New Zealand’s People, Places and Paths
Story and Photos by Eric Ladd
Travel – mental or physical – offers your mind freedom from daily burdens and gives your soul space to dream. But distant travel gives you the opportunity to discover gems in different landscapes – the stories of its people, the smells of its authentic recipes, and the emotions associated with its history.
The New Zealand countryside and its people have much in common, and are at once diverse, understated and powerful. When you meet a “Kiwi” on a trail or in a tavern, you quickly gather that these folks live a philosophy supporting simple rules driven by nature and lack of burdensome attachments. And that nearly everything “good” is described using the term “Sweet as.”
As the country evolves, it’s becoming more rare to meet a Kiwi – a term shared by both the national bird, now nearly extinct, and the hearty native New Zealander – but a chance encounter leaves an imprint.
New Zealand, an archipelago located 900 miles southeast of Australia, offers millions of acres of pristine countryside and is a gathering point for global travelers. One must simply stand at a trailhead and witness the array of nationalities exploring this country to understand its allure – a pilgrimage for nature tourism.
In a single day you can sit on a remote pebble beach admiring fur seals and penguin colonies; hike through lush rainforests among 10,000-year-old trees; fly fish in gin-clear rivers; taste award-winning wine; and watch the sunset on shores of glacier-fed, sapphire-colored lakes.
The island nation once held a population of more than 200 bird species – and no mammals other than bats. The country still has one of the most diverse bird populations on earth, but human disturbance has challenged an ecosystem that now relies on concerted efforts for protection.
New Zealand is more than 900 miles long running on a north to southeast axis, with 33 islands and more than 1,900 plant species all set within a mild and temperate maritime climate. Despite it’s size, don’t try to see it all in one holiday, pick a zone within the country and slow down to immerse yourself in that region, or else prepare yourself to move here. Giving advice on travel in New Zealand is like trying to teach someone to golf, it’s best to just keep it simple.
Sitting in 10D on the flight home to the states, I recalled my recent travels and the associated fading memories. While a litany of experiences shaped my journey, three key components stand out to me and represent the beautiful country of New Zealand: its people, its places and its paths. No doubt I’ll be back.
Clear-eyed, passionate and understated, these Kiwis represent New Zealand’s diversity and stories.
Sue Dryden – Napier – Kaka Coordinator, bird enthusiast
With a quick pace and broad smile, Sue Dryden fills birdfeeders, and whistles. “I skipped lunch today so I could come hang out with my birds,” she says. Dryden helps run the bird sanctuary at Cape Sanctuary Wildlife Preserve where critical work is taking place to support the reintroduction of species including the kaka and the kiwi. Dryden guides kiwi walks and introduces guests to the preserve’s breeding programs.
Tony Entwistle – Nelson – Fly-fishing guide, conservationist
If God recreated a legendary 15-pound brown trout in the form of a fishing guide, it would be Tony Entwistle. Having guided anglers for more than 30 years, Entwistle is known as “the godfather of New Zealand fly fishing.” Spending a day with Entwistle on a river is as effective as a semester with courses in river ecology, backcountry travel, life advice and, yes, how to cast to the elusive New Zealand brown trout.
Gerry McSweeney – Lake Moeraki – Lodge owner, scientist
Step into the native forest surrounding Gerry McSweeny’s wilderness lodge on the shores of Lake Moeraki, and you’ll witness a man in his element. A former New Zealand Department of Conservation scientist-turned-lodge-owner, McSweeny guides guests on native bush and beach walks, and paddles on the neighboring lakes and rivers. He lets people connect with nature, slow down and experience the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area he now calls his backyard.
Lisa Nicholas – Wanaka – Yoga instructor, world traveler
A ski model, world traveler and adventurer, Lisa Nicolas now leads yoga students toward enlightened paths. An Aussie with crystal-blue eyes and fire-red hair, Nicolas grew up farming then found her way to the Swiss Alps where she spent many years skiing for the cameras. She now finds herself in settings like the lakeshore of Lake Wanaka leading students through weeklong yoga seminars. Next stop: Morocco by way of India and China.
