The Land of the Rings: New Zealand

New Zealand (NZ) is comprised of 2 large land masses (the north and south islands) and a cluster of smaller islands. It’s in the south western part of the Pacific Ocean and is an absolutely enchanting Island country.Maoris were the original inhabitants of this very picturesque country and their name for it was Aotearoa, loosely translated it means the Land of the long white cloud. The traditional way that Maoris greet each other is to touch each other’s noses and breathe in, which signifies that “we breathe the same air”. Very quaint.

It is separated from the continent of Australia by the Tasman Sea and it’s just about an hour’s flight from Sydney or Melbourne into Auckland, the biggest city of NZ. The custom’s are extremely strict, bordering on paranoid and don’t permit many things into the country and its always simply safer to go through the red channel and ask them to check your luggage for anything they may find offensive. They do not allow any fruits, flowers or vegetables, and even had a problem with a stick of Sandal wood I was carrying. Of course they need to be stringent, because a wrong type of animal or plant could destroy the fragile eco system of the Island.

It is in the Southern Hemisphere and so the seasons are opposite of what they are in India, they have pretty cold winters from April to October and November to March can be hot and balmy. I was quite curious to see water draining out of the basin counter clockwise instead of clockwise, and the moon is upside down compared to what we see in India.

Nature is bountiful in New Zealand, somehow the leaves are greener, the flowers brighter, the sky bluer. And here is one more extremely curious thing, there are absolutely no insects or plants on land or in the sea which are harmful to human beings! You can go for a walk in the brush (they call their forests that) bare feet! This is all the more stranger when just across the sea, barely an hour’s flight away Australia is home to the most lethal, venomous creatures known to man.

Flights from one city to another are almost always in tiny planes (trucks with wings really) and never more than one hour long. Of course the term city itself is quite loose with Auckland having the largest population of just about a million which in comparison to India is probably the population of a small suburb of Mumbai. There are just about 5 million people in the entire country.

You drive a few hours in one direction and you will find snow and can go skiing, another direction takes you through a tropical rainforest, a few hours from there and you get to see an active volcano… another direction can take you to a lovely seaside city.

Adventure sports abound and you can do bungee jumping, tandem parachuting (jumping from a plane strapped to a professional and parachuting down), spelunking (going through caves), snorkeling, white water rafting and of course plain vanilla trekking.

During my stay there, we visited Auckland and my best memory is of the long walks we took on the various beautiful beaches at sunrise or sunset. One magical early morning, we came across a school of dolphins cavorting in the water very close to the beach. Of course we went in the water and joined them, though none of us could touch them, just being in the water with these magical creatures was quite an ethereal experience.