Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The New Zealand Chronicles - Part 2

Part 1 of the New Zealand Chronicles can be accessed here.
Because New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, seasons here are inverted as compared to most other nations in the world. January is the season of peak summer. Temperatures are usually in the high thirties during this month. Back in India and Australia, summer mornings are balmy – hot even. Which is why, the next morning around 9 AM, when we wake up to a slight chill in the air, it confuses us momentarily but does nothing to hamper our plans. The next few days on our itinerary are about touring the west coast. Having checked out of our motel (more on motels soon!), off we go driving from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west. 240 odd kilometers.

Driving from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast, New Zealand
Driving from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast
Pamphlets picked up from the motel tell us that the drive through Arthur’s Pass is spectacular. Sure, we think, a tad skeptically. It’s their way of promoting tourism. Everything’s got to be spectacular.

A scenic stop along the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
A scenic stop along the way to Greymouth
But then, when we drive through it, we’re left spellbound. Driving on sinewy roads, magnificent scenic beauty creeps up on us every now and then, from behind mountains and beyond plains. Every few kilometers, there are detours – special trails for walking, hiking, biking and driving. Along the way, we take a detour and drive in to the riverfront – a section of the Waimakairi River – where there’s absolute solitude. Peace, calm and quiet.

A serene lookout stop along a one-lane bridge on the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
A serene lookout stop along a one-lane bridge on the way to Greymouth
I wonder aloud if the roads have been built that way intentionally – to keep paradise veiled until the last moment and then to spring it on us in such a way that we’re rendered speechless by the resplendence. It’s a powerful feeling - the serenity.

A dried up lake, along the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
Once upon a time, glaciers ruled the earth.
There’s one more car there and no passengers. A biker on his bike, soaks in the view. You’ll find many similar locations in NZ – where there are no humans. Putting it in perspective – the population of the entire country – North AND South Islands put together is 4.4 million. The population of Mumbai alone is 20+ million. 

A lone biker spends some time in solitary contemplation, Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
A lone biker spends some time in solitary contemplation - a detour along Arthur's Pass.
About 300 meters away, a rope bridge calls out to us. On the other end of the bridge built over the river, are hiking trails which lead into the mountains. We see an elderly couple walk into the woods. And then our mistakes flaunt themselves in our faces! No walking shoes. No running shoes. What good are a pair of flip flops or formal shoes if you set out on a hiking trail! Dejected, we stroll along on the foot bridge. The scenery on both sides of the bridge are remarkably different. To the west, the river opens out in full splendor – a yawning gaping water body with no end in sight – shaping itself to the contours of the land masses around it. To the east, it reminds me of pictures I have seen of the Kerala backwaters – constrained water bodies with greenery on both sides. I almost imagine a house boat moored to the side. I love the west view, my husband loves the east! As usual. Some photography sessions later, we make our way back to the car and get on with the drive. 

The east view - at a detour stop along Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
The east view - at a detour stop along Arthur's pass
The first stop at Greymouth is for lunch and this time we stop at an Indian restaurant. Indian? Yes. The reason I need to pen this down here, is for a friend, who had recently written about her troubles finding good Indian vegetarian food abroad. Jaish, no food worries here! We find it surprising that every decently sized town seems to have an Indian restaurant. Strangely, New Zealand doesn't seem to have enough Indians to warrant the number of Indian restaurants we find in NZ. We’re told Indian cuisine is a tourist favourite in that part of the world – liked and appreciated by Asians and non-Asians both. The fact thrills me! NZ vegetarian food has a lot of ‘Kumaras’ in it. Even road junctions are called Kumara. In Maori, it essentially means a sweet potato, which is a local delicacy. But there’s the usual menu too. Our plan is to drive south from here but the restaurateur suggests Punakaiki instead, about 50 kilometers in the north instead. 

Parked outside an Indian restaurant at Greymouth, New Zealand
Stopover for lunch - Greymouth
Ours is not a strict follow-a-checklist touristy plan, we do not have points to cover in a day and rush through everything. We have a fair idea of where we want to go, but we have time to be flexible as well. And so, taking his suggestion, we drive off to Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. 

Layered pancake rocks at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Layered pancake rocks at Punakaiki
As the name suggests, vertically compressed layers of huge rock formations formed over millions of years give the appearance of giant stacks of pancakes. And midst these rock formations, exist blowholes – huge holes through which the raw, powerful ocean is seen beneath. With high tide, the ocean rushes into the rock formations and with tremendous pressure comes gushing out of the blowholes almost like a volcano erupting. Waves continuously crash along the rocks, water and mist splashing at you every now and then and it is always windy. If you plan to visit, do carry a light spring jacket with you at all times. With the wind and tides playing games, weather shifts here can be quite unpredictable. The sides of the cliffs can be slippery and with constant erosion, quite risky too. But stick to the path, and this is not an experience you want to miss. 

