‘We dis­cov­ered a world full of sur­prises’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Through­out my ca­reer, I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to be trans­ported through time – whether to post-war Bri­tain and the Six­ties in Call the Mid­wife, or trav­el­ling back to Vic­to­rian times with The Rail­way Chil­dren. I have en­joyed act­ing in his­tor­i­cal dra­mas, but I’ve al­ways be­lieved that th­ese worlds no longer ex­isted. Un­til my hus­band John Tham and I vis­ited New Zealand.

There is a lovely old-world­li­ness to the place, which is charm­ing with­out be­ing old-fash­ioned. And it would be wrong to say that the coun­try is be­hind the times. We found our­selves in a world full of sur­prises where we made new friends, dis­cov­ered stun­ning landscapes, ate ex­cep­tional food and drank world-class wine.

The re­al­i­sa­tion that I was some­where very spe­cial first oc­curred to me at An­nan­dale on Banks Penin­sula a week or so into our ad­ven­ture when I was sit­ting on the porch of a con­verted shep­herd’s cot­tage, which was nes­tled high on a hill, sur­rounded by 5,000 acres of prime graz­ing land. I mar­velled at views of the Pa­cific Ocean and the snowy peaks of the Kaik­oura Range from the com­fort of our beau­ti­ful renovated cot­tage.

In­side, be­hind tim­bered boards in the kitchen was a fridge stocked with wine and our gourmet cook-at-home din­ner, or­dered be­fore we left and or­gan­ised on trays, with sim­ple in­struc­tions. John laid a log fire and we watched the sun set as we treated our­selves to some vin­tage bub­bles – pure bliss. This ex­traor­di­nar­ily beau­ti­ful coun­try­side was only 20 miles from Christchurch.

Our jour­ney had started at the Bay of Many Coves, a lodge that could only be reached by boat. It is in the Marl­bor­ough Sounds, in the north-east­erly cor­ner of the coun­try’s South Is­land and is a maze of chan­nels and wa­ter­ways cre­ated when the sea in­un­dated and flooded an an­cient river sys­tem. On a recce of the sur­round­ing area, I clam­bered up a chal­leng­ing trail to the top of the hills through ferns and bush for­est and was re­warded with spec­tac­u­lar views across the bays.

For a few days, we were away from roads; we would walk the many trails or take kayaks and me­an­der along the coast. Af­ter this pe­riod of com­plete quiet and re­lax­ation, we were ready to start our ex­plo­ration by car. New Zealand’s South Is­land is as dra­matic as it is di­verse, chang­ing within a few miles from The Lord of the Rings ter­ri­tory to de­serted beaches. John was keen to avoid Tolkien as­so­ci­a­tions, but some of the landscapes do make you think of Mid­dle-Earth. We ven­tured along the most northerly tip of the South Is­land along the Queen Char­lotte Track, stop­ping all the time to view the zigzag of wa­ter­ways stretch­ing out end­lessly be­fore us. This first road led us to the Abel Tas­man Na­tional Park, and the Resur­gence Eco Lodge. The alpine-style cabin had an open-air bath enclosed by shut­ters. It was here that I learned about the out­door bath­rooms that are so much a part of Kiwi tra­di­tion. I soaked in warm wa­ter look­ing up at the for­est while lis­ten­ing to the tui, the lit­tle na­tive bird, gur­gling its bell song around me. I was in the mid­dle of a con­ser­va­tion area sur­rounded by wild wood­land. At the nearby Abel Tas­man Coast Track, I swam in the turquoise wa­ters along the coast and found my way in­land along tracks lined with tree-ferns and wa­ter­falls. I could have stayed here for much longer, but we had an itin­er­ary to fol­low and had to move on.

Back on the road, I sam­pled some of the de­li­cious local del­i­ca­cies on the route south to An­nan­dale and Banks Penin­sula. I tucked into fresh green­lipped mus­sels in Have­lock and, as John was driv­ing, I didn’t hold back in tast­ing local vin­tages from an es­tate in the Waimea area.

Fol­low­ing our visit to Banks Penin­sula, we stayed at a B&B called The Red Barns on the out­skirts of Christchurch at Tai Tapu. Own­ers Sally and Mur­ray wel­comed us into their fam­ily home, which is a for­mer dairy.

