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Taiti un Kuka līcisWhere the Sky Merges With the Earth

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Alternate Routes · Australasia · new zealand · New Zealand · Jānis Notte

Where the Sky Merges With the Earth

Author: Jānis Notte1 COMMENT

Where the Sky Merges With the Earth

Before traveling to a new country I usually like to read as much as possible about a social and demographic situation there. Although being born in a particular geographic place is purely accidental, moreover, to someone it might seem quite inadequate - it is interesting to learn what impact history has made on peoples' fates in a certain geographic locations and what impact people have made on those locations as well. Yet, somewhere in between Melbourne and Auckland Antarctic winds are so determined not to let me finish a chapter in the book about New Zealand's history and demography, that I give up and indulge myself to Emirates entertainment program. An offered jazz collection seems truly enjoyable, yet, little do I know that time spent in New Zealand is going to be filled with admiration of different - not human-made masterpieces.

We had resolved to rent a car and travel throughout New Zealand - from Auckland in the North Island to Christchurch on the eastern shore of the South Island - crossing Cook Strait from Wellington to Queenstown by ferry. After spending couple of weeks in big cities, Polynesian air seems incredibly lucid and fresh. So, we get our pre-booked car at the Auckland airport and decide to go straight to the south, being not interested in industrial areas of metropolis but in anything that is growing, moving, splashing, bubbling or just being.
And there is abundance of everything! Sensation, overwhelming with the first steps into New Zealand's countryside, is irresistible - air, heavy with sweet aroma of honey, idyllic landscape of hillocks and pastures in the sunset, although still being very light. Similar picture comes to my mind, when thinking of Latvian folksongs, and it makes me smile. And indeed, it reminds romanticized Latvian scenery! Maybe it is just my dream but I have never observed a respect for the nature and environment as great as in New Zealand anywhere else in the world.

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We always prefer to be quite spontaneous about choosing a route - without much planning, and in some lovely places we like to linger a bit longer. Nevertheless, at least a rough idea about lodgings is quite helpful - otherwise it might be difficult to find any, or some places would not accept any guests after 8 or 9 in the evening. Once, for example, having decided to stay overnight at a nearby countryside guest-house, we drive straight there. As we approach, the moon is already shining and peace and quiet surround a house and trees. After persistent ringing a drowsy landlady opens the door and explains, with friendly amazement, that no one ever comes so late. It is just 9 pm...On the next morning, having a breakfast on the lawn, sparkling with dew-drops we realize that it is a wonderful avocado farm, in fact.
Highly recommendable choice is hot mineral water geysers, located not far from a small Rotorua city on the North Island. It is an amazing experience, yet little refreshment can be expected as the air temperature reaches up to +25 º C. Fresh snacks are within grasp, too - nearby bramble-bushes are full of ripe berries. Fantastic sights are waiting you further northwards - near the Lake Taupo, the largest lake of the North Island.

A journey along the 1st state highway from the town Waikanae all the way to the capital city Wellington feels much the same as along winding road of Côte d'Azur. On the other hand, driving parallels with any other place in the world has no sense at all - rapidly changing scenery makes New Zealand a unique place itself. A few hours of sightseeing in Wellington seem quite enough, and then a ferry, maneuvering among tiny islands and tall fjords in four hours takes us across Cook Strait to the South Island. Ferries, cruising several times a day, are quite crowded and tickets should be booked in advance, especially if you go with your own car. We chose Interislander Ferry Company, offering online booking -

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A difference between the South Island and the North Island can be noticed from the very first steps. A road between Blenheim and Westport leads through numerous vineyards and at some chateux travelers are kindly invited to see the vines and taste their wine, too. Yet, availability of good wine in New Zealand is not as vast as in Australia - its big neighbor, and without special knowledge it might not be so easy to buy it.
An amazing sight opens up one afternoon, when we are already tired of blinding sunshine and winding mountain roads - a brilliantly green wood, with tall cliffs above and a little bay, glowing in the late afternoon sun, below. And an incredible amount of tiny snails with bluish-black shells, abandoned by low tide of Tasmanian Sea, clinging to every stone on the beach, and not a single human being around. We surrender to white sand and fantastic ambience until the sun hides below the skyline. This beautiful spot can be found if you turn off the state highway Nr. 6 in the direction of the village of Westport.

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New Zealand is a land is profusely blessed with wild places, beauty and singularity - and scarcely populated, it has a hope to preserve its wealth. Moreover, its people - especially at the countryside - have great respect for nature and they try not to interfere with its processes, doing whatever they can to preserve the country's natural resources.
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, located close to each other more to the south, bring forward completely different emotions. Most travelers would admire Franz Josef glacier from a distance, yet I would suggest that you make an effort of walking some 45 minutes in order to reach its foot. This is one of the rare places, where history of millions of years is almost tangible. A touch upon a bluish ice block that brakes off and falls into a river full of rapids stirs one's soul deeply. It's worth devoting a whole day to savoring this place and its atmosphere. Almost the whole amount of time, planned for sightseeing an immensely popular Queenstown, might better be spent here. This neighborhood and the lake Wakatipu are superb in their beauty, while the city itself - unbearably annoying and two hours seem the utmost limit to be spent there. Starbucks, McDonald's, PizzaHut with their numerous local counterparts...ok, maybe some other time. However, those, who wish to enjoy a top-end hotel and spa, might appreciate Queenstown's pretty wide choice.

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A large number of popular ski resorts available in wintertime, between June and September, are located in the Southern Alps. Right now it is March and we can enjoy a lovely autumn with vast diversity of bright colors. Especially stunning in this season are surroundings of Wanaka- a small town, being one of the most popular skiing resorts, too.

