My Top 10 Favourite Places in New Zealand

First Hobbit Hole

Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve seen so many wonderful places. The country’s full of them; beauty spots beyond counting. But some of them have stayed with me more than others. Some places are just so wonderful, so beautiful…

This is a personal list. You might not agree, but I think these ten places are amongst the best places to visit in New Zealand:

10) Te Puna Quarry Park

Like a fairytale

I love this place. It makes me feel like a kid exploring Wonderland. I mean there’s a dragon and everything! The first time I went, I just knew I’d be back again and again. Te Puna Quarry Park is really close to Tauranga – click the link to see my blog about it.

9) Cathedral Cove

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The name of what I think is New Zealand’s most beautiful beach certainly does it justice. Cathedral Cove is on the Coromandel Peninsula. You can only get there by bush walk or boat, but it’s totally worth it. If you’re still not convinced, check out the Cathedral Cove bit from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. (No CGI there – except the ‘ruins’, of course.)

8) The Hamilton Gardens

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Hamilton is often accused of being a boring city, yet people flock from afar to the Hamilton Gardens. Completely free to enter, Hamilton’s greatest asset was named Garden of the Year at the 2014 International Garden Tourism Awards in France. What I love about the place – which grows with every visit – is it has heaps of small gardens within it, each with a different theme. It’s like having lots of little pockets of paradise to sample. And it has a lake with a waterfall.

7) The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

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I have fond memories of visiting the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. They were beautiful, but more importantly they were sights out of the ordinary – they took my breath away. We didn’t walk onto them, just up to them. They’re possibly the world’s most easily accessible glaciers. You don’t have to climb halfway up a mountain or trudge through snow; you simply walk up to them from their respective car parks, enjoying the refreshing breeze coming off the ice as you go.

Be warned, however: the photo above was taken when I visited the glaciers with my family, and that was about a decade ago. The glaciers have gotten smaller since then, thanks to global warming, and I don’t think you can get as close anymore. (You can still walk on top of them if you take a commercial tour.)

6) White Island

White Island

White Island is one of the most wonderful places I’ve been in my life. It’s the top of an active volcano, rising out of the sea amidst plumes of white steam. I’ll never forget it, seeing all the vibrant colours; hearing the bubbling acid; smelling the sulphur; feeling the warm rocks and the air tingling on my skin. It was like walking on an alien planet – such a different experience. I can’t recommend it enough.

5) Hobbiton

First Hobbit Hole

Visiting Hobbiton was like going home. There was something comfortingly English about it, but it was also – quite literally – stepping into a childhood fantasy. It was amazing. For anyone as Lord of the Rings-obsessed as I am, it’s simply a must-go. More than worth the admission price – I loved every second.

4) The Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula

If you want dramatic scenery, awesome wildlife, romantic villages and a castle, spend a day or two on the Otago Peninsula. I went there with my boyfriend a couple of years ago and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Hire a budget car – that’s what we did – and explore its peaceful roads, winding over sheep-scattered hills and around beautiful bays. The peninsula is home to the world’s only colony of royal albatrosses breeding on an inhabited mainland. The fluffy, white chicks are so cute!

3) The Waitomo Caves

Glowworms elsewhere in the caves, with their silken, beaded threads

I don’t believe in magic, though I’ve spent my life writing fantasy stories. The closest I’ve ever come to experiencing real magic – magic as the raw force of nature I write about – was in one of the Waitomo Caves. It was with a tour group. We’d been led through a dark labyrinth, had many fascinating features pointed out along the way, and now we were helped into a small, inflatable boat. As we drifted silently through the pitch-black tunnel millions of tiny, electric-blue lights appeared like stars above our heads. They were the famous Waitomo glowworms – an awe-inspiring sight everyone should see.

2) The Shotover River Canyons

The Shotover Jet

The whole area around Queenstown is staggeringly beautiful – possibly the most beautiful place in the world. One part of that area in particular stands out in my memory: the Shotover River Canyons. It was one of the great treats of my family’s South Island campervan rental holiday. We all had a jet boat ride on the Shotover River with the only company that can enter the canyons. And though the ride itself was fun – the best jet boat ride in New Zealand, in fact – what makes it memorable is the scenery. Oh. My. God.