Christchurch is still be­ing re­built af­ter the dev­as­ta­tion caused by the 2011 earth­quake. It is mind-blow­ing to con­ceive the power the Earth holds over us – 10,000 homes were de­stroyed on that one fate­ful day. De­spite the crush­ing blow of the quake, I found a city of proud and re­silient peo­ple. At the Botanic Gar­dens, the huge trees re­mained firmly rooted. The roses were a riot of colour. The pieces of tran­si­tional ar­chi­tec­ture I spot­ted as we wan­dered the streets were touch­ing. The card­board cathe­dral and the shop­ping mall made of ship­ping con­tain­ers stood out as mono­liths of re­silience and hope.

The next day, we were off to Gover­nors Bay and Ohine­tahi gar­dens. Th­ese pri­vate gar­dens were cre­ated in Jenny Agut­ter trav­elled with New Zealand In Depth (01298 74040; newzealand-in­depth. co.uk). A sim­i­lar 12-day itin­er­ary stay­ing at all of the lux­ury lodges men­tioned in this piece will cost from £6,950 per per­son in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, all break­fasts and din­ners, car hire, trans­fers and he­li­copter ride. Cost ex­cludes in­ter­na­tional flights and ac­tiv­i­ties. 1977 by the ar­chi­tect Sir Miles War­ren, who has re­cently sub­mit­ted plans for re­build­ing the cathe­dral in Christchurch. This very per­sonal space is not large, but the cre­ative use of the fall of the land, the val­ley in the mid­dle and the old trees makes it seem larger. As you wan­der through, each area is dis­tinct: there is a for­mal lawn with a herba­ceous border, a rose gar­den with sculp­tures, the val­ley has a hang­ing bridge across it. The rhodo­den­drons were fab­u­lous.

Lunch was spent at a café known for the choco­late it makes from Samoan co­coa. Over­look­ing Gover­nors Bay at Ra­paki, it spe­cialises in out­ra­geous con­fec­tions from bars and truf­fles to cakes and pud­dings.

Head­ing from the east to the west coast, we left the car at Christchurch sta­tion, where we boarded the TranzAlpine train to Grey­mouth. For me, the train re­mains a sim­ple and med­i­ta­tive way to travel with the metro­nomic sound of the wheels rolling over the tracks and nav­i­gat­ing moun­tain passes while look­ing at the scenery. From the car­riage win­dows, I took in the Can­ter­bury Plains, be­fore nav­i­gat­ing the gorges and moun­tains that rise into the spine of the South Is­land.

There was a stop at the half­way point for a cou­ple of nights at the Wilder­ness Lodge at Arthur’s Pass, lo­cated on a work­ing merino sheep sta­tion sur­rounded by na­tive for­est and a na­tional park.

When we ar­rived, I was struck by the set­ting. The lodge was hardly vis­i­ble among the trees, and in­side it felt like I was perched among the branches look­ing through fo­liage to the moun­tains be­yond.

I took a walk around the lodge, where I met the es­tate’s farmer Neil and his trusty sheep­dog, a border col­lie called Blue. Neil was as craggy as the moun­tains with a gen­tle na­ture and great en­thu­si­asm for the farm. Blue obeyed Neil’s ev­ery whis­tle and call, sin­gling out sheep or herd­ing them to­gether. Later, I fed one of the or­phaned lambs aban­doned by its mother and need­ing hand-rear­ing.

Back on the train, we headed to the north-west coast where the sta­tion was rem­i­nis­cent of those on the Worth Val­ley rail­way line used for The Rail­way Chil­dren. We picked up a car at Grey­mouth and headed down the north coast to­wards the next des­ti­na­tion, stop­ping on the way at Hok­i­tika, a de­light­ful town renowned for pounamu, the much trea­sured local jade. John, who is Swedish, was de­lighted to dis­cover a glass-blower trained by a mas­ter glass­maker from Swe­den.

On our way to Lake Mo­er­aki, we made a pit stop at Okar­ito La­goon. On the way, I saw a road sign warn­ing us to be aware of ki­wis – not the fruit, but the rare pro­tected bird na­tive to this part of the world af­ter which New Zealan­ders are named.

Dur­ing a mem­o­rable stay in Lake Mo­er­aki Wilder­ness Lodge, we went

Jenny and John on their trav­els

lodge at the Bay of Many Coves can only be reached by boat

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.