Ah...this is tricky as New Zealand is simply awesome!
So, how do I narrow down the many wonderful things I have done to only 10? I decided to use this criterion – which of my memories make me smile the most, simply with the pure joy of remembering them. Here they are.
1). Skydive – Glacier Country, South Island
Many people skydive in New Zealand. As a common entry on the 'I-must-do-at-least-once-in-my-lifetime' list of individuals it is one of the cheapest places on the planet to realise this dream.
So, having decided to do it I then had to decide where. I opted eventually for a 12,000 ft. jump in Glacier country so that as I hurtled towards the earth at 120 miles per hour I would be able to see mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers and the ocean. I also purposely chose a very small company so I wouldn't just feel like one more piece of sky-jettisoned flotsam.
I am not going to attempt to describe the experience – if I were Charles Dickens it would be impossible anyway. Suffice it to say that ever since I have been trying to persuade everyone I meet to skydive and skydive here.
2). Swimming with Wild Dolphins – North and South Island
Swimming with wild dolphins wasn't just top of my must-do list but had been a lifetime dream since I was very small. It was in fact one of the main reasons I came to New Zealand in the first place – because here opportunities abound. Since my very first forays I have done this time and again, both on organised cruises and by chance while I have surfed and swam in New Zealand waters.
In my opinion, there are two companies who surpass all the others by a mile in every respect and they are Black Cat Cruises, Akoroa, South Island and Dolphin Rendezvous, Mangonui, North Island.
Swimming with wild dolphins was and still is THE most magical, unforgettable, wonderful thing I have ever done anywhere in the world.
3). Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise
This appealed because I liked the idea of being on one of only two or three boats likely to be out on the sound once dusk fell. Nothing disappointed me about this trip. The scenery was awe inspiring and majestic, the wildlife fascinating and exciting and the wonderful tranquillity and peace of it reigned supreme. The almost unnerving ultimate sound of silence is in fact one of the things I remember most and it is made so much of that all passengers are asked to sit down while the boat’s engines are turned off to allow everyone to experience in full this eerie nothing.
I also got to dive into the black ice-cold waters - no-one knows how deep they go. Swimmers are few – most passengers just choose to watch and laugh at the crazy ones. The waters are so cold they don't just take your breath away but make it impossible to breath. We were called back to the boat after a few minutes to prevent hypothermia. An amazing experience.
4). Fossilised Forest, Curio Bay, the Catlins, South Island
At low tide, the rocky foreshore of Curio Bay is exposed and along with it the remains of a 180 million year old petrified forest. You can wander around this site tracing out very obvious tree stumps complete with knots and wood grain and also fallen trunks and branches, some of which you have to touch to convince yourself they really are stone. There are fossils, particularly of ferns, to be found too but these are well hidden unless you get very lucky or a local or tour guide points them out to you.
The viewing platform is great to take in the whole forest but the hours I have spent here have been more about watching the Yellow-eyed penguins shuffle their way ashore as night falls.
No matter how many times I return here the place fills me with the same awe and magic as the very first time.
5). Snorkelling at Poor Knight's Island, Northland, North Island
I was lucky enough to be taken here in a private boat by a friend but there are many tour operators which offer cruises, snorkelling trips and scuba-diving excursions here. The waters of New Zealand don't seem to be short of teeming sea-life no matter where you stick your head beneath the surface but the Poor Knights take it up many notches further. The ocean life here is the equivalent to a major aquatic metropolis thanks to the presence of vast underwater sea caves, tunnels and arches.
I consider myself highly fortunate to have snorkelled in some of the world's best places including the Great Barrier Reef and still I rate Poor Knights as a major highlight.
6). Dune Surfing, Te Paki, Far North, North Island
When a Kiwi friend suggested we take our body-boards and go sand surfing I really wasn't prepared for the sheer size of these sand dunes or the gut wrenching thrills which followed. Climbing the dunes felt like going up a mountain made of treacle and admittedly wasn't quite so much fun but still I did it over and over so I could hurtle downwards just one more time. I left exhausted, with sand in parts of me which I didn't know I had and a memory which several years on still makes me grin like an idiot.
7). Browsing Second-hand Bookshops
New Zealand is second-hand wonderland – shops sometimes resemble Aladdin's caves with lots of 'treasure' to be found of both ancient and modern origin.
The best of this is, to my mind, the second-hand bookshops which seem to crop up in even the tiniest of towns. Here you can find books often well over 100 years old for which you pay next to nothing - floors to ceilings are a book-worm's paradise. Forget loading your suitcase with reading material – you can find everything you need here – old, new, fiction (of every genre), non-fiction, maps, magazines and so on - for a fraction of what you will pay anywhere else.
8). Black Water Rafting and Caving, Greymouth, South Island
As a claustrophia sufferer, there were more than one or two moments in the few hours I was underground in pitch black, in which I had to fight a feeling of rising panic. Kitted out with hard hats, wet suits, rubber boots and head torches our group of six swam across underground lakes, slid into water filled pot holes from a height, squeezed through impossibly small crevices, crawled on hands and knees through half water filled tunnels and rafted on inner tubes along an underground stream with the roof apparently full of stars which in reality was the light from the glow worms.
I emerged into daylight squinting, cold, exhausted and with something super precious stored in my memory banks.
9). National Army Museum, Waiouru, North Island
Now to say I had to be dragged here by my partner kicking and screaming isn't too much of an exaggeration. I set out with the full (and secret) intention of having a quick look around for form's sake and then leaving him to it. Several hours later I emerged from this wonderful museum (and only then because it was closing time). I had been moved to tears, I had been entertained, I had crawled through war bunkers and I had learned heaps.
I have visited many museums around the world – good, bad and terrible – and New Zealand's offerings typically rank among the best but it turns out that, as far as I am concerned, this museum is the best I have ever visited.
10). Visiting White Island, Bay of Plenty, North Island
This island is actually a live volcano and from the mainland most days it can be seen sending out clouds of smoke and steam into the sky. When you actually land and step out onto this incredible island it is easy to imagine you are on some hissing, steaming alien planet complete with lakes, bubbling mud pools and a bright yellow punctuated landscape where the sulphur crystals form into weirdly shaped masses.
On the boat ride over you are given a hard hat and gas mask and briefed on emergency evacuation procedures (this is a live volcano and evacuations can and do happen). Scattered among the fascinating natural features are the remains of the island's last sulphur mining factory now abandoned and ruined. Quite simply this place is amazing.
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