New Zealand is a pretty underpopulated place. Slightly larger than the UK with about one-fifteenth of the people, nowhere outside Auckland ever really feels crowded.
That said, even in this relatively human-free country, some parts are much more isolated than others. These are the kind of places where you can drive for half an hour without seeing another car, where town sizes are measured in hundreds rather than thousands, where power from the national grid has only arrived in the last decade … if it’s arrived at all.
Places, in other words, like the southwest of the South Island.
After three chilled-out days in Queenstown that consisted mostly of eating ridiculously large hamburgers, afternoon drinking and riding on jetboats, it was again time to move on. I’d been surprised by the place – my memories from previous trips were of an over-priced tourist trap, but this time it didn’t feel like that at all.
The rest of the country seemed to have caught up cost-wise, and while there were plenty of backpackers and other visitors around, this time I was one of them. As always a change of mindset made all the difference, and as we drove out of town I found myself regretting that we hadn’t stayed for longer.
It was a glorious day as we followed the trail up from Childrens Bay. We were only a couple of minutes from the northern end of Akaroa township, but as we walked along the shaded track, insects buzzing lazily around us, it seemed as if we were miles from civilisation.
Emerging into the sunlight, we continued along the fenceline, through a farmer’s fields and past the menagerie of sculpted metal animals (!) until we stood on the top of the hill and gazed back in the direction from which we had come.
Yeah, I guess it wasn’t a bad view……
Queenstown. It’s the jewel in New Zealand’s tourist crown, a bustling little town nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, it’s a gorgeous spot that in my lifetime has transformed from a sleepy South Island holiday destination into the self-proclaimed ‘adventure capital of the world’.
While bungy jumping is the most famous game in town, thrill-seekers can also sky dive, paraglide, jet boat and do pretty much anything else that involves handing over a fistful of cash for a few seconds or minutes of screaming their heads off.
I’m in Hoi An at the moment, easily my favourite town in Vietnam. The combination of incredible food, beautifully restored buildings and a pristine nearby beach are almost impossible to beat.
For me the best time to be out exploring is at dusk. The sun starts to disappear, and with it the scorching heat of the day. All around the old town the lights come on, lanterns glowing softly outside the riverside restaurants and bars in an attempt to lure me inside.
I’ll admit, it usually works.