Up and Down in New Zealand

We have just spent ten days in New Zealand, which is a group of islands about three hours’ flight from Australia. Many Kiwis (that’s what they call themselves) have made Australia their home and interestingly, not many Aussies have reciprocated. Aussies do like to visit New Zealand, however, because it’s close to us, our dollar is worth more over there, and the language is almost intelligible to our ear.

There is no denying that the scenery in “the land of the long white cloud” is quite spectacular–lots of mountains… lots of hills… lots of mountainous hills. No wonder Sir Edmund Hillary managed to conquer Mt Everest. It must have seemed like a picnic for him after traipsing all over Auckland and the rest of his volcanic homeland.

So if you don’t like hills don’t go to New Zealand. You have been warned. Moving sluggishly around Auckland I noticed that the majority of people downtown were foreign students and backpackers. There were very few people over the age of thirty. In fact, I quite expected to round a corner of downtown and find piles of corpses of middle-aged folk who had succumbed to the terrain.

The young people who were ambulatory looked very fit and less obese than our Aussies. They were the sort of young men and women who shop at hiking stores and don’t seem to mind that half their limbs have been frostbitten to a trendy shade of black. Intrepid is the word that comes to mind. It does not sit comfortably in my vocabulary at all.

I actually asked one shopkeeper where was everyone else and she told me that older people keep away from the city, preferring to stay out of town. This did not surprise me and in fact I couldn’t wait to get out of Auckland in search of a level playing field (so to speak).

We found a normal incline in Hamilton, where the international cricket match was taking place while we visited. Seems like Hamilton is one of the rare places in New Zealand where there’s enough flat ground for a cricket pitch.

Driving around New Zealand is not for the faint-hearted either. You can’t rent a decent car unless you choose an SUV and quite frankly they don’t compare with the cars we prefer to drive. So we settled for an average car which we hoped would be comfortable. It wasn’t and even at 80 k.p.h we felt as if it was flying.

The cars in New Zealand have improved since we were last there because I remember those older versions were very much like the transport one sees in travelogues about Cuba. But one couldn’t rent a luxury car and believe me with the hills and the winding roads you need the best car for the journey, one with great suspension rather than suspense.

Sure, the scenery was pretty but when you have your eyes tightly closed with terror along the lines of those memorable moments in “The Wages of Fear” no scenery can compensate.

I learned a lot from my visit to New Zealand. It confirmed for me that I love comfort above all else. I’m not into testing myself with physical exertion or pain. I prefer sitting in a coffee lounge and getting to know the friendly locals rather than hyperventilating on the set of “Survivor”.

I also learned that when accommodation is described as luxury as was ours in Taupo, don’t believe it. What they mean by luxury is luxurious prices. I admit that one man’s luxury is another’s necessity but when you get a resort which describes itself as having a philosophy centered on comfort and satisfaction with exquisite decor and the latest in technology
this means that the armchairs are totally uncomfortable and what’s more they are never vacuumed so that I was bitten by some bugs several times until I gave up sitting on the lounge. It also means the bathroom only gives one tiny cake of soap for two people. The overhead fan makes a racket. There is no air-conditioning so you have to tolerate the noisy fan. When I complained that the fan was very noisy at night the owner of “Boulevard Waters Motor Lodge, Lake Terrace, Taupo” asked me “What do you need the fan for?”

The suite is only cleaned properly if you pay an extra $15 and book 24 hours in advance to have the glass table wiped down. We did not know that and finally asked when our table etc would be cleaned. I would have wiped the table myself had some cleaning product been left for the purpose.

The TV was inaudible so that even when you sat inches away from it you could not hear it. So much for technology.

This sort of experience may be exciting for some people but I’m not into adventure. There’s absolutely nano pioneering spirit in me at all.

I have absolutely nothing against New Zealand. It’s got scenery if you like to take photos and the Kiwis have excellent manufacturing skills. Their knitwear is wonderful.

For a fishing nation, though, I’m astounded that there were no fish restaurants in the fishing capital of New Zealand. When we did finally find a small fish and chip shop in an outer suburb of Taupo, the owner told us that fish is being exported and so domestic fish is rationed. In Taupo you catch your own or go without. A friend of mine who had recently visited Wellington told me she couldn’t find a fish restaurant either. Go figure.

I can well imagine that someone else will go to New Zealand and rave on about the views and the bungy jumping (yes, that idiotic stunt was invented in N.Z). And how about South Island? It’s even more spectacular! For “spectacular” read mountains and winding roads and excellent training camps for conquerors of Mt Everest.

As for me, the highlight of our trip was the wonderful four hours we spent in the Emirates VIP lounge. Now that’s what I call a pleasant experience.


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