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Travel
March 13, 2014

‘New Zealand Thrums With Magic And Excitement’

The land of heart-stopping beauty brims with many Kodak moments

In the distance, the snow-whipped peak of Mt Cook glimmered. There was a deep growl, which sounded like a giant, from one’s worst nightmare, clearing his throat. Then there was what sounded like claps of thunder…a series of avalanches had unrolled across the distant peaks.

Mt Cook, the monarch of the Southern Alps that run almost the entire length of New Zealand’s South Island is quintessential New Zealand. “Here, the jaw-dropping beauty, adventure and fun are stirred together in a cocktail that is addictive,” says Heena Munshaw, managing director of Beacon Holidays which launched the two-island nation in India as an outbound destination.

New Zealand is an all-embracing land, a vast canvas where mighty glaciers rake the earth with icy-blue fingers; virgin rain forests cloak untamed landscapes; towering snow-capped mountains hem mysterious fjords; fiery volcanoes hiss and spit at a blue sky. This is a land so magnificently unbridled in its beauty that the indigenous Maoris dubbed it the ‘leaping off place of the spirits.’

New Zealand is, to flog an overworked cliché, a land of epic contrasts – wild and pretty, untamed and civilised. Here one can soar up in the sky in a hot-air balloon, bungee jump off a bridge, jet-boat through a river canyon, pan for gold, land on a mountain glacier and go on a sun-downer picnic… all in one day. Alternatively, one can even spend the entire day perfecting the Zen of doing nothing in a Polynesian spa whose many pools are watered by natural hot springs.

Locals believe that light falls in a special way on New Zealand and, when one lands in Auckland, one feels that first tingle of these rays. Sprawling casually between two harbours, Auckland, the country’s largest city, offers easy access to the Great Outdoors: harbour cruises in American Cup sail boats, a swim with the dolphins, and, of course, a visit to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World.

Volatile Rotorua, on the other hand, likes to spring a surprise or two. The first cultural encounter, which takes place at a Hakka dinner, is an eye opener. Powerfully built Maori warriors glare and stick their tongues out, slap their thighs and threaten to impale guests with mean-looking spears. The grandstanding is part of a traditional welcome.

The welcome at the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve is gentler but no less enchanting as visitors rub noses in true Maori style with their hosts. Here, Mother Earth exhibits fiery bursts of temper and the mighty Pohutu Geyser sprays the sky with towering columns of boiling water at regular intervals as the pungent smell of base elements fill the air. Amidst Mother Earth’s temper tantrums, families cook corn in the thermal waters and parents give kids a glimpse of another world, another culture, acquainting them with the geography of a dramatic land. Topping this off would be time spent at the Polynesian Spa or an indulgence in a mud bath – emerging rejuvenated!

And there’s more. The Waitomo Glow-worm caves with its stalactite and stalagmite sculptures and a subterranean river that flows through a dark cavern speckled with glow worms.

On the southern tip of South Island is Wellington, dubbed the coolest little capital by Lonely Planet. In its scenic confines, catch your breath over a cup of coffee at one of the convivial cafes, spend a day of family fun at the innovative and interactive Te Papa Museum, or just sip a craft beer at one of the breweries in the heart of the city.

Glide in a water taxi from Blenhiem (in the heart of the wine-growing region of Marlborough) to one of the quaint resorts and explore the wine and olive country. Or you could choose to stay in a vineyard and enjoy wine tasting tours on a bicycle.

The very English looking city of Christchurch is the gateway to South Island. Punt down the river lined with weeping willows, stroll through parks splashed with the pink glow of cherry blossom trees in bloom, and dine in style at the casino. Wake up early next morning for a pre-dawn launch of a hot air balloon flight that soars over picturesque farmlands. North of Christchurch is the coastal town of Kaikoura, the launching pad of whale and albatross watching cruises and the ideal place to swim with dolphins. The stage is set for a glimpse of the raw, virgin beauty of the Southern Alps. The drive takes you there through a magical landscape and then you get the first glimpse of Mt Cook, framed in the altar of the Church of the Good Shepherd, a lonely little stone shrine perched on the banks of the incredibly blue Lake Tekapo.

