New Zealand Zen – New Zealand

There is a certain type of Zen that hits you when you’re traveling. I guess it depends on what you are used to back home, what really strikes your fancy, but you know it’s a good trip if you find it. I’ve found mine in the din of an underground station during rush hour and in the blanket of sunbathing while listening to the water lap on the sides of the boat. There is a mystery in the sensation, and it is always welcomed and remembered. So, after all of my, mostly, urban traveling, I thought these moments would be thick as pea soup when I hit the open expanses of New Zealand – boy was I wrong. Leave it to Spaceships and Glenorchy Air to save the day.

The most striking aspect of our New Zealand adventure, and to be honest, not a particularly pleasant one, was how comfortable the country felt upon stepping off the plane. Aside from the fact that they drive on the opposite side of the road, this Los Angelino found herself in a bustling metropolis on the water with a vibrant downtown in an English speaking country. All that was really missing were the palm trees.

Although a little melancholy and bar wallowing would have been in order, we were staying with friends in Auckland and this, bar none, is a must do and a cure all for any sort of traveler's blues. Kiwi hospitality is second to none and the benefits of knowing a local far exceed any guidebook or street side recommendation. Although this could be said of locals anywhere, it seemed all the more important in a city so seemingly like my own where I could have easily been lulled into doing and experiencing nothing.

The number one item on the to-do list of Auckland is the fantastic initiation to Maori culture at the Te Papa Whakahiku (Auckland Museum). Everyone thinks of bungee jumping and The Lord of the Rings films when they think of New Zealand. While I will get to the latter, what’s really important is to see as much of the Maori culture on display as you can. This simple museum visit will truly let you know you are in a foreign country with a fascinating local history that still struggles to survive. Keep your holiday in a foreign country foreign. Search out the Maori past and present – still shaping New Zealand.

And don’t cheat yourself by not attempting the Maori pronunciation of towns, mountains, lakes and the like. With a little trial and error, words like Aotearoa, Punakaiki and Tutukaka will be rolling off your tongue. Once you learn that the wh is pronounced as an f sound, there are always the fun ones like Whakapapa and Whatuwhiwhi.

Don't miss out on the outdoor experiences either. Maybe you can go trout fishing or paragliding, bungee jumping or surfing in America or wherever you live. Do you? Think about it. Do you ever punch out early and actually do any of that fun stuff at home? Probably not. Save up a little and hit the brochure rack of the campsite, hostel or hotel. Here is where I'll let you in on the two most gratifying experiences of our New Zealand holiday; both, coincidently, aerodynamic in design.

Reason #213 to flight-see
Reason #213 to flight-see

Generally, I’m not one for packaged sight-seeing a la “Sound of Music Tours”. Maybe it’s because I live in the movie mecca of Los Angeles, or maybe it’s simply because I prefer seeing my sights sans blue-haired chain smokers and kids on leashes. I find it all a bit too cliché. That said, I will cop to the fact that my husband (at whose bidding this initial request was granted) and I signed up for a Lord of the Rings flight tour with Glenorchy Air.

Whether you are a fan of the movies or not, this is something that everyone should do. I never realized that the blue of a lake on the land is dull compared to the vibrant blue of the same lake from the air; or that seeing a mountain peak eye to eye can make you feel insignificant in a way that standing at its base never can. The vistas and views are remarkable. Unless you are a pilot, the experience can not fail to impress.

We were fortunate to get Robert, owner of the company and the main pilot for the film cast and crew. Robert will take you places you won't see on any other tour, tell tales of the seemingly endless days of shooting and oblige you with the type of trivia LOTR fans clamor for. The tours are not in the same price range as the glowworms or bungee jumps, however, after two trips to New Zealand where I swam with the dolphins, wine tasted, glowworm watched, glacier hiked and did all of the cool New Zealand stuff, this flight tour tops my list of must-dos.

You won't get this on a bus!
You won't get this on a bus!

Our second aerodynamic experience lasted the duration of our trip. It’s just cool to say “thank goodness for our Spaceship”! Nothing against tours, but this was our honeymoon. Neither my husband nor I wanted to be on a bus. Enter Stray’s exciting and innovative Spaceships, built for the independent travelers and intrepid campers. I was a bit hesitant about the idea why my girlfriend in New Zealand suggested it. I don’t camp. Who wouldn’t want to camp when your car is a van, a sleeper and a kitchen all in one? The novelty alone was exciting enough to have me looking forward to camping all over the country. This was also cooler, more convenient and more economical.

The day we picked up our Spaceship, we were given the lowdown on how to set up the bed, how to use the stove, how to work the DVD player, how to properly say hi to other Spaceship-ers when on the road – in short, how-to everything. We chose our route day-by-day, got in the habit of taking odd side roads, following road signs that made us laugh (the Hundertwasser Toilets are worth a visit). We were on our own, what better way to spend your honeymoon? Plus, this isn’t a camper that costs you a fortune in gas or on the ferries, making the excursions more doable. In hindsight, it couldn’t have gone better or been smoother and I attribute a lot of that ease and calmness to the endless supply of Tim Tams that we kept in the cooler and the fact that we knew, courtesy of our Spaceship, that each day was ours, no timetables and no rules.

Beautiful NZ
Beautiful NZ

With a little help from our transport and our flight, New Zealand offered more than its fair share of Zen moments. The freedom to stop at any one of the many sheep farms (for which I am a sucker), or the lolly-gagging that allowed us to find the adventure in fly fishing was worth its weight in gold. Don’t hurry through New Zealand. As a behemoth of a neighbor, Australia can fool the uninitiated into assuming that New Zealand can be a stopover or a week long getaway. In reality, these two islands will surprise you with their vastness, charm you with their culture, and will leave you wanting more and making notes for your return trip.

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