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A FORTNIGHT ON THE LONG WHITE CLOUD

Why shouldn’t New Zealand be on the top list for the Indian outbound?

The best way to experience any destination is to get out of the overtly too-well-planned itinerary mould which supposedly gift wraps a destination. In the case of New Zealand, it is such a charming place that very few staid coach tours under a timekeepers watch can ever hope to deliver perfectly.

Just last month, a two week self-drive trip through New Zealand drove the idea with still more conviction that the country needs to be lived in and not traipsed through to get what it’s all about.

Reports suggest, not unexpectedly, that arrivals from India to NZ increased 124% over the pre-Covid figures. Indian visitors are next big spenders, close behind the UK and Germans.

What familiarisation trips by most NTOs can’t really deliver is the soul of a destination. I’ve never regretted my decision to explore destinations on my own. A self- travel agenda opens up personal experiences, and that quintessential local flavour that lends credence to the usual glossy brochures and slick promo films.

The abundance of spectacular drives, well-marked roads and the sheer absence of crowds, which most Indians are so accustomed to at home, provides a wonderful time. Or reprieve, if you please.

In fact at almost every adventure site I met a surprising number of young Indian travellers. Many of them were students or young professionals from Australia, but a sizeable number was from mainland India.

Compared to an earlier generation, this new set is more ready to experiment to with new cuisines and dabble in high adrenaline stuff.

Queenstown and Rotorua seems to dominate the adventure experiences. In fact, the Maori history and culture is inevitably played up everywhere but more so in Rotorua since that’s the place where the Maoris set up their lives till European interventions created an entirely new world.

When the Maoris first discovered the North Island of that land they famously exclaimed it was just like a long white cloud! Travellers and settlers have never stopped seeking it out ever since.

Conversations with desi travellers I met on adventure trails reveal that a certain word-of-mouth chatter has ignited this young and upwardly mobile fraternity and that is set to make a change for tourism prospects.

The kind of holiday that this demography of Indian travellers is looking for includes adventure activities with them wanting to enjoy natural landscapes through scenic flights, drives and walks.

Meanwhile small interventions or tweaks might make self-drive tours still more convenient. For an eminently motor-able country, returning cars at different locations in New Zealand can be a bit prohibitive. We had to alter our itinerary considerably due to this.

Our original South island itinerary included a visit to Abel Tasman Park and the Marlborough wine area, concluding in taking the scenic ferry from Picton to Wellington. Instead we ended up driving back Queenstown to avoid a needlessly additional obscene expense of returning the car at Picton, Wellington or even Christchurch.

Also, everything shuts down at 8pm or so – no restaurants anywhere for those who tuck in late night. An exception could be Auckland, including central districts of major cities like Wellington.

Additionally, however providential, iffy weather can be any travellers nemesis. Spending just a day and half in Franz Josef where we drove for the glacier heli-ride left us disappointed as rain cancelled the helicopter ride and the glacier walk as well. The next best thing of buying tickets to a soporific half-hour film on the majestic glacier really wasn’t compensation enough. Maybe tourism NZ should use AI and create the virtual reality experience like ‘Horizons of Khufu’ – the amazing virtual reality show at London that walks one through the pyramids! I’m sure that will be a major add-on to the glacier adventures. Thankfully, the next day morning the weather cleared and we took the exciting helicopter ride over Mt. Cook where Edmund Hillary trained before conquering the Everest.

For many new age travellers, mention of NZ still carries an impression of a very British Colonial or European culture as well as the scenery. Indeed there are many similarities. For instance, we found the typical English staple cuisine of pies and fish & chips all over NZ. The beautiful mountains of South Island also competed in our minds with the combined scenery of the European Alps and the Scottish highlands.

Perhaps NZ has a job at hand to break away from that mould and highlight it’s absolute uniqueness. It has so many distinct aspects for tourists in terms of its unique flora & fauna, Maori culture and a tradition of adventure activities. They should aggressively market these aspects.

The country is eminently safe and easy to travel, even for those first-time visitors who don’t have a lot of travel experience.

If anyone loved the cinematic Lord of the Rings, who won’t love its Middle Kingdom where it was filmed to such effect?

 

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