Travel: Why a trip to New Zealand can be anything you want it to be
Freezing cold and soaking wet, my bottom was squeezed inside a rubber ring and I was floating through caves studded with thousands of twinkling glowworms.
Moments earlier, I’d weaved my way, shaking from head to toe with fear, through aptly-named Ankle Breaker Alley, cave eels slithering between my gumboots, wondering if I would come out of this place alive.
‘This place’ was Waitomo Glowworm Caves, North Island, New Zealand.
The terrifying journey underground was just one of many fantastic experiences on a trip to what the Mauri’s call the Land of the Long White Cloud.
New Zealand can be anything you want it to be.
A relaxing journey, taking in the spell-binding scenery – which I heard accurately described as ‘like Scotland on steroids’. Or an adrenaline-filled, high-octane ride.
Terrible storms which made main roads in the North Island impassable meant my journey was the latter, squeezing four weeks into three.
Starting near Christchurch, on the South Island, I joined strangers from around the world on StrayBus –a hop-on-hop-off coach you pre-pay to join at points across New Zealand.
It’s a brilliant way to travel, and the drivers will organise your accommodation and entry to attractions for you if you like.
It’s a really fun, easy, and relatively cheap way to get around the islands. There were passengers aged 19 to 60 on my bus and you have no choice but to make friends. It was brilliant.
Christchurch is a very pretty, elegant city, scarred by the impact of two huge earthquakes in the past decade.
The Botanic Gardens are beautiful and there are some very cool bars and restaurants.
But around every corner there are reminders of the disasters – the cathedral is just a shell, and there are huge craters where buildings stood.
The next stop was a trip to the Franz Joseph Glacier, in Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
A helicopter ride to the top and a hike down was cancelled due to the weather.
Instead, we did a three-hour walk to the foot of the glacier, through rainforests,past waterfalls, glacial pools and incredible rock formations.
It was a shame we couldn’t do the heli-hike, but the walk was spectacular.
Queenstown – the adventure capital of the world – was next. In the space of 48 hours, I did a 15,000ft tandem skydive, with NZone, soared through the trees on the world’s steepest zipwire – which was actually a fascinating eco-tour – with Zip-trek, and a heart-stoppingly scary jetboat ride through the Shotover canyon.
The only way to catch my breath afterwards was to sit on the bank of Lake Wakatipu, and to devour a world-famous Ferg Burger, washed down with a delicious Monteith’s cider.
Looking back, I can hardly believe I did those things.
But you get caught up in such a wave of excitement in New Zealand that it’s hard to say no to any adventure.
It was a coach, ferry and another coach ride to my next one, an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, with Real Journeys. Ours was the only boat on the breath-taking, pristine wilderness which snakes through mountains from deep in the Fiordland to the Tasmin Sea.
For 24 hours there wasn’t a drop of mobile phone coverage, just the still waters, which we kayaked on in the afternoon, seals, dolphins, birds of prey, stargazing, wonderful company and great food.
There were moments when you could hear a pin drop. It was simply stunning and had an eerie majesty.
Then it was up north to Hahei beach, in the Coromandel Peninsular, where the rain had finally stopped falling after the worst flooding for decades.
In the blistering sunshine we kayaked to stunning Cathedral Cove, where the opening scenes to the Chronicles of Narnia were filmed.
The following day, the powerboat Hahei Explorer took us further out to dramatic upside down champagne glass-shaped rock formations and into the ‘blow holes’ of once active volcanoes.
Battered red snapper and chips brought those sun-drenched days in Hahei to a close and onwards I travelled on the Stray Bus to Raglan, where surfer-dudes from around the world descend.
I had to have a surf, but after 10 minutes of being bashed by my own board, and other people’s, I wimped out. I was rubbish. Instead I made my way to a hilltop overlooking the beach for blissful sunset yoga.
Back on the bus, we were ready for some culture. At the Tamaki Mauri Village, in Rotorua, we were met by spear-wielding warriors who spent an evening showing us how to do the haka, play traditional Mauri games and cook hangi meat (underground). It was really good fun.
The boiling hot pools at the Polynesian Spa was the perfect way to round off an exhilarating trip.