Milan Ritschny – Marahau – Stand-up paddleboard guide
Milan Ritschny was born and raised at the trailhead of New Zealand’s busiest national park, Abel Tasman. Ritschny’s family owns the famed Park Café, an organic-based restaurant that services the thousands of visitors who enjoy the park’s pearl-white beaches and aqua-blue waters. Spend a day with Ritschny – who also owns the only SUP guiding company in the park – to experience a slower pace highlighted with stories of growing up on these waters.
New Zealand offers fine accommodations for the weary traveler. These digs rise to the top.
The Landing Pad – The Langham, Auckland Hotel
Tucked into the center of Auckland, the Langham is the perfect location to shake off the jet lag from your journey to New Zealand. This well-appointed hotel is within walking distance to many of the city highlights and has a world-class spa.
The Luxury Farm Stay – Napier – Cape Kidnappers
Arguably one of the finest resorts in the country, Cape Kidnappers is part of a three-lodge collection and offers guests a luxury stay on a beautiful, 6,000-acre sheep farm overlooking the famed wine country of Hawke’s Bay, its golf course rated among the world’s top 100, and rolling hiking trails.
The Resurgence Lodge – Nelson
Nestled at the foothills of two national parks, the Resurgence Lodge is a boutique resort reminiscent of a tree house. In close proximity to Abel Tasman and wine country, the family-run operation offers organic, home-cooked meals and friendly concierge service to help plan adventures.
The Homestay – Peak Rentals – Wanaka
Finding a home base is an ideal way to enjoy New Zealand. Rent a home or condo and allow for some space and time to soak-in a region. Peak Rentals manages a large portfolio of properties ranging from studio condos to larger homes suitable for family reunions.
The George – Christchurch
Situated adjacent to North Hagley Park, the George is an oasis in Christchurch, still rebuilding from the devastating earthquake of 2011. Take a short walk to the Christchurch Botanical Gardens or wander down the street to the Strawberry Fare restaurant for one of the finer meals and best desserts in the city.
There are myriad ways to experience New Zealand, but the following adventures will blow you away.
By beach walk – Take a stroll along the protected and secluded coastline of the South Island while getting rare exposure to colonies of penguins and seals and, scoping out waterfalls and crashing waves. The full-day walk is a signature adventure provided by Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, and led by knowledgeable guides.
By fly rod – New Zealand is blessed with some of the clearest streams in the world, and also some of the healthiest populations of brown trout. The average-size of these freshwater fish in New Zealand is 4 pounds, but urban legend has them reaching 15 pounds or more. Fishing in New Zealand can become an addiction and many of the guides like Queenstown-based fishing ninja, Ayato Otsubo, got the fishing bug years ago.
By Haast Pass – The suggested route driving to or from the west coast of New Zealand’s southern island is via Haast Pass. This setting jumps straight out of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the road winding along deep blue streams at the toe edge of the glaciers.
By chopper – A family-run operation logging 35 years of flying through the Southern Alps, Wanaka Helicopters offers a variety of tours ranging from small, scenic tours to the ever-popular marriage-proposal flight. Tours to Milford and Doubtful sounds are “must dos” – multi-hour flights whisking passengers up to glaciers where they can touch the snow, then minutes later to the Tasman sea where guests can dip their feet in the sand and surf.
By paddleboard – Abel Tasman National Park hosts more than 200,000 people every year and over 98 percent of the park’s visitors see this emerald cove segment of the country via hiking, sea kayaking, boat transport and sailing. A lucky few discover the park through one of its newest operations, Abel Tasman Paddleboarding.
Nestled in a glacier moraine valley, Wanaka is an idyllic mountain town on the shores of 26-mile-long Lake Wanaka. The town is on the cusp of major growth as international tourists descend on its eight-block main street, and explore the nearly endless adventures within an hour’s drive.
Set in the Otago Region, fruit farms and vineyards surround Wanaka, and hiking and biking trails snake in all directions. Boating on the 1,000-foot-deep lake is a notable draw especially during the holiday season when the population grows by a factor of 10. For now, Wanaka remains a slow-paced town trapped in the 80s, boasting coffee shops without Wi-Fi and long conversations on park benches.
This story was first published in the summer 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.