1) Glenorchy

The Wizard's Vale

North of Queenstown, Glenorchy is a self-proclaimed paradise. I won’t argue with them. The drive towards it is jaw-dropping, (but only if you like mystical lakes and snow-capped mountains.) The reason Glenorchy has stayed with me is the view of the Wizard’s Vale from The Lord of the Rings, (where Saruman lives.) My heart captured this view on the Dart Stables ‘Ride of the Rings’ tour. I had never ridden a horse before, but I felt like a fantasy character – a warrior maiden – as we emerged from a forest, crested a rise, and looked out over heaven.

(Read more about Our Campervan Tour of New Zealand’s South Island.)

So these are my favourite places in New Zealand. What do you think? What are yours? Leave a comment – I really want to know!

That’s in Australia, Right?

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Originally posted on POMS AWAY!:

A British Person who’s Never Been to New Zealand’s View of New Zealand

Three months ago, my boyfriend and I went to England. I was born in England, but have lived in New Zealand since I was ten years old. My boyfriend was born in New Zealand.

First Hobbit Hole No, I don’t live in a house like this. I just wish I did.

Despite having lived in New Zealand for over half my life, I still consider England home. I was surprised, therefore, to find myself feeling very protective of New Zealand. Whenever a British person referred to it or any of its sons as Australian, for example, I felt more than the mild stirrings of Kiwi indignation.

It’s strange. I’ve always laughed at the New Zealander’s desperation to be relevant in the wider world, but when I hear someone say that Lorde is from Australia…! I mean I don’t even like Lorde, but she’s definitely from 

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The Alien World of White Island

A bit of White Island

Have you ever visited somewhere so unique that you rave about it years later? It’s been six years since my family went to New Zealand’s White Island, and I still find myself thinking about it and talking about how amazing it is. I can’t believe how few of my friends have been!

White Island is an active volcano out in the Bay of Plenty. It’s a small island, but it looms large in my memory. I remember the huge clouds of dense, white steam billowing from it as we approached in the ferry. It was so exciting, like coming upon a lost world. We’d already been treated to the sight of dolphins that day – they’d surrounded our ferry as we left Whakatane and played with us for so long we almost forgot where we were going – so, as you can imagine, things were pretty magical.

The island looked like a broken crown. As our ferry slowed and bobbed up to the jetty, I began to detect the rotten egg smell of sulphur. It was a scent I was familiar with from Rotorua. Some of the other tourists muttered complaints about it, but I liked the smell: it made the experience more immersive. It’s not that bad anyway.

As we disembarked onto the alien beach, we were given bright yellow hardhats as a precaution. They matched the streaks of sulphur in the dark grey sand. A powder-blue stream braided its way down to the sea. I remember the joy of stepping from stone to stone to cross it. You’re not allowed to wear sandals if you visit White Island. I suppose there’s a danger of stepping in a small spurt of boiling water, or a puddle of acid. The rocks are quite sharp too. But this stream wasn’t dangerous.

White Island is aptly named – much of the island looks like it has been doused with white powder, but there are many other colours too. It’s actually quite wonderful how colourful it is. On a rock face so veined it looked like a withered leaf, I saw reds and blues and pinks and purples and no, I wasn’t on drugs. The most astonishing colour was the green of the acid lake – negative one on the pH scale and no safety barrier!

Even the air is slightly acidic on White Island. It made my freshly shaved legs sting – not unpleasantly; it was more of a tingle. Some of the men in our party experienced the same thing on their faces, and occasionally my eyes felt as though I was cutting onions. It’s advisable to wear old clothes when you go to White Island, as there’s a small risk of certain garments changing colour. I was fine, but my grandpa’s beige shoes turned pink, which he wasn’t too happy about! I wonder what being on the island for too long would do to your skin.

People did live on the island at times. Between the 1880’s and the 1930’s, various attempts were made at mining White Island for sulphur, which was used to make match heads and fertiliser. It was a dangerous job.  In 1914, all ten of the miners living there were killed when a section of the crater collapsed, causing a lahar to flow over them. But their cat survived, so that’s something.

