scenic Reserve
In fact, much as the Kiwis love thrill, they are anal about security measures. Even a five-minute van drive won't start without a seatbelt. It's also why the country is the best place to seek your thrills. Planning to jump off a plane? The instructors here have to complete 750 jumps before leading someone in tandem as opposed to the 500 jumps elsewhere.
The roads are dotted with honesty boxes that serve up anything from honey and fruits to plants. Each item is priced and there's a box to drop your money in
It what lets us breathe easy as we get into a banana, 13,000 ft above ground, strapped for life to Paul, also the country's national safety director.
Around New Zealand
* One of the best ways of travelling across NZ, is to hire a camper van. There are several sites available, but the most popular one we saw is JUCY.https://www.jucy.co.nz/
* If you're travelling in a larger group and would like to be driven around by someone who knows the lay of the land, contact Limousine South and ask for Steve Hanrahan who was a great guide and even better company.
* Take the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth and enjoy beautiful views of snow-capped mountains, braided rivers and sub-tropical rainforests. You can head to the front of the coach where you can an open-air view. Pro tip: Carry several layers of warm clothes. www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz
* Stay at the Heritage Boutique Lake Resort. Located five minutes from Cromwell on the shores of Lake Dunstan, the resort's villas let you sip on your morning cuppa by the lakeside, and even barbeque. www.lakeresort.co.nz
* Clyde is a historic township, the first of many gold mining settlements in Central Otago. The heritage of the area has been preserved and it really does look like a movie set. To understand who lived where and when, there are printed maps that take you around the small town. While there, stay at Olivers, a house built in 1869 which has been restored into luxury accommodation. www.oliverscentralotago.co.nz
There are no direct flights to Christchurch yet. However, Singapore Airlines flies you to Mumbai to Christchurch with a layover at Singapore airport. Pro Tip if you have a long layover ahead: There's a pool on T3 available for fliers at a charge of $37. Just to stretch those muscles and catch some sun
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