Newsletter - January 25, 2006

New Zealand My Way     by Maria Wu

It does not matter where in the country you go, showpiece scenery is always on display: bays sprinkled with islands, snow-capped volcanoes, bright blue mountain lakes, sea cliffs and rocky caves, rivers and waterfalls in semi-tropical rainforests, white-sand beaches, ancient and giant trees, green grassy hills that plummet into river gorges.  And so it goes on.  Yes, the landscape is awesome.  And, as important, are the great people. Whether they are in the Visitor Information Centres or with hosts in country homes, you will be looked after by genuinely friendly, well-informed and down-to-earth folks.  New Zealand’s remoteness is precisely what keeps it precious and unspoiled.  I have visited the country three times over a span of 11 years and have never been disappointed. Once you get over the long flights required to get there, simply rent a car and drive around at your own pace.
I have often travelled in New Zealand with no accommodation reservations and no detailed plans.  But if you would like the assurance of pre-booked accommodation I can recommend a book entitled The Greenwood Guide to Australia and New Zealand: Special Handpicked Accommodation by Simon Greenwood, Adam Barnes and Rachael Parsons.  The guide includes a wide range of B&Bs, lodges, farms and self-catering cottages to suit any budget, your sense of adventure, interest in history, creativity or love of luxury.  At these properties you will meet owners who have a real liking for other people and take pleasure in looking after them.  Most of them provide dinner as an option.  The pleasure of sampling good home cooked meals, personalized service and unique atmosphere without having to look for a restaurant in a strange place is, in my opinion, an ultimate treat. Another book I can recommend is Off Beaten Track by Jenny Greene and Hamish Johnston, a volume that lists recommended accommodation, eating places and eco-activities.

Before I continue, I would like to tell readers of another accommodation option. This is through an organization called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoof) which operates in New Zealand and other parts of the world. Wwoof began in the UK in 1971 and in NZ in 1974.  It arranges for volunteers to stay on organic farms and join in with the various projects their hosts are engaged in.  There is a variety of such properties spread throughout NZ, including farms, market gardens, communities and ventures in self-sufficiency in which organic growing plays some part.  Currently there are nearly 900 Wwoof Farms in NZ.  While living with the family, the ‘wwoofer’ is expected to join in and help with the day-to-day activities.  Generally four to six hours help each day is required.  In addition, help with cooking, washing up, etc., is recommended and is appreciated by the hosts.  For me, Wwoof has provided the opportunity to live and experience the daily life of New Zealand families. One is not paid for the work, but one lives and eats without any charge.
Before leaving Toronto, I contacted Wwoof of New Zealand by e-mail at support@wwoof.co.nz and signed up as a member for a fee of NZ$40.00.  Within a month, I received the booklet listing all the hosts with descriptions of their properties, activities and contacts.  The properties were listed by regions. As my first stop would be Christchurch and I wanted to spend several weeks around the Banks Peninsula, I contacted a number of hosts by e-mail in both areas.  In Christchurch, I was accepted by ‘English Park Eco Accommodation’ for seven days, followed by three weeks with ‘Sally and Richard Gabric’ at Little River, followed by three weeks with ‘John Thom & Julie Wagner’ at Duvauchelle.  At the end of those seven weeks, I planned to set off on further travels.

In my experience, it was best to contact the hosts by e-mail.  It allowed me to give a short description of myself.  Each position provided me with a different experience.  Initially I was apprehensive before meeting my hosts but this gradually dissipated as I found the New Zealanders I met were friendly, sincere, and helpful.  I felt at home within the first hour of my arrival.  Every family, without exception, was happy in their life style, had healthy diets, dressed for comfort, were involved with their local community, loved and cared for the environment.  Most of them had book shelves full of books which I was welcome to read.  I accepted the offers and read many books written by New Zealand authors about life in that country.

