SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Paradise, here and now

OUT OF THIS WORLD: The glaciers in all their majestic splendour.   | Photo Credit: Photo: K.P. Misra

DR. K.P. MISRA

New Zealand is blessed with an infinite variety of landscapes, all of them stunningly beautiful.

Perhaps there is no other place in the world which offers such incredible variety of natural splendour.

IF there is a chunk of paradise on earth, it is undoubtedly New Zealand. It is amazing that this country was unknown to the world until about 150 years ago when it was first occupied by Europeans, long after it was discovered by the Dutch in 1642 and later circumnavigated and mapped by Captain James Cook of England. Of course, the islands were home to the Polynesians from nearby islands, the Maoris, who live with the European descendants with dignity and honour now. The Maoris called the islands Aotearoa ("land of the long white cloud in Maori").Perhaps there is no other place in the world which offers such incredible variety of natural splendour, within a few kilometres the sea, lakes, rivers, mountains, glaciers, water falls, unlimited spread of virgin forests as well as an infinite variety of flora and fauna, including the rarest of the penguins and dolphins. Sounds incredible indeed! But one can experience it within a few hours of arrival in this virgin territory, still unspoiled by human intrusions and habitations.

Enjoyable experience

No doubt, the best way to see New Zealand and its magnificent expanse is to drive through the entire country. The roads are good, the people friendly and traffic manageable and that makes it an enjoyable experience. We arrived at Christchurch on a Sunday morning, and within hours were flying high in a gondola overlooking the entire city interspersed with lakes, fields, and a large number of sheep grazing in lush green fields. Surprisingly, we met a Punjabi gentleman at the restaurant on top of the hill where the gondola trip ends. This gentleman was thrilled to see us and greeted us with a "Namaste". We were also overjoyed when he offered free food as he proudly claimed to be the manager of the restaurant. Christchurch is a beautiful city built in British times and happens to be the capital of the south island. In the evening we were entertained with a cultural show by the local Maoris. The culture and language of these original inhabitants of Polynesian origin are still preserved intact. The Maori show was very interesting as it was a completely different kind of tribal tradition, of real Polynesian origin. Next day, we drove down to Kaikoura where one of the most interesting events took place. The occasion was "swimming with the dolphins". It was amazing to see nearly 300 dusky dolphins (unique to New Zealand) in their natural habitat, swimming with many excited tourists.Our next trip was through "Arthur's Pass" to a place called Hokitika where we lodged at log cabins. These cabins were on the beach facing the sea and it was thrilling to see infinite varieties of pebbles as well as driftwood of varying sizes and forms lying on the beach. We then undertook an incredible flight over Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. We did this in a six-seater aircraft, in which only the pilot and our family travelled. From a height of 10,000 feet we looked down upon the amazing spectacle of bluish white glaciers shining between peaks. There is no way the joy of this sight can be described. One has to experience the immensity of this splendorous natural beauty.

Sounds of silence

We then visited Queenstown, named after Queen Victoria. It must be one of the prettiest cities in New Zealand with crystal clear blue water in the lakes and apartments standing on the hills overlooking the lake. The next morning we took a short trip to Te Anau, from where we took a cruise overnight to the fiords and the Tasman sea along the western coast of New Zealand. The cruise was certainly enjoyable. One of the most impressive parts of the cruise was a place called "Doubtful Sound". The captain of the ship switched off the engine and asked us to maintain total silence in this fiord, with mother nature and all its abundant and luxurious beauty all around us. It was an eerie experience for all of us, as if the entire world had come to a standstill. It seems Captain Cook did not dare enter the fiord because of unusual sounds coming from inside the territories surrounding it and therefore called it "Doubtful Sound". Thereafter we took one of the most scenic drives to Milford Sound, with the surrounding hills and the spread of pretty trees interspersed with spectacular display of flowers. We were mesmerised by the natural beauty of this drive. We also saw a few Keas, a threatened species of a rare variety of parrot only found in South Island. We also passed through fairly dense green forest interspersed with a few waterfalls, one of which was cascading down with a perennial murmuring sound called Punakaunui. Dunedin, considered the Edinburgh of New Zealand, is indeed a beautiful city built in the style of Edinburgh of Scotland. The architecture of most buildings spoke eloquently of the Scottish heritage. The railway station in this town was an architectural beauty, believed to have been the most photographed in New Zealand. The high point of our visit came when we proceeded to Penguin Place, Otago Peninsula. We had to go through tunnels of plants and creepers, hiding ourselves from the sight of the penguins. We were told that the penguins were very sensitive to human presence and tried to avoid any intrusion into their private spaces. We were told that there were just 3,000 yellow-eyed penguins (called "Hoi Ho", Maori for a "noise maker") found only in New Zealand. We considered ourselves very lucky when we managed to see, within a span of about an hour, 10 of these rare species of the most graceful of birds in their natural wilderness. We had to see them through slits made under the camouflaged hides. We were absolutely thrilled when we saw some of them at a distance of no more than five feet. The guide told us that during the period of our visit a whole lot of yellow-eyed penguin chicks had died of some unknown mysterious disease in the southern-most island, called Stewart Island.

Warm and friendly

The final leg of our trip was from Dunedin via Oamaru to Christchurch. At Oamaru, we had the privilege of staying in a farmhouse owned by Lynne and Collin Gibson. We arrived almost at midnight at a totally isolated place where the farmhouse was located. The Gibson couple was more than gracious to have kept awake to receive us with the warmth and friendliness unique to New Zealanders. Next morning, we found out that the Gibsons had an average-sized farm of 1,200 acres providing for their 4,000 sheep and 200 cattle.We drove back from Oamaru to Christchurch to catch our return flight. The most enjoyable experience of seeing New Zealand comes when you drive on excellent roads running through hills, valleys with miles of forest by the side of unending rivers and lakes with crystal clear blue water.