Guest Writer – Deneice Arthurton. I have a confession. I am totally and hopelessly in love and have an incurable addiction. The object of my passion and the name of my drug? New Zealand. This wonderful country has shown me more beauty, generosity and warmth than by rights should be handed out to any single person.
When I daydream it is New Zealand I see, my life is full of schemes and plans which enable me to return again and again to this oh-so-special place and given half a chance I will talk about it for hours and hours.
You would think then perhaps choosing favourite places would come easily but actually quite the opposite is true. Position me just about anywhere in New Zealand and I’m in seventh heaven. So, to make it onto my top 10 list you can be certain that the place has something super-special about it.
1) Curio Bay/Porpoise Bay, the Catlins, South Island
On one side of the headland is calm, sheltered Porpoise Bay, so named because the tiny, rare and only found in New Zealand Hector’s Dolphins live, play, fish and surf here. On the other side of the headland is Curio Bay where the rocky ledges and platforms are actually the remains of a 180 million year old fossilised forest. In the evening the rare Yellow-eyed penguins hop ashore and then shuffle their way (looking for all the world like hunched up little old men in raincoats) to their nests in the bushes.
I have lost days watching the dolphins (or surfing with them) and spent weeks camping here nestled among the flax -which made me something of a local celebrity because most people just pass through here apparently. The word unique is very much overused but is highly appropriate here. Curio Bay isn’t just my favourite place in New Zealand it is my favourite place on the whole planet
2) Matiu Somes Island, Wellington Harbour, North Island
This Department of Conservation (DOC) managed, pest free conservation island is a short ferry ride from down town Wellington but may as well be a million miles away for the peace, serenity and solitude it affords.
Rich in Maori history this island has been a quarantine station (for both animals and humans) and a prisoner of war camp before becoming the wildlife haven for rare and endangered species that it is today. Here you can see the Tuatara – a large lizard-like animal found only in New Zealand with a lineage so ancient it is sometimes called the living dinosaur.
Day trips are special but staying overnight on the island is indescribably wonderful (camping and basic DOC lodgings are available). Watch the last ferry of the day leave and as the sun sinks the lights of Wellington wink into view. The only sounds which break the hush which descends are the cries of the Little blue penguins calling from their nests. Unforgettable.
3) Gisborne, Eastland, North Island
Technically a city but my English brain can’t really register this fact for such a warm and friendly place. I am not usually a city lover but Gisborne is different….perhaps it’s the beaches, the people, the weather, the street cafés, the best second-hand book shop in the world (complimentary coffee served as you browse)…..I’m not sure but it is an indefinable something.
My quest for surf (which this region has by the bucket-load) is what originally drew me here and it is the vibrancy and buzz combined with the relaxed open atmosphere which sees me going back again and again.
4) Rarawa Department of Conservation camp site, Northland, North Island
By the riverside and underneath the pines is this basic DOC camp site. A two minute stroll (or a five minute paddle up the river on my surf board if the tide is right) brings you to the pure white silica sands and impossibly blue crystal clear waters of Rarawa Beach.
I have never had to share this camp site with a single other person in the many nights I have stayed here unless you count the random rooster which was a little problematic at meal times. The night skies here seem to have more stars than spaces and the only sounds you will hear are fish jumping in the river, the ocean if there is a big swell on and the far off lowing of the cattle.
5) Motutara Farm, Whananaki North, Northland, North Island
This is my favourite place on the North Island. Technically a camp site, known locally just as Barron’s (the name of the wonderful family which own it) it isn’t like anything else you will ever have experienced before.
Take your pick from 3 beaches (dolphins and whales regularly come calling) or a river-mouth setting; pitch your tent in a secluded little nook carved out of the cliff itself to wake to ocean views or hideaway in a Pohutakawa valley which leads down to the ocean.
One word of warning – don’t expect to get a pitch here in summer. So sought after is the camping at this magical place that Kiwis book their pitch for next year as they leave. Outside of high summer you may have all 75 hectares and all the beaches to yourself.
And if you are thinking that this much heaven is going to be expensive think again – it is one of the cheapest camp sites I have found anywhere on the North Island.
6) Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, South Island
Majestic, awe-inspiring, mysterious, mystical, evocative…..I could create a whole alphabet of adjectives and still be nowhere near describing somewhere which has to be seen to be truly appreciated. The sound of silence reigns supreme here in this place of waterfalls, dolphins, penguins and seals.
Getting here is difficult – the reward worth it a thousand times over.
7) Matai Bay, Karikari Peninsula, North Island
New Zealand is hardly short of places rich in the ‘oh’ factor but the twin sweeping crescents of pale sand beaches at Matai Bay are lapped by waters so stunningly beautiful it might just make you cry.
I have swallowed a lot of water snorkelling here as in my excitement at all I am seeing I forget that talking and trying to breath underwater don’t really work.
If you really can’t tear yourself away when the sun sinks then no problem. There is a very cheap DOC camp site here which overlooks the bays.
8) Fox Glacier, West Coast, South Island
I was fortunate enough to skydive here so this place holds a special place in my heart but even without that magical memory Fox Glacier would still be in my top 10 list.
The glacier is of course an obvious draw and the many things you can do here but this little township has a particularly appealing atmosphere and watching the antics of the kea has kept me entertained for hours.
This mountain parrot seems to exist for the sole purpose of making mischief – they are well known for shredding and destroying anything they can lay their beaks on (my expensive surf board bag included) but I have also watched them sitting on overhanging roof tops dropping stones on the heads of passers-by – seemingly for no other reason than the fun it affords.
9) Lake Waikeremoana, Eastland, North Island
Despite the fact that I still can’t pronounce it without stuttering, Lake Waikeremoana is to me a much revisited place where I go to gather my thoughts, wander through Jurassic Park-like forests and immerse myself in all that is beautiful and natural.
Lake Waikeremoana is the only lake I have ever snorkelled in, in order to swim to the edge of a sudden drop-off where gazing down into the black, seemingly bottomless void was both heart-lurchingly scary and wonderful.
10) Rere Falls, Eastland, North Island
New Zealand has more waterfalls of every variety (high, beautiful, dramatic, fairy-like setting) than you can shake a stick at but Rere Falls is to me super-special because it allowed me to do something which had long been a romantic notion of mine – to walk behind one; then, to slide on the rock slope through the cascading curtain of water on my backside to end up in the swimming hole at the bottom.
I was fortunate enough to be taken traditional eel fishing here with a Maori friend where I have to confess seeing the size of the eels caught made me a little more reluctant to go swimming again knowing they were in there with me!
Although not one of the filming sites of The Lord of the Rings films, this place nonetheless is so magical that I always half expect to see Gandalf come wandering along, every time I am there.
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