My Great Escape: New Zealand

Catherine Cole 

Reader Sharon Rudder from Norfolk recounts a big birthday to remember in New Zealand.

The thrills of new zealand

My husband asked me where I'd like to go to celebrate my 60th birthday, and I said I'd like to stand on top of the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand. He put together a great itinerary, flying into Christchurch on the South Island, where we walked to the lovely Botanical Gardens. The river Avon runs through them and we saw people punting along the river. 

We boarded the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth the next day, which took us across the Southern Alps. The rail journey was spectacular and is lauded as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. We saw snow-capped mountains, beautiful rivers and gorges set off by thousands of flowering gorse bushes, which were brought to New Zealand by the first Scottish settlers.

From Greymouth, we immediately took a bus to the village of Franz Josef, where we were staying at the Bella Vista Motel. The views were astonishing, and we could see the Southern Alps from our window.

The next day we walked to the foot of the Franz Josef glacier past beautiful waterfalls and incredible rock formations. We walked along trails in the temperate rainforest at the foot of the mountains among large ferns.

The next day was my birthday, so we took a helicopter flight over the Franz Josef glacier, the Fox glacier and around Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. We landed on the Fox glacier, which was an incredible experience. We stood surrounded by mountain peaks covered in snow—and the sun was shining! It’s the only place in the world where you’ll find a glacier less than 300m above sea level and just a few miles from the sea.

After our flight, we went back to Franz Josef to relax in the thermal pools inside the local lido, which are fed by natural thermal springs of different temperatures. This day was the best holiday experience—and birthday present—of my life!

  • Visit New Zealand:

Return flights to Christchurch start from £840pp with Emirates. Dial 0344 800 277 or visit the Emirates website for more details.


Catherine has danced in Rio, been microlighting in South Africa and hiked the mountains of Oman.