Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Serene South Island, New Zealand

I was very excited about going to South Island. Reasons were far too many- Heli-hike, Sky-diving, Bungee jumping, scarcely populated region and driving approximately 3500 kms in NZ. 

A three hour ferry ride from Wellington took us to Picton in South Island. Though, it's called a ferry yet it's more like a cruise with separate movie room, family room, snack bar and so on and so forth. The ride is supposedly considered to be a ‘must-do’ activity in New Zealand. It was a sunny day but it was very difficult to stand on the deck due to a strong wind. One of the locals appropriately used a simile to describe NZ- ‘Just as Saudi Arabia is known for oil, so is NZ for abundance of wind’. 
During the ferry ride, I picked up a newspaper to read and the front page story was about a heli-hike crash in Fox Glacier wherein all the tourists died. I wanted to hide this news from my travel buddies but that didn’t happen. 

When we had to de-board the ferry, I saw huge tanker trucks with equally big trolleys in the lower deck and realized the massive space it had for ferrying vehicles. The Picton Ferry Terminal was the size of an airport in New Zealand. We boarded a bus that took us all to the Luggage Terminal. The way the luggage was laid down in straight lines and the manner in which passengers picked their luggage was so neat. All the major car rental companies have their counters at the terminal. I had made the booking while we were in India.


The Small Town Charm 
We picked up our car and drove past the wineries of Blenheim. On our way, we came across a Cherry Farm and we halted there to buy some fresh cherries. The owner told us that the cherries will take a week more to ripe, so it was not for sale at the moment. We requested him whether we could have our lunch in his farm as it was quite pleasant. He graciously agreed and we ate our pre-packed lunch that we were carrying.


We were expecting cold weather in South Island but it was quite hot in the afternoon. We drove 189 kms to reach Murchison by 3pm and then looked around at few hotels and decided to stay at a hotel which had self-contained rooms. This town has a population of 500. An apartment in Gurgaon (India) has more people than this town. Yet they had a supermarket, fuel station, salon, and all other necessary amenities. The small town beauty of the place had a calming effect on us. 


