I’m not originally from the northern hemisphere. But now that I live up here, only now do I realise just how idyllic my native southern hemisphere was. Is.
Growing up in the southern hemisphere, each year my mother sent me to the family dairy farm in Golden Bay, at the top of the South Island of New Zealand, for a two-month summer holiday. Celebrating Christmas with the family, picking juicy blood plums from the tree in the garden, swimming in the crystal-clear river on the property, visiting the milking shed while the cows stared mournfully at me from those deep dark eyes. A simple, innocent life in a small New Zealand country town.
Now, 20 years later, New Zealand is a Mecca for national and international tourists driving along the extravagantly beautiful coastline, filling up in one of the many cafes that have sprung up on the main streets, or stocking up on supplies for the trek through Abel Tasman National Park or along the Heaphy Track.
Around the New Year there is steady stream of happy campers making their way to one of the raves further along the coast (travel tip: check out the local music shop and organic store for fliers in places like Farewell Spit, perhaps one day The Gathering will be on again). In fact, if I was showing you my New Zealand, this is where I would take you…
Suggested Itineraries in New Zealand: Christchurch to Wine Country
Start in Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a very quaint town, birthplace of my grandmother, who then reinvented herself as a quintessential English lady, which I am sure has a lot to do with the mock Tudor architecture and colonial history. There is a lovely botanic garden to wander around in, the Arts Centre on Worcester Boulevard has a lively craft market, and the beaches just out of town stretch for miles with golden sands. The Wunderbar in Lyttleton is nestled over the supermarket on London St, and has a superb kitsch style with board games, open-minded hosts and spectacular views of the still working harbour.
Shop along High St, Colombo and Cashel for fabulous NZ designer clothes and incredibly stylish fashion, made with gorgeous fabrics, beautifully cut and designed to fit real women’s bodies. Drop into the Globe Café at 171 High St for coffee and cake.
Drive over Arthur’s Pass to the tiny mountain village Otira, which was overrun by artists for ‘Oblique‘ in 1999, and has since become a thriving creative haven. Continue on to Greymouth, and turn right for some of the wildest, most rugged and spectacular coastline you will see in your life – The Piano was filmed on a beach up here (ask a local which one), or drive left to the experience the effects of global warming at the rapidly disappearing Fox and Franz Josef glaciers.
The tiny coastal town of Hokitika boasts an intriguing second-hand shop and at the local pub you can find out all about the aviation disaster early last century, which explains the photos of an airplane landing in their field.
Heading back to the east, you now have a gentle drive up more beautiful coastline. There are a range of accommodation options to break the journey, from the caravan park right on the beach, to a glamorous hotel and café scene at Kaikoura where you will want to spend some time swimming with the dolphins. We wandered out to the edge of the rocks, and were amazed to see the seals frolicking and cavorting just a few metres away, although there are very strict health regulations about keeping a respectful distance from their habitat.
Once you’re ready to hit the road again, the highway drifts gently through rolling hills and blue horizons, until you come to the Marlborough Wine country. Cloudy Bay is my pick but I’m no expert, so you’re best off making your own extensive tasting tour. Find a B&B, and take advantage of the incredible range of excellent New Zealand whites produced here.
At this point you have two options, either to head straight to Picton for the sublime ferry ride through the Marlborough Sounds to Wellington, or drive West again to Nelson, and ‘over the hill’ to Golden Bay. Since this is my itinerary, I’m taking you on all the detours and tangents, as that’s the joy of travel.
Not having to keep going in one direction; you may end up headed somewhere you’ve never even heard of. And if you’re really keen, download the wine trail map before you go!
Suggested Itineraries in New Zealand: Onward to Wellington
The drive across to Nelson is only a few hours, and takes you through lovely countryside until you reach this charming town nestled into the hills. There is a veritable plethora of artisan shops selling the work of local jewelers, potters, artists and designers. The café at the very top of the hill on the main road through town has great burgers, and there is a scenic drive back down to the highway, which curves along the coast here for miles. As you travel West again, headed for Golden Bay, you will drive close to the Abel Tasman National Forest, and over what is laughingly called ‘the hill’ by locals; an incredibly steep and twisty mountain road. I always got car sick on this drive as a child, but seem to have survived unscathed this trip.
Watch the valley unfold before you as the road slowly evens out, and you soon arrive in Takaka. Once home to many an ‘alternative lifestyler’ up in the hills, the farming community now appears to be outnumbered by weekend holiday houses and adventurers. This has brought a new buzz to the main street, along with the funky cafes and shops on Main Street. The local pool on the road out of town is where I learnt to swim, with my great-aunt and some of those triathlete cousins who consider a quick run up one of the nearby hills an excellent morning activity. Not before breakfast for me, and certainly not after!
There are plenty of other options for the less actively inclined, like driving to one of the many gorgeous bays for a swim, or a stroll along the boardwalks – but no swimming in the sacred Te Waikoropupu (Pupu) Springs, just outside Takaka. The waters are some of the purest on earth, and were once used for healing and ceremonial blessings for Maoris at birth, death, arrival and departure of travelers.
The nearby walk up a mountain alongside the abandoned power plant is a fabulous three hour hike, and takes you to a sparkling clear pool at the top. It was too cold for any but the most hardy to swim even at the height of summer, but is a satisfying day trip.
If dancing is your thing, head out to Farewell Spit or one of the local beaches for the summer party season, and shake your booty to the pulse of the pacific ocean. Here you will be one of the first people in the world to see in the new year.
Retrace your steps annd drive back to Picton where we board the ferry for the three-hour trip to Wellington. This takes you through the Marlborough Sounds, truly some of the most luscious, divine scenery on the planet.
In Wellington, visit Te Papa Musuem, and make sure you stop in to the Chocolate Fish Café out along the Karaka Rd on the white sand beach, where visiting rock stars mingle with families on the colourful wooden chairs overlooking the water of Scorching Bay.
The shopping here is again superb, with the cream of local talent such as Starfish, Zambesi, Ricochet, Karen Walker and more scattered along Lambton Quay, Cuba St and Willis St.
An hour away Titahi Bay offers a stunning walk around the cliffs. Head a little further up north to Pukaha Mt Bruce, for a gorgeous walk through the forest of the magnificent wild life sanctuary, where you can see endangered birds and wildlife (Kiwi, Tuatara, Kokako, Kaka) before they are restored to their natural habitat in the forest.
After all that activity, continue in a leisurely fashion up to Rotorua and sloth around in the hot mud, where I will leave you for now.