The Banks Peninsula is one of the most beautiful volcanic areas in Canterbury on the south island of New Zealand.  I felt in love with the beauty of Akaroa Harbour when I first saw it and felt certain that the surrounding areas would be worth exploring.  Since I had come without a car, I asked my host where I was staying how I could see more of the area. I was told to take a trip with the “mail run”.  The folks in the Information Centre at Akaroa were delighted to book my trip with Garry and Anita Trott who do the “Eastern Bays Mail Run”.  This is a daily excursion (Monday to Saturday) that leaves the Akaroa Information Centre at 9 a.m.  Bookings are essential as there are only eight seats in the bus. Make reservations in the Information Centre or call 3 304 8600 from anywhere in Canterbury.
The trip visited no fewer than ten bays, travelled over 120 km, serviced over 100 mail boxes and climbed from sea level to heights ranging from 300 – 700 metres on no fewer than eight occasions.  In addition to all natural beauty, passengers learn how the mail gets through to these isolated bays and communities, whatever the weather.  Barry and Anita were full of information: sharing historical facts of the Banks Peninsula and insider stories of the rural communities, fascinating stories not to be found in any books.  Two hours into our journey, we stopped at Little Akaloa Bay, where Anita served a sumptuous mid-morning meal with scones and sandwiches she had made that morning. Afterwards we visited a quaint little church – St. Luke by the Sea – wherein they serve this meal when the weather does not co-operate.  This four- and-a-half-hour trip is the best way to see the magnificent, pristine beauty of this region and the isolation of the farmsteads and hamlets.
One of the highlights of my most recent stay turned out to be time I spent at the Flying Fox, located in the lower Whanganui River Valley, surrounded by the Whanganui National Park, in south west of the North Island. Access to this property is by boat along the river or by aerial cableway!  It appealed to my sense of adventure, so I contacted Annette Main and made a reservation for a week.  The fun started as soon as I entered the gate signed “The Flying Fox” and walked down a short but steep gravel road, at the end of which I found a cable car and a box containing a sheet of instructions.  To contact the host, John Blythe, I blew the whistle hanging on a pole, climbed into the cable car and then waited as instructed.  Five minutes later, John appeared.  I shouted to him that I was ready and shortly the cable car moved off, over the river about 100 ft below.  My heart skipped a beat when I looked down but my apprehension disappeared when I saw John’s cheerful, smiling face.  John showed me two cottages, a caravan and a camper.  Each is unique, built and decorated with love, pride and creativity by John and Annette.  As soon as I met them, I felt at home.  My seven day stay at the Flying Fox went by far too quickly, yet I never left the property.  I walked, read and enjoyed my hosts’ eclectic collection of old recordsand shared a few memorable meals with my hosts and their guests.
My next adventure came about using the Greenwood Guide. I contacted Jenny Thompson who owns Matawha near Raglan on the east coast, south of Hamilton on the North Island.  Raglan has a sheltered harbour, with unusual carved rocks known as Tattooed Rocks.  It has possibly the best surfing beach in the southern hemisphere.  On my visit to the Tattooed Rocks, I came upon a sign saying ‘Tendam Gliding today’. While I was at Nelson, I attempted Paragliding but did not succeed because of my small frame. My dream of flying like a bird was shattered. Thus Tendam Gliding would be the next best alternative. The experience was awesome. I couldn’t find a better day, looking down the Ralgan coastline on a bright sunny day with a gentle breeze. Ralgan is near Kawhia, known for its ‘hot water’ black sand beaches. Matawha is a 900-acre cattle and sheep station.  Here I enjoyed a studio room overlooking the valley and beach with and a wide deck where one can read, eat or watch the sunset.  Full breakfast is included (from $90.00 double, $60.00 single) and arrangements can be made for lunch and/or dinner.  I shared dinner with Jenny on the first night: roast chicken, vegetables from her garden, warm herb bread and a refreshing salad, followed with an English trifle. We lingered over the meal with red wine and lots of interesting conversations about New Zealand and our travels in other parts of the world.

I spent 3 more weeks in New Zealand before heading to Tonga. New Zealand has the best spring and summer. My five months stay was definitely not longer enough. Before I said goodbye to my last host, I promised to return soon.

Some details …

Information on Wwoof in New Zealand can be obtained from Box 1172, Nelson, New Zealand, fax: [code 011 64] 3 544 9890, e-mail: support@wwoof.co.nz. The 897 Wwoof farms in New Zealand are listed on the large website www.wwoof.co.nz where many of the properties are illustrated.
For details of Wwoof in Canada contact 4429 Carlson Road, Nelson, BC V1L 6X3, tel: 250 354 4417, e-mail: wwoofcan@shaw.ca, www.wwoof.ca

The two guide books mentioned above are great for planning a trip to NZ with a difference, particularly for those who are looking for something unique.

The Greenwood Guide to Australia and New Zealand: Special Handpicked Accommodation by Simon Greenwood, Adam Barnes and Rachael Parsons, available at www.amazon.ca for C$23.94.

Off the Beaten Track, Greenstone Press, fax: [011 64] 3 731 1154, www.greenstone.co.nz

In addition, many may find the 2006 Baches & Holdiay Homes to Rent Guide Book useful. This, together with many other New Zealand guides, can be ordered on line at www.holidayhomes.co.nz, price NZ$19.95, about C$16.30.

Annette Main and John Blythe at the Flying Fox can be contacted at P.O. Box 333, Whanganui, Aotearo, New Zealand, tel:  6 342 8160, e-mail: theflyingfox@paradise.net.nz, www.theflyingfox.co.nz
Jenny Thomson at Matawha can be contacted at 7 825 6709, e-mail: jenny@wave.co.nz
When I wanted to rent a car, I used Ace Tourist Rental (NZ) who offer well-priced, unlimited mileage rentals, for pick-up (or delivery to you) at one location, drop off at another.   All details at www.acerentalcars.co.nz


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