Powerful waves lash out from amid blowholes at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Powerful waves lash out from amid blowholes at Punakaiki
The cold water and the mist make me crave for a cup of hot coffee. Resting at a nearby cafeteria, we chat for a while with the girl at the counter. She tells us that NZ, except for the four most populated cities, essentially shuts down once summers are over. Tourism drives most of these smaller towns and with no tourists, people here shift focus to other businesses – like farming, or international visits. She tells us NZ folks travel a lot – because NZ is a small nation and most people having grown in farming families quite content in themselves, they have this insane urge to travel and see the rest of the world. NZ youth take off for six months or more at a time, touring different nations as backpackers, getting odd jobs and soaking in the local flavor of the city they live in. I wonder what NZ people, with their pristine natural beauty, think of other cities and nations. And then I remind myself the grass is always greener on the other side. But as a friend had recently shared – If the grass is always greener on the other side, the water bill has got to be higher. 

The next destination on our itinerary is another 240 kilometers down south along the west coast. And so, after spending some more time along the rocks, we take off again, this time towards Fox Glacier. A real glacier? Yes. Not one, but two of them! Ice Age meets New Zealand. Click here for Part 3.  

Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests - If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there's no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 
I would love to hear your views!

24 comments:

  1. Wow Deepa! Lovely pics...There NZ has moved many places up on my 'Places I want to visit while I have the energy and strength'list...And good vegetarian Indian food ? Wow! Then yes, a few places further up :D

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    1. It's a beautiful place to visit. But I wouldn't think of moving there :) Too quiet for my taste - to consider a long term stay! :) And yes, lots and lots of good vegetarian Indian food! :)

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  2. Beautiful description of each place and amazing pictures. Would have loved to see some with you both too.

    Waiting for part 3

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    1. Thank you Seema :) I'll inbox you the picture album :)

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  3. Hmmm! Now that no hiking shoe fiasco resonates here :) As does the idea of getting Indian food everywhere.

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    1. He he :) It hits even more when I move to the Glacier :P And yep, when I had read Jaish's post - I had an instant itch to include this in mine :)

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  4. Your post and the pictures are truly mind blowing.I have decided-if at all i want to travel-NZ it shall be!

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    1. You should visit Indu. It's a beautiful place! Very picturesque! A lot of places that I have visited are mostly city-feel metros - Maldives and NZ are the two where natural beauty and landscapes have left such a lasting impact! :)

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  5. Beautiful. Loved it. I was wondering as a writer if it would be an interesting exercise to just visualize these breathtaking pictures and try to create them on the blog through words.

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    1. :) I was thinking along the same lines when I posted these pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. I don't think I could do justice to such a beautiful image with even 10,000 words, but that's just me :) But you're right, worth a try eh? :)

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  6. Great description and must mention stunning pictures...
    Ajeeth boaz
    FB

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  7. I HAVE HAVE HAVE to visit NZ. Like right now !
    The pictures are breathtaking ! And your descriptions makes me feel I am right there !

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    1. I am glad I gave you a visual tour :) Yes, you should visit! It's beautiful. Especially the drive along the west coast! More to follow!

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  8. I have to agree that I was so lost in the pictures that I felt the narration was intruding :). Really NZ is like a paradise and how lucky are you to have visited that place. Some day...

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    1. Only for you I'll move all the pictures to the end next time, so you'll be forced to read the post first :P The funny part is, I have never had it on my list of places to go to - because I came to AU, it just fell into place :) That's the beauty of it! :) And yes, you should!

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  9. Stunning pics Deepa! I loved the ones with the mountains. I wish I had a house at such a place.

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    1. I don't know about you, but I'd get bored :P Well, maybe after retirement it might be OK! On second thought, even that would be boring. For me, it was nice for a visit. Miles and miles of solitude, greenery, blue skies, clean air. But in a few months, I'd start craving for crowds :)

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  10. Wonderful pics Deepa. NZ is a beautiful place. And btw congrats for the getting published :)

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    1. Thank you Jas :) For all of it! :)

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  11. If NZ has reverse climate pattern, I would love to spend the month of May there. In Chennai, May is sheer torture. But it's so far......... Maybe for this year, I can plan to go to Mysore (the climate there is much better), and perhaps for the next year, I can plan NZ??? Dreams are always beautiful :D Nice pics, BTW :)

    Destination Infinity

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    1. I recently attended a wedding in Chennai in May! :) Imagine, silk sarees! Have vowed to never return in May to Chennai :) Hopefully situations will support the promise :) Yes, you should absolutely skip Chennai summer and get down to NZ or Australia during that time! :) Winters are like Indian winters, so should be nice then, peak winter is only in July! :)
      Thank you!

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