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Exotic New Zealand trip no ordinary vacation

Amy Powell does not consider herself a world traveler, but the South Boston resident and her husband, Jerry, found themselves halfway around the world recently after embarking on a 23-day tour of New Zealand.

Powell, who had previously visited tropical islands such as Jamaica and the Bahamas, described her New Zealand experience as the most exotic trip she’s ever taken.

“I don’t really know why, but I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand,” Powell said recently.

“I’d been researching it for five years and planning this specific trip for about a year.”

The type of vacation that Powell envisioned wasn’t one involving sipping a pina colada in a hammock underneath a palm tree, rather an active one involving hiking, cycling, back packing, kayaking and tubing through some of the most diverse landscapes in the world.

That’s what attracted her and her husband to New Zealand in the first place.

“We did not have a leisurely vacation. We were up about 6 o’clock every morning to go backpacking and bicycling,” Powell explained.

“It’s beautiful, and there’s so much diversity with tropical rain forests, glaciers, underground tubing, so there’s so much diversity in what you can do.”

Much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot in New Zealand, and Powell’s tour group planners, Active New Zealand, offered Lord of the Rings tours, Powell added.  

The Powells were in New Zealand for 23 days from the middle of February until the middle of March, late summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Powell, an avid runner and hiker, said some of the New Zealand landscape reminded her of places like the Devil’s Marble Yard near Roanoke, or the Peaks of Otter near Bedford where she sometimes hikes.

“We did a lot of hiking when we were there, a lot of rock scrambles,” recalled Powell.

“I think having done that made us a little less afraid once we were in New Zealand, because we were on some pretty big mountains,” explained Powell.

Her favorite part of the trip was a three-day backpack excursion she and Jerry did on the south island.

“We were with a tour group for 14 days, but we backpacked for three days,” recalled Powell.

“You could stay in (Department of Conservation) huts, but we chose to tote a tent.”

On one occasion, the couple stayed on a working sheep farm in a sheep shearer’s quarters with members of their tour group.

“We weren’t in five-star accommodations,” Powell laughed.

“We toured with people from all over the world, a couple from Canada, a couple from the U.S. and a couple from Britain.

“Sometimes you were in rain forests with giant ferns and trees, and sometimes you hiked bare mountains with rocks and scree. We took a helicopter ride up to a glacier and got out on that.”

Getting to New Zealand was the least fun of the whole trip, according to Powell.

The couple drove three hours to Charlotte, caught a plane and flew six hours to Los Angeles before a 13-hour plane ride to Auckland, New Zealand and an hour-long plane ride to Christchurch.

“We flew into the north island, went to Christchurch, toured the south island and then came back to the north island and rented a camper van,” said Powell.

“We toured both islands, but if you can only go to one island, the south island is the one to go to…it’s a little more diverse.”

Although plant life was abundant, animal life was less so, according to Powell. 

Bats, opossums, stoats, rabbits and ferrets can be found in New Zealand, all but bats being species introduced from outside the country.

She would recommend a New Zealand vacation to anyone whether they wanted to be active or simply relax, but the most beautiful places are not so readily visible near “civilization,” Powell pointed out.

“The hardest ones to get to are sometimes the best,” said Powell.

“That’s why I like the backpacking.  I’ve never toted all my stuff before, and it was a little daunting,” she admitted. “It was a challenge, we were in much more rugged terrain than what I would normally hike in.

“I’m ready to go back, 23 days is simply not enough time to see everything there. It’s gorgeous,” Powell said of New Zealand. “This was my dream vacation, and I probably won’t ever have one like this again.

“People there were just great. New Zealanders were nice, friendly and accommodating.”

Powell would do it all again, but this time in a different locale through the same tour group she worked with in New Zealand

“I’m already looking into an Active South America and an Active Himalylas, and I’m kind of looking at the Inca Trail in South America,” said Powell.

“I’ve never been with a tour group before, but Active New Zealand was awesome, and I would recommend them.

“They took just so much care of us.”