PETER and ANN FROST take a month’s motorhome trip in New Zealand
The Pod of dolphins was behaving really strangely. One young, but bloated, female was clearly being supported and protected by the rest of the extended family as they moved close to our boat.
The crew knew the pod well and explained, she was heavily pregnant, indeed maybe already in the first stages of labour. A group of humans in the water today would be far too disturbing for this young mum.
They apologised that this meant that there would be no swimming with the dolphins. Everyone on board understood, indeed we were all delighted that they take such good care of their wildlife.
We were on a cruise on the Cream Boat around the spectacular Bay of Islands, it was just one of the excursions included in our Tour. This local floating carrier used to visit the many island farms collecting churns of cream to take to the local butter factories.
Today the boats also carry a cargo of eager travellers keen to see the spectacular sights and wildlife of the islands. There is usually a chance to swim with the dolphins but sadly, as I’ve explained, not today.
Instead the crew provided an alternative diversion. We dived for sea urchins which fresh and raw are almost certainly the most delicious of all seafood. It was the perfect end to an almost unbelievable day.
Whenever or wherever we talk to fellow Club members about a motorhome trip around New Zealand one phrase always comes into the conversation. It is always “The holiday of a lifetime.” Events like our day sailing the Bay of Islands proved just how true that was.
New Zealand certainly offers a tremendous amount of things to see and do. There are miles and miles of beautiful and exciting landscapes. They include spectacular mountain ranges, volcanoes and geysers, placid lakes dramatic coastlines, gold and silver beaches, deep-cut jagged fjords and luxurious rainforests.
Spectacular bridges swoop across deeply cut river valleys offering those of us sat high in the cab of a motorhome some amazing views.
Those high bridges inspired bungee jumping, first invented here in New Zealand. A score of other thrilling sports have been added to that original. Today an increasing range of ever more extreme sport are up for grabs.
Many of the members on our trip literally jumped off a mountain top to para-glide down over our camp site.
Just as thrilling, in a totally different way, was to follow a steep stream at Ohua, near the whale watching centre of Kaikoura. A quarter of a mile up from the beach we discovered a waterfall cascading a hundred feet into a clear crystal pool deeply shaded by trees.
Frankly that would have been enough but the pool was alive with a hundred or so fluffy, cuddly baby seals. Ann and I, the only humans there to see them could hardly believe our eyes.
That’s the wonderful thing about New Zealand. On one hand it is a playground for thrill seekers, and at the same time it is a haven for those seeking peace, relaxation and amazing wildlife. Chill or thrill? You take your choice.
The Camping and Caravanning Club’s Escorted New Zealand Tour took us to both North and South islands. If you are heading to the other side of the world make sure you do the same.
North Island offers amazing white beaches, one over ninety miles long. Such a huge beautiful beach ought to be enough, but not for the Kiwis. They have invented the sport of dune surfing just to make it an even better day out.
The thermal wonderland of Rotorua made a complete contrast, boiling mud pools looked as uninviting as the coastal crystal clear oceans were seductive.
After a day of geysers and geothermal wonders the evening was spent in a Maori village where some of the dancing – the famous haka – was as terrifying as the earth gushing forth steam and boiling water.
In the end the natives proved friendly and generous, sharing a right royal feast of various meats wrapped in leaves and cooked in natural steam escaping through cracks in the earth.
The South Island is by contrast a huge and pretty farm. In one afternoon’s drive we saw more deer than we had in the rest of our lives. There are over a million deer in New Zealand. Half of them on farms, the other half have escaped to live in the wild.
Perhaps the weirdest among a wierd bunch of the local wildlife is the tuatara, a lizard-like reptile that is only found on certain small islands around New Zealand and in a number of mainland sanctuaries.
Tuatara are the only existing members of the Order Sphenodontia, survivors from the age of the dinosaurs, some 200 million years ago. All species apart from the tuatara became extinct about 60 million years ago. Only tuatara survived to become the only living dinosaur.
New Zealand wine is justifiably popular here in Britain. We discovered sparkling Sauvignon Blanc so good the Kiwis save it all to drink at home. There were plenty of vineyards and wineries offering tasters along our way.
This wonderful wine, far better than champagne we reckoned, proved the perfect accompaniment for the oysters they serve at Bluff in the southernmost tip of the South Island.
South Island has so much more than just oysters and fizz. There are the high snow fields and ice formations at Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
Walking on the glaciers is exciting yet well organised and if the weather is suitable a flight up to the higher ice fields by helicopter or ski-plane can be an unforgettable experience.
Included in our tour was a cruise through the spectacular Fiord country along Milford Sound. The waterspouts from the high walls of the fiords cast myriad rainbows in the bright sunshine.
Just as fascinating was the underwater observatory that got us up close to the strange fish and other creatures that inhabit the deep cold waters of the fiords.
These Fiords are also great places for seabirds. Who will ever forget their first sight of a huge and regal albatross hanging completely motionless and silent on the breeze over the Southern Ocean?
All over New Zealand wildlife abounds, from the many curious flightless birds – kiwis are just one species; to whales, dolphins and seals.
Let us finish with a few Kiwi statistics. The two main islands are just a little bigger than the entire British Isles including Ireland. New Zealand has a population of 4.5 million compared with the nearly 70 million of us that inhabit the British Isles.
South Island, the bigger of the two has just over a million people. So there is a lot of open space for visitors to explore.
When it comes to animals New Zealand scores more highly; there are 45 million sheep, that’s ten for every person; 12 million cattle, half for milk, half for beef. Wild animals, wild and introduced, flourish here.
Two and a half million holiday makers visit New Zealand every year and 60,000 of them choose a motorhome holiday.
They are the lucky ones, there is no doubt about it, there is no better way to enjoy the huge open spaces of New Zealand, no better way to get up close to the wildlife and country farm life of this amazing country.
No better way, indeed than to get yourself that long promised ‘holiday of a lifetime’.
This article first appeared in Camping and Caravanning Magazine December 2013