24 interesting facts about New Zealand

As our time in the country comes to a close, we share the most interesting facts about New Zealand we learnt along the way

I left New Zealand feeling a little annoyed. You see, before visiting this part of the Antipodes, I could list exotic countries like SamoaCambodia, Turkey and Jordan as my favourite countries.

New Zealand in comparison feels distinctly European. Still, there’s no denying it: this country has usurped all others. It features not only extraordinary natural beauty, but also progressive politics, ever improving integration between its Maori and European populations and a forthright national attitude that’s thoroughly endearing.

Jumping the 134m Nevis Bungy, the highest in New Zealand

Jumping the 134m Nevis Bungy in New Zealand

We visit the adventure capital of the world and try one of its most extreme activities: the 134m Nevis Bungy

If you Google ‘bungy jumping’ along with the name of a news outlet, it won’t be long before you hit a ghoulish headline about a snapped cord or fatal miscalculation. It seems that journalists – and indeed their readers – are fascinated by extreme pursuits and their sometimes dire consequences. We are relatively unconcerned by prosaic traffic incidents. Instead, we want to hear about the horrors of jumping off a cliff or vertiginous bridge.

Battling weather at Franz Josef Glacier

We attempt the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk in pouring rain and dwindling humour

We were in low spirits. Our heli-hike to Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand had been cancelled due to bad weather which meant we couldn’t get onto the glacier itself. In fact, given the vast and murky blanket of cloud, there was the distinct possibility that we would not see the glacier at all.

We were wary. In 2015, we almost missed seeing Machu Picchu because of endless fog. A few months after that, we trekked to Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia to find it completely shrouded in cloud – a disappointment that haunts Peter to this day.

Polar bear death: has extinction tourism gone too far?

A cruise ship guard recently shot and killed a polar bear. Did the bear get too close, or the tourists?

I don’t usually dig myself into holes that I can’t climb out of. I like strong arguments and clear answers – but there’s only one answer here and, sadly, it’s one I don’t like.

Let me start at the start: on 28th July, a cruise ship guard shot a polar bear in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago that lies between Norway’s mainland and the North Pole.

Exploring the Rotorua geysers in New Zealand

rotorua geysers

We visit the Rotorua geysers on New Zealand’s North Island in pursuit of Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere

We smelled Rotorua before we even set foot in the town: an unholy triad of pungent sulphur, blocked drains and rotten eggs. Built on a geothermal hotspot, Rotorua is a place of bestirred primordia: boiling mud pools, hot springs, spitting vents and erupting geysers.

Skydiving in Cairns: jumping from 16,000ft

After a month in Australia, skydiving in Cairns seemed an apt way to finish an epic trip

I slumped into the pillow with the desultory air of someone faced with 200 channels and not a decent TV show between them. I sighed, then yawned, then slouched.

After seven days of diving in the Great Barrier Reef and all the wonder and adrenaline that comes with it, spending two days cooped up in a Cairns hotels seemed like a damp squib of a way to end our month-long trip across Australia. Sure, there was a great pancake house down the street and, yes, Aangan round the corner did excellent Indian cuisine, but after camping, hiking, sailing and diving our way through this continent-sized country, we weren’t satisfied with a quiet goodbye.

Diving Steve’s Bommie in the Great Barrier Reef

Diving Steve’s Bommie in the Great Barrier Reef featureimg

A first-hand report of diving Steve’s Bommie in the Great Barrier Reef including information on when to go, how to get there and what to expect

It started with a whisper, as if he were revealing a state secret or the coordinates of Atlantis. His shoulders eased into the buttery leather of his seat, his stance loose and casual, as if this were any other drink on any other evening of our small-ship expedition across the Great Barrier Reef. His tone, however, betrayed something different: a low and certain intensity, alerting us to the fact that this dive would be like no other.

He would need special dispensation from the captain, said Colin, our dive instructor on the expedition. We’d have to leave early and take the dinghy and be back before breakfast. Nothing was guaranteed, but he’d talk to the captain and we’d wait and see.

Sydney Bridge Climb: is it worth it?

Sydney Bridge Climb featimg

The Sydney Bridge Climb is one of Australia’s most iconic activities – but is it worth the cost and effort? We braved some boiler suits to go and find out

The Sydney Bridge Climb, if nothing else, is a lesson in sheer forcefulness. When its creator, Paul Cave, first put forward proposals for the climb, regulators replied with a list of 60-something reasons why it simply wasn’t possible.

Cave’s proposed blue suits would distract drivers, they said. Dropped items would cause accidents, and climbers would fall and hurt themselves. The list went on.