Rock-on: Punakaiki  
We left for Punakaiki which is around 140kms away. Our cottage was located in the middle of a jungle with a private parking and no other cottages in sight. After dropping off our luggage, we headed to see the Pancake Rocks. They are surely unique and look stunning during high tide. We also went to the beach which was a short-walk from our cottage. Surprisingly, there is no grocery store, supermarket or a fuel station in Punakaiki.
Unseen Glaciers 
We left early in the morning (around 5.45am) to reach Franz Josef (216 kms away). I had booked a Heli-hike at 11.15am beforehand. It started raining on our way but we were hopeful that the weather might be fine in Franz Josef. But on reaching there, the Heli-hike was cancelled due to the inclement weather and the forecast for the next day was even worse. I had thought that this would be the highlight of the trip but it was disheartening to know that nature had some other plans. I enquired about Heli-hike in Fox Glacier. But all such activities were cancelled for a week in Fox Glacier due to the recent plane crash.  
We had planned to be in Franz Josef for 2 days but I decided to change my plan as it was raining continuously. That also meant that I needed to change all my further reservations.
View from the top
Entering Wanaka
We left for Wanaka in the morning which is 285kms away. Before entering the picturesque town, one comes across two large glacial lakes situated side by side- Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. There was something about the place which is hard to describe in words but was very appealing. The pristine alpine lake has a spectacular backdrop of the Southern Alps. It is also the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park - a World Heritage Area.
Lake Wanaka
We went for a walk around the beautiful Lake Wanaka and on returning to the hotel, I enquired whether there are any companies that undertake 9000 feet skydiving. Well, the answer was no but the young man, Alberto convinced me that it made more sense to go for a 12,000 ft dive as he had tried out all sorts of dives. I had initially planned to do skydiving in Queenstown but after looking at the beauty of Wanaka, I changed my mind. Alberto also suggested that I should go for skydiving at 6am as sunrise makes the scenery even more beautiful. So, I did the same.
Early morning- just before sky-diving
At 5.30am, I was required to call and enquire about the weather. I called on time and was told that the weather conditions were fine for flying. In the next 15 minutes, their free pick-up car was there to drive me to the Wanaka airport. The driver was a young girl from China and she asked me to carefully watch a video regarding things I need to keep in mind while skydiving. On reaching the airport, I filled-up a form and my body weight was checked. After wearing the suit, I was introduced to my instructor, Ben - a handsome looking young guy. No wonder their tagline is ‘Strap yourself to a beautiful stranger’. He told me that I will be the first from the group to jump off the plane. I was glad to hear that. Jumping off first also meant sitting next to the door of the helicopter. The door of a skydiving helicopter is very different from usual choppers (I have undertaken chopper rides in the past). It had a shutter-like door which was kept closed by the strength of another instructor and not any lock/bolt. He was lying on the floor of the chopper and with his one leg acting as a door lock. It's not the best thing to know that you are sitting next to the exit door of a practically unlocked door in a flight. But they are the experts and I wanted to trust them. In the meantime, the chopper flew us over Mount Aspiring and Mount Cook.
My instructor was acting like a guide and telling me which peaks and lakes I was seeing. I guess it's also a way to calm the participants. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my scenic chopper ride. In the midst, there was a sudden jolt and then the plane stabilized. I was told that high speed winds caused this jerk. Later, I was asked to wear gloves as the gate would be opened shortly. I did so and then enquired about glasses. Ben responded that if I wear glasses before it will get fogged by the time the exit door opens. I knew that the wind speed would be very high once the door opens and without glasses initially, it will be tough. But again, they do this every day, so I did not counter question. The door was opened and I enquired whether it's the time for me to sit at the edge of the exit. I got 'yes' as an answer and I went towards the exit. Ben put in the glasses for me. I looked at the view below and sat in the posture as was demonstrated in the video. I asked my instructor whether I am sitting in the correct position and was told its fine. Then, I asked him whether I should jump now. He said yes and instantly I dived with my eyes wide open. I had promised to myself that I shall jump on my own without getting any push from the instructor and will keep my eyes open till I land. I am glad that I fulfilled my promise. The experience of a free-fall was one of its kind. I did not scream like most people do. After a while, Ben checked whether I was fine and I responded that I was perfect. Ben and I were continuously talking to each other.
He was telling me the names of the snow-clad peaks and I was clarifying wherever I had a doubt. Apart from the guided tour, I had the same feeling while I meditate. I know, meditation during skydiving is unusual but it was like the time stood still and I could experience each and every nano second. I made a perfect landing on the ground. It’s an experience of a lifetime. Within a few minutes, I experienced a split headache. On reaching my hotel, I did a high-five with Alberto and then asked him, why I am experiencing headache now. Alberto responded ‘Lady, you have jumped off a plane from 12,000 ft. This is bound to happen.’ This is something, no one had warned me before. I asked him when it will be fine. He told me that it will take a day for the headache to go away. I asked him whether he too had a headache after skydiving. Alberto said that different people react differently when atmospheric pressure changes so drastically. So, Alberto experienced pain in his ears and I had a headache.

