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Islands of adventure; My holiday It was a big birthday, so SARAH BATLEY went on a big trip - all the way to New Zealand for a spot of adventure.

SPEEDING down a shallow glacial river at 90kph, steep cliffs rising above me, our driver raises his hand and twirls it in the air.

Seconds later we are spinning around in a circle, showered with spray while Japanese students scream with the fun of it. My welcome to jetboating.

It could only have been invented in New Zealand, where locals love to snowboard in the morning, surf in the afternoon. The land that invented the bungee - simply because it seemed a good idea.

It's a place where you can tour in a converted bus for three years and still not see it all, as one Kiwi told me as we lounged in an open air thermal pool, cooling at 39C. Cooling because it had come out of the ground at 100C, heated by volcanic activity below.

In a camper van There are just over four months before New Zealand hosts the Rugby World Cup. With a week between many of the qualifiers, there's time to see much of both North and South Island, especially if your home nation reaches Auckland's final.

We headed there to fulfil a long-held wish to see the country, driving from Auckland to Christchurch. Our 50th birthdays seemed a good time - we'd spent months saving up for the air fare, so decided to cut costs by travelling around by camper van, and turn the holiday into an awesome adventure, doing things we never got chance to try when we were 20-something.

We saw whales, dolphins, seals and penguins, albatrosses, kiwis, went jetboating, snorkelling, kayaking, heli-hiking on a glacier, stargazing and even raced a luge down a mountainside. Towering mountains In the far north, with its pretty landscapes and islands, I fell in love with Russell's settler style houses. But 2,800 miles south, in the fjordland, there's a different landscape, towering mountains, deep glacial valleys. In Milford Sound it'd rained 8ins the day before, but as we took a cruise skies cleared to reveal majestic mountains dizzyingly high. Later we kayaked under rainbow shimmering waterfalls.

It's an achievement there are roads in places, curling up and over mountains, over solidified volcanic outflows, with 15kph warnings on hairpins and dizzying drops to one side.

We snorkelled around Poor Knights Islands, off Tutukaka, with Perfect Day ( dive company.

At Hot Water beach on Coromandel peninsula we dug holes in the sand and watched steaming volcanic water bubble up around us.

The next day we took a walk to Cathedral Cove and its huge rock formations before heading to Rotarua and its thermal baths.

We also went to Lord of the Rings' Mount Doom and Mordor - the backdrop to Peter Jackson's movies of Tolkein's epic.

In Wellington we saw a fun, creative city where everybody seems to be out on the water, jogging, walking, running or cycling, provided it's not blowing a gale.

We met the wildlife at award-winning Karori sanctuary before exploring Lambton Quay's shops.

Jetboat ride In South Island's Marlborough vineyards we sampled wines at the Villa Maria estate.

At Hanmer Springs, under an impossible blue sky, we took that jetboat ride along the Waiau River, before a dip at the thermal pools.

At Franz Joseph Glacier there was a helicopter ride up to a glacier for a walk across its glittering blue-white surface.

Guide to the heavens High above Lake Tekapo, 1,000m up on Mt John, is Canterbury University's observatory, and we took an Earth and Sky midnight tour for a guide to the heavens.

In Christchurch we dropped off the van and spent the night in the pretty, genteel city where everybody was still talking about the September earthquake.

And finally, we headed back to the UK, sad to leave a country where we'd had so much fun and determined, one day, to return for another awesome adventure.

What to do Pick your adventure: ? Go jetboating at Hanmer Springs on the Waiau River ( ? Take the Earth and Sky midnight tour ( and use the huge telescopes at Mt John Observatory.

. ? Snorkell around Poor Knights Islands with the dolphins with Perfect Day ( ? Or just relax and take your campervan around the country Travel facts ? Gullivers Sports Travel, official provider of Rugby World Cup 2011 supporter tours and packages, offers campervan options during the tournament, with guaranteed match tickets. Hotel and cruise packages (on board luxury cruise liner Pacific Dawn) are also available. For more information call Gullivers Sports Travel on 01684 878692 or visit


ISLAND LIFE: Jet boating on the Waiau River; Below - on the Milford Sound; Bottom - the waterfront at Wellington
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Apr 22, 2011
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