To use a cricket metaphor, I wasn’t nervous about being in the 90s. That my weight was approaching a century didn’t deter me from dangling 122 feet high from a rope upside down over the enticingly azure waters of the Pacific. No, I hadn’t suddenly lost my head and decided to jump off the Auckland Harbour Bridge on the spur of the moment.
‘Leap of faith,’ ‘lose your fears,’ ‘you only live once’ – none of these clichés come to your rescue when you are making up your mind about whether to jump off a bridge. When the managers at AJ Hackett enquire whether I want to do a bridge walk or do the bungee as well, I have one query: Will the elastic be strong enough to take my heft? "We’ve had people weighing 150 kilos jumping with us. You’d do just fine," says our guide. I need no other assurance.
Also watch: How it feels to jump from 120 ft high Auckland Harbour Bridge
And then I plunge! The blood rushes to my head and I realise I’ve lost perspective. The yachts from the marina are suddenly on top and the volcanic mountains at the bottom. Heck, even the Auckland skyline has turned turtle! I bob up and down at least three times before the harness begins to spin and so does my head. "It’ll be over in a few moments," I tell myself and close my eyes.
And after what seem like the longest 20 seconds of my life, the elastic starts tugging at my chest and I begin the retreat to the jumping station. The adrenaline rush is diminishing.
Heavy-duty adventure: The bridge walk may look like a breeze but the bungee from Auckland Harbour Bridge (left) isn’t for the faint-hearted; a third of New Zealand is protected in parks and reserves (right).
Much before I visited Kiwi land, I’d heard friends and colleagues say how New Zealand was the safest place in the world to try adventure sport. During the course of a media trip, I was to discover for myself why more than 90,000 tourists had been voting the island nation the best destination for tourism in the world, three years running.
Ruins to runs
When the first ball is bowled for the tournament opener of the ICC Cricket World Cup on February 14 at Hagley Park, one cricket legend, a Christchurch local, will be watching from the stands with bated breath.
Sir Richard Hadlee, New Zealand’s ICC cricket ambassador (see interview), says the World Cup is an opportunity for Christchurch to bounce back from the 2011 earthquake. The 6.3-magnitude quake, which killed 185 people and injured thousands, left a trail of destruction in its wake.
Hagley Park, the boutique-style stadium, will host the opening ceremony of the World Cup on February 12 that features former Kiwi captain Stephen Fleming and current captain Brendon McCullum, apart from Hadlee.
Have a deco
That New Zealanders know how to move on from natural disasters is reinforced a second time on trip, when we visit Hawke’s Bay.
Home to the twin cities of Napier and Hastings, Hawke’s Bay is wine country. Levelled to the ground during the 7.8-magnitude earthquake of February 1931, Napier has since transformed into the Art Deco capital of the world. Renowned for its Mediterranean climate and tree-lined promenades, the city rose from the ashes, literally, after the quake led to a fire that razed timber buildings.
Today you can see architecture in the styles of the 1930s: Art Deco, Spanish Mission and Stripped Classical, and in a contemporary touch, one of the only two Art Deco McDeco McDonald’s outlets on the planet!
Hawke’s Bay is also the fruit bowl of New Zealand. So, apart from visiting one of the wineries – they produce quality sauvignon blanc – I’d recommend a visit to the farmers’ market. Here, you can haggle with orange and banana sellers, desi-style. The set-jetters
With one-third of New Zealand protected in parks and reserves, wilderness is never too far away. Still, nothing quite prepares you for the sight of thousands of birds – chirping, swooping and taking off with fish – at Cape Kidnappers, the largest and most accessible mainland gannet colony in the world.
The enchanting gannet safari at Cape Kidnappers.
"The Australasian gannet (takapu) has been nesting at Cape Kidnappers since the 1870s," says Graham, our genial guide, as he pours us steaming cups of coffee at a vantage point overlooking the craggy peninsula.
Set-jetting – holidaying in countries and locations where films are shot – is a phenomenon familiar to many of us. No wonder thousands of Indian tourists have been flocking to Switzerland inspired by Yash Chopra romances.
One of the biggest tourist magnets in New Zealand, too, is the movie set created at Hobbiton, home of the hairy-footed heroes of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings fantasy classics. The Shire is located on the Alexander farm just outside the town of Matamata.
Charmed by middle earth: The Shire created at Hobbiton (above) is a hit with set-jetting tourists.
The terrain is lush and undulating. Kiwi director Peter Jackson discovered the farm in 1998 during an aerial search for locations. The countryside reminded Jackson of the ‘shire’ as imagined by Tolkien. Today, the permanent movie set hosts tours of around 40 tourists every 10 minutes.