I rested for a while and then had my breakfast. Then, I went window shopping to divert my mind from the headache but some things were here to stay.
Experiencing Storm 
Then, it was time to go to our next destination- Te Anau. After taking some rest in the car, it was my turn to drive. The intensity of the headache was the same as it was in the morning. However, I concentrated hard while driving. We reached Te Anau in the afternoon and the sun was really strong and it was extremely windy. In the afternoon, I picked up a book on New Zealand and read about some of the places that I can explore.
Lake Te Anau
We went for a lakeside walk in the evening. Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in the South Island and second only within New Zealand to Lake Taupo. In the book, I read about Ivor Wilson Park which has exotic trees. I wanted to go there but somewhere lost my way to the park and it was getting late, so I came back.
In the night, we experienced a storm raging at 120kms per hour. It became difficult to sleep as the sound of the wind was too loud. 
Then, early in the morning, we took the State Highway to go to Milford Sound. After driving some 15kms, we thought to call the NZ Weather department. I was shocked to hear that the Highway was closed due the storm that occurred in the night, considering there was no signage indicating the same. I asked the officer when the highway will open during the day. He told me to wait till the next weather report at 9.30am. We took a U-turn and headed back to our hotel in Te Anau. As a backup plan, I checked whether I could get hotel reservation at Wanaka, Queenstown and Te Anau. There was availability in Te Anau only. At 9.30am, the status remained the same and we were told to wait for the next weather update at 12noon. I had made a cruise booking at Milford Sound, so I called them to inform that we will not be able to reach on time. The call center executive told me that she has rescheduled my booking for 3.15pm and if the weather does not improve, then I will get a full refund of our tickets.  
Since there was so much time, I decided to go for a walk and discover Ivor Wilson Park. On my way, I came across the Fiordland National Park museum and I enquired about the route to reach this park. I came to know that yesterday I was very close to the park but due to lack of signage I was unable to figure my way. Again, I started walking along the lake till I came across a densely forested walkway. I came across signage for two other walks but not the one I was looking for. I still decided to go ahead and then came across a small bird park. I saw ‘Kaka’ bird and a few more. There was a young boy who was working in the park and I asked him about Ivor Wilson Park. He told me to walk further and would find it across the road. Finally, I reached the park and after walking for some time in the densely afforested park I realised that I was the only one walking here. The moment I decided to return as I was not sure where I was headed to, I heard a sound of a family talking from behind. It was quite reassuring. I spoke to the family that was walking behind me and asked them whether they had come here before. They told me that they are regulars at this park. Then, I asked where this park leads to. They told me that after some distance I will come across a small lake. I thanked them and went ahead. The moment I saw the lake, I went near it and sat there for a while. I noticed that this park continued on the other side of the lake. So, I thought of going in that direction. I bumped into the same family once again and we had a long conversation. The family comprised of the lady who was from New Zealand, her Indian husband, their toddler son and a big dog. I had questions regarding the unpredictable weather, the water-bodies, etc. It was an informative session. Then, I told them that I am waiting for the weather report at 12noon as I wanted to go to Milford Sound. The gentleman told me that it’s very unlikely that they will open the highway so late. I was disappointed to hear this but my gut feeling was that I am going there today. The couple offered to give me a lift as it had started raining again and I would have to walk another 45 minutes to reach my hotel. New Zealand feels so safe that I decided to take a lift from strangers. They dropped me at my hotel by 11.30am and I thanked them again. Then, I had a quick lunch and was hoping to hear some favourable weather report at 12noon. We were told that the highway had been opened.
Milford Sound
A natural wonder- Milford Sound
We left immediately and were expecting rush on the road. However, that was not the case. I had read enough information on the internet stating that this drive is tough and it’s better to go in a bus than self-drive. The drive is indeed beautiful but we did not face any difficulty while driving. This is because in India we have driven very high altitudes on winding roads. At a particular spot, we pulled over on the side to take photos. I lowered the window glass and clicked pics, and suddenly kea (a fairly large bird) came near our car. My travel buddy sitting behind shouted that there is a kea on top of the car who is peeping inside. The moment I saw the bird, another kea came and sat on my window. I froze for a while and thought if this bird hit me with its sharp beak, I would probably bleed to death considering there was no nursing home for miles together. I was given a pamphlet which was inside the car by my fellow passenger for self-defense. Thankfully, after staring at me for a while the birds flew away. Basically, a lot of cars and buses were following us. So, when they spotted two keas on our car, quite a few tourists came out with their DSLRs trying to click their photographs. I was told later that keas are attention-seekers. So, they were too happy to let us go and take the spotlight. I felt as if they were posing for pictures. Anyway, I pulled up my window and left the spot immediately. All of us had a hearty laugh about this incident later on.
On the way, one has to cross a 1.2 kms Homer Tunnel. After waiting for our turn to enter the tunnel, I thought that I must maintain a good distance from the car in front of me. But when I looked at the rear view mirror, I realized that the car behind me was way too far. So, I reduced my speed so that I leave a similar gap in front. Driving close to another car is considered an offense in NZ. Though I was not close but I was not sure about the mindset and driving ability of the driver who was in front of my car.

Finally, we reached Milford Sound at 2.30pm. Milford Sound runs 15 kms inland from the Tasman Sea at Dale Point. Milford Sound sports two permanent waterfalls all year round, Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. After heavy rain however, many hundreds of temporary waterfalls can be seen running down the steep sided rock faces that line the fiord. Milford Sound was carved from the rock by prehistoric glaciers.
The place is surely unique. No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The one-hour cruise started on time. We took our seats but in a short while I stepped on to the upper deck which was open. As usual, it was windy and cold. But it was fun to get an open view. Then, I went to the lower deck and it was less windy out there. We saw seals lazing on the rocks and numerous waterfalls. But the most stunning waterfall was the one where the cruise liner comes so close to the waterfall that one gets drenched if you are standing in the open deck. The experience was so refreshing that I did not mind getting a little wet. Also, I knew that my wind sheet will dry quickly. Once our cruise ended, all of us felt that it was worth the wait to come here.
Gunn's Camp

