Zeal for New Zealand

This item appears on page 40 of the February 2012 issue.

The topic of the essay contest announced in the October ’11 issue was “Zeal for New Zealand,” and the judging is complete. The winner this time is PATTI KELLY of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and she will receive a 50-dollar gift certificate for Magellan’s Travel Supplies (800/962-4943). Patti’s essay follows those of the two runners-up, Diana Butler of El Sobrante, California, and Sharon VanDewark of San Diego, California, each of whom will receive a year’s extension on their ITN subscription. We thank all those who wrote.

The topic of the next essay contest for ITN subscribers is “It’s Real in Israel.” In no more than 300 words, write on Israel and your interest in visiting it and send your essay to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com. Include the address at which you receive ITN. The deadline is March 31, 2012. The winner will receive a prize.

New Zealand is a divine, diverse, drop-dead-gorgeous time warp. Do you want mountains and glaciers? Check. Thermal features? Check. Fjords? Yummy seafood? Fabulous islands? Jet boating and bungee jumping? Trekking? Sheep? Thousands of sheep? Check, check, check!

On a March visit about six years ago, my husband, Dave, and I loved the 1950s feel of the country. Diners with Naugahyde-covered benches and rock ‘n’ roll on the jukebox. The warmth of the people. The wine (especially the yummy sauvignon blanc). The narrow country roads. The interesting glimpses into the Maori culture. Really, we loved everything.

Driving through New Zealand was an experience in and of itself. It actually took both of us to drive the rental car. One of us steered, braked, etc., while the other one (white-knuckled) panicked with every narrow bridge and each time the car got seemingly too close to the edge of the road.

Once the driving was squared away, we were free to enjoy such entertainments as the sheep show in Rotorua (so hokey and so wonderful) as well as gorgeous Doubtful Sound (we did the overnight boat trip), the fascinating Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, day hikes on both islands and landing by helicopter on a glacier.

Our trip was three weeks long, stretching from the northern tip of the North Island to the southern tip of the South Island. We left New Zealand wishing we’d had longer.

Diana Butler
El Sobrante, CA

New Zealand — a land of contrasts. From the quiet solitude of Milford Sound to the lively outdoor activities around Queenstown, including bungee jumping from Kawarau Bridge and whitewater jet boating on the Shotover River. Endless fun!

From the 1912 vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak High Country Farm for an entertaining sheep-shearing demonstration and a candlelit dinner.

From punting on the tree-shrouded Avon River in Christchurch to visiting an 1886 sheep station in the Tuki Tuki Valley with its fields filled with Merino sheep, whose wool encased them like fat cocoons, followed by homemade scones with raspberry jam and cream. Yummm.

My “A to Zeal” quest continued from the South Island to the North Island, where the Maori culture was shown in countless interactive displays in the Te Papa museum in Wellington and in the Auckland National Museum.

My most memorable experience was the day Noe, a Maori tour bus driver, picked us up for a tour. He sang Maori songs and shared stories of his heritage and culture. Mid afternoon, due to extra time, he drove us past a long stretch of beach at Mt. Maunganui. The sun sparkled like diamonds dancing on the small waves.

Then Noe began singing a lilting Maori song. It was so beautiful. “Don’t stop,” I wanted to say. The memory of those few moments will always be with me.

Memories of New Zealand are like a kaleidoscope — so many wonderful sights and experiences, including Alexandra and an incredible outdoor lunch* with nasturtiums decorating the salmon. It doesn’t get better than that.

The joy in visiting a country is to experience the contrasts and come away with a “Wow!” feeling. I had that in February 2011 when I visited New Zealand. Endless surprises in a country where friendliness seems paramount!

Sharon VanDewark
San Diego, CA

*In answer to questions from ITN, Sharon VanDewark wrote, “The incredible outdoor lunch I had was at the restaurant The Packing Shed Gallery & Café (68 Boulton Road, RD1 Earnscleugh, Clyde, Central Otago, New Zealand; phone +64 3 449 2757 or e-mail becmclean@yahoo.com). On the South Island, it was out in the middle of ‘nowhere’ and yet sooooo beautiful.

“The manager said that the owner, little by little, had added all of the old farm implements and huge rocks plus the roses and other flowers that decorated the grounds.

“We sat outside at umbrella-covered tables spaced far apart on a huge expanse of manicured grass (like a golf course). A waitress came by and asked whether we wanted white or red wine (complimentary). After a few minutes, it was announced we could go inside for our food.

“We went inside, where there were three long tables, each with salads, rolls, etc. The salad greens were from The Packing Shed’s garden. I had never seen some of the lettuces before.

“A waitress came from the kitchen and set down in the center of each table a two-foot-long plank with half of a whole salmon on it that had nasturtiums and greens sprinkled on top. It was a beautiful piece of wood and I was in awe of how the fish was decorated. We helped ourselves with a large serving spatula, then carried our plates back out to our tables.

“It was an incredible experience, part of a special excursion from Holland America Line’s ‘Volendam.’ We departed the ship at Milford Sound and continued cross country to Dunedin, where we rejoined the ship.”

New Zealand is an exciting and diverse country. The people are friendly and helpful. I stayed in several B&Bs where the proprietors sent me on my way with lemons and limes from their own trees once they learned how much I love hot and cold teas with citrus fruits. One gal even climbed her trees to reach for lemons!

The hiking was memorable, especially in Abel Tasman National Park, which is on the northeastern tip of the South Island. Walking along the trail was fantastic. It followed the coastline in a magical, undulating way. The views down to the sea through the ferns, trees and flowers were marvelous. It was also great fun crossing the swinging bridges. From the local grocer, a picnic of smoked fish, fresh avocados and interesting cheeses and breads added to the day.

On my visit, about seven years ago, I also spent two days hiking two of the most famous trails: the Milford and Routeburn tracks. They wander through virgin rainforests with almost fairyland scenery.

On the South Island, I stayed at a little inn where I was taken to a secret beach filled with penguins. It was amazing to have these little guys walk right up to me as I sat in the sand.

New Zealand is also known as the adrenalin-junkie capital of the world. I’ve always wanted to jump out of an airplane, and on my 58th birthday they flew me up to 12,000 feet and I did a tandem jump with an expert. When the plane door opened and I looked down, I thought I would have a heart attack! Instead, it was a thrilling, beautiful trip back to Earth.

My zeal for New Zealand includes the people, food, scenery and the great outdoors with exciting experiences!

Patti Kelly
Steamboat Springs, CO