by Tobias Sauer
Those who are conscious of the fantastic nature in New Zealand quickly apprehend to enjoy it fully. Here in the antipodes big-city dwellers and nature-lads, homos and heteros alike submit to the elements.
It is a tricky thing with feelings: even if one pulls oneself together, one cannot keep them in check. On the one hand there are amazement and the excitement: it is so beautiful here on Waiheke, an island off the coast of Auckland, the largest city of New Zealand. I stand on a platform in the hilly landscape as I prepare to glide in a huge rope slide at 15 metres height over the lush green forest. On the other hand there is some concern about things to come: The city Panorama has disappeared, where skyscrapers were visible a few minutes ago lurk deep black clouds. So I turn a little anxiously to the an instructor and ask what happens when it suddenly rains and storms: “Will the ride on the Zipline then be canceled?” She looks a little bewildered and replys laconically: “Well, you’ll get wet.” No one’s got hurt by a little rain yet.
There is no bad weather but only wrong clothing
And indeed: a few minutes later it starts to rain, even if the feared pouring turns out to be a light drizzle: it does not stop the fun of thundering along above the fern Forest. So on the second day of my New Zealand trip, I learned how close you are to nature and how to shrug-off weather vagaries. Because here too the tried sentence applies: “There is no bad weather, there is only wrong clothing.” So in the middle of the forces of nature I tell myself: ‘Let’s go!’ and take a trip to the Coromandel Peninsula the next day, that is about two hours by car in the east of Auckland. The area is an enchanting spot with green forests, even greener meadows, plants and trees in full bloom and meandering roads embedded in the picturesque hilly landscape.
I want to go kayaking on this coast and it is sunny when I arrive at the beach in the morning. The weather forecast, however says rain showers from noon on. A straight couple from Australia wants to join me in defying the water. The two are fans of the great outdoors, as they say, and thus are well prepared. I didn’t bring any shorts, just a long pair of jeans. “We really do not recommend this,” says our young guide Martin with a smile that should show me: doesn’t matter. And yet my poor preparation, like that of many big-city dwellers who want to go into nature, is not exactly a plus: the denim, explains Martin, quickly absorbs water and not only turns heavy but also feels quite cold on the skin. But now there is no going back: Martin does not allow nude kayaking.
When the spray splashes in your face, kayaking is really fun
But everything goes well and the ride with the kayak is always worthwhile. Cathedral Cove in front of us is the destination of our small tour, only two bays away from the starting place but hardly reachable on foot. High sandstone cliffs, covered with trees. The Sand fine and golden. Over time the turquoise blue sea flushes huge caves into the soft stone, which sometimes develop into natural tunnels. While the Australians and I are exploring the beach, Martin shows how British New Zealand is still: when we return he has already made tea for us.
The English breakfast is nice and after the little tea ceremony we make get on our way. The wind has increased and the first clouds appear on the horizon. But instead of returning straight to our starting point the guide suggest to paddle briefly to the two islands that lie at some distance in the sea. I have to take a deep breath: the headwind is much stronger, the waves are higher and now and then water splashes over the tip of the kayak. I clearly feel the paddling in my arms. But what a surprise: Only now it is really fun – and the wet jeans does not matter any more. As we struggle through the waves we are approaching the islands bit by bit. How you can taste the salt water when the spray flies in your face – a great feeling! Once the effort is past us, we have a much easier return to the mainland: we span a large canvas between the two kayaks and let us carry by the wind almost up to the beach.
Hiking Paradise New Zealand
You can also go kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park, located on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. But I came here to go hiking after my adventure at sea. The path alwas follows the coast and leads through the forest to high cliffs, turns left down to the sea whose blue is visible through the tree branches. In the distance I spot the first mountains of the New Zealand Southern Alps where the snow glistens on their peaks. Our small group consists of about a dozen visitors from all over the world, including Robert. The Hamburger manages a film company with his partner and is a true New Zealand expert by now. He is visiting the islands in the Pacific for the third time.
His aim is less a power struggle with nature come wind or hight water or to party all night long in glittering big cities, the 45-year-old tells us. “My aim is to reach my balance, the point at which I am fully relaxed and can forget about the stress of the world. This is something I do not have in everyday life.” It is easy to find on our long hikes along the coast. The group does not run too closely together. Anyone who wants to chat can do that, but those who want to be on their own is left in peace. Phone reception is nil, texts can’t be sent and the next Facebook update has to wait. In the comfortable hiking huts in the evening there is some slow internet, but its attraction pales compared to the luminous full moon. It slowly rises above the sea, past a small rocky island covered in trees. The city, the noise, the hustle and bustle are all very far away in the secluded Abel Tasman National Park.
Spectacular Southern Alps
Of course, there are big cities in New Zealand, and almost every visitor passes through Auckland Airport. Exactly one third of 4.2 million Kiwis living in the Auckland metropolitan area. But in comparison to other big cities, Auckland is manageable, hosting only a small but nonetheless vibrant gay scene with some bars and clubs. And it is rather the seclusion and the spectacular landscape that attracts most visitors to visit the remote islands – whether homo or hetero.
This is exactly what you find further south. The area just before the long mountain range of the Southern Alps is called Central Otago, could also be named “Middle Earth” because it lies in the middle of the Lord of the Rings land, at about 50 kilometres from Queenstown and its spectacular alpine landscape. The clear blue lakes reflect the rock faces of the mountains and their snow-capped peaks. The landscape resembles Switzerland so much that even Milka television adverts are shot here.
Homophobia? Also unknown in the countryside
While elsewhere rural areas are often considered less tolerant, homophobia can’t be felt even in the remote Otago district– as in all of New Zealand. The Italian Armando has lived with his husband Bob in the 4,100-resident town of Cromwell for seven years and has opened a small restaurant there. He has not had any bad experience, on the contrary. “I like the country and the people,” he says. And the two New Zealanders Fletch and Lisa, who live in the even smaller village of Clyde, the home of exactly 921 people, can only agree. “There are some homo-couples in Clyde,” they say at dinner together. “And we were also a little bit of news when we moved here.” But they never felt rejection.
Their bike shop has become an important part of the village instead. Not only for locals, but also for tourists. Together with their business partner Duncan Rent they organise bike tours and make suggestions for excursions – also for me. Duncan and I are on our way early the next morning when the air is still damp from the night. We cycle along the Clutha, the second longest river in New Zealand, which is not very wide but flows rapidly, having tis sourcre in the local Alps. The cycle path follows the river, rises and descends, a gravel road, not asphalted. In the lee of the Alps the area is a lot drier than the rest of New Zealand, only the trees growing next to water lush green. The fragrance of wild thyme is in the air. The wild thyme was introduced to the valley by European gold-diggers more than 100 years ago and spread.
Let your thoughts flow
And right here it also happens to me: I suddenly feel the balance that hiker Robert mentioned a few days ago. Following the lead of Duncan I step into the pedals responding to my inner rhythm, while the hills and the curves pass. The green shimmering river purling to my left. Up and down the hills and valleys – and my thoughts just flow.
You can find all the tips and addresses in the Spartacus Traveler Gay Guide: Active holidays in New Zealand.
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