Finding the wild side of New Zealand
NEW Zealand’s landscapes are well-known on the silver screen. The Lord of the Rings films showed off the majestic mountainous scenery so well they sparked a tourism boom – and 13 percent of travellers still cite Peter Jackson’s cinematography in their decision to visit. Out on 16 September, Hunt for the Wilderpeople,a comedy-drama directed by Taika Waititi and starring Sam Neill as Hec, grumpy foster uncle to Ricky (newcomer Julian Dennison), shines the spotlight on the country once again. The story of a city kid’s adventures in the wilderness broke box office records at home and had rave reviews at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, winning the coveted Audience Award. It was filmed largely in the North Island’s Auckland region, where beaches, rainforest and vineyards surround New Zealand’s biggest city. For those inspired to book a Kiwi adventure, here are five of the best film-related options.
Bush survival Stu Gilbert from SOS Survival Training coaches anyone from airline crews to schoolchildren, so a session with him is a good start for would-be Wilderpeople, as Ricky dubs himself and Hec. A former air force instructor, Stu shows rookies the ropes in a fun session out in the bush on a large property in Muriwai, 45 minutes’ drive from Auckland. After tuition on the basics, he has participants foraging for logs, branches and bracken to build a makeshift bed and shelter and trying to light a fire using cotton wool, flint and steel (a dead phone battery can also work, apparently). We found the flint and steel worked fine, with the right mix of tinder and kindling, and were sparked up in no time. Overnight and three-day packages of full bush immersion are available, too. Adult full-day course US$130.
Horse riding A 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland is beautiful, bohemian Waiheke Island. Most tourists get around by car, bike or even zip-lining – but the Wilderpeople way would be to jump on a horse like Ricky’s friend Kahu (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne). Waiheke HorseWorx is a new operator that tours the beaches and bush tracks, taking in traditional Maori culture and Waiheke’s famous wineries. Some of their steeds are film stars too: Ask for Shaman if you’re a Hobbit fan (she was dwarf king Thorin’s mount). A typical four-hour tour will begin with basic instruction, followed by a ride along beaches to Piritahi Marae community centre for a traditional Maori welcome, before a tea break and a ride to Cable Bay vineyard for food and wine. Alternatively, in the middle of North Island, adventure company River Valley in Taihape offers two- to four-day horse riding holidays from $570.
Hiking The 8 kilometre (5 mile) coastal walk from Bethells Beach to Muriwai takes in breathtaking views of the coast west of Auckland and is a winner with locals and visitors alike. The Te Henga Walkway is part of the Hillary Trail, which connects a number of tracks in the Waitakere Ranges. It takes in grass tracks, coastal bush, beach and clifftops. It’s waymarked from Bethells Beach and continues through the Waitakere Ranges to a steep flight of steps known as the Devil’s Staircase. It’s a three- to four-hour trek that passes near several locations used in the film: Local landowner Vicky Bethell’s house was used as Kahu’s home, and many outdoor scenes were shot in the land nearby. Hikers should mind their language, though: Vicky says the acoustics are so good she can hear every word from far above.
A trail running and walking event, Speight’s West Coaster (entry from $27), takes place on the Te Henga track on December 10. For a longer walk, Adventure South NZ has a five-day trek in the Auckland area from $1210.
Birdwatching Those who are, like Ricky, keen on rare birds will find the Auckland region bursting with opportunity. The volcanic island of Rangitoto (west of Waiheke) is home to protected species including the tieke, or saddleback, brought back from the brink of extinction by a 2011 breeding program. Ferry operator Fullers runs tours to Rangitoto for $48, while tribal company Te Haerenga offers tours with specialist Ngai Tai guides (from $110 per person). Serious twitchers could head to Tiritiri Matangi, an island north of Auckland that’s home to many birds, including long-tailed cuckoo, takahe, kokako and that New Zealand favourite, the little spotted kiwi.
Cabin stay A 45-minute flight from Auckland, the volcanic lakeside town of Taupo is a relaxing destination, and gateway to Mount Tongariro National Park, the site of three mighty mountains including Ngauruhoe, (Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings). The area is also used in Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Waititi and crew stayed for a few days at Lahar Farm, a vast property with herds of sika deer and plenty of bush to explore. Owners Noeline and Brent Bishop rent out Lahar Alpine Retreat , a self-catering log cabin for six (from $92 a night). There is hiking, biking, rafting and skiing in the national park.
– The Guardian
Sunset at Mt Ngauruhoe – which doubles as Mt Doom in The Lord of The Rings films – is a can’t-miss sight of New Zealand.