Friday, 23 November 2012

New Zealand, Paradise on Earth


I always thought that South Africa was a country with the most beautiful places to visit on earth, until Graham and I went to New Zealand’s South Island during the months of July and August of 2005. We hired a six berth camper van and toured the island extensively. Stopping off at camp-sites as the whim took us, where we would find a pitch and then go and explore the area.
As my brother, Eric and his wife Sue, are about to embark upon a new adventure and move to New Zealand where he has a job waiting for him as Chief Engineer in an aviation company, I thought I’d write about our holiday, giving them, and any of my blog readers some pointers and helpful travel trips when visiting a place that is absolute paradise on earth.
We decided to travel from Cape Town via Singapore to Christchurch, New Zealand on Singapore Airlines which was a fantastic choice, as we were treated like royalty, (even in cattle class) by the galley crew. The air hostesses were dressed in traditional oriental attire and seemed to never tire, always smiling and available on the long leg to Singapore.
Part of the package was that we had an overnight in Singapore at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel, which is situated right next door to the world famous Raffles Hotel.
As tired as we felt upon arrival, nothing could stop us from making plans to go to Raffles soon after we had checked in to our hotel and freshened up!
Once at Raffles, a waiter in heavily starched whites, seated us in the hotel’s large rattan chairs, surrounded by potted palms and exotic orchids. The slow moving ceiling fans slowly clack-clacked over our heads while the balmy late afternoon sun dipped into the horizon.
“Cheers!” We toasted each other with a Singapore Sling, (I felt very “Colonial” sipping over that special drink in such a historic hotel, where guests like Elizabeth Taylor, Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward had sat and sipped in an era bygone.)
After that we took a taxi into Singapore’s Chinatown where we mainly window shopped as we were on a tight budget and wanted to save pennies to spend once we reached New Zealand. Returning to our hotel exhausted, we collapsed into bed, needing no rocking to get to sleep.
Bzzzz…bzzzz… the phone beside the bed woke us the next day. “Good Morning!” The friendly receptionist chirped pleasantly. 
Bustling around, throwing the odd sock into our suitcases, we had breakfast and then caught the hotel’s courtesy transport back to Changi International Airport. There we had enough time to look around the massive duty free which was impressive, but what intrigued me the most, were the massage facilities with wary travellers getting all the kinks worked out of their backs and necks by the gentle administrations of attractive ladies and men.
“Gosh, these Orientals sure know how to make people happy,” I whispered to Graham.
Once again seated in the spacious economy seats on Singapore Airlines, we ate a tasty oriental meal before settling in for the night’s flight to our final destination, Christchurch International Airport.
Before the plane landed, forms were handed out to all the passengers informing us that were not to take any leather, perishable food-stuff, seeds etc. The people of New Zealand are very strict about this, as they preserve and care for their environment as fiercely as the Australians.
Once safely on terra-firma we queued into immigration and customs and  were amused to see a young trainee sniffer-dog with his handler following a more senior dog who obviously knew the ropes, as he made a direct foray at an Indian woman who was carrying a large hand-bag.
She was made to empty out the contents. Out rolled two large plump apples, which, much to her surprise were confiscated immediately. With loud protestations, she was marched off to a private area for further dog sniffing and investigating.
I later learned that most sniffer dogs at the time were of the beagle breed and supplied from the Beagle Club.
We had been told by a friend who had visited New Zealand before us that once out in the main airport, there were facilities to book camper vans. So we made our way to the information desk and were most impressed with the fact that there was even a desk that supplied clean bath towels and soap, as there were hot showers for people who chose to do so before leaving the airport.
(I thought to myself if there were showers in one of the African airports that I had passed through, all the locals would be very pleased as there would be running water and a place to get clean.)
After getting various brochures on all the different companies who supplied camper vans, we took a taxi to the Bed and Breakfast in Christchurch that we had organised on line before leaving South Africa.
Travelling from the airport to our first “pit-stop” in New Zealand was a real eye-opener. None of the houses had burglar-bars; there were no high walls or fences with razor-wire lacing the tops to keep the bad guys out.
Young children were walking along the roads unaccompanied by adults…
It made us think that we were in a time-warp back into our childhood days when growing up in Africa, where crime was minimal, and one could walk around safely, without any fear of being attacked or run over.
I fell in love with New Zealand then and there and our journey had just begun.
(Next Blog: “Have Camper Van, must travel”
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