“Ma, do you want to go to New Zealand?” my daughter asked one evening, to my surprise. I immediately said yes. After all, how many youngsters would actually want to travel for three weeks with a 60-year-old senior?
After a few months of planning, I flew to Auckland with my two daughters and one of their friends, who was also a former student of mine. This was back in April 2019.
We embraced the cool autumn weather in Auckland as soon as we arrived. The next day, we took a domestic flight to Queenstown, which is on the South Island of New Zealand.
Our first activity in Queenstown was the Skyline gondola ride. The alpine view from the top of the hill was breathtaking, and the Remarkables mountain range and the calm Lake Wakatipu were truly stunning.
There were many exciting things to do in Queenstown, like bungee jumping, skydiving, water rafting and boating.
But we were hungry so we made our way to the Shotover Street for the Fergburger, which is famous for its juicy patty made from New Zealand beef. The queue was long when we got there, but the burger was definitely worth the wait.
We also checked out the Milford Sound cruise, where we sailed for about two hours on the 16km-long fiord with views of hanging valleys, waterfalls and snow-capped pyramid peaks.
After five days in Queenstown, we drove to Lake Tekapo. Our three-hour drive was punctuated with views of golden mountains, interlocking spurs and sheep farms; we played country songs on the car audio to add to the rustic ambiance.
At Tekapo, the owner of a backpackers’ hotel where we stayed at said, “Don’t stay in the room, come out and enjoy the view!” The youngsters did just that – star-glazing, hiking and cycling – while I stayed in and enjoyed the colours of the autumn, the beautiful landscape and the fresh air.
Our next stop was Kaikoura, which is famous for giant sperm whales. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to see any whale that day, but it was fine as we got an 80% refund. We also savoured some fresh seafood in one of the many restaurants along the road.
We then crossed the Cook Strait from Picton (South Island) to Wellington (North Island) on the ferry. It was a hassle- free ride, but it did take three hours. I was not complaining though because of the nice food and generous servings of drinks at the premium lounge.
Wellington is a cosmopolitan city, and one of the places that you must visit there is the Te Papa Museum. This six-storey building has a vast collection of artefacts depicting New Zealand’s rich culture.
The five-hour drive from Wellington to Rotorua was the longest. But driving in New Zealand was a breeze, as we made sure our car tank was full before starting the journey, and obeyed the 100km per hour maximum speed.
Rotorua, a famous geothermal region, is home to many Maori communities. A tour of Te Puia is one of the major attractions there. We saw a bubbling mud pool and the famous Pohutu Geyser.
“How is the geyser formed?” asked one of the youngsters. As a Geography teacher, I gave them a short lesson on the spot.
During the tour, we watched a Maori cultural performance – also known as the haka – and enjoyed a traditional hangi meal. This is a meal cooked in a pit on the ground, with heated rocks piled on top to create a natural oven.
The redwood forest of Rotorua, Whakarewarewa, deserves a special mention. A natural asset of Rotorua, the Californian Redwood trees grow to more than 70m tall. The Silver Fern, the icon of New Zealand can also be seen all around this area.
Next, we drove to the Waitomo to join the glowworm and Ruakuri limestone cave tour. The Waitomo Glowworm Caves were first explored in 1887 by an English surveyor accompanied by a local Maori. With candles as their only source of light, they floated with a raft into the cave where the stream goes underground.
Meanwhile, the Ruakuri Cave is a mystical labyrinth that goes into the “centre of the Earth”, and has been around for at least 30 million years.
The last lap of our journey was from Rotorua back to Auckland. The Sky Tower in Auckland offered a spectacular view of the city. This vibrant place has activities for people of all ages, so we managed to keep ourselves pretty busy.
Travelling with the youngsters was fun and relaxing for me. They made me feel so young at heart!
I guess the trick is to not nag them about everything, just go with the flow and everything will run smoothly.
The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.
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