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One of the last days before leaving we decide to spend close to the village Omarama to explore the sights and neighborhoods of the lake Tekapo, located not far from it. Lodging, found in a tourist guide, proves to be a very hospitable country guest-house and the evening spent there - one of the most pleasing and emotional during the whole our travel around New Zealand. The host, now in his sixties, gladly hires assistants to help with his daily chores and two guys - from Israel and America - live here for two years already. We are very kindly received and accommodated in a spacious room situated on the first floor with a magnificent view of the Cook Mountain and a desert, gilded by the late afternoon sun that opens up from our windows. Later we sit out on the lawn, drink local wine and talk at length with a lady from England, who travels alone. In a pleasant and modest tone she shares her concern about excessive striving for money, prevailing in the society. "Love is what matters the most," she says. And just a single glance at the incredible beauty all around makes these simple words fall deep into ones heart and seem even so true.

There is a place, where the sky and the Earth come together and it is Lake Tekapo. Sometimes the blue sky and the blue of the water melts together, creating a truly surreal picture and only the majestic peak of the Mount Cook in the distance reminds that the horizon still exists. Here, close to the lake, in the midst of fantastic landscape, there is also a wide choice of campsites and lodgings.

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Then our way leads to Christchurch, the South Island's biggest city, and from there - by plane to Sydney. New Zealand's roads are very good, however, some of them might be closed when you least expect it - especially in the Southern Alps - due to heavy rain or avalanche threat. We did not notice any road police - not even once - while huge and rather threatening posters at roadsides remind everyone to drive safely. One of such posters on the way to Christchurch reads the following: You're a long time dead, so what's the hurry? And indeed - a wish to be more alert, to feel deeper and to capture and preserve all the magnificent beauty New Zealand's nature can offer seems more intense here than ever.

Here are some ideas - traveling along the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand, you probably will reach Greymouth, a small town surrounded by mountains. Greymouth has mostly backpacker style lodgings but as elsewhere in New Zealand they of pretty high standards, clean and tidy. One of such places - Neptunes Backpackers - with lots of seafaring elements in its interior - is set up in a building of the beginning of the 20th century, once having been the chicest hotel of the town. Just step out of your window on the long balcony late at night, savor some local wine from the surrounding neighborhood - and enjoyment is guarantied.

Neptunes Backpackers
43 Gresson Street
Phone: 03 768 4425
Fax: 03 768 4425

Alpine style lodgings at the beautiful lakeside town Wanaka, in its turn, provide a much higher level of service. For example, at Mount Aspiring Hotel offers a genuine taste of wintertainment, provided that there is snow outside the windows, of course. The hotel is favored by elderly travelers, who like to sink into comfortable armchairs, sip cognac or brandy and to chat away for hours.

Mount Aspiring Hotel
109 Mount Aspiring Road
Phone: +643 443 8216
Fax: +643 443 9108

HOW TO GET THERE? Most of the international airlines fly to Auckland. The best choice for European travelers is Air New Zealand (from London, Heathrow), Qantas (from London, Heathrow or Frankfurt via Sydney) or Emirates (from Dubai via Bangkok, Singapore, Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane). Our choice was Emirates - United Arab Emirates airline, offering wider range of destinations in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand than any other company. Taking this opportunity, on our way to New Zealand we visited also Istanbul, Dubai, Colombo, Singapore, and Melbourne. And we took the same airline back from Christchurch to Sydney, too. Emirates offer direct flight Sydney-Dubai, this 15 hours flight being the fastest way to Europe.

TRAVEL PLANNING. The best tool for detailed travel planning to New Zealand is - an official website of the country. There you can find maps, routes, vast information on places to see, hotels, restaurants and much more. That should help you in making options that fit you the best of all.

CAR RENTAL. There are numerous car rental companies in New Zealand. Our choice fell on EZY - - offering the best prices for compact cars.

CROSSING COOK STRAIT. As I already mentioned before, Wellington-Picton ferry tickets should be booked in advance! Address for online bookings:


- Latvian citizens, who do not plan to stay in New Zealand more than three months, do not require visas to enter New Zealand. However, if you plan to go to Australia, too, then you need an Australian visa. You may get your Australian visa online, not in tourism agencies and you do not need to send your passport to Australian Embassy in Berlin, as it was some time ago. All the necessary information is available on the website:

- New Zealand is an extremely safe country. Outside big cities you can stay at campsites or chose a more secluded place to stay overnight in a tent or a sleeping bag with no risk at all. Robberies or any other criminal goings-on are extremely rare there.

- Unlike in Australia, there are no venomous snakes or other nasty creatures in New Zealand.

- New Zealand is quite an expensive country in comparison to Australia, at least. Located far from almost any other country of the world, it is visited mostly by well off people and most of the hotels, restaurants and places to see are not cheep either.

- Although not a problem for a small car like ours, gas stations are located at a distance up to 200 km, moreover, not even traffic signs would always inform you adequately.

- Do not leave the countryside of New Zealand without tasting a seafood broth - it is made of fresh sea food and is really outstanding. Nevertheless, outside restaurants New Zealanders' eating habits seem to be quite monotonous - mostly fish and chips.

- At all times clothes for any season should be taken with you, as sometimes all four seasons can be experienced within a single day. Much milder and warmer climate of the North Island contrasts with cooler and less predictable weather of the South Island.

Posted in 2008.

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Cindy Kalkbrenner

Visited: Some Day

My daughter and I plan to visit New Zealand when she turns 21. She is only 15. However, she is doing a school project on New Zealand that includes travel and lodging and itinerary. I decided to help her by doing the busy work and looking up the best places to see in NZ. This personal account of your trip sounds exactly like the trip we will enjoy...some day.

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