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Planning Retirement Online

Travels With Alice

August 2016


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

We have enjoyed our contributing writer Jeanne Davis’ regular Beyond the Headlines for some time.

Look out each month for the latest story in our exciting new series Travels with Alice. Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy her fascinating insights into human behaviour and great locations .

This is going to be a great addition to Laterlife that will become addictive…

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

Our New Zealand Adventure

On his quest across the Pacific in 1769 to find the unknown southern continent Terra Australis incognita, Captain James Cook sighted New Zealand first.

He writes in his journal: “The land on the Sea-Coast is high with steep cliffs , and back inland are very high mountains…the face of the Country is of a hilly surface and appears to be cloathed with wood and verdure.”

In a small plane, we fly over the Southern Alps

Here his landing was not as peaceful as it would be in Australia. Hoping to establish friendly relations with the natives and take on refreshments, he was surprised by the sudden appearance of four Maori natives brandishing weapons. If you’ve ever seen the haka performed by New Zealand’s All Blacks before a rugby match, you’ll probably agree that it’s a terrifying sight to behold. With eyes and tongues protruding in a gesture of defiance and terrifying utterances the haka dance is performed on the battlefield as well as when groups come together in peace. 

Peace may have been the intention of the Maori who greeted Cook and his men but they were brandishing weapons. When one Maori lifted a lance to hurl at the landing craft he was shot by the coxswain. With further misunderstandings and killings Cook moved on only to go ashore when necessary. His focus was on charting these new lands. And he mapped all 2400 miles of the coastlines of New Zealand’s North and South Islands.


"The World's best country to visit"   

Cook spent six months navigating the islands. Alice and I had little more than one week to discover some of the reasons why Telegraph travel readers voted in a recent survey why New Zealand is the world’s best country to visit.

We fly first to Christchurch, the gateway to the South Island. Oft described as more English than England, the Avon River flows gently through the city. If you like you can punt on the Avon past its many Gothic revival and Edwardian buildings.

Punting on the river Avon, Christchurch, a city 'more English than England'

For this trip, now our fifth together, Alice and I have signed on to what’s promoted as a small group tour, designed specifically for  groups of 12 to 24 guests. You‘ll see the major sites, but you’ll also enjoy specially arranged local encounters.

In Christchurch we’ve been invited to a very English tea with a local couple. The tea is English but with a New Zealand largesse. There are enormous scones and clotted cream of course. There are fist size “finger" sandwiches and huge slices of Victoria sponge. Much appreciated. But the highlight is the magnificent garden the couple has created. The flowering plants and rock gardens they have nurtured overwhelm the gardening enthusiasts in our group. Their garden and those of other residents deservedly earned Christchurch the title of the Garden City.

In devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, many of the city’s notable buildings suffered extensive damage but they are being repaired. And the Botanic Gardens of herbaceous perennials and exotic trees and shrubs are back in full bloom.

At Christchurch, the gateway to South Island’s scenic wonders, get on board the TranzAlpine Express, one of the world’s great train journeys. You wind your way through lush forests of beech, across the snow-capped Southern Alps, through dramatic gorges and across the farmlands of the Canterbury Plains.

The TranzAlpine Express, one of the world's great rail journeys

Through its panoramic windows you will sight Mount Cook, the Southern Alps highest peak. Little could have Cook known that the highest of the mountains he described in his journal would now bear his name and where Sir Edmund Hillary, a noted New Zealander, did his training before conquering Mt. Everest.

Our group is scheduled to climb one of the 60 glaciers in the Westland National Park. Along with a local geologist and the proper gear, all of them, minus me, navigate its boulder strewn base and inch their way up its icy slopes. I sit in a comfortable café with a glittering view of the glacier and sip New Zealand coffee, agreeing with New Zealanders that it’s the best coffee in the world.


Queenstown, the adventure capital

Queestown, 'The Adventure Capital'

IFor adventure you don’t have to climb glaciers. Our next stop is Queenstown, known as New Zealand’s “adventure capital.” It’s the home of extreme sports. All in one day, you can go bungee jumping, plummeting 440 feet, or sky dive leaping out of an airplane.  et boats will take you at breakneck speed down the narrow river gorges.
We motor peacefully across Queenstown’s glacial Lake Wakatipu to a huge sheep ranch to witness a sheep shearing competition. There are 29.6 million sheep in New Zealand, mainly bred for meat and wool production.

What began as a friendly rivalry in the remote shearing sheds of Australia and New Zealand has become a fully fledged competition sport in the last 30 years. The skill and athleticism of the sport is immediately apparent as one of the competitors wrestles a wriggling, kicking sheep to the floor. Within 60 seconds, the 132 pound Corriedale is stripped of its luxurious fleece, bundled to the back of the stage and the shearer is ready for another one. The fastest time recorded to shear a sheep is 45.41 seconds and the total number of sheep 1347 in eight hours.

Sheep station near Mount Cook

Sauvignon Blanc and the Home of Middle-earth

That night, as one of the special events arranged by the tour group, we are invited to dine with a Queenstown family. We are offered a glass of exquisite Sauvignon Blanc from one of the famed Marlborough vineyards, but Alice says I was very disappointed that we were served chicken and not the succulent New Zealand spring lamb that’s featured in our UK supermarkets. Perhaps it was the wrong time of the year or as one of the country’s top exports, it had all been shipped overseas.

Famous for its wines, the Marlborough vineyards

As well as being known for its lamb and its wines New Zealand is now known as the ‘Home of Middle-earth’. Millions of filmgoers have been engrossed in the Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy filmed entirely in New Zealand. Local director Peter Jackson said there was no reason to look outside the country for film locations for the mythical world of The Hobbits as New Zealand already was “the perfect Middle-earth.” And Ian McKellen, the actor who plays Gandalf said: “This is the Middle-earth I had always pictured.” Bubbling brooks intersect with gentle waterfalls, snow- capped peaks cast shadows over lush forest valleys and ancient glaciers – frozen in time – cascade almost to the sea.

More than 150 locations were used to film the Trilogy. You can explore these scene setters yourself and immerse yourself in J.R.R.Tolkien’s world


Auckland, the City of Sails

Auckland, 'City of Sails'

We had only one day in Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island. Known as the “City of Sails”, it is home base for many of the yachts that participate in the America’s Cup. We toured the harbour and succumbed to the city’s enticing shops and street markets. At the Victoria Street Market, which featured vintage clothes and artisan crafts, I fancied a 1920’s beaded cloche hat (see photo) but passed it by. I did succumb though, encouraged by Alice, to a hand painted silk jacket designed by one of New Zealand’s noted fashion designers. Well worth its price, I’ve worn it to every evening event back in London.

Jeanne fancies a 1920s vintage hat in an Auckland street market

Why are the islands named New Zealand?

You may ask why the islands are named New Zealand. England’s James Cook was not the first mariner to sight these lands. Dutch mariner Abel Tasman sighted them in 1642 more than a century before Cook. The Dutch called this new land mass Nieuw Zeeland after the Dutch province of Zeeland. Later, Cook anglicised the name to New Zealand.


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