Our ever-green travelling companion Margaret Patten takes us on a journey across the beautiful and beguiling country of New Zealand.

I was coming up to that special birthday, when you realise that you are not so young anymore, although mentally you feel as young as ever. My daughter said she was going to treat me to flights, as a present and would sort accommodation, and though I said no, she insisted. I had always wanted to visit New Zealand but had told myself it was too far. The cheapest flight was direct but with a stopover in Hong Kong for seven hours! As it turned out, the time was actually very well spent as we got the Airport Express to the City and walked through to the water’s edge .The boats with their red sails reminded me of the old song ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ written by Hugh Williams and recorded by the likes of Nat King Cole, Fats Domino and The Platters. Time passed quickly and it was soon time to return to the Airport for our onward flight.

The iconic red-sailed “junk boats are a symbol of Hong Kong

We eventually arrived in Auckland, New Zealand or Tamaki Makaurau in the native Mauri. Naturally on arrival we were very tired, so after booking into our budget hotel, which was clean and comfortable we slept soundly, until going out to explore and eat. My daughter had been several times so was familiar with the layout. First stop was the Sky Tower which has amazing views over the City and, by evening, the sparkling lights.  The following morning we left behind our little hotel as we were due to meet up with friends in another part of the county. On leaving our hotel we headed for the water front. The largest City on North Island, Auckland is set in the midst of volcanic hills which surround its twin harbours. We were able to leave our rucksacks in a locker at the station giving us more freedom to move about. Some buildings on the waterfront were built to look like a cruise ship. It was good to just wander, look at shops and galleries.  We were meeting our friends in Davenport a ferry ride away. They had come out earlier to stay with relatives, and had hired a small camper van. The van was fine for transporting the four of us but not for us to sleep in. They had sorted our sleeping arrangements by purchasing a two man tent plus duvets. Not tall enough to stand up in – great with my creaky knees, but it actually turned out to be a comfortable arrangement.

The Sky Tower

After meeting up with our travelling companions we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, catching up on all the news, then we made our way to the first stop on our road trip, Takapuna camp- site. This had a lovely beach, so we enjoyed a swim. Our plan was to see as much of the country as possible in our little camper van. It would be impossible for me to describe it all our adventures as New Zealand is so diverse that each place we stopped at was different, and a great experience. I will however revisit a few of my favourites.

One little place called Hobbiton, Matamata was an enchanting and unique experience. A family run farm set in rolling hills where the famous Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films were made. A must for all Tolkien fans, tours have to be booked and it isn’t cheap.  I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t seen any of the films. Fans can visit Bilbo Baggins house “Bag End” in “The Shire”, although you’ll need to bend double to look inside! A whole world brought to life, there are 44 “Hobbit Holes”. Visitors can end their tour with a relaxing drink in The Green Dragon, the meeting place of Hobbiton residents.

The magical world of Hobbiton.

A little further on we visited friends in New Plymouth and enjoyed the luxury of a real bed for the night. They had a lovely house overlooking the mountains. After a barbeque we went off to explore the town.

There were many more exciting places on the way, but now we were leaving North Island. Wellington to Picton, by ferry to South Island. Beautiful fiord scenery on the way. After a stop in Nelson, and more overnight stays it was onto another boat from Kai Terri Terri to the island and lodge Aworea. This so reminded me of an African Safari Lodge. Sadly we were only stopping here for lunch. The beach was deserted, so it was an absolute pleasure to walk bare foot under the hot sun and experience the white sand and glorious blue sea.

Even the ferry passes through beautiful scenery.

Through Blenheim to Kai Koura for an overnight stop. Camp sites here are top quality. I thought this area would be a perfect place to live. Nice flat walking and nice beach and snow-capped mountains. Further along we saw seals cooling themselves on the rocks. I was fascinated to see that some were even cooling themselves in the public conveniences – which could have been intimidating if you wished to go! Fresh fish is a big menu choice in this area. We had planned to get a fish meal from the food stalls but there were just too many tourists. So onto Christchurch.

Christchurch is named after Christ Church College of Oxford University, its name in Maori is Otautahi. It is now just over ten years ago that a major earthquake hit the City, when devastation occurred and 185 people were killed. The City has been mostly rebuilt. My daughter was in New Zealand at the time and volunteered as part of the relief effort.  It is a vibrant area with good shops and galleries, beautiful parkland where you can enjoy outside concerts. A friend who we stayed with for two nights (on the floor) said how frightening it was when the earthquake hit, as neighbours gathered in the street and the tremors could be felt. Many very expensive houses in Sumner were condemned.

The picturesque streets of Christchruch.

From Christchurch on to Akoroa with its wonderful Hector Dolphins. Amongst the world’s smallest dolphins- they are only found in the waters off South Island. Predators include shark and Orca whales. When the others said we were going to view dolphins in the wild I was so pleased as I would hate to see these beautiful creatures in captivity. I will add here that this wasn’t to be my finest hour. More later. The agent gave us a form to fill in – health and safety. “How good a swimmer are you?” I ticked good… well, I am in a warm calm Caribbean sea. Next we were measured for wetsuits. I haven’t worn one since I was young, but managed to push bits in, then we were given boots.  Then it was on to the boat. I expected a gentle sail out to the start of the outer harbour but the sea got choppier as we sailed further and further out. Finally we dropped anchor and everyone got into the water. The boat moved slightly away. What I hadn’t realised was that when wearing the boots you needed to thread water, hard. I flipped upside down and panicked and struggled, leaving my daughter to rescue me. I nearly drowned her as well. On the positive side, although the others had the “swimming with” experience I saw the dolphins from the boat coming in all directions. What an experience in more ways than one.

Leaping Hector Dolphins.

A long drive took us to the Mount Cook area. A wonderful place to camp, completely natural by glacier Lake Pukaki in a beautiful forest and all free. Wonderful scenary. A visit to Mount Cook Visitor Centre Aoraki was another reminder of how rich and diverse New Zealand is.

From there we travelled on to Queenstown, Maori name Tahuna .This vibrant town is certainly a young persons place mainly due to all the outdoor activities. My daughter sky dived while we were there.  It is built around an inlet “z” shaped lake formed by a glazier and surrounded by mountains. Arrow Town is quirky, and worth a visit. A good rural camp site by Lake Mokefor the night.

All to soon it was time to retrace our steps. Starting back, we revisited Mount Cook campsite where I got up early to experience the sun rise over Mount Cook. A steep walk later to explore a well known blue lake, but it had become quite dry and covered with algae. Edmund Hillary had done his training for Everest on Mount Cook, so a visit to the museum. There was wonderful scenery all along the way.

The incredible snow capped peaks of Mount Cook.

We then returned to Christchurch for another few days of exploring and relaxing. Our travelling companions had by now flown out.  A final concert in a lovely park “New Zealand Rocks Through the Ages”. Then an early flight next morning to Australia….