NZ 2011. Fjordland.

By the time we’d arrived to Te Anau in the far south of South Island we’d settled well into the trip, although the grin was still permanently fixed to my face. I should mention here that packing for a three month trip to another hemisphere was a tricky business. We’d bought large, soft, wheeled, valise-style bags and were aware we’d need to cover all weather eventualities. Here in Fjordland I was very glad of my thick fleece jacket and the layers beneath it and we made good use of the electric heater in the van. The site at Te Anau was one of the ‘chain’ variety, for which we held a discount card and had luxurious amenities with underfloor heating- much appreciated!

Despite the cold, Te Anau was an unearthly place- snow topped mountains reflected in the lake, which was opposite our site. The plan was to get a tour to Milford Sound, which I knew to be an iconic sight. We could get a coach and boat combined trip, better than trying to drive ourselves as the snow-laden roads promised to be difficult.

Having settled at the site and arranged our trip we strolled out in the bitter night air and found a bar where we could watch the day’s match [Japan and the Allblacks, as I recall].

We got an early start on our bus next day but the driver was informative and chatty, making stops for us to see places of interest en route, increasingly snowy as we went. Once we stopped and clambered out into the snow to make snowballs and photograph the landscape and in one of the places cheeky Kea parrots were busy dismantling the rubber trim around a vehicle’s windows. On arrival to Milford Sound we had lunch, then boarded the boat for a tour around the cliffs, inlets and waterfalls of the sound.

This is a place where weather is immaterial. On our day the sky was heavy with grey cloud, the water iron-grey. An occasional sunbeam brushed the tops of the towering mountains with a bright glow. Our skipper took us along the cliffs to where tumults of waterfalls fell, close enough to be drenched, or near to huge expanses of rock where fat sea lions basked. It is impossible to fully describe the majesty of the towering cliff walls of the sound, or the thundering foam of the waterfalls, but it is an unforgettable experience.

We returned to Te Anau via more wonderful places. At ‘The Chasm’, foaming water thundered along deep beneath a huge rock with natural viewing tunnels and in the temperate rainforest I decided I’d fallen completely in love with tree ferns which were everywhere, casting their umbrella fronds in graceful arcs.

Next day we were off again, this time to New Zealand’s great activity playground and with outrageously gorgeous scenery to boot…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Sacrilege

NZ Queenstown

We travelled to New Zealand in the autumn of 2011 when the Rugby World Cup was scheduled to be held there. This was to be our retirement treat-a three month stonker of a trip that also encompassed Australia [where I have cousins] and a small add-on of a stay in Hong Kong on the way home.

The thrill of such an enormous piece of travel was tempered, initially by having our flight from Heathrow cancelled by Quantas for no reason we could discern. This meant that our onward flights from Brisbane were scuppered, messing up our arrival to Christchurch, New Zealand and losing us a night of accommodation.

2011 was also the year of Christchurch’s catastrophic earthquake, which was heartbreaking in itself, besides disrupting the Rugby matches and venues involved.

After a tortuous and exhausting series of flights we arrived to Christchurch’s small airport. In the arrivals hall we staggered to the information desk and were directed out into the sunshine of the afternoon, where a kindly driver took our bags and we slumped into the back of his car to be taken to the hotel. I felt I’d stepped into a warm bath.

Even in my almost comatose state I was thrilled to see the verges and green spaces which were lined with nodding daffodils-a novelty for we northern hemisphere-ites in autumn.

NZ Xch

Although our hotel was a forest of steel ceiling supports and those roads that had not been blocked off were cracked with fissures the hotel staff welcomed us in.

Having slept we explored our area, Hagley Park and looked at the quake-damaged centre of town. The park hosted an exhibition of the proposed rebuilding of Christchurch.

A couple of days later we collected our rental camper-van, which was exquisitely equipped and set off to explore beautiful, pristine South Island on a gentle, meandering road that followed the railway track and took us through small communities, past stunning scenery and into wonderful camp sites.

Throughout this time I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. People were unerringly kind, the ease of travel unprecedented. In spite of the terrible earthquake we were welcomed. Even the creatures were friendly.

NZ ducks

The rugby games were like huge, joyous parties with dancing displays, music, dressing up and buzzing atmosphere. I lost count of the number of times we engaged with those around us, laughing, conversing and getting hugged.

In between matches we went sightseeing-following the beautiful, wild south coast road to stunning Milford Sound, viewing penguins and snow-capped mountains and scoffing New Zealand pies and scones from the dairies. Then we turned north via Kaikoura, went whale-watching and walked in glorious Abel Tasman National Park before taking the ferry to North Island.

In Wellington the camp site was full so the local rugby club accommodated us, throwing open their showers and their clubroom and even offering us a curry sauce to go with the chicken we’d bought to cook. We visited the amazing hot springs and geysers at Rotarua, 90 Mile Beach, Coromandel, the gigantic Kauri pines.

The trip remains, to this day my favourite to date. If asked I don’t hesitate to say that New Zealand is my favourite of all the destinations we’ve visited for the reasons I’ve detailed and so much more.

What has happened there is heart-breaking. This most beautiful and idyllic of countries has been sullied for it’s innocent beauty.

If you peddle hate posts on social media; if you keep recycling jingoistic, populist, right-wing propaganda; if you keep screeching about ‘taking back control’ and closing borders, building walls to keep people out and showing hate to other races and religions you are perpetuating acts of violence and terrorism.

Enough said.