Snuggle up by a crackling log fire and nurse a tall drink as you sit in a mountain lodge and gaze out through large picture windows at the play of light on Mt Cook and its sister peaks. Next morning, a bubble-glass helicopter ferries you across towering walls of snow before landing on a blue glacier in the folds of mighty peaks.

Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, is a paradise for thrill junkies. Draped along the shores of the sparkling-blue Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by snow-capped mountains that resemble rumpled tin, the town is both pretty and zany. It was here that the world was first introduced to bungee jumping. If you don’t fancy being thrown off cliffs and bridges with just a rubber band tied to your ankles, try jet-boating, white water rafting, skiing, water skiing, golf, paragliding, parasailing, horse riding, trekking, helicopter flights and even panning for gold.

With its vast repertoire of scenic getaways that combine Kiwi hospitality with peeks into local culture and interactions with friendly people, Beacon Holidays can suggest unusual hideaways as they did for actress Vidya Balan. She was whisked away from the paparazzi to little-known Glenorchy, 45 minutes from Queenstown. “What a place, such few people,” exulted the actress on her return!

Further south, the lake-front town of Te Anau is the ideal base for a rainforest trek combined with a kayaking adventure down the fjords of Milford Sounds. But if you are looking for a meaningful bonding with the fjords, an overnight cruise through neighbouring Doubtful Sound is the way to go.

For Usha Shah who travelled to New Zealand with Beacon Holidays, “Doubtful Sound was just amazing. The pilots and naturalists were extremely knowledgeable. When we were cruising lazily, beautiful scenery unfolded outside our windows. The naturalists had a slide show and I was greatly impressed with their knowledge. The food was very good and the team was extremely caring. But for Beacon’s insistence, we would have missed out on the marvellous experience,“ she says.

Top off your New Zealand saga at Dunedin on the southeast coast of South Island. Visit the Royal Albatross Centre where giant birds glide by and Penguin Place where you get real close to shy Yellow-eyed Penguins. For wonders of a more sensual kind, stop by Cadbury World where all your senses will be on high alert as you watch chocolatiers get creative. If you haven’t had enough, jump on the Taieri Gorge Railway at Dunedin’s historic railway station for a scenic ride.

“New Zealand turned out to be a dream destination with meticulous planning by Beacon Holidays,” adds Shah. “Everything was tailored to meet our needs – from flight bookings, planning the itinerary, with all the attractions thrown in and excellent accommodations. The efficiency of the on-ground staff was also noteworthy. With Beacon you will get value for your travel dollar. 100 per cent pure New Zealand with 100 per cent pure company! Worth it!“

Yes, it’s hard not to fall in love with New Zealand, nature’s brush stroke on the edge of the South Pacific!

FACT FILE
Auckland and Christchurch are the two main international gateways to New Zealand.

Self-drive is the best way of getting around the country. One can also use inter-city buses or domestic flights. A ferry service plies through the scenic Marlborough Sounds between the North and South Islands.

New Zealand has accommodation to suit every budget. Rather than being merely generic, Beacon Holidays can recommend regional tourism opportunities as our product knowledge springs from firsthand experience of New Zealand. We have personally discovered quite a few places and unusual things to do as well as charming eateries, pubs, vineyards, shops. We, at Beacon, believe in delivering an experience rather than just a whistle-stop tour. We customise the package to meet individual needs and strive to ensure that it becomes a trip of a lifetime. Beacon Holidays launched New Zealand as an outbound destination in India.

Beacon Holidays’ commitment to the destination has reaped a number of accolades such as:

New Zealand Asia Award – Best Luxury product Development 2008
Winner of the Tourism New Zealand Asia Awards 2004 for Best Self-drive Brochure
Grand Innovation Award For Marketing New Zealand
For more information visit Beacon Holidays at www.beaconholidays.com OR 22 Rustom Sidhwa Marg, Ahfoja House, Fort , Mumbai 01
Tel : +91 22 4041 8888 or New Zealand Tourism Board at www.newzealand.com

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