Mark Twain wrote: ““Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
This is really true.
over the last 20 years I’ve travelled to almost 20 countries.
I’ve immersed myself in the smells, sounds, touch and taste of each one, but there is still so much more I want to see.
I’ve missed out a vital sense I hear you shout!
The reason for that is I have been blind since birth, so I can’t offer any reliable knowledge about what a country “looks” like.
So, in the first of two blog posts, I’m going to write the A to Z of my sense of New Zealand.
It’s not a travellog – (come on, who really cares how long it took you to get to the airport, what the food was like on the plane or what the hotel receptionist said to you)!
This is a description of the people, places and parts of New Zealand you might not know about.
A is for:
My trip coincided with Anzac Day – the 25th of April.
Anzac stands for Australia and New Zealand army corps.
In 1914, when World War one broke out, the population of New Zealand was 1 million.
18,000 men died in the war, including over 2700 in the Gallipoli campaign.
Out of the 3000 who fought on the first day, 650 died.
One exhibition in Wellington was especially poignant. It showed a video with the words of nurse Lottie Le Gallais who was one of the women who went to treat wounded soldiers.
The exhibition features stories of ordinary people from New Zealand – and larger than life sculptures and objects from Gallipoli.
B is for:
Many of the birds in New Zealand are not natives, having been brought there by British settlers in the 1800s.
However there is one worth pointing out.
The Tui is a bird from the honeyeater family, feeding predominantly on nectar.
They are very good mimics, a bit like Starlings.
Their song sounds like someone whistling, while trying to push open a rusty old gate!
Random fact: The collective noun for Tui is an ecstasy.
C is for: climbing Auckland Harbour Bridge
I’ve climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge, which I thoroughly enjoyed – so I was interested to see how the bridges compared.
The summit of the Sydney bridge is 134 M high, whereas the Auckland one was a mere 64 M.
However, for hard work and effort to get to the top I think the Auckland bridge is by far the best.
There are 332 steps on the Sydney bridge climb but over 450 on the Auckland one, not including the hundreds of rivets which have to be navigated.
D is for: dogs
I left my guide dog James with friends while I went away.
In Queenstown we met a man with his dog and I started chatting to him.
I told him about my guide dog and jokingly asked if his dog did anything for a living. he said he sings!
OK, so it’s difficult for you to appreciate how funny and adorable Happy (the appropriate name for the dog) sounds, but he’s on YouTube so you can listen to him there.
His owner, William Ingle first discovered Happy liked singing when he was playing Ring of fire by Johnny Cash.
William has written several songs for the dog which he loves accompanying.
E is for: earthquake
On the 22 February 2011, Christchurch suffered one of the worst earthquakes in New Zealand’s history.
185 people died.
The iconic Christchurch cathedral was destroyed.
A temporary “Cardboard Cathedral” was constructed and we went inside to hear a talk from one of the volunteer guides.
The walls are made from shipping containers and 60 M long cardboard tubes as well as steel and timber.
Outside the cathedral are 185 chairs to commemorate each person who died, each one is different.
F is for: food
There were two things I wanted to eat while I was in New Zealand.
Lamb – and pavlova.
I wasn’t disappointed by either of them, in fact *and I’m prepared for a backlash on this* I think the lamb in New Zealand is better than the lamb from Wales*
Each breakfast we’d eat juicy plums, not prunes, but proper mouth-watering fruit!
I even tried Black Doris plum ice-cream which I highly recommend.
G is for: guides
I didn’t go to New Zealand by myself, although I have been to many places on my own.
I went with a company called Traveleyes.
It was founded by Amar Latif, who is blind, and set it up so that blind and partially sighted people could enjoy travelling with sighted companions.
The prices for sighted people are subsidised which in turn makes prices for blind and partially sighted people a bit more expensive than the average holiday.
But, it is worth it knowing you’ll have someone to share the holiday with who will describe things, guide you – and in our case spend days just giggling and enjoying great company.
H is for: huntaway
One of my favourite trips was to Agridome, a working farm which puts on talks and displays to showcase the talent of the sheep, dogs and other animals.
We met the Huntaway, the New Zealand version of our sheepdogs.
They bark to get the sheep where they want them.
They come in different colours and can be either long or short haired.
I is for: interesting facts
Random fact time again!
The biggest export from New Zealand is milk powder.
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu*85 letters* is a hill near Porangahau in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island.
*Llanfair¬pwllgwyngyll¬gogery¬chwyrn¬drobwll¬llan¬tysilio¬gogo¬goch only has a pathetic 58*
There are 9 sheep per person in New Zealand.
New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote in 1893.
J is for: James Cook
James cook, didn’t actually discover New Zealand.
It was founded by Polynesian people about 800 years earlier – but it was Dutchman Abel Tasman who was the first European to discover it in 1642.
He named it New Zealand after the Dutch province of Zealand.
James Cook came along in 1769 and European settlers started coming to the country.
K is for Kiwi
Kiwi is the term for anyone from New Zealand.
Now, do you think it refers to the fruit – or the bird?
The Kiwi fruit actually originated in China and was known as the Chinese gooseberry.
The birds are flightless, about the same size as a chicken and are the only birds which have whiskers on their beak.
But, the name Kiwi as a term for the people of New Zealand comes from a type of boot polish used in the first world war.
It had a picture of the Kiwi bird on it which is why we call people from New Zealand kiwis.
L is for:
I’m only popping this in as one of the weirdest moments I had was when I heard a lake with waves.
I had no idea that lakes had waves – but my friend, who used to be a geography teacher explained that some do – for example Lake Galilee.
M is for: Maori people and culture
My favourite day was when we had a fantastic experience of the Maori culture, entertainment and food.
We visited the carving and weaving schools in Rotorua to see how Maori people make objects out of wood and weave things from flax.
We went into the third Kiwi house of the holiday but as they’re nocturnal birds, they were asleep.
However, this was the only time we were given the opportunity to feel the feathers from a Kiwi. They’re incredibly soft!!
We also touched the beak of a stuffed Kiwi.
Their beaks are surprisingly long for such a small bird.
Then we were treated to some Maori dancing and singing.
We learned about the Hongi, a traditional Maori greeting where forehead and nose are pressed together with twice another person.
The “Ha” or breath of life is exchanged through this greeting.
The lady showing us (choosing a rather bemused member of our group) said that he should be careful not to do it three times, or they’d end up being married!
Then we heard some brilliant singing and dancing, and a few ladies from our group got up on stage to join in with the dancing. Then they performed the Hakka.
You haven’t experienced the true terror and beauty of the Hakka until you’ve seen it performed live in New Zealand!
It’s a Maori war dance and strikes fear into every sports team who witnesses it.
Finally we sat down a “Hangi” traditional Maori meal.
The food is cooked in the ground over hot stones.
We enjoyed lamb, chicken, pork, vegetables and salads!
Then it was pudding time!
There was pavlova, trifle and mousse – I could go on, but I’m sure you’re dribbling with jealousy already!
What does minus 18 degrees feel like – and does water squeak?
You can follow my adventures on twitter at: