Call of adventure

Call of adventure

Call of adventure

Let me confess. I am not the adventurous type. Despite this, thrilling, exciting and exhilarating are the words that pop into my head as I stand nervously on the narrow walkway around the outside of the Sky Tower in Auckland. Holding on to the rope strapping me to the safety belt with my dear life, I drink in the beauty of my surroundings greedily as a 360-degree panorama of Auckland unfurls before me. The rolling hills, picturesque islands and deep blue waters down below give me a high, literally. Yes, I’m 192 metres off the ground, on the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere, with nothing but crisp air to whisper into my ears. I cannot believe myself. I walk the entire stretch of the Sky Tower ledge as if in a daze. One look at the tiny cars and buildings below get me shaking, in nervous fright. But, the adrenaline rush I feel immediately after my skywalk, which is one of New Zealand’s best adventure activities, is something that cannot be described in words.

Welcome to New Zealand! Or, as they say in Maori, the language of the first inhabitants of New Zealand, Haere Mai to Aotearoa! In the picturesque country on an invitation from Tourism New Zealand, I really do feel welcome. Clean roads, friendly folk, amazing hospitality, and to top it all, the measured pace of life. It is to be experienced to be believed.

Sky is the limit
Still buzzed by the amazing experience of skywalking, I walk out of the Sky Tower to hop on a Harley-Davidson bike! Yes, a Harley-Davidson, to explore awesome Auckland! Riding pillion with a tattooed hunk, complete with a black leather jacket, a cool helmet, and cooler sunglasses, I feel I’m living a dream; a scene straight out of the movie Wild Hogs. Known as the Bularangi Harley Tour, this exploration of Auckland on a motorcycle is out of the ordinary, an experience that leaves me totally surprised. I zip through the city, situated in the North Island, à la roadies, taking in the beautiful sights, sounds and smells along the way. As the cool breeze caresses my face, I catch sight of Mount Eden, one of the region’s 48 volcanic cones, at a distance, watching over the city, like a big brother.

It’s 8 pm. But the sun is refusing to set. It seems to be competing with my enthusiasm to explore the place further. I look around, only to find birds of various hues returning home in flocks. It’s time for me to go, too. I have an early morning flight to catch, for my tryst with Nelson. And the sun too appears to relent.

Landing in Nelson the next morning, little do I know that I’d be in for another roller-coaster ride of sensory experiences. A city established by the English settlers in 1841, on the South Island, facing Tasman Bay, Nelson is famed for its opulent arts and crafts scene. My first stop in this uncrowded, green, peaceful city is at the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum. And, what an experience it is! Rows and rows of mannequins displaying award-winning creations of designers from around the world. It all started in 1987 when Suzie Moncrieff, a local sculptor, held an evening show in a country cottage featuring art that could not only be modelled, but worn, too. The idea caught up with creative folk across the globe, and soon the show became an annual event. Now, every spring, WOW performances are held in Wellington, when designers vie for attention, and awards of course, for their wearable artworks that are made from every material possible — sea shells, metal, wood, plastic, cable ties, dry leaves… While the entire collection, changed every April and November, leaves me in awe, my heart swells with pride to spot the works of Indian designers, too. The icing on the cake, however, is the collection on display of one of Lady Gaga’s dress designers. I cannot help but smile. And a wicked one at that.

Ambling across the museum, I soon find myself amidst endless rows of mint-condition classic cars. Though not a car aficionado, my jaw drops at the sheer variety on display. Add to it the fact that it is the donation of a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous. There are cadillacs and convertibles and bubble cars, some of which have undergone extensive restoration.

Outside the museum, as I munch on a cookie and slurp a hot cup of coffee, it seems the rolling hills around and the clear sky above are conspiring with the easy-going locals to charm and bewitch, much like the exhibits inside.

My next stop is at Jens Hansen Gold and Silversmith, to meet the original makers of The One Ring for the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit film trilogies. I cannot believe myself. I run around the tiny workshop, from one exhibit to another, like a kid in a candy store, even as the scenes from the movies play out in my mind. My joy knows no bounds when I’m given The One Ring to touch, feel and hold in my hand. Well, this is stuff dreams are made of.

However, I must admit, I’m not prepared for the sensory overload of this magnitude. A visit to Hoglunds Artglass, a glassblowing studio, acquaints me with the passion glass artists work with to create masterpieces.  

Wine & dine
Enchanted by the embarrassment of riches around, I do not realise I’m hungry till Noel, our friendly guide from Wine, Art & Wilderness, takes me to Mahana Estates. Boy, am I stumped? With its endless rows of grapevines in the middle of nowhere, this organic winery and vineyard offers a scenic splendour of mountains of the Richmond Range and the Kahurangi National Park. Salmon, cooked to perfection, paired with utterly-delicious sauvignon blanc, marks a perfect end to a perfect day. Good food, great wine, and the realisation that God’s greatest gift to mankind is nature, makes me feel overwhelmed. I relish every bit of it.

Next morning, it is time to check in with Wilsons Abel Tasman at Kaiteriteri Beach for an overnight stay at the Abel Tasman National Park. Named after Abel Tasman, the Dutch navigator who first sighted New Zealand in 1642, it is New Zealand’s only coastal national park and is renowned for its golden sandy beaches and clear turquoise waters. Joined by Shannon, an enthusiastic adventurer, I board the Vista to cruise into the Park. It is at this point that the heavens open. I guess it’s a good sign. Excited to the core at the prospect of sighting some sea animals, I run up to the deck of the cruise wearing a rain poncho. And I am not disappointed. For, a pod of playful dolphins decide to put up a show, and I find myself jumping for joy and clapping my hands in glee, almost childlike. It’s hands down the best performance I have witnessed, ever.

The rain pours relentlessly. Even at the Park. I join Shannon for a nature walk and acquaint myself with the native flora and fauna, including the silver fern and the manuka tree, both endemic to New Zealand. I walk in the wilderness without a care in the world as I am told there are no snakes in New Zealand!

Back at Meadowbank Homestead, our hosts for the night, a sumptuous dinner of freshly baked bread and snapper fish awaits me. Enjoying a quiet nightcap by the fireplace, watching a film on the history of the inn, I soak myself in the magical allure of the place. Early next morning, surprise of surprises, the rain has stopped and the sky is clear. So, off I go for kayaking. Paddling through the water, with only the magnificence of nature for company, I feel close to paradise. The sea is calm. The birds are happily chirping. It is the beginning of a new day, a new hope, and of endless possibilities. My love affair with New Zealand has just begun.

Getting there
Fly Singapore Airlines from Bengaluru to Singapore, and from Singapore to Auckland
Where to stay
The Langham in Auckland (www.langhamhotels.com)
Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco Apartments in Nelson (www.accorhotels.com)

Must-do
Skywalk and sky jump (www.skywalk.co.nz)
Bularangi Harley Tour (www.motorbikesnz.co.nz)
Kayaking  (www.abeltasman.co.nz)

Must-visit
 Auckland War Memorial Museum; Auckland Art Gallery; Sky Tower, New Zealand’s tallest building; Eden Park, the island country’s biggest stadium; World of WearableArt & Classic Cars Museum; Hoglund Glassblowing Studio (www.hoglundartglass.com)

Best time to visit
All year round, as each season has its own share of fun activities to offer.  However, the summer months, December through February, are popular

Getting around
New Zealand has good air, rail, water and road connectivity. The best way to explore the country is by hiring a car as any Driver’s Licence in English is valid. Bikes are also available on hire.

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