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Destination: New Zealand
Karen Gruber, April 2000
At first glance, New Zealand is somewhat deceptive. An island nation of 103,737 square miles with a population of fewer than four million people, one might think it would be easy to quickly explore the country. Yet, despite its relatively small size and population, New Zealand offers a bounty of riches that usually far exceeds most travelers' expectations. From snow-capped mountains to broad sandy beaches, from gourmet food and wine to friendly local hospitality, from amazing bird species to marine mammals, from legends of the Maori people to the stories carved by raging rivers, New Zealand is a land of endless possibilities.
Consisting of two main islands (North and South) and several surrounding smaller islands, New Zealand is a perfect destination to be explored by ship. Sailing along the long, scenic coastline, the best of all worlds unfurls with an amazing mixture of natural wonders and charming maritime cities.
The South Island is particularly graced with many attractions. Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park borders the Cook Strait which separates the North and South Islands. The park is an intricate pattern of coves and islands, ideal for Zodiac exploration. Large resident populations of seabirds and marine mammals are testament to the Department of Conservation's efforts to protect the area. Small settlements like Ship Cove, where Captain Cook landed several times in the 1770s, lends a historical aspect to the setting, while outstanding local cuisine and wine provide satiation after a long day of exploration.
A short distance south along the east coast is the fishing town of Kaikoura, the jumping-off spot for one of the best wildlife experiences in New Zealand. From the beach, there is a gradual slope to the ocean floor, which suddenly plunges to a depth of over 2,000 feet. At the drop-off, converging currents create an upwelling of nutrients that attracts clouds of krill, which in turn bring large toothed sperm whales, as well as dolphins and fur seals, to the area to feed. Whale watching excursions provide excellent opportunities to view and photograph the playful antics of these marine creatures.
Christchurch, the South Island's largest city and third largest city in New Zealand, is ripe with the remnants of its English history. Founded as an English settlement in 1850, Christchurch boasts its own River Avon, exquisite gardens and cricket clubs. Robert Falcon Scott used Christchurch as the departure point for his famous Antarctic explorations. Today the city celebrates its historic connection to the Great White Continent with its International Antarctic Centre and the Hall of Antarctic Discovery at the Canterbury Museum. The city also still serves as a supply link to Antarctic missions.
The Scottish settlement of Dunedin is a charming town of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The city proclaims itself the "Wildlife Capital of New Zealand," and for good reason. From Dunedin, it is a short excursion up the Otago Peninsula to visit the only mainland colony of albatross in the world. One of the world's largest seabirds, the majestic royal albatross breeds here amidst sooty shearwaters, oystercatchers, and several species of gulls and shags. The little blue penguin, the smallest penguin in the world, also can be seen sharing the shores of the peninsula with grunting fur seals.
On the southwest tip of the island is the Fiordland National Park, where breathtaking glacier-carved lakes, sheer cliffs, and crashing waterfalls frame the colorfully named Milford, Dusky and Doubtful sounds. The park is virtually an uninhabited wilderness; the perfect setting to experience the serene quiet of the sea, land and sky.
Perhaps the highlight of any trip to New Zealand, and the advantage of ship travel to the region, is the opportunity to visit the sub-Antarctic islands of Campbell, Auckland and Snares. The New Zealand Department of Conservation only allows 500 visitor permits a year to the Auckland and Campbell islands. Zegrahm Expeditions is the only U.S.-based tour operator to be granted visitor permits and is one of only three tour companies in the world with a concession to land at these isolated wildlife havens. The special visitor permits allow our passengers to be among the few each year to visit the nesting sites of light-mantled sooty albatross, Auckland Island shags and white-capped shy mollymawks. Other bird species abound in the sub-Antarctic islands with royal albatross, yellow-eyed penguins, Snares crested penguins, parakeets, skuas, flightless teals and sooty shearwaters, to name but a few. Marine mammals, such as Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals, are also plentiful frolicking in offshore waters or lazily retreating to the soft, sandy beaches for a snooze.
Exploring by ship is a wonderful way to see the amazing variety that New Zealand's coast has to offer; however, there is still more to discover inland. The indigenous Maori culture welcomes travelers to learn more about their oral history and long cultural presence in New Zealand. In several locations throughout the country, one can visit a traditional marae (ancestral village) for an in-depth view of daily Maori life. Traveling inland also lends the opportunity to mingle with the other locals. "Kiwis" are quick to engage in conversation and their warm personalities make them wonderful hosts, be it in their own homes or in the local "boozer" (pub).
For those looking for even more adventure, mainland New Zealand offers a treasure trove of sporting possibilities. Skiing, white-water rafting, golfing, bungee jumping, jet-boating, and kayaking are just some of the activities to keep the most energetic traveler occupied.
From volcanoes, geysers and hot springs to mountains carved by glacial ice; from penguins and parrots to whales, dolphins and fur seals; from the fascinating culture of the Maori tribes to the bustle of city streets - New Zealand has it all.
In January 2004, we once again present our New Zealand and its Sub-Antarctic Islands program aboard the Clipper Odyssey, with special visits to remote Campbell, Auckland, Snares, and Stewart Islands. An optional pre- or post-voyage extension further explores several North Island attractions, including Tongariro National Park, and Auckland.