The corroded shells of the abandoned miners’ buildings and rusted cogs add to the island’s eeriness as you wend your way through bubbling pools and plumes of stream. The crusty ground feels disconcertingly hollow in places. We stopped near a yellow-streaked waterfall and the guide pointed out strange clusters of crystals. It was like we were in an episode of Star Trek, on the alien planet of the week.

I’d never been anywhere in my life that was so… different. I suppose that’s why I remember it so fondly. It was beautiful, but it was weird and haunting and a total feast for the senses. You’re standing on an active volcano, seeing the steam and the machinery and the colours; you’re also hearing the bubbling, a rumbling like the earth is hungry; smelling the sulphur; feeling the heat and the acid whispering upon your skin. You can even taste the volcano – sort of dusty and metallic.

White Island

Some people had a swim in the sea when our tour was done. I didn’t. I just sat and looked at the volcano. I wanted to imprint it on my memory and I guess it worked.

If you’re interested in visiting White Island, check out www.whiteisland.co.nz. It’s expensive, but it’s a long tour and the price includes food. Also, it’s highly likely you’ll encounter dolphins on the ferry, so that saves you paying for a separate dolphin tour. To find out more about dolphin tours, read my Top Ten Places to See Dolphins in New Zealand.

Bringing Joffrey Down!

kiwipom91:

As the anticipation for Game of Thrones Season 5 mounts, look back at how awesome the anticipation for Season 4 was…

Originally posted on POMS AWAY!:

joffrey2Yesterday, I was witness to the downfall of the most hated king in fictional history: Joffrey Baratheon. Yes, the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and incurable you-know-what was toppled before my very eyes. And in New Zealand, no less.

I was making my way down Auckland’s Queen Street when I noticed a crowd gathered in Aotea Square. At the centre of it all was a magnificent, golden statue of Joffrey. The sight sickened me, but, being a massive fan of Game of Thrones, I approached with interest.

I’d heard about this happening, but forgotten. (It was a happy coincidence that I was wearing my Daenerys top.) It was a publicity stunt promoting the new series. The statue had a rope around it, and the rope was attached to a large, wooden wheel. How fast the wheel turned was dependent on how many ‘tweets’ on Twitter the event…

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New Zealand’s Best Places for Jet Boating

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I love jet boating. You get all the thrill of a rollercoaster ride, but you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery. Plus it’s a great way to cool off.

Jet boating is kind of a big thing in New Zealand. It was invented here, after all. I’ve been jet boating all over the country, so where’s the best place for it?

Well here’s my list of the

Top 5 Places to Go Jet Boating in New Zealand

– let the countdown begin!

5) Rotorua

My first ever New Zealand jet boating experience was on Lake Rotorua. It was tame in comparison to other experiences on this list, but still fun. It was a great way to see the lake and learn about Rotorua’s history – a sort of half thrill ride, half informative tour. Check out the Kawarau Jet website if you’re interested.

4) Auckland

Taking a cruise around Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf is a fantastic experience. There’s so much to see, including the impressive island volcano of Rangitoto, pods of dolphins and the Auckland City skyline itself. Add to that a few heart-stopping spins and you’ve got one hell of a jet boat ride. You can find Auckland Jet Boat Tours down at the Auckland Viaduct Harbour.

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This picture, along with the other pictures in this article, was purchased by my family from Rapids Jet, following our wonderful jet boating experience with them. (See below.)

3) Christchurch

My family visited Christchurch on our South Island campervan holiday. It has a few jet boating options. To the north there’s the Waimakariri, a beautiful braided river that flows from the Southern Alps through a canyon, so you’ve got stunning mountain scenery, waterfalls, cliffs and wildlife, as well as high-speed thrills in clear water that’s sometimes worryingly shallow. To the south there’s the Rakaia Gorge, which featured in The Amazing Race and is just as beautiful. Check out Waimak Alpine Jet, Jet Thrills or Discovery Jet.