Phillip Island: the day we saw 613 penguins

We visit the Phillip Island Penguin Parade in Australia to see if it’s worth the hype

There is a palpable tension in the air. It reminds me of the atmosphere at a standing-only gig just before the doors open: everyone acts calm but then rushes forward in a desperate attempt to secure a good spot, pushing people like me – short, slight, little – to the outer margins of the room.

Needless to say, I hate standing-only gigs.

Things to do on Kangaroo Island, Australia

From charming wildlife to soaring sand dunes, we share the best things to do on Kangaroo Island in Australia

Kangaroo Island doesn’t get much billing among the famous sights of Australia. There’s Uluru of course and the Great Barrier Reef and the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, but Kangaroo Island remains less known – perhaps no bad thing.

Home to around 60,000 kangaroos, this island has more roos than it does people. The roads are straight and empty and the pace of life is slow: a little bit prairie, a little homegrown.

Uluru Rock Tour: that time we camped in the outback

A 1,500km detour and two nights’ camping with spiders, snakes and dingoes – would the Uluru Rock Tour prove worth the pain?

Uluru, that iconic behemoth, that clay-red monolith, that sun-scorched sentry… that epic pain in the backside.

Yes, it’s big and, yes, it’s special, but bloody hell it’s far away. Almost right in the middle of Australia, Uluru is a major endeavour. Nearly every other sight in the country is scattered along the coast, which means planning a trip to Uluru involves a hefty detour from the rest of your route.

To Penguin Island from Perth, Australia

We visit Penguin Island from Perth to hunt for Australia’s most adorable creatures.

I was determined to see penguins in Australia. My hunt for penguins in the Galápagos was only just successful with a one-minute sighting after three days of searching. I hoped that Australia would deliver a closer encounter.

And so we headed to Penguin Island from Perth a day after arriving in Australia (following a 24-hour delay no less).

I’ve officially travelled the world. Here’s what I’ve learnt

lessons from travelling the world

Seven years ago, I asked a question on Quora: what qualifies as having travelled the world? It prompted an interesting discussion there and, later, here on our own site. We decided that it wasn’t the number of countries visited or borders crossed that mattered, but the number of Risk map regions you had seen. The logic was that visiting half of the 42 Risk regions would offer a better sampling of the world.

Salt of the earth: visiting Lac Assal in Djibouti

Lac Assal in Djibouti featimg

We visit Lac Assal in the Afar Depression where three diverging tectonic plates have created some of the strangest sights we’ve seen

Lac Assal in Djibouti is wickedly deceiving. At first, it appears as a glorious expanse of blue-green water and blinding white sand, easily mistaken for a Maldivian beach. Behind the facade, however, lies a painful lesson: the vast white plain is not sand at all but salt: jagged shards that bristle on skin and leave you itching for water.

Where are the female adventurers?

The TV explorer has become an archetype of sorts: dashing, intrepid, personable – and nearly always male. We ask where are the female adventurers?

“Have you been watching Walking the Himalayas?” asked Peter’s father. “The presenter in it reminds me of Pete.”

“Tall, dark and handsome?” I asked. “Well, I can certainly get on board with that.”

Later that week, I started the TV series as advised, noting with amusement that presenter Levison Wood (pictured below) did indeed look a bit like Peter.

We watched with interest until five minutes in when Levison makes a meal of crossing a mere river.

Swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti

Swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti promised to be the highlight of our trip – but would it live up to the hype?

I’m a pessimist and Peter’s the opposite, so while he was brimming with anticipation at the prospect of swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti, I sat dolefully in a corner wondering if a) we would even see a whale shark and b) if I would be able to keep up with it.

Does my bruise look big in this? The trouble with an outdoors lifestyle

In planning a trip to the home of bungee, Kia laments the effects of an outdoors lifestyle

This year, I turn 36 and if it hadn’t been for the dismaying discovery that cellulite also creeps across stomachs, I may have continued my diet of sugary snacks and drinks forever. Instead, I’m becoming a little more mindful about the things I eat. There are still desserts and ice creams, but a little less all round.

The fact that staying in shape will now take more effort is not a huge surprise; after all, beauty magazines have been telling me so for about two decades now. What is surprising is having to think about how I treat my body in other ways.

Diving in Djibouti: my first wreck

Diving in Djibouti doesn’t appear on many bucket lists, but as we learn on our trip to the country, it can be even better than Mauritius or Tahiti

Djibouti, it is said, is the Dubai of the Horn. Its port location and peaceful nature in an otherwise restive region has made it a prime location for foreign interest. The country is home to Africa’s largest US army base and France’s biggest Foreign Legion deployment. China, Japan, Italy, Germany and Spain among others also have soldiers stationed there.