The Greenwood Guide to New Zealand

Otago

  • Spend an afternoon on the Otago Penisula outside Dunedin where you'll come across impressive royal albatrosses, rare yellow-eyed penguins and noisy (and rather stinky) sea lions.
  • Wander through the streets of architecturally rich Dunedin and, after noting its uncanny resemblance to parts of Edinburgh, grab a great cup of coffee in one of the many caf├ęs for which it is now famed.
  • Walk, bike or ride the Otago Rail Trail following old train-tracks through historic mining towns over vast tussock plains and under widescreen skies.
  • Escape the kerfuffle of Queenstown and take the stunning 40-minute drive to the head of Lake Wakatipu to the tiny, picturesque hamlet of Glenorchy. Here you can be tranquil, ride horses, jet-boat or walk in the Dart Valley amid spectacular mountain scenery. If you've time for a proper tramp, the Routeburn and Rees-Dart Tracks are truly excellent.
  • Pick your favourite bottle of pinot noir, Central Otago's specialty grape, from among the many at vineyards in and around Bannockburn, Queenstown and Wanaka.
  • Make the most of the ridiculously beautiful scenery around Lake Wanaka. Get a 'lakeside tracks' map, hire a bike, pack a picnic and get peddling.

The Bungy

When AJ Hackett dived off the Eiffel Tower back in 1987, suspended by a rubber cord strapped to his ankles, the bungy legend was born.

It all started with the people of Vanuatu in the Pacific who have been throwing themselves from huge towers for centuries, with nothing more than a few vines tied to their feet.

It was this ancient ritual that inspired the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club to try a few experimental jumps in the late 1970s.

And then, seeing the club's video, New Zealander AJ teamed up with fellow speed skier (and adrenaline-junkie) Henry van Asch to develop the bungy into the ritual it is today. Kawarau Bridge outside Queenstown was the world's first full-time site.

So, go ahead if you've the stomach for it. It is very safe, I'm told. And you will not regret it. I'm told. I, for one, am just too busy to quite get round to fitting one in. shame. But even if you don't get to do the jump you can still find out what happens behind the scenes. A 45-minute interactive 'Secrets of Bungy Tour' at the original Kawarau Bridge will take you on a fascinating cinematic adventure and then give you exclusive access to the bungy viewing deck.

And if this is ample time to justify the decision that taking the leap is maybe not for you, you can head over to the lovely Winehouse & Kitchen Restaurant and Wine Cellar down the way for some far more refined tippling, followed by lunch. A morning's 'bungying' never sounded so pleasant.

Secrets of Bungy Tour: $40 pp, includes transport from Queenstown. Off State Highway 6, Gibbston. T 0800-286-493 www.bungy.co.nz

Golf-Cross

Trust New Zealanders to come up with another opportunity to play rugby; this time whilst playing golf. Golf-Cross, otherwise known as 'the game played with the oval golf ball,' is not just a gimmick. Conceived back in 1989 by New Zealander Burton Silver, this game is great for those who can't quite decide where their sporting allegiances lie. It's basically golf played with goals instead of holes, and with an oval instead of a round ball. You use the same rules as golf and the same clubs - though you won't need your putter. It's simply that the target is now suspended in mid-air and every shot is pretty much going where you want it to, or so one hopes. There are currently four courses in New Zealand, one of them at Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka. Another is being constructed at Nokomai Station on the highway between Queenstown and Te Anau.

The birds of Otago Peninsula

Royal albatrosses

The sight of a soaring albatross is unforgettable. With wings up to 3m across these majestic birds can swoop to speeds of more than 70 mph. Usually albatrosses breed on remote, storm-bound islands, but the mainland colony on the Otago Peninsula at Taiaroa Head is the only one of its kind in the world.

Though graceful on the wing, albatrosses are distinctly clumsy on the ground. The social and family life of the breeding colony is fascinating. From the moment the eggs, weighing up to 500 grams, are laid during the first few weeks of November, a pair of albatrosses will nurture the egg and chick for a period lasting some 300 days. Despite long separations at sea, these 'marriages' normally last for life, and they are long ones too. One bird was known to lay its egg at the grand age of 62! It is not until the following September that the young albatross wanders from its nesting ground to test its outstretched wings and eventually take off with the aid of a strong wind.

The Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa is a great place to learn more about these intriguing birds and to see the colony in action from the observatory. The centre is open daily all year except Christmas Day. Prior bookings for tours are essential. Contact them on 09-478-0499 or email reservations@albatross.org.nz.

And yellow-eyed penguins.

'The birds made a wet day sunny,' says one happy visitor to the albatrosses' neighbours on the peninsula, the world's rarest penguin. The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Reserve offers the best viewing in New Zealand with over 1km of tracks and underground walkways that link 15 viewing hides. Professional guides with the very popular Twilight Wildlife Tours in Dunedin will explain the scenic beauty and wildlife of the area and get you in the right places at the right time for photographic opportunities. Contact Wild South on 03-474-3300 or at wildsouth@clear.net.nz. www.wilddunedin.co.nz.

Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki is renowned for the intriguing, spherical boulders found strewn along its beach. They can be seen emerging from cliffs and slowly disappearing into the sand and the sea, the most perfect examples of their kind found anywhere in the world. Scientific history says the boulders were formed over many, many years, somewhere in the region of 65 million in fact: starting off as lime crystals underground, they attracted other minerals around them eventually to form the boulder shape. Then, crystallisation of calcium and carbonates changed particles in the muddy undersea sediments gradually forcing the rounded boulders upwards and onto the surface, where you'll find them now.

But they also have a human history that is only a few hundred years old: some 1,000 years ago, whilst searching for precious stones, the great voyaging Arai-te-uru canoe and its crew were shipwrecked. The boulders represent the traditional food baskets onboard containing kumara, gourds and calabashes (traditional Maori food) that were washed ashore. Some of the crew reached safety, but others were overtaken by dawn and turned into hills nearby that bear their names.

Whichever is your chosen version, do stop off to break up your journey, walk along the beach to have a look and, most importantly, work up a hearty appetite for lunch at the fabulous Fleur's Place, five minutes away in the village's harbour.

Bookmark and Share