Taranaki, New Zealand.
Oh New Zealand. It’s been ten years since I first stepped foot in this small magical country and we have teased each other ever since. If I could sum up my first visit all those years ago using hash tags it would go something a little like this; #dairycows #blondeDanish #jumpingfromgreatheights #beerahoy #takentoastripclubbyanIrishlass #epic. I have visited a further three times since and the two consistent themes that remain are dairy cows and epic. Well that and…. a bit of beer ahoy. But that was a decade ago and now it appears I am more than content to fly thousands of miles to simply be in the company of my adopted Kiwi family, measure grass, get a selfie with one of my all time favourite cows and go to bed at 9pm after sleeping on the couch for two hours in the afternoon. To be fair on me, I had just spent thirty hours travelling immediately on the back of three nights at Oktoberfest and on one of the rare occasions in my life my body finally gave up. I had always intended on having a relaxing week down under but I didn’t intend to spend a whole thirty six hours pretty much asleep in bed with a cough that had the potential to register as a typhoon. Everyone who visits New Zealand bangs on about it but why? To be honest I don’t know or care why everyone bangs on about it which leaves the question, why do I keep going back?
Some would say it is in hope of bumping into the Danish blonde, some would say I love a cow a bit more than what is deemed appropriate, and others may say I have an unhealthy appetite for meat pies and hokey pokey ice cream from the local dairy (aka corner shop). Personally I feel there is probably an element of truth to all of that! All I know is that there are only two places on earth that I have found to feel like home for me since leaving my original home, Ashby De La Zouch, at the age of eighteen. Dorset, England and Taranaki, New Zealand. Both are extremely similar sporting beautiful surroundings, close to the sea, amazing climate, super friendly and genuine people, a relaxed attitude to life and of course plenty of dairy cows. Most importantly, as I have come to learn with group travel, it is the people you meet that complete any experience and when I first landed in New Zealand to begin work on a dairy farm little did I know how lucky I was to be.
Taranaki in itself is my kind of place. Few have heard of it and few visit when on the travelling circuit which in itself makes it a place I want to visit. Sat on the south west coast of the North Island, Taranaki is quite simply a spectacular dormant volcano that rises over two thousand meters above the sea which circles around a good proportion of it. The volcano is snow capped during the winter and hikable in the summer. Working your way down from the crater you will be greeted by indigenous woodland and bush which will then suddenly give way to a paddock of dairy cows. The dairy cow theme then continues all the way down to the coast with the high up farms wet and hilly and rocky from previous lava flows and the lowland farms flatter and drier after receiving years of development (ironing out the creases basically). The coast plays host to black sand beaches with excellent surf. One day the local paper published a photo of killer whales cruising only meters away from a couple of surfers. When I use to work there I could look to my left and see a huge snow capped dormant volcano and to my right would be the ocean glistening in the sun. At night the sky would be filled with the Milky Way thanks to the clear skies and minimal light pollution. The main town, New Plymouth is a quaint wee town. Think Dorchester not Yeovil.
This is echoed throughout the entire country. New Zealand is effortless in so many ways, Effortlessly beautiful, welcoming, charming, peaceful and so on. Even the international airport in Auckland has the feeling of a domestic airport while the domestic terminals and airports have the feeling of a bus station. If my memory serves me right New Zealand is the only place I have never been where I can step onto a domestic flight with no identification or security measures. I can’t explain how good this feels! Back in the day I went to see the Top Gear Live show up in Auckland. Clarkson was right there doing his thing and two rows down and several seats across from where I was sat was the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key. Aside from two security guards he walked in like any other person, dressed casually, and sat down among the general public, there was no fuss from anyone. Why should there be? This is a country where it really isn’t difficult to get away from the chaos and craziness that we have become accustomed to in the UK and there isn’t the arrogance here that the Aussies let rip every so often. People say New Zealand is like how the UK was back in the 1970’s but I feel this could be a load of b*****ks. I don’t think the two countries can be compared to each other at any point in time. For sure it’s a familiar country to visit without a doubt which is why it’s so popular with the Brits I would guess. Coronation street is on the telly alongside Bake off and Master Chef, both the British and Kiwi versions. They speak English that we can all understand and use the correct spelling unlike our North American cousins. They drive on the correct side of the road unlike a large portion of the world. And above all else they have a similar sense of humour and appetite for getting out and about. A little group of islands thousands of miles from Europe and the Americas, yet the majority of people have travelled and are interested about events beyond their shores.
So, other then my fear of hobbits why have I not moved there? If I’m entirely honest, I don’t really know! The way I see it, New Zealand is perfect for two stages of life. The first is spending huge amounts of cash travelling around the place, jumping out of planes and off bridges, jet boating, skiing, hiking glaciers and across volcanic landscapes, rafting through underground caves, drinking, the list is endless. This stage of life is the fun part where if you play your cards right you have no commitments, age is on your side and you can do what you want. Considering the media now think women in their late 30’s are geriatric mothers (no wonder everyone is getting insecure), the aforementioned stage now probably lasts from age 20 to 21 years, after which you need to get a job and settle down for eternity. The second life stage well suited for New Zealand is settling down with your family, where community still exists and time is made for doing family stuff. I myself currently sit between these two stages, essentially trying to wean myself off the first stage and do something about the second. The problem is there is just so damn much to see and do in the world which is quite the distraction!