Having heard so much about New Zealand last July three of us classmates from college and our wives decided to go there. It is very far away, around 12,000 kilometres and takes almost 20 hours to get there with a four-hour-stop at Singapore, which is an experience in itself.
Having been to the country once before but not having been able to visit South Island, I persuaded everyone that we should spend most of our time there. It turned out to be a very good decision. There is no place that I have seen that can surpass the sheer scale and intensity of its natural beauty. We travelled miles and miles and miles along mountains, valleys, rivers, streams, lakes and more lakes, coasts, coves, trees, forests, flowers, fragrances and the cleanest air you can breathe anywhere on Earth. Above all, the sky is pure blue. It’s a place where beauty becomes monotonous.
There is no place that I have seen that can surpass the sheer scale and intensity of its natural beauty.
But — there’s always a but — it is a very windy place. And its summer is when we have our winter because it is in the Southern Hemisphere and we are in the Northern. Even in mid- November which is the beginning of the New Zealand summer some places were bitingly cold. We really regretted not carrying heavier jackets.
The best way to travel in New Zealand is in a small group of six or eight people. Early on we decided that we would hire a van with a driver when we reached Christchurch from Auckland. It turned out to be just the right thing. It wasn’t cheap, but I can say this confidently: it was way cheaper than India and the quality of the drive, thanks to well-informed, educated and helpful drivers, was outstanding. For eight days of being driven around South Island in good comfort — nearly 2,000 kilometres — we paid ₹60,000 per head. In India that would have cost double.
But hotels in New Zealand are lousy. Small rooms, the barest of facilities, third rate restaurants and the worst part, bathrooms are so tiny that you can barely dry yourself after a shower. In fact one of them even had a translucent glass door with the pot facing it! Horrible.
We were taken aback at the number of Chinese tourists. Wherever we went they were swarming. In fact if New Zealand doesn’t watch out China may well want to buy it.
The motels were absolutely superb. We stayed in five on the South Island — one night at each place — and were amazed that they were all actually fully-equipped service apartments complete with a cooking range, dishwasher, washing machine and top class TV sets. Except the one at the Fox Glacier — which we weren’t able to see because it started raining, the others were all around 350 sqft in size. That’s just 50 sqft less than the affordable housing our government is building for the poor. The rain can be a problem because another of our excursions had to be cancelled because of bad weather. But over the 14 days we were there, those were the only two instances where things didn’t work according to plan.
To our dismay we found that New Zealand doesn’t have a worthwhile cuisine. Its food is best avoided not just because it is tasteless but also because it is very expensive. But beer and wine are cheap and top class. We stuck to Thai and Indian restaurants where the portions are large and we could share the dishes for a total of around NZ$90 for six people.
We were taken aback at the number of Chinese tourists. Wherever we went they were swarming. In fact if New Zealand doesn’t watch out China may well want to buy it — just as sometime ago Donald Trump wanted to buy Iceland.