Get off the beaten track this Easter. © Pixabay

Eight short escapes for the Easter break

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Easter is coming up, and with a combination of school holidays and the first enticing taste of Autumn, it’s the perfect time of year to plan a short escape. 

1. Explore New Zealand’s cultural heritage in the Bay of Islands

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is one of those historical sites that even people who don’t much care for history are wowed by. With the bulk of the Grounds covering a hill overlooking the Bay of Islands, it’s a wonderful spot for a stroll outdoors. But there’s a lot of indoor activity, too, with the Museum, Treaty House and Visitors’ Centre adding depth to what is already a rich experience.

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It's hard to translate some moments into words. The reason I love film is because you can share an emotion or create a feeling with sound and visuals. The experience of a Wero, otherwise known as a Maori Challenge, is spine tingling - it has a way of blasting you into the moment in a very confronting yet strangely beautiful way. Lots of people travel the world in search of culture and deep seeded spirituality but often forget that we still have an abundance of it right here in New Zealand. To those who have never seen the Wero before, this is a challenge which takes place when a visitor comes to local land, a way to identify if the person comes in peace and has good intentions. A small peace token is placed on the ground by a Maori warrior for the visitor to accept, piercing eye contact must be made at all times throughout the challenge which tests the recipient’s steadfastness. Once the visitor picks up the token (branch in this case) the warriors retreat in to the bush and in old times the visitor would be welcomed on to their land. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to capture this challenge up close - recommend you turn up the sound on this one! Thanks to @samson_rambo for helping me shoot this one and the warriors who allowed us to film them doing the Wero! 🙌🏽 #challengeaccepted #waitangitreatygrounds #bayofislands #sponsored

A post shared by B E N M I K H A 🐺 (@benmikha) on Dec 19, 2018 at 6:08pm PST

While you’re here, visit the nearby Kororipo Pā heritage site in Kerikeri where you’ll have amazing views of historic Stone Store – New Zealand's oldest surviving building. The pā, the Stone Store, the Missionary Home and Kemp House all coexisted to form the site of the earliest interactions between Māori and Pākehā cultures.

2. Walk the Queen Charlotte Track in Marlborough Sounds

The Queen Charlotte Track differs from the rest of New Zealand’s Great Walks in that there are no huts, so if you don’t have a tent, you’ll just have to make do with hotels, hostels and luxury lodges.

The most popular direction in which to do the track is inbound – from Ship Cove (reached by boat) at the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound, back to Anakiwa. The total distance is 71 kilometres or a solid four-day walk, but since most of the track is accessible by water taxi, you can do as much or as little of it as you like. Few tracks offer the opportunity to finish a day’s tramping with a sundowner, a soak in a spa bath and a blissful sleep in crisp linen.

3. Get an art and culture fix in New Plymouth

Even if you’ve travelled the world over, even if you have the most jaded architectural eyes, you’ll be impressed by the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth. The shimmering stainless steel exterior reflects natural Taranaki light in an ever-changing, continually inspiring way. Many of Lye’s works are housed within, where the museum keeps up the playfulness – fountains of coloured light, waltzing steel, rolling plains of shimmering, haunting shapes.

While you're here, make sure you visit the impressive Govett Brewster Gallery next door, or for something a little different, head out of town to check out the quirky Tāwhiti Museum. Converted in 1975 from a defunct cheese factory, the museum is a wonderland of galleries and displays that bring the past to life with a combination of life-size exhibits and scale models.

4. Feel the sand between your toes in Nelson

There is no shortage of stunning seaside spots in Nelson, but perhaps the most remarkable is Farewell Spit – the longest natural sand bar in the world. Part sand bar, part wetland, Farewell Spit is home to many species of migratory birds including bar-tailed godwits, curlews, whimbrels and turnstones. Take a four-wheel-drive tour (it’s the only way you can really get onto the spit) along the massive, 26km-long beach. The northern/seaward side is barren dunes, exposed and brutal, but the south side faces Golden Bay and is more hospitable. The tide can go out kilometres, revealing huge areas of salt marsh and mud flats. 

For more beach action, nearby Wharariki (a half hour walk from the base of the spit) is famed for its strange dune shapes, weird rock formations just off the shore and seals at the far end of the beach.

5. Taste your way around Wairarapa

Martinborough, the quaint country village in the heart of the Wairarapa region is synonymous with wine – most notably its famous pinot noir. With more than 20 wineries, most within cycling distance of the Union Jack-shaped village square, it’s the ideal location for a wine tour by bike. Plus, at the beginning of Autumn, as the leaves begin to turn the vineyards are more picturesque than ever. Many Martinborough vineyards also have onsite restaurants for a luxuriant lunch or a fortifying platter to keep you going. 

While you’re in Wairarapa, stop in nearby Greytown for boutique shopping and more artisan foods including Shoc Chocolates or James Cameron’s (of Avatar and Titanic fame) Food Forest Organics and be delighted by the country village charm.  

6. Meet the wildlife of Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula is home to some of the most accessible wildlife encounters in the country. Less than an hour’s drive from Dunedin City, you’ll come across yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, blue penguins and sea lions in their natural habitats. Conveniently, they also reside in an area of stunning scenery, some exceptional historical sites and unique natural land formations. Plus, at Taiaroa Head out on the end of the peninsula is the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony.

For more majestic experiences, stop in at New Zealand’s only castle on your way. Larnach Castle has an intriguing combination of lavish Victorian architecture and tragic stories, making it one of New Zealand’s most popular built attractions. 

7. Soak it up in Taupō

Although there are many places to immerse yourself in geothermal hot springs in Taupō, at Spa Thermal Park you can do it for free. A local favourite, you can bathe in the stream’s steaming hot pools, plaster your body with sulphur-smelling mud, get massaged under the small waterfall and then move just a few metres to the river’s cold water for a refreshing dip. Spa Thermal Park also has a children’s playground, a BMX course and lots of rolling grassland for kids to run off some steam. 

While you’re here, pop up the road to Aratiatia Rapids. A feat of engineering, the Aratiatia Dam harnesses the energy of the Waikato river to create hydroelectric power. When the gates are opened the sedate stream turns into an impressive raging torrent.  

8. Take a road trip through the Buller Gorge

If you’re driving from Nelson to Westport, the Buller River will be your guide for the next 150-odd kilometres of some of the most scenic driving anywhere. It draws you into its steep, bush-clad gorge and heads for the coast. A white-knuckle highlight is at Hawke’s Crag, where the roadway is literally carved out of a stony bluff, the remnant still overhangs the tight, blind corner, allowing very little headway for tall vehicles and there’s a thrilling drop to the river on your right. Hang on to your seat! 

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