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New Zealand - A Tale of North and South - Part One

By Conor Delaney

So, generally being one to do things back to front, usually with success ironically, I often take the scenic route. Having rushed about as young man in the tourism and travel industry for close to 15 years, when the pandemic hit, it was a good time to slow down, gather strength and resource and consider bucket list destinations that would be popular for our clients. Just before the Pandemic, I had booked a Cathay Pacific journey from London Heathrow from Hong Kong to Auckland, hoping to stop in the famous former British colony city known for its fabulous food fusions and thriving democracy. Clearly, things are not as they were and there's no need to delve further here as everyone reads the news and knows that the cultural specifics which made Hong Kong unique have been and are being constantly eroded. To me, it's just not an attractive destination any longer and either way, I took a different flight path to New Zealand.

To paraphrase a trending hashtag, it's Slow Tourism. The same applied to a trip recently to New Zealand, being marketed as "100% Pure New Zealand" in its classic black and white colours matching the game jersey of the famous All Black rugby team. Smart branding on behalf of a country which sells itself on natural phenomena, landscapes and fresh air for all sorts of travellers. The people I met were all getting away from something - life, busy cities, the memory of the pandemic, or even things more drastic. New Zealand is the place that people come for answers because it's literally the furthest place from just about everywhere, except Australia, which is a three hour flight from Melbourne and Sydney and an extra 30 minutes beyond to the Gold Coast and to Brisbane. Even the Aussies have homed themselves in the land of Kia Ora and Silver Ferns, rainforests and glaciers. Oh by the way, I forgot to mention some of the best wine and food experiences on the planet, but let's leave that for later.

Delving further into these idea of escape, which has been trending since the moment people couldn't go anywhere since their civil liberties were removed in order to stem disease, people are now enjoying the one-in-a-lifetime experiences denied to them before due to lack of ambition, lack of resource or just lack of their own mortality. What strikes me about New Zealand is the amount of resource available to the traveller. Within minutes of transferring from Sydney International Airport following an 8 hour Qantas flight (pretty good food on board and a much more considerate staff than what we're used to in Europe, kudos to the Aussie national carries), I found that there were tremendous amounts of sightseeing options. You could hire boats, hire planes, hire helicopters or go on an organised group tour combining some of the aforementioned including transfers to and from your hotel. This is what this Maori/British nation does so well. By the way, let's delve a little further into the identity and history of the country later. New Zealand is a pragmatic place with smart entrepreneurs who pride themselves on transparency, honesty and fairness. The price you see is the price you get, unlike many European destinations and non-European destinations, where tourism can be a minefield for the unwise. New Zealand just makes everything easy, as long as you've got the wherewithal. Most Australians do given their thriving economy and diverse mineral resource-based economy and major trading relationship with China. Most Kiwis do although some of them are leaving for Australian given the cost of living in New Zealand has skyrocketed over the past 10 years.

You land in Queenstown as I did. The hallmarks of the British commonwealth are everywhere - in the coins in your pocket, on the flag and in the names of places and towns throughout the land, especially in places like Kingstown, Cromwell, Christchurch and Dunedin (Edinburgh). This isn't a bad thing necessarily. I like that there's a pride in people's identity here. They are proudly New Zealanders but don't make a big deal of it as this is such a tolerant society. Auckland, the largest city on the North Island, is one of the most friendly LGBTQ+ places on the planet. Getting back to Queenstown, it's the landing place for those looking to tackle some of the most famous multi-day treks in the world, such as the Milford Trail. Usually people do it in four days and have to book their overnights in cabins in advance, which I didn't do because I was organising people's trips for 2023 and often clients come before my own ambitions of seeing the world. By the way, we never send clients to destinations we've never been before ourselves and if we do, we're their ourselves to guarantee Quality levels are maintained. No need to maintain quality levels in New Zealand, there are not to many cowboy operators here which tells me the country is run well, democracy is thriving and the competition is sufficiently high for anyone below par to be put out of business or into the shadows pretty quickly. New Zealand has a Quality Standard called QualMark and many operators have obtained the elusive 5 stars.

So I hopped off the plane following a very long flight and a medium distance flight. Still reeling from the heat and humidity in Singapore, the wind and rain were both a shock and a welcome respite. Read more in Part 2....

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