04.02.2009 - 15.03.2009 20 °C
If you're gonna go on an organised tour in New Zealand, if you're happy to hand over the reigns and let somebody else do all the organising and leg work for a change, whether it be for just an afternoon or for ten whole days, if you don't mind being led in a randomly pieced together group along a semi-set path probably trod by countless others before you... just pray you get a decent guide. It makes all the difference.
Graham wasn't a decent guide, he was an absolutely sensational guide. Probably one in a million. We - the eleven lucky people who signed up for Active Earth's Volcanoes and Rainforests tour around the north island in early February - got very lucky indeed.
Graham's endless enthusiasm for his bountiful country was equalled only by his vast knowledge of the all the best places to go. The promise of "off the beaten track", and of getting away from the (two whole million) other tourists in the country at the same time as you, is banded about so much in this part of the world that you start to wonder whether there is anybody at all on the beaten track, and if not perhaps you'd be better off taking that route instead. But when you've got a guide who is truly local, and somehow manages to find not only places that you won't find other tourists visiting, but also spots where you'd struggle to find regular Kiwis, then you've hit the jackpot.
Don't, if you can at all help it, find yourself on Franz Josef Glacier lumbered with a guide who is so obviously bored he decides to lead you towards dead ends and into tight corners, both near impossible to escape from, for his own amusement. Having paid good money to explore this huge lump of valley-carving ice, the warning bells should be ringing loud and clear when, from the outset, your group is so large your guide doesn't even attempt to ask anybody their name. Personal service you will not be getting. Tourist factory processed you will be.
In a country this eye-poppingly attractive, a bad guide isn't going to ruin your holiday. But a good guide, or (if you can find one) a truly great guide, will add so much value that you instantly forget just how many dollars you handed over for the privilege of scrambling through that rainforest/skreeing down into that volcanic crater/frisbee playing on that most dramatic of beaches at sunset.
Here's some pics, from organised and randomised trips. None do this country justice. Have I told you how beautiful it is here..?
Volcanoes and Rainforests
Franz Josef Glacier