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Saturday March 2, 2013

Great outdoors of New Zealand

Green foliage: The eight-seater gondola ride to the top of Mount Ngongotaha (487m above sea level) was the best way to see the panoramic views of Lake Rotorua, New
Zealand. Green foliage: The eight-seater gondola ride to the top of Mount Ngongotaha (487m above sea level) was the best way to see the panoramic views of Lake Rotorua, New Zealand.

Why stay indoors when there’s a host of wonderful things to see and do in New Zealand?

KIA ORA, and welcome to the youngest country on earth.”

That was my first lesson on New Zealand, written on a piece of paper that greeted me when I arrived.

The country claims to be the last major landmass discovered by man, and because of its relatively young age, New Zealand enjoys one of the world’s purest and most breathtaking landscapes.

Certainly, the air is crisp and fresh, the sky the bluest of blue, the clouds puffy like cotton candy, and the scenery so green that you want to hug every tree you find. Well, I actually did hug a Pohutukawa tree, beloved by the Kiwis, on my first day there.

With Malaysia Airlines (malaysiaairlines.com) flying six times a week to Auckland, getting to New Zealand is easy. The 10-hour direct flight seems to pass by rather quickly once you have your heart set on exploring New Zealand.

One friendly tip when it comes to visiting the country: Do not waste your time indoors.

New Zealand is famed for its natural attractions, and there is no better way to experience its natural beauty than a trip into a virgin forest!

It was my first time ziplining (flying fox), and just the thought of getting suspended as high up as 22m above ground almost sent me reeling from fear. But the guides at Rotorua Canopy Tours were friendly and funny, and that immediately put me at ease.

Guests walking along Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley which houses the world famous Pohutu geyser. Guests walking along Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley which houses the world famous Pohutu geyser.

You don’t need experience to embark on this three-hour guided eco tour as the guides will brief you on the safety measures before you zipline your way through the forest and practise your Tarzan voice.

I was quite worried about letting my weight hang on the harness and not feeling the ground beneath my feet, but once you make the jump from the platform, the adrenaline takes over and all you can see is big, green, ancient trees. It was the best leap of faith I had done in my life.

In between the stops at the 10 platforms and six ziplines, the guides shared the forest’s history and the conservation work put in to preserve the forest. Rotorua Canopy Tours (canopytours.co.nz) is the only ziplining experience in a native forest. Ticket is priced at NZ$129 (RM325) per adult, and proceeds go towards conservation efforts.

If you plan to explore Maori culture, there is no better place to start than Rotorua. You can get a complete lesson on Maori culture at the Te Puia New Zealand Maori Crafts and Arts Insitute (tepuia.com).

Priced at NZ$113 (RM285) per adult, the “Te Po – Indigenous Evening Experience” will take you into the enthralling world of the Maoris with a cultural performance that include weaponry displays, action songs, the famed haka (challenge) and the graceful poi dance.

The evening experience started at 6.15pm sharp, which meant dinner was included in the programme. Guests were served contemporary cuisine and the traditional Maori hangi, or earth-cooked oven meal, where the food is steam-cooked by hot rocks underground.

I was about to dip my hands in the hangi spread but my guide stopped me short.

The hangi has pork cooked together in a batch with the other proteins and my guide told me that my halal meal had been prepared separately.

The writer ziplining in a native forest near Rotorua. The writer ziplining in a native forest near Rotorua.

For Muslims guests, it’s advisable that arrangements for halal food be made prior to your visit to Te Puia.

After dinner, the guests were taken outdoors to experience Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley which houses the world-famous Pohutu (big splash) geyser.

We were served hot chocolate and, while the guide explained the wondrous geothermal activity in the area, guests were able to take photos of the geysers and rushing steaming water.

Another fun-filled, family-oriented attraction is Skyline Rotorua (skyline.co.nz). The eight-seater gondola ride to the top of Mount Ngongotaha (487m above sea level) was the best way to see the panoramic views of Lake Rotorua. Do not forget your cameras for some postcard-worthy photos.

One of the best outdoor activities we did in Auckland just before we left for Rotorua was going around the city on a two-hour ride on Harley Davidson motorcycles with Bularangi Harley Tours (bularangi.com/motorcycle-tours).

With the scenery changing as you ride along and the deep rumble of the Harley Davidson as accompaniment, this tour was a unique and exciting way to experience the city compared to getting around on a double-decker tour bus or van.

You can also choose to rent a motorcycle and ride it on your own or, like me, you could leave the navigation of such a heavy bike to the professionals, riding pillion instead. Just make sure to arm yourself with tons of suncreen if you go on a trip to Kiwi Land, and prepare to fall in love with the outdoors!

For more information on New Zealand as a holiday destination visitnewzealand.com.

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