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A Northern Irish adventurer, cameraman, writer and motivational speaker, Leon McCarron has been shooting footage for a documentary along his epic journey. Here are his top NZ experiences...
1. The people A very general answer, but that’s exactly the point. Kiwi’s consistently showed me the greatest of kindnesses, took me in, looked after me and directed me to points of interest. Coming from Ireland where we’re big on courtesy, I rate hospitality as a crucial factor of how enjoyable a country can be – NZ scores full marks.
2. The Desert Road On a clear day such as the one I experienced, I am convinced there is no better road in the world. Bisecting the Rangipo desert I was able to cycle from forested foothills into stark but beautiful wasteland, and all under the shadow of the inimitable Mount Ruapehu with its snow-capped splendor.
3. Stewart Island/Rakiura Despite being the third largest island of New Zealand and located only 30 miles south of the South Island, here it really feels disconnected from the rest of the world in the best possible way. True wilderness, relaxing pace of life and one of the best opportunities to see Kiwi birds, plus some of the most breath-taking sunset’s you’ll ever see.
4. Cook Straight Ferry (Interislander) Felt like a luxury cruise, surely one of the most beautiful 3 hour boat trips in existence? Watching Wellington recede as the vast straight swallows it up, entering into the astounding Marlborough Sounds, steering through narrow gaps in the landscape before finally arriving at picturesque Picton – it’s tempting to stay on board just to get to do it again.
5. Haast Pass, West Coast As a cyclist, this was a real treat. Despite being the lowest of the 3 trans-island passes (at 583m) it provided a real physical challenge, and took me from the ruggedly coastal landscape across the imposing Alps and then into Wanaka, a real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
6. Wanaka and Queenstown For me these Otago towns are inseparable. Both offer slightly different and unique feature for the adventurous traveller but share the same energetic and exciting vibe. Chilling out at the shore of Lake Wanaka, biking around the trails in Queenstown or upping the ante and skydiving from 15,000 feet – there’s no shortage of fun to be had here.
7. Northland wilderness Northland astounds it’s feeling of utter remoteness, despite never taking you too far from Auckland or Whangerai. To really feel like you’re off the map, find a spot among the rolling hills and just disappear into true island beauty.
8. City life After weeks of riding through forests, over passes and along coastlines it’s always great to find a city and relax, enjoying all the comforts of modern society once more. The major cities in NZ provide this with aplomb and there’s no struggle to find enjoyable city based activities in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin or Christchurch.
9. Rotorua One of the top tourist hotspots and with good reason. Beyond the power of the geothermal activity around the area, Rotorua is also just an incredibly well laid-out town – easy to get around and with things to do on every corner. A highlight for me was a visit to the Maori village of Ohinemutu.
10. General ease of travel I found all the roads to be in good condition, and when I went off road I was able to get right into the wilds with no trouble at all. My experience was or respectful drivers, beautiful routes between towns and cities and no shortage of places to stock up on food and water. It took all the hassle out of route planning because I knew that even if I took a wrong turn, the chances were I’d still end up somewhere fantastic.
One place to recommend for cyclists if they only have a few days?
It’s got to be the West coast – any stretch between Greymouth and Haast will provide an unforgettable experience. The rugged coastline ensures the cycle is challenging, but at the top of each bluff your reward is vistas out to sea and further down the shoreline. Even the inevitable rain can’t dampen spirits, as it just makes waterfalls more impressive and the green forests even brighter and more fresh. Un-missable.
For the full trip and some more stunning images visit http://www.leonmccarron.com/1/post/2010/12/west-side.html.