New Zealand: Coastal Connections
Natural wonders and amazing adventures along the shores of New Zealand.
By John Montague and Carolina Panoff
Fluorescent lights, the gentle pitter-patter of keyboards, and the dying groan of late-’90s swivel chairs. That’s our office. To a degree, this is our life.
Like most people in similar situations, we eventually decided it was time for an escape. And so we pointed our compass to New Zealand.
Whether in reference to the amazing landscapes seen in The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, or any of the other renowned films shot there, most people already know that New Zealand is stunning.
Initially, we didn’t know much about it and were hesitant to commit to such an extravagant trip. Flying more than 6,500 miles from Los Angeles to Auckland sounds exhausting, but surprisingly it wasn’t. (Hint: Consume all of Air Zealand’s in-flight videos on YouTube, which are a great introduction to the country and its wonderfully inviting personality).
After landing in Auckland, it wasn’t long until we were well acquainted with some of the city’s hippest restaurants (such as Chef Al Brown’s famous Depot Eatery), most welcoming people, abundant number of sheep, and plenty of adventure. Although Queenstown’s claim to fame sits as the adventure capital of the world, Auckland is its humble younger brother.
From the comfort of home, booking a canyoning tour didn’t seem like a big deal. But as we wrestled into 5 mm wetsuits and strapped on bulky harnesses, a wave of skepticism and exhilaration came over us. However, we kept going, walking to the pinnacle of Piha Canyon, which is breathtaking for many reasons. First, it is drop-dead gorgeous and full of unspoiled natural beauty; second it is a great workout. Piha is 40 minutes outside of downtown Auckland and is a protected natural paradise. There’s no better way to see it then from the heart of the canyon itself. Cam, our guide, led the way.
Cam has been running AWOL Adventures for more than 16 years and was one of the coolest Kiwis we met, having traveled the world guiding everything you can imagine. After he taught us the basics of abseiling (or rappelling), we were ready to leave the nest, which in this case was a 20-meter (65-foot) waterfall and one of the highlights of the trip. Following the major accomplishment of making our way down the waterfall, we were rewarded with a prepared lunch at the foot of the rushing water.
Walk This Way
You can’t reference New Zealand without including its nine designated “Great Walks.” Managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), the popular routes range from 20 to 48 miles of the country’s most scenic areas. Even the name “Great Walk” exudes wonder, as if named by a wizard in some distant paracosm.
We chose to hike two Great Walks (Kiwis call them “tramps”): the Abel Tasman Coastal Track and the Routeburn Track, which couldn’t be more distinct, but were both jaw-droppingly beautiful.
The best way to describe the Abel Tasman is a tropical anomaly. Think of the Caribbean (white, sandy beaches and crystal-clear water), but with seals, drastic tides…
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Photo: Vaughan Brookfield