There are just two stay options in this place. One is the Milford Sound Lodge and the other is Gunn’s Camp. We could manage to get accommodation only in Gunn’s Camp (made prior bookings). During my email conversation, I was told that it’s inside the National Reserve and one has to drive 8kms on rough road to reach there. I wasn’t even sure whether our GPS would function. While driving, I saw a girl running on the road and we enquired about Gunn’s Camp. After crossing the long tunnel, there was a small board for this Camp. I got on to this lane which did not have a proper road and was inside the jungle with no one in sight. I was keeping an eye on the kilometers that I was driving as there was no sign board. Then, I spotted a car in front of me and was happy to see it. Finally, reached Gunn’s Camp. It was really cold and was pouring heavily. I went to the Reception desk to pick up the key and made the payment. I causally remarked ‘Does it pour so heavily too often or today, there is something special?’ The lady at the counter replied that it rains two times more than it pours in Amazon. Really!! I had no clue. As luck would have it, we got a cottage with a fire place. I borrowed an umbrella from the Reception.

We put our luggage inside the cottage and were not able to figure out how to switch the lights on. I went back to the Reception and the lady came to our rescue. This place has an old-world charm. Mr. Gunn had come in the 1930s to this place and built these cottages. At that time, this was not a forest reserve. Mr. Gunn also started mining for jade in this area. In due course, this was declared as a National Reserve and no construction or mining was allowed. However, Mr. Gunn got mining rights for one specific variety of jade as the Maori’s inadvertently forgot to stake claim on it. Thus, this is the only place in the Reserve that has a human settlement. We had never operated a fire place either and I again returned to the Reception for help. It’s hard for me to describe the look the lady at the reception had on her face. She was trying to express without saying a word implying how we don’t know such a basic thing like lighting a fire place. I was compelled to answer and I told her that where we come from does not require having a fire place. That’s why, we have never operated it.

The fire place helped us survive the severe cold in this region. The cottage had two bedrooms and a living room cum kitchen. But we huddled ourselves in one bedroom as it was very cold. It took a while to get accustomed to the rudimentary style of living but later we started enjoying it like true travellers.  

In the morning, we spent some time in conversing with families who were staying here for more than a week. After breakfast, our plan was to drive 287 kms to reach Queenstown.  

On our way, our GPS conked off. Driving without a GPS can be nightmarish in South Island as it’s difficult to communicate with sheep and human sighting is a rare phenomenon. We collectively decided to go to Te Anau and fix the GPS before driving towards unknown territory.
In Te Anau, I called the car rental company and they gave me directions to reach to Queenstown. They said that the GPS can be replaced in Queenstown but nothing more can be done here. Then, we took help from a Chinese girl who used a pin and somehow made the GPS work. We thanked her and embarked on our journey. After leaving the city, we got lost and headed in the wrong direction. I spotted a car while driving and checked with them whether we were going in the right direction. We were told that we needed to go towards the opposite directions. And that’s what we did. Just before entering Queenstown, the GPS started giving wrong direction. We asked around to find the right way but I knew that the going will be tough inside the city without a GPS. Once we entered the city, the air inside the car was all charged up as without knowing which way to go it was difficult to navigate way through heavy traffic. I was under constant pressure regarding being fined or being hit by another vehicle if I took any wrong turn. I had to look for parking and then enquire from people. Thankfully, we were staying in the heart of the city so people were helpful in guiding us. At last, I reached my hotel but was not sure about authorized parking area. The receptionist got me a map and told me to park it alongside the lake. There are some disadvantages of living in the heart of the city and this was one, especially when the GPS was not working. At last, was able to figure out the parking space on the road along the lake.

The Adventure Capital of the World 
Shotover Jet
We walked around the buzzing city and I made reservation for Shotover Jet experience. My colleague had strongly recommended it and its youtube video seemed thrilling. I was asked to report to the ‘Station’ which is a hub from where various Adventure Sports Company operate. I reached there ten minutes in advance which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as they were playing the bungee jump videos on all the LED screens. This made me interested in Swing Bungee but I decided to hold my thought for the time being. 

