The Southern Island of New Zealand was as far as we have ever gone from our home in Pune without being in space. Flying Jetstar from Auckland to Christchurch was a breeze. They were strict about the 7 kg weight of the handbag but there was no problem carrying toothpaste, water bottle, apple, wife suntan lotion. They even waved us past the Xray machine at immigration, which is secretly used to check ladies’ knickers! The flight itself was free of all airline sponsored extortion schemes, like selling in-flight sandwiches and watches, etc. We arrived Christchurch feeling fresh as daisies.
The Antarctica Centre is just a 6 minute walk from the domestic terminal. We went there, played with the Huskies, fed the Penguins, watched two 4-D movies on life in the Antarctica (and got wet with the artificial snow, water spray and ice cool winds) and also took a ride on the Hagglund vehicles. The truck handled as mad as a Coast Guard hovercraft, not under command. When I emerged from the experience, my tail feathers were sticking up.
While at Christchurch we also visited the Botanical gardens, Cardboard church, museum, tram ride and the Gondolas and luge rides. It was a Sunday, and the Busking bands were playing jazz music in the gardens. We bought pizza and ice-cream and lay on the grass along with about a thousand other families, enjoying the music
Driving in the South Island
Hiring a car and driving all over the South Island was the best thing we did. This way we could dawdle along, braking every now and then and getting the perfect picture shots.We hired a Mazda Demio five seater from Apex Rentals. It was a 1.3 litre 4 wheel drive, fully automatic car with all the embellishments you’d find on Elton John’s head and it handled well enough not to flutter an eyebrow during the entire ride. That said, the first problem was that it did seem to have the leaf springs of a Chinese ox cart fitted under the seats because everytime I emerged from the car I was looking around for a Thai massage centre where someone could gently rub soothing oils into my coccyx. There wasn’t any second problem.
Most of the cars on the road were big and loaded to the rafters with boat, cycles and tents. But some of the big cars had personality, the sheer force of which would knock me into a cocked hat! There were people driving camper vans too and doing speeds as if they were delivering a kidney to the Queen herself.
Franz Josef Glacier
We trekked on the Franz Josef Trail right up to the Glacier. It was a 3 hour walk and it rained for the first two hours but that didn’t dampen our spirits. And neither should it yours because saying ‘NO’ to a trail walk because it’s slushy is like saying ‘NO’ to a beautiful woman because she has a mole on her face! (That’s literary nonsense, but I guess you get the drift of it). On the road from Fox Glacier to Queenstown we passed through some spectacular sights, like Blue Pool, Thunder Falls and Roaring Falls, each one better than the other.
Milford Sound Cruise
Milford Sound was a washout for us because it was raining heavily through the day. But our bus driver Wayne made our day with his voice of David Attenborough and his mind of Carl Sagan. He humoured us with the most delightful and informative commentary I’ve ever heard. We sat back peacefully even as the sunlight played it’s radioactive Morse code through the overhanging leaves as the bus made its way through the mountain region.
The Queenstown Experience
There was not a single sight in Queenstown that failed to float my boat. You need to think of Queenstown as a painting by God himself. The brush strokes are magnificent, the texture is superb, the perspective is world class and the detailing is better than a Rembrandt. To summarise Queenstown in a few words I would say it is biblically, stratospherically and crushingly brilliant. Under the dying Amber’s of a vivid scarlet sun you can walk around the lake shore, squint, go cross-eyed and do whatever you want but you won’t find a single angle from which it looks even remotely wrong. Queenstown is easily the most beautiful town in the whole wide world, in terms of natural beauty.
Cooking our own meals
The hotels and AirBnB we stayed at had all the basic necessities of a home like pots and pans, cutlery, microwave, electric kettle, etc, that in no way would bamboozle someone from the stone age. And here’s the really annoying thing – they all worked!
The lake areas are particularly pretty with the mountains in the background and the sky with the clouds glowing in the soft red, orange, yellow and silver colours of a giant panoramic LED screen. This makes you feel warm and fuzzy as you bathe every night in a different colour combination until it ends with a Vodka Bar blue colour at 9 pm and it’s time to have a drink.
After Queenstown we drove all the way to get the southernmost point of the South Island called Bluff. On a clear day it is said you can see the continent meltdown of Antarctica in the form of large icebergs from there. If you asked me where I would like to settle I’d probably choose Christchurch and then after five minutes regretted not choosing Queenstown or Dunedin or Ashford or Lake Penaka. Each one is better than the other. As far as you are concerned I would advise you that before you catch ebola with your daily routine of putting on and off the dirty light switches in your house, you should make a trip to New Zealand.
So that someday when you have to finally go, you can die with a smile on your face.
Captain Anil Gonsalves, IN, joined NDA in 1975 and passed out in 1978. He commanded Coast Guard ship Rajshree and INS Mahish in the Navy among his varied appointments. He took premature retirement in 2005 and presently is working in the Offshore Division of the Shipping Corporation of India as Master in their Platform Support Vessels.