Travel Writing Contest
The following itinerary is written by a finalist of our writing contest, Albert.
I boarded SQ 285 with my spouse and my very excited 4-year old daughter for our 13-day trip to New Zealand. It was my daughter’s first trip out of Singapore.
As we were touching down at Auckland International Airport and glancing out of the windows of the plane, I could spot Auckland’s harbour.
Now, I understand why Auckland has been labelled ‘City of Sails’ – it has more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world.
We stayed at Sky City Hotel which boasts Auckland’s tallest modern landmark, the Sky Tower. Standing at a height of 328m, it provides a spectacular view of the Manukau Harbour to the west and the Waitemata Harbour to the east with Auckland sandwiched in-between. For the bold (definitely not me), Sky Jump, a 192m bungee jump from the tower, provides the ultimate thrill. Below the tower is New Zealand’s largest casino, Sky City, which was thronged with gamblers.
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We headed south from Auckland down to Rotorua (‘Two Lakes’) where we were greeted by a distinctive, thermal, rotten-egg odour of hydrogen sulphide gas.
Next destination was Waitomo Cave. Here, outcrops of stratified and eroded limestone mark the approach to Waitomo which means ‘stream which flows into the hole in the ground’. We were amazed by the magical beauty of the Glowworm Grotto described as ‘a fairyland without the fairies’.
We viewed the grotto from a boat pulled across the river by a fixed wire beneath galaxies of glimmering, luminous pinpoints.
With tail-lights glimmering, the glowworm larvae, rare outside New Zealand, swung to and fro, letting down sticky threads to catch the midges that bred in the water.
Inside the cave, stalactites hang down and stalagmites grow up from the cave floor. It was a rare and beautiful sight.
Just 2 km south of the Rotorua town centre is Whakarewarewa – The Thermal Reserve. Beside the reserve is the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where Maori artisans can be seen carrying out traditional carving and weaving activities.
We visited the delightful Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park with its natural pools teeming with thousands of Brown and Rainbow trout. These fish which swim here from Lake Rotorua to spawn, can be hand-fed and viewed through an underwater window.
Adjacent to the park is the Kiwi Encounter which is a unique incubation facility, hatchery and nursery – the only one of its kind in the world. We saw Kiwis, native geckos, skinks and adult and juvenile tuataras. We also witnessed a free-flight bird show.
The Agrodome Sheep Show is a must-see at Rotorua, where we sighted 19 breeds of champion sheep and watched a Kiwi shearer shearing a sheep using the world record Bowen technique and shepherd dogs herding sheep.
My daughter and I had the opportunity to milk a cow, feed a lamb and even buy a sheep!
We jumped on the back of a tractor with one of the farming staff and stopped along the way for some close up and personal encounters such as hand feeding a variety of New Zealand farm animals including cattle, Alpaca, ostriches, sheep, emus and deer. We also took a tour of the stunning organic Kiwi fruit orchard and tasted the delicious Kiwifruit juices, wine and honey.
That evening, we sampled earth-oven cooked food known as the ‘Hangi’ while watching a Maori performance in the hotel where we stayed.
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We got to see New Zealand’s largest lake, Lake Taupo which gives rise to the country’s longest river, the Waikato.
Apart from its trout-fishing fame, Taupo offers a full range of activities from sedate boat and kayak trips on its lake to sky diving, bungee jumping and other adrenalin-pumping sports. Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest freshwater lake covering an area equivalent to the island of Singapore.
The Waikato River leaps a ledge and plunges into a churning maelstrom known as the Huka Falls which has lots of water bursting it every second.
We headed to Napier to witness a classic sheepskin factory and see how sheepskins are processed from washing to drying and ironing to what we see in the shops.
Our next stop is Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It is also where the Parliament building – an impressive domed structure in the shape of a bee-hive is sited.
Wellington’s waterfront is dominated by the Museum of New Zealand which has a Maori name, Te Papa loosely translated as ‘Our Place’. It uses thrilling, interactive technology to involve visitors back to native bush in the days before humans arrived in Aotearoc. An attraction called the Time Warp includes a simulated view of a volcanic eruption.