A bus took us to the Shotover River and in no time was I inside the jet boat. It’s a unique ride and I enjoyed the 360 degree spins. The close encounters with the cliffs during the ride was also interesting. Surely, it’s an experience in itself and one must try it once. However, for an adrenaline junkie like me, this one was more of a joy ride.
Kawarau Bridge- Bungee jumping started from here

After returning to the city, I made reservation for Shotover Canyon Swing- it’s the world’s highest cliff jump (109m high, 60m freefall and 200m swing). In the afternoon, I again went to Shotover River and during the journey, we were shown the various ways in which one could do the bungee jump. Actually, there are more than 75 ways to jump. When we reached the venue, I realized that people in my group looked scared. So, I asked the instructor whether I can jump first. Everyone was relieved to hear this and I got the opportunity to jump first. I consulted my instructor regarding which jump style I should choose and he told me to just to a basic forward looking jump. They strapped me and I was ready to take the plunge. I looked at the river flowing below and jumped. Just like in sky-diving, here too, I wanted to jump on my own. The feeling of freefall was amazing and I enjoyed the swing part thoroughly. It was easy for me to do bungee jumping after I had attempted sky-diving. The instructors at Canyon Swing intimidate the participants rather than motivating them. So, they make it more challenging but if you remain mentally strong, then it does not matter. 

Solitude of Mt Cook
The next day, we drove to Mount Cook (Aoraki Village) which is 262 kms away. I was told by my colleague that the drive to Mt Cook is spectacular and I too can vouch for it now. It is a small village but is really breath-taking. If I get an opportunity to visit NZ again, I would like to spend a few days in solitude in Mt Cook.   
Tasman Glacier- my heli-hike destination

During the day, I came across the Bowen Bush Walk trail which is a short 10 minute walk. I ventured inside the densely forested trail. Again, there was no one except me but it’s safe. 
In Mt Cook, Heli-hiking trips are organized which I came to know when I was in Queenstown. Since I could not go to Franz Josef Heli-hike, I was keen to go here. I made my reservation on reaching there. I was told that in Mt Cook, the helicopter has to travel more and the group size is restricted to five. That’s why, its way more expensive than Franz Josef or Fox Glacier Heli-hikes. 
I had opted for the morning Heli-hike as the weather forecast for the morning was good. All the participants assembled at the Mountaineer’s CafĂ©. My group members included a couple each from Germany and Hong Kong. We were given special shoes, walking stick, rainproof over-pants, gloves, sun shades and crampons. We took our chopper from Aoraki Airport and I had the best view as I was sitting next to the pilot. We saw Mount Cook which is the highest peak (12,218 ft) in NZ and other snow-clad mountains. In some time, we landed on the Tasman glacier which was covered with thick blanket of snow. After we de-boarded the chopper, we wore crampons and were asked to follow the guide. The next two hours went past quickly in crossing crevasses, snow caves and watching blue ice for the very first time. It’s strange that there was so much snow all around yet I was sweating at the end of it. We again boarded the chopper and the experienced pilot gave a guided close-encounter with the mountain ranges. We also spotted the Himalayan reindeer from the chopper. I was glad that finally I managed to do Heli-hiking.
Reaching for the stars

Lake Tekapo
Next day, we went for a walk to the Hooker Valley trail- leads to foothills of Southern Alps. Thereafter, we headed to Tekapo. While driving we reached a dead-end of the road. Thankfully, we spotted a gentleman who guided us towards the right direction. On reaching Tekapo, we realized that our hotel is right in front of the Lake Tekapo. The lake changes colour as and when there is movement of clouds. The various shades of blue reflecting in the lake reminded me of Lakshadweep sea water in India.  

This place is also known for star-gazing. We waited for sunset and by the time stars were visible, it was already 10pm. There were stars in the sky but it was not impressive.  

Garden City

In the morning it was raining and we drove 226 kms to reach Christchurch. First, we returned our car and then, the car rental company dropped us in our hotel in Central Christchurch. I was delighted to see the Tram from the window of my room.
After lunch, we walked to the Botanical Garden which was beautiful. The garden has really old trees in good health. A section of the garden was over-flowing with variety of roses. I had never seen so many roses in a regular garden. The Avon River was flowing on one side of the garden. And, then I noticed a postcard perfect like scenario- a young girl taking a ride in a wooden boat which was being rowed by a young man dressed in formal wear. It was so very romantic.  

Later during the day, we walked to the Canterbury Museum, Isaac Theatre, Church, and New Regent Street. I found New Regent Street very fairy-tale like and enjoyed spending time there. 