2) Taupo

To the north of Lake Taupo lies New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction: the Huka Falls. They’re a pretty impressive sight from the bridge that crosses them – I stood there for ages. But my boyfriend has been right up to the bottom of them in the Hukafalls Jet, and there’s no better view than that. Despite the ferocity of the falls themselves, however, the river leading up to it is quite calm, so if you’re looking for a more hair-raising jet boat ride in Taupo then try Rapids Jet. That’s what my family did – it’s where all the photos in this article come from. Jet boating on rapids is so much better than doing it on flat water – there are only so many spins you can do before it gets boring.

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1) Queenstown

Queenstown is one of the many places my family’s taken a campervan rental in New Zealand. It was during that holiday that I had the best jet boating experience of my life. It makes sense – Queenstown is New Zealand’s adventure capital; there are heaps of jet boat operators in and around it. Lake Wanaka, for example, is a gorgeous glacial lake with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains – imagine jet boating there! There are simply too many incredible places to choose from, but I think you’d find it difficult to top the Shotover River Canyons.

The Shotover Jet was just… wow. The ride and the scenery were both breath-taking. It was scary – the boat actually left the water at times, skimming over rocks and around canyon walls. The colours of the walls and the water seemed unreal. I spent the entire ride simply marvelling at the nature around me. And screaming with delight, of course.

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Gosh, I haven’t been jet boating in a while and writing this article is making me want to go again! Pity it’s an expensive thing to do. For a cheaper (and slower) water activity, you could try kayaking. Check out my 10 Awesome Places to Go Kayaking in New Zealand.

Exploring Hamilton’s Parks

ParanaParkBridge

Say what you like about Hamilton, it’s got some pretty nice parks. I’ve just been for a walk along the east side of the river, passing through Parana Park, Memorial Park and Hayes Paddock and, I have to say, I was impressed.

It was great walking by the river, seeing the city centre along the opposite bank, separated from the water by trees. There are always people rowing on the river. To have such a peaceful stroll in such an urban area is something special. It made me feel good about moving to Hamilton.

But the parks would be impressive even without the Waikato River. Well, Memorial Park and Parana Park would be, anyway. Hayes Paddock is nothing special, but it does have an adult fitness trail – various pieces of free public exercise equipment placed at points on either side of the path.

Walking through Memorial Park and Parana Park just made me smile. They’re right by each other, so it’s one big park really. Memorial Park, of course, has a war memorial, but it also has a Spitfire. Just casually in the middle of the park.

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It’s quite enlightening walking around, as there are a few signs explaining the history of both parks, contributing to my education in the history of Hamilton as a whole. There’s also a preserved Victorian gunship, which brought Hamilton’s earliest European settlers up the river in 1864.

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Memorial Park has a beautiful flower garden. The colours were so bright – I suppose I was lucky to see it for the first time at this time of year. The benches in it looked so inviting, as did the cool colonnaded area behind it. I love grottos like this!

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I also love stone bridges. One connects Memorial Park to Parana Park, over a little stream. I followed the stream, accompanied by a mother duck with ducklings in tow. There are a few charming pathways through the trees. It’ll take another visit to the park to find them all.

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The best thing about Parana Park is the Potter Children’s Garden. It isn’t just a playground. It’s wonderful. It even has an aviary with exotic birds chirping away inside it. There’s a big, multi-sectioned paddling pool with running water, an amphitheatre, a playhouse, balancing beams…

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And it all looks so nice, complete with a fancy lookout platform over the river. There are even a couple of little tunnels that look like hobbit holes. I kinda get the feeling that was done deliberately. Waikato is the home of Hobbiton, after all. (I went there last year. It was AWESOME.)

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Waikato has some great places to visit. Hamilton itself isn’t exactly a dream holiday destination, but if you’re passing through and you don’t have hours to explore the incredible Hamilton Gardens, you could stop a while in Memorial/Parana Park. Especially if you have kids.

You can’t park a campervan overnight there, unfortunately – in fact, a look at the Rankers map has just shown me that you can’t camp for free anywhere in Hamilton. (Unlike in Tauranga, for example.) There are free spots in Ngaruawahia, though, and that’s only a little way outside Hamilton. Better than nothing.