In other parts of the museum, we experienced an earthquake and learnt the stories of New Zealand’s natural disasters. Maori culture is presented graphically – there’s a marae or village on the premises and the hands-on-activity areas are very popular with children. There are also regular temporary exhibitions of work by eminent New Zealand artists.
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Day 6 and 7
We took a domestic flight from Wellington to Christchurch. Lake Tekapo is a place of exceptional beauty and clarity. On the lake front stands the Church of the Good Shepherd. The foundation stone of the stone-and-oak church was laid in 1935 by the Duke of Gloucester.
Near to the church is a bronze statue of a sheep dog erected in 1968 as a tribute to the important role played by these animals in the development of high country farming.
We stopped at High Country Salmon Farm to hand feed the salmon and tasted fresh salmon sashimi too.
Tekapo is in South Island under Aoraki National Park and Mackenzie Basin region in Canterbury. The region is considered one of the best sites for stargazing and that was why we flocked there to see the star galaxy at Mount John Observatory. The bedtime lullaby Twinkle Twinkle Little Star came to mind as we scanned the sky in the freezing winter breeze.
Moeraki Boulders, Scenic Reserve – Maori legend claims that the boulders were the food baskets washed from the great voyaging canoe Araiteuru when it was wrecked upon landfall in New Zealand some 1000 years ago.
The drive from Christchurch to Mt. Cook traversed some of New Zealand most scenic landscapes – ‘mirror’ lakes and golden, tussock covered mountains, gave way to the Southern Alps, a snow capped spine of 3000m high mountains.
We visited the world’s steepest street, the oldest university of New Zealand, the Octagon and the iconic Dunedin Railway Station.
We also went into Cadbury Chocolate Factory and learnt the processes of chocolate making and got to sample and buy the chocolates too. Definitely, my daughter’s favourite stop!
We stopped at Mrs Jones Fruit Orchard where a rich array and assortment of fresh and dried fruits, nuts and honey awaited us for sample tasting and for purchases for our own consumption and as gifts to friends back home.
Two of the members in our tour group were brave enough to try bungee jumping at Kawarau Suspension Bridge which was the pioneer A.J Hackett’s leaping point atop the 43m bridge in 1988. Maybe I will be brave enough to try next time if I ever get to come here again?
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Our trip to Milford Sound was changed to Doubtful Sound as the road to Milford Sound was temporarily blocked by a huge boulder hanging precariously over there.
Doubtful Sound was named by Captain James Cook in 1770 on his voyage to New Zealand when looking at the narrow entrance to the Sound, he was doubtful that he could safely get his vessel in and out.
This 40km long fiord is a remote, unspoilt wilderness of mountain peaks, rainforest which supports a rich array of birds and marine lives, including crested penguins, fur seals and bottlenose dolphins. Getting there was an adventure in itself involving two boat trips and a coach ride over a mountain pass.
Our next destination Arrowtown was a 20-minute drive from Queenstown. Its main street, Buckingham Street is lined with cafes, restaurants and boutiques at one end. At the other end are the Chinese miners’ stone cottages which are preserved for historical reason.
It was our first encounter with glacier ice, the prime sculptor of the Southern Alps.
Franz Josef and Fox are the most accessible and largest of the 60 glaciers in Mt. Cook National Park. Access to the top of the mountains was by helicopters and we were greeted by the glittering majesty of these massive white and turquoise ice rivers thrusting into subtropical bushland.
Franz Josef’s glaciers flow down the snowfields of the Alps to within a short distance to the sea.
We went on a visit to the Greenstone Factory and Glass Blowing studio where we experienced New Zealand’s various types of jade stones and witnessed two glass blowers demonstrating their skills in turning glasses into penguin and seal figurines.
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It was home sweet home as we boarded SQ 298 from Christchurch Airport. This 13-Day trip to New Zealand is indeed a memorable one as we shared pleasant and happy experiences while taking in the various breath-taking attractions. I always believe that ‘A family that travels together stays together’. Indeed we had a great family bonding time in this paradise on earth.