In New Zealand, I broke my cardinal rule for planning a destination—never, never have the “must see” reason for a trip, especially a long and complicated trip, be one specific spot. That rule came out of a 1980’s trip to the Galapagos. That trip was, at the time, the most expensive we had ever planned. We researched and researched and booked based on an itinerary that promised getting to every one of the famous islands. The itinerary was perfect—on paper. However, Mother Nature couldn’t have cared less about our carefully chosen arrangements and threw in an unforeseen surprise—the coldest La Nina in modern history. That translated into waters too cold for swimming, no fresh-caught lobsters for feasting, and last-minute alterations taking us past my carefully chosen islands.
My “must see” destination in New Zealand was the breathtaking New Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound of the southern Fiordland park area. According to stories from my well-traveled friends, the scenery rivaled that of the Norwegian Fjords and the Swiss Alps. When a cruise itinerary promised several days of glorious sailing around and through this natural wonder of the world, I quickly signed us up.
For one beautiful week all seemed perfect, traveling down the east coast toward the capital of Wellington, and on to the gateway of the South Island and toward our destination. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the little footnote at the bottom of my printed itinerary, the part that said an itinerary “may be changed at the discretion of the captain due to weather advisories, port traffic, and any other unforeseeable circumstances.” I know this—I tell it to my cruise clients. I’m just not very good at listening to my own voice.
Besides, we’d had beautiful weather in Auckland, in Tauranga, in Napier, in Wellington. Picton and Omaka were perfect. Yes, Christchurch was a little windy and drizzly, but nothing to stop sightseeing. But there I was, in my cabin getting ready for dinner, listening to the captain talk of gale force winds and a typhoon in our planned destination. We could make it as far as Dunedin, but no Milford Sound, no Doubtful Sound. No Tasmania. It would be back up north, through the Cook Strait, and across the sea to Sydney.
I have this recurring vision in my head of a snickering Mother Nature wagging her finger at me and sneering “I told you so.”
· The two long slender islands of New Zealand encompass every environment: beaches rainforests, mountains (including glaciers and volcanoes), agricultural plains (with fantastic vineyards.) Don’t expect to see everything in one trip.
· There are over 70 i-SITE tourism offices with lots of great information.
· Pre-arrange your transfer from the international airport into Auckland—the city has grown into a sprawling mass of traffic and the airport is not close. Last minute taxis are expensive.
· It is all about the outdoors—land and water. Rugby hiking, sailing—everyone enjoys some outdoor sport. Remember, Kiwis invented bungee jumping.
· Kiwis are friendly and outgoing. Try to get to know someone and you will be rewarded with an afternoon or evening of friendship.
· New Zealand is an agricultural country and has very strict import regulations.Declare everything and prepare it for inspection.Custom officials are protective, not punitive.After inspection, I could keep my almonds and granola bars.Never attempt to bring in anything fresh.