Hey – there’s another slogan for you, Hamilton: ‘Better than nothing.’ (Hamilton has an amusing history of failed slogans, including ‘More than you expect’ and ‘City of the Future’. There is currently no slogan. I think they’ve given up.)

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Cows and Chlamydia: My First Impressions of Hamilton

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Well, I live in Hamilton now. Never thought I’d say that.

For those of you who don’t live in New Zealand, Hamilton is… well, it’s just one of those places. It’s mercilessly mocked by the rest of the country, perhaps a little unfairly.

Cows and chlamydia – that’s what you think of when someone mentions Hamilton. A boring, low-class place, full of upstart dairy farmers, criminals, druggies and teenage parents.

Of course, it’s not just that. Admittedly, I have witnessed more poverty in Hamilton than in either Auckland Central or Tauranga, and the other day I had to walk past a father bellowing, “I’m gonna f**kin’ smash you, c**t!” at his son. However, despite those two negative experiences, I have to say that, so far, I like Hamilton.

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It’s a nice-looking city. I mean, there’s a big river running through it that has some lovely walkways and parks along its banks. The council’s obviously made a real effort.

It’s a friendly city. More people say hello to me on the street than in either Auckland or Tauranga – and only some of them are asking for a dollar.

It’s a university city. (I’m still young enough to find the presence students a good thing.)

It’s a cultural city. Seriously – don’t laugh – there’s a lot of good stuff going on. Plays and markets and events at the Hamilton Gardens and such.

It’s an inexpensive city. More and more Aucklanders are moving to Hamilton because houses are cheaper – it’s why my boyfriend and I moved here, to be honest. We’re renting a properly nice two-bedroom flat with all mod cons, five minutes’ walk from the river and city centre, and we’re paying significantly less than what my little sister’s paying for a crummy, damp, kitchenless, two-bedroom hole with no mod cons in Auckland.

Also, Hamilton has very little traffic compared to Auckland. Although how long that will last with all the Aucklanders coming here, I’ve no idea.

gardenplaceThe main difference between Hamilton and the two other New Zealand cities I’ve lived in, (Auckland and Tauranga,) is that Hamilton isn’t on the coast. It hit me the other day when I was having lunch in Garden Place, Hamilton’s main square: there weren’t any seagulls mobbing me, only sparrows. It really is strange not to be hearing seagulls all the time.

I suppose I’ll miss being able to walk to a beach whenever I want. But, then again, Hamilton has the Waikato River, and Hamilton Lake, and the absolutely wonderful Hamilton Gardens. I wrote an article about the Hamilton Gardens ages ago, but no doubt I’ll be writing another, more detailed one at some point in the future. They just get better and better.

riffraffHamilton’s CBD is fairly boring, though it does have some quirky touches. Garden Place, for example, has a few sculptures, fountains and a giant chessboard – not to mention a tree over six stories high come Christmas – and on Victoria Street, there’s a Weta Workshop-designed statue of Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, along with instructions for performing the Time Warp. (Richard O’Brien used to live in Hamilton, you see.) The council’s clearly doing a good job of making Hamilton continually nicer.

The Garden Place Library is quite impressive. The Waikato Museum on the riverbank looks worth visiting too. The city centre has a solid range of interesting shops and restaurants, and I found a big second-hand bookshop the other day, which I’m happy about. I’ve already got a royalty card.

casabellalane1There’s also a lovely little street called Casabella Lane, which is done up all like a Mediterranean courtyard. Unfortunately, the ‘French’ café there isn’t very good. Such a gorgeous setting deserves better food. There’s a nice bookshop on Casabella Lane, though, and just walking up it is pleasant in itself.

The best thing about Hamilton, apart from the Gardens, is being able to take a few steps off the main shopping street and immediately be at the riverside, on a peaceful path leading off into the trees. In terms of city walks, Hamilton might even be better than Auckland. I did see quite a few condoms in the bushes at the side of the path, but – hey – at least the STD Capital of New Zealand is getting the safe sex message, right?

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