New Regent Street
After a very long interval, I had spent so much time in another country. Yet, neither was I bored nor was I homesick. The natural beauty of NZ, friendliness of local people and the feeling that you are in a safe country, makes it an exciting travel destination.



Additional info:
1.    There are more sheep than human population in South Island, approximately three times more
2.    Cheese is really tasty in NZ and you find a wide variety of choice
3.    Do carry a raincoat or water-resistant jacket while travelling. This advisory is applicable throughout the year
4.    Strangely, I faced problem in getting my travel visa. It took a month to get my visa, even after submitting all the documents they had asked for (rest of my group received the visa within a week). They would ask for further documents on email and then, not respond. After two weeks, they will call and again asking for the same mail.
5.    I had applied for the visa directly (without any assistance from travel agent)
Our final itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Murchison
Day 2: Punakaiki
Day 3: Franz Josef Glacier
Day 3: Wanaka
Day 4: Te Anau
Day 5: Milford Sound
Day 6-7: Queenstown
Day 8: Mount Cook
Day 9: Tekapo
Day 10: Christchurch
Day 11: Flight back to India





Thursday, December 24, 2015

Photo-feature: North Island, New Zealand

Stingrays, Kelly Tarton

Star fishes



Te Puia, Rotorua

Mud Pool, Te Puia

Maori hut, Te Puia



X-Mas tree, Rotorua

Lake front, Rotorua


Wellington harbour

Ferry ride

While driving

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A fascinating roadtrip within New Zealand- North Island

We wanted to go for a year-end vacation and New Zealand became the natural choice due to its scenic beauty and conducive weather at this time of the year. Our flight was on Nov 16th from Delhi and we reached Auckland on Nov 18th early morning. One spends considerable amount of time in travelling due to the long distance to be covered and the time zone differential. However, it’s worth the effort.
Shark@ Kelly Tarton's

The sun was rising when we were approaching the Auckland Airport and I had not seen such a beautiful sky in a while. It appeared as if a professional artist had just created a masterpiece. The moment we stepped out of the airport, it was quite breezy and chilly which did take us by surprise as it was supposedly summer time. We had to pull out all the woolens that we were carrying on the very first day.

We took the Super shuttle to reach Liverpool Street where our hotel was located. After dropping our luggage, we went walking to the next door Queen Street. The lively street has shops and restaurants on both the sides and was gearing up for Christmas. Due to jet lag, we had purposely kept the first day light.

Day 2: When we woke up in the morning, it was raining and after having breakfast, we walked to the harbour which is at the end of Queen Street. From there, a 10 minute drive in the free shuttle service took us to the Kelly Tarton's aquarium. I enjoyed observing the sharks, stingrays and the various varieties of fishes for the next two hours. Some of the marine life that I had seen underwater in Lakshadweep (India) were also here. The shark shaped shuttle service dropped us at the end of Queen Street. We had lunch and then walked backwards towards our hotel. On the way, we visited the Auckland Art Gallery which is nestled in Albert Park. The modern architecture of the Art Gallery is impressive. While Albert Park is relatively small but has really old trees which makes it look good.  
View from Mt Eden
We took an hour's break in the evening for snacks and then walked to Symonds Street which was a block away from where we were staying. The end of Symonds Street took us to Mt Eden which provides spectacular view of Auckland City. It was worth the walk. After having walked around 18kms during the day, I felt satisfied and had a good sleep in the night.
Day 3 (Auckland-Rotorua): We hired a car and by the time all the formalities were completed, it was already 10.30am. This was the first time we were driving an automatic transmission car and the strict traffic rules of this country are different from where we come. 
Once we drove for a while, we became comfortable. The view on the way is really good. In fact, the countryside scenic beauty while driving in New Zealand is one of the best things to see. Our destination for the day was Rotorua and we reached there at 1pm after driving 232 kms.
Pohutu Geyser, Te Puia
On our way, we stopped by at a restaurant and enquired from their owners who were a Gujarati couple (Indian origin). They suggested us to go to Te Puia to see the natural geyser. The entry ticket per person is NZ$ 51. The Pohutu geyser (largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere) was amazing. Initially, the eruption of the geyser was mild but but within few minutes, the hot water erupting from the geyser was as high as 15 feet. The boiling hot mud pool was also interesting. We spent around two hours at this place. Then, we went to our hotel and relaxed for a while.
Kuirau Park
In the evening, it started drizzling and were not carrying umbrella. But we wanted to explore the city. So, we went walking to Kuirau Park which was nearby. We had no expectations from this park but it turned out to be very good. The flowers, greenery and the multiple natural geysers were a sheer delight. The park also had natural foot hot pools and we dipped our feet inside the pool which was a relaxing experience. Then, we walked towards the Lake Front. The ambience of the restaurants at this place gave a feel of Cyber Hub in Gurgaon (India). The lake was massive that one could not see the corners/ end of it. Had a great time and later retired for the day.
My friends had warned me that there is a strong smell of sulphur emanating from the geysers in Rotorua. I was fortunate that I didn’t come across any such smell during my stay. So, good areas to stay where you will find no sulphur smell are Haupapa Street, Kuirau Park and the Lake front.
Eat Street, Lake Front, Rotorua
Day 4 (Rotorua-Taupo-Wellington): This was going to be a very long day as we had to not only drive around 430 kms but see few places in Taupo and Wellington. We left at 7am and the road to Taupo was not good initially. That got us worried as we had a long way to go. But after sometime the road condition became fine and we reached Taupo at 9am. We went to see Hukka Falls. All of us liked the colour of the waterfall and the force with which it was flowing. Then, it started raining. So, saw the Taupo Lake from our car. Though it’s a lake but it looked more like sea as it is really huge.
Hukka Falls
Post Taupo, driving straight for more than 200 kms at a stretch was boring and one would feel sleepy at regular intervals while driving. This was the only perpetual problem while driving in New Zealand, otherwise, there was no issue. We are so used to manual transmission car and the quick successive road turns that we felt bored. Though the route has amazing scenic beauty. 

