New Zealand is the most stunningly beautiful, most diverse place I have ever visited. I went there at Easter this year to visit my son and his girlfriend, who live in Wellington, the capital city.
Arriving at Wellington airport exhausted after a marathon 40 hour journey via the worst airport in China, I was met by the two of them brandishing a glittery banner welcoming ‘Mumlar’ to New Zealand. We drove to their home, a small wooden house clinging to the top of a hill like so many in Island Bay, the suburb where they live. Waking early the next morning I was entranced by the beauty of the view over Marlborough Sound – the pale lemon sun was reflected in the clear, still sea, and the rocky island that gives the area its name stood out blackly against the backdrop. The overriding impression was one of great peace and tranquillity, and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore.
The city of Wellington has as its motto ‘Absolutely positively Wellington’, and this aptly sums up the vibe of the whole city. In the CBD – central business district – the skyscrapers soar white and elegant into the sky, and in the harbour area lively, trendy bars and restaurants jostle to entice customers to come inside to enjoy fresh, good value food and cold, delicious Sauvignon Blanc wine. You are never far from the sea, and while wandering through the quirky shopping area which offers the dedicated shopper everything from high-end fashion to Chinese waving cats, breathtaking views are glimpsed at every corner. A jewel of the harbourside is Te Papa museum, one of the largest museums in the world, which contains many original Maori exhibits including, heartbreakingly, the treaty by which the Maoris sold (or rather gave away) much of New Zealand to the white settlers in the 19th century. More prosaically, our favourite exhibit was the giant squid embalmed in a tank tucked away on the ground floor – giant means exactly that: the squid is nearly 15 feet long!
Another highlight of my trip was a visit to Lake Taupo, where my son and some of his mates were taking part in the Oxfam Trailwalker – a 100k run/walk taking place over the Easter weekend. We travelled up in a hugely hot and overcrowded coach, with me being sandwiched between the window and a 25 stone (and rather stinky) Maori woman. We arrived in the dark and settled into our batch (NZ word for a rented house or cottage – apparently it’s short for bachelor pad). My first view of the lake was the following morning, when again I woke early and tiptoed out to explore without waking anyone. The lake was stunningly beautiful, in a palette of turquoise, sand and white. From my vantage point on the deserted lakeside I could see directly across to the snow-topped volcano, which is a ‘supervolcano’ – one of the most active and potentially destructive in the whole world. It was difficult to imagine that kind of power on such a peaceful, quiet morning . Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand, fed by several rivers including the Waitahanai river which is an emerald green, sparkling torrent of a river, best viewed from a bridge above Taupo town. The town itself is rather disappointing considering its amazing location, containing a bunch of small shops selling postcards and fake Maori art. However, New Zealand is best…