My Top 10 Favourite Places in New Zealand

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

Cathedral Cove 1cropped

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

Indian

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

154 Glacier Franz Josefcropped

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!

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That’s in Australia, Right?

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

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!

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

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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