It is raining the day we reach Matamata. As we sip ginger beer, we make acquaintance with Pickle, the resident cat lounging philosophically by the fireplace, as if to ask what the fuss is all about. Up, up & away
After an array of adventure experiences, including bungee, jet-boating and riding Harley bikes, a relaxing way to conclude a trip to New Zealand is a hot air balloon ride. So, with the mercury hovering below zero, we help inflate a giant balloon at Christchurch. Helming the ride, Michael Oakley, one of New Zealand’s top balloonists (never knew such a career existed!), says each of us would have to assist him in getting it off-ground.
Braving icy winds, once we go up, up and away, the sunrise over the Southern Alps makes us marvel at the brilliance with which New Zealanders have perfected the art of marketing the outdoors. And then, there’s cricket!
|Fine Print: FAQs on New Zealand|
How to get there:
Connecting flights to New Zealand are available on Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines with stop-overs in their respective hubs. New Zealand’s international gateways are Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Forward your application to the tourism office in Mumbai or Delhi, which will then be directed to the High Commission. A visitor visa for NZ is processed within 15 working days. Visit www.immigration.govt.nz
Within New Zealand:
Fly between all New Zealand cities using domestic air services. Air New Zealand and Jetstar are the main providers, complemented by regional airlines, charter companies and other operators.
Afghanistan Is The Story Of This World Cup’
The BBC once described him as "one of the greatest bowlers the world has seen." After going punting with HT Brunch on Christchurch’s Avon river, Kiwi legend Sir Richard Hadlee (right) said New Zealand is primed up to host the World Cup. Excerpts from an interview:
As co-host (along with Australia), how has New Zealand prepared for the World Cup?
Seven cities in New Zealand are hosting three games each for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. This includes some important games like the tournament opener, a quarter-final and a semi-final. My job as brand ambassador includes mingling with important guests and appearing in TV commercials.
We recently shot a video where Stephen Fleming and Chris Harris, along with Aussies Damien Fleming and Andy Bichel are playing a game of cricket on the Auckland Harbour Bridge! In the video, the ball goes over the bridge and I happen to be on a sailboat. It lands in the chilling bin and I look up and wonder what on earth is going on up there!
A lot of outdoor leisure options. Both the South Island and North Island have a diversity of activities on offer. The South Islands have the rivers, the coastlines, the mountains, treks and walks. Up in the North Island, there are hot pools. Although we are a long, long way from the rest of the world, when the tourists arrive here, they’ll realise there are a number of options they can choose from.
Also watch: Former cricketer Richard Hadlee on playing against India
What’s your own favourite World Cup memory?
I enjoyed playing in the first three World Cups. Beginning with 1975, 1979 and 1983, that India won. Watching Clive Lloyd lift the trophy in 1975 – and those were 60-over games – was special. Another wonderful memory was visiting the Buckingham Palace. All the teams stood with the Queen on the stairs and that group photograph was a fantastic memory.
You were knighted in England. People say you were recognised more in that country than in New Zealand for your efforts...
I think I was well recognised in New Zealand during my career. I had an 18-year career, a world record, 400 wickets, all those things. I played in a successful era for New Zealand cricket. The Eighties were a wonderful time.
You mentioned the 400. You’ve reached some significant milestones against India. What made playing against the team special?
The records! (laughs) It is difficult to explain. There are certain players or teams against whom you perform much better than the others. The first time I played against India was at the Basin Reserve in Wellington in 1976. We won that Test match and I created a New Zealand record for most wickets and best bowling in an innings. And in my hometown, at Christchurch, I got my 400th wicket: Sanjay Manjrekar.
Which Indian batsman did you find the toughest to dislodge?
I’ve bowled against some good Indian batsmen. Sunil Gavaskar, of course, and Mohammad Azharuddin, another fine player. I only bowled to Sachin Tendulkar in 1990 for a couple of Test matches. He was about 17. He had a lot of potential, but we did not envision what he would go on to do in international cricket.
Gundappa Viswanath was also a fine player and so was Dilip Vengsarkar. But Gavaskar would have to be in the top 10 of all time. When I look back, Viv Richards has got to be there and so do Gordon Greenidge, David Gower and Greg Chappell.
How far has New Zealand come from the last time you co-hosted the Cup with Australia in 1992?
1992 was new for us. New Zealand has since then hosted many big global events. We did it with rugby in 1987 and 2010 was the last one, that the All Blacks won.
But it has been 23 years since we co-hosted the World Cup with Australia. Since then, the game has gone global because more teams are participating. The participation of Afghanistan in the World Cup, bearing in mind all the difficulties that they face, is the success of the tournament. That to me is the story of the 2015 World Cup.
The writer was hosted by Tourism New Zealand
Follow on Twitter @Aasheesh74
From HT Brunch, February 1
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