New Zealand: Land of the Long White Cloud1996014007 lake matheson mist 1996
The Maoris call New Zealand Aotearoa, meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’.  Quite simply the country is haven for outdoor life and adventure.  This is principally due to the massive variation in scenery in what is a fairly small country, no bigger than Britain but with a population of just 3.5 million, rather than our congested 60 million.  In New Zealand it’s a pleasure and reality travelling along empty roads and meandering around the rolling landscapes.  There are hundreds of trails to explore the snow-capped mountains, smouldering volcanoes, glaciers, lakes and rivers.

As little as a decade ago a trip down under to New Zealand was viewed as an option for just the wealthy or for youngsters with time on their hands, maybe on a round the world trip. Okay, so the flight down there has not got any shorter, but it has become more affordable.  More folks are thinking it is feasible to take anything from two to four weeks’ holiday down under, taking in the highlights of the North and South Islands.

My entrance, like many entering the country was via Auckland.  Although it’s not the capital it’s home to a third of the population with around a million inhabitants.  Mostly surrounded by water it is not difficult to see just why yachting is such a popular pastime among locals.  Beyond Auckland I sampled the North Island’s geothermal activity in towns such as Rotorua and Taupo.  My nose sensed Rotorua a few miles before I actually entered the town with the pungent whiff of sulphur emanating from the hot bubbling pools in the ground.  Even down the local parks I saw steam rising from the ground.  Better still, I entered a thermal reserve to watch geysers erupt jets of steam and water skywards.  Rotorua is also a major Maori cultural area.  Not to be missed is a Maori concert staged daily in a traditional meeting house.  I was mesmerised by the stocky Maoris performing their haka (war dance).  I witnessed the ultimate display in true Polynesian strength and aggression, their fierce eyes on stalks, tongues outstretched and their muscular physiques overwhelming.

A pleasant ferry ride from the capital of Wellington took me across to the South Island.  The majestic Southern Alps forms the backbone of the island.  Down the West Coast are the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers making a great couple of days out.  My abiding memory near Fox glacier was the sunrise at Lake Matheson gazing at the mist swirling across the water eventually revealing a perfect mirror reflection of Mount Cook and Tasman.  Then it was onto Queenstown, home of every adventure sport you can think of on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.  My last main outing was a real high note on which to end my New Zealand trip as I entered Fjordland.  At Milford Sound I took a boat trip into the fjord, surrounded by mammoth 5000-foot high peaks soaring nearly vertically out of the sea.  Anyone who gets as far as New Zealand should miss this at their peril.  So it’s make your mind up time.  It’s not a case of whether to visit New Zealand; it’s more a question of when!