FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF GANDALF
New Zealand is the land of Gandalf and Frodo. In its ancestral forests, the elves are hiding among the fern trees and the Hobbits conduct their placid life in the Shire. Travelling from south to north through the two island sat the antipodes of the world, you must prepare to be witness of real shows of nature that will take you in a heartbeat inside the sets of Lord of the Rings: thousands of waterfalls, fjords, glaciers, red wood forests, grasslands, geysers, boiling lakes and crystal clear seas, are just some of the wonders that await you.
Our advice is to plan at least three weeks of travel to be able to fully enjoy the main attractions of the two islands. The ideal would be to rent a car in the South Island and drop it in the North Island, making a round trip within each Island, but if time is tight, you can also program some domestic flights, frequents and very reliable.
Our journey began in Christchurch in the South Island, and we continued in the direction of Franz Josef Glacier through the scenic Arthur's Pass. Here, you can make various excursions and hiking up the slopes of the glacier or take a walk in the Circuit Path of the Reflection Lake , nestled in the alpine forests. For the more adventurous you can also book a helicopter ride to land on the glacier.
Heading south you will come up to Queenstown, in the Otago region, the center of the adrenalin activities in New Zealand, from Jet Boating on the in a full of rocks river to Bungee Jumping; from Whitewater Rafting to the Canyon Wwinging, just to name a few. From here, you can also organize some wonderful excursions to the fjords of Milford Sound and Doubt Sound or try to become a gold seeker for one day in the Arrowtown valley, where, thanks to a 4x4 jeep tour, you will reach the abandoned city of Macetown, the center of the New Zealand Gold Rush of the 1800s.
Going up the west coast of the South Island, you can stop in the Otago Peninsula to visit the breeding center of the Albratoss. This bird is the widest in the world with a wingspan of 3 meters and spends alone the first 5 years of its life, flying over the pacific Ocean several times to the coasts of Argentina and then, coming back here, years later, to nest. The beaches of the peninsula have high white dunes, populated by numerous colonies of sea lions and penguins. An excellent opportunity to rest before heading to Kaikoura for the whales watching. Off of this area, in fact, there is a submarine canyon that stretches for over 60 Kilometers and reaches depths of up to 1200+ meters, creating a perfect habitat for whales and one of the few places in the world where Sperm Whales can be seen year-round and close to shore.
Before embarking for Wellington, were commend a small deviation in the Abel Tasmanian N.P., where you can spend a couple of days swimming in crystal clear water or participating to a sailing tour near the coast. Arrived in the Capital, stopping long enough for a quick look at the downtonw and at the Weta Studios, the New Zealand Film Studio where are been made many movies as The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, Narnia Cronicles, The Hobbit Trilogy, etc; then you can point straight toward the center of the North Island to the town of Rotorua.
Land of the Maori, Rotorua will give you unforgettable days where you can make several excursions: a trekking in the mountains, a walking through the geothermal parks full of geysers and sulphurous lakes such as those of the valley of Wai-o-Tapu; a visit of one national bird conservation center for the Kiwi Birds, or just relaxing in one of the numerous natural spas, to enjoy , in the evening, to a Maori show, followed by a delicious dinner with typical dishes.
In particular, were commend a walk in the Redwood Forest or, if you are trained physically, a trekking to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a long and steep walk of 20 km with over 1,000 meters of altitude, between active volcanoes and geysers steaming.
Before arriving in Auckland, you can make a deviation in the Matamata area. So in the morning, you can visit the deep caves of Watamo, within which, thanks to a boat underground, you will see the show of the glowworm, small phosphorescent larvaes ,who illuminates the cave as stars of the milky way; in the afternoon, you can drive to the nearby Hobbinton, the village built by Peter Jackons for shooting the the Shire. Hobbiton, realized in two years of work, is a wonderful masterpiece of details. You think that the oak above the Bilbo and Frodo Baggings house is fake, with more than 200,000 plasti leaves, made in Taiwan and glued one by one. The landscape is really bucolic and after a cider beer in the "Inn of the Green Dragon" you will believe to be part of the movie.
Auckland is a beautiful city, with wide clean streets and a funny touristic Harbour, where you will find the Maritime Museum headquarters, a must-see in a Country where the members of the New Zealand Team, that won the America's Cup, are still considered national heroes. The sails, the sun and the warm wind blowing from the north, they will make you dream about lonely beaches. We recommend to go on until the town of Russell in the Bay of Islands, where you can spend some relaxing days taking part in some boat trips. Here you can choose to discover Moturua, with the stanning Otehei Bay and its beautiful landscapes, or just sipping, on the porch of your hotel, a sparkling white wine, previously bought in the Marlborough region, famous worldwide for its vineyards.
Your journey is about to end, it is time to turn back to Auckland, but on the way back, take a break in the Waipoua Forest to honor the centuries-old Kauri trees that protect these islands of ancient warriors ,where the water and the fire meet, everyday, to dance the Haka, the traditional ancestral war dance of these wild lands.
Written by Sarah Falchi - Photos by Paolo Castellari
WHERE TO STAY – SOME ADVICES AND USEFULL LINKS
Franz Alpine: Jag Escape Franz Alpine
Arrowtown: Settlers Cottage Motel
Queenstown: Mercure Queenstown Resort
Rotoura: Cedarwood Lake Side
Turangi: Creek Lodge
Auckland: The Quadrant Hotel & Suite
For more infos about our New Zealand trip visit our blog: paolocastellari.com/icastell/en