We had to return the car at the depot in Wellington at 4pm and if we did not make it on time, then the whole process of returning the car would become quite complicated. In the last leg of our journey, the GPS was showing that we would take 27 minutes to cover 27 kms. Though I was apprehensive whether this can be achieved but surprisingly, we managed it even though the roads within Wellington were congested. The moment we reached the car depot, I felt as if I won a F1 race.
Then we went to our hotel and had some snacks. It took a while for the feeling to sink in that we reached on time that I missed going to Te Papa Museum which was across the street from where we were staying. Nonetheless, I went for a walk around the city for the next three hours just to get a feel of the place.
Day 5: We had called for a cab to go to Bluebridge Ferry bay early in the morning. In five minutes, we were there and then we boarded the ferry which is more of a cruise ship. It takes 3.5 hours to reach Picton which is the entry point of South Islands in New Zealand. This journey is supposedly one of the 10 best ferry rides in the world in terms of scenic beauty. I had never travelled in such a big ship so far. So, it was a good experience.
We travelled extensively in the South Island. My next blog is about the same.  
Some additional information:
1. Weather is highly unpredictable in NZ. We went in spring and beginning of summers but experienced cold, rains and even storm. Basically, the weather mood-swings is hard to predict
2. You don't require an international license to drive in NZ, provided you have a license that is printed in English. Rules/laws are strictly enforced here, so don't over speed, etc or you will be fined 
3. If you drive in India, driving here is fairly easy once you get comfortable with their driving rules and regulations 
4. Do hire a GPS if you decide to drive
5. There are many car rentals. Book in advance to get a better deal
6. The longer the duration you hire a car, the cheaper it works out
7. The drive within NZ is very beautiful. Would say that at times, the journey was more beautiful than the destination 
8. People are very friendly and helpful 
9. It’s an extremely safe place. You can travel solo
10. Some of the locals told me that the temperature of the water in the lakes and rivers vary in winters and summers only by 1 degree and that is why, there have been incidents of hypothermia when someone accidently falls into a water body
11. Availability of food is not a problem. Indian restaurants are there in quite a few cities. Vegetarians have reasonable amount of options
12. Talk slowly and ask one question at a time to the locals. Multiple questions at the same time draws a blank from most
13. There are lot of people on 'work holiday'. So, show patience as you towards the trainees as they are being trained on the job
14. Sunrise used to take place at 5.45am and sunset at around 9 or 9.30pm
15. Shops/ malls open early and close by 5pm and max by 6pm
16. It is advisable not to carry fruits, cooked food, etc. while entering into the country. If you do decide to carry eatables, do make a list of it and disclose it in Customs or else be prepared to pay a fine of NZ$400.
People are very easygoing and relaxed, unlike the fast paced city life in India. So, sit back and soak in the view.