This is a land that will squeeze every last superlative from your upturned lips, and lace upon you a greater number of reasons to abandon your existing routine than anywhere else on the globe. This is thanks, in part, to the fact that it is an island surrounded by the sloppy waters of the Pacific Ocean, meaning it boasts truly diverse terrain that spans mountainous crumples to coastal plains.
And the Kiwis certainly know how best to take advantage of their land.
Punters need no previous seafaring experience (and should leave their punting pole at home) before embarking on one of Sail NZ’s packages, and can chose to either be a part of the team, or just to sit back and watch others tire themselves out in a frisson of sweaty effort.
New Zealand can lay claim to a number of firsts when it comes to activities that exist solely to reduce otherwise formidable men to whimpering wrecks, one such claim being the Jet Boat. Don’t be deceived by the videos – these torpedoes may look like they’re filled with all the machismo of Hasselhoff in his Baywatch trunks, but those passengers are actually babbling their final mortal wishes between involuntary yelps of unabashed terror.
Without the endeavours of the French polymath, Jacques Cousteau, the human exploration of our planet’s watery depths would be a lot less possible than currently it is. Cousteau was the pioneer behind the aqualung, more popularly known as the diving cylinder, or, to you and I, that dangerous-looking shiny bottle scuba divers wear on their back. It is that canister that enables Homo sapiens to breathe when oxygen is scarce - in places such as the sea or outer space, or when delving into a chocolate fudge cake - and thus to stay alive long enough to tell those breathing freely what it is they’ve seen.
Incidentally, one of Cousteau’s favourite diving spots was the delightfully intriguing Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, perched at the very tip of New Zealand’s northernmost finger of land. This protected region features arresting cliff faces, hanging arches, hollowed caves and searching tunnels, all of which cultivate dreamlike conditions for scuba divers.
There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a stinging slap from a wave of fresh water, and no better way to get it than clutching onto an inflated piece of rubber as it careers down one of Mother Nature’s superhighways. Rafting offers an unbeatable chance to sample New Zealand’s rich landscape at the same time as testing the upper limits of your heart, a unique opportunity to truly engage with the landscape and feel its every contour, twist and turn.
Not all water-based activities in New Zealand have to involve toil and sweat; take whale watching, for example. As its name indicates, there’s not a great amount involved in whale watching besides maintaining a fixed gaze upon a floating lump of grey. But that’s not where the real thrill lies.
What Abel Tasman National Park lacks in size, it more than makes up for in splendour, like Bonzai trees and Danny Devito. Within its 22,530 hectares it packs a staggering array of natural spectacles, from striking rock formations to dazzling crystalline waters, where you’ll be able to appreciate the lot from the comfort of a kayak. Coincidently, this is also an excellent opportunity to make acquaintance with seals and dolphins, who will join you as you paddle along. They won’t help you paddle, though…
You didn’t think we’d write an article that combined the words water, down and under without stumbling, at some point, upon the subject of surf, did you? There’re plenty of great places to pick up a board and float atop the waves in New Zealand, many of which are deservedly ranked as World-class.
One such place is Raglan, about an hour’s drive from Hamilton along the western coast of the North Island, where the surf break is radical and the ride unusually long. Another is Piha, 30 kilometres west of Auckland, which is said to be the country’s birthplace of surfing, as well as featuring its most famous beach. Wherever you go, don’t forget your wetsuit – the waters surrounding New Zealand are not famed for their balminess.
Alex Plim, My Destination