By Grant Nicol
There’s a gentle yet remarkably cool breeze blowing across the faces of the locals as they soak in pools of warm water alongside tourists from every corner of the world. They listen intently to the foreigners’ tales of adventure from around their beautiful country with a quiet and unassuming pride. They know it’s a great place but it’s always good to hear it from others especially when their memories are still so fresh in their minds.
Tall tales and true ones too
One of the visitors has been fly-fishing, standing waist deep in freezing cold water in one of the many rivers that hide the prestigious prey he has spent the last four years chasing all over the world. He’s never short of a tall tale to tell about a huge trophy fish he caught ‘back in the day’ or an even larger but ever-elusive ‘one that got away’. After a while no one’s listening to the story of the rainbow trout the size of a cocker spaniel he had on the end of his line once but they’re all pretty sure he’s had a good time telling his outrageous lies.
One couple has been living their outdoor adventure dream. Walking across an ancient glacier, staring into the caldera of a fearsome volcano, walking along volcanic black sand beaches and watching geysers erupt. On top of that they’ve seen awe-inspiring waterfalls and majestic whales. They never imagined they would be able to do so many spectacular things in the one country, “all under the same roof” is the way they like to describe it. They’ll be recommending the place to their friends when they get home there’s no doubt about that.
Business before pleasure
Another one of the visitors, a more pragmatic businessman has visited a huge hydroelectric power plant with the largest freshwater dam in the country as well as the unsightly smelter that its electricity feeds to help it turn bauxite into aluminium. It doesn’t sound like much of a holiday to some of the other tourists but he insists he’s had a great time, mainly because it’s all been on the company’s expense account. There are a few muted concerns that the sort of business he’s in doesn’t always take into consideration the natural landscapes that it affects but these complaints soon dissolve away into the warm, mineral rich water.
A younger quietly spoken couple have been visiting the shooting locations of one of their favourite fantasy sagas. They’ve always wanted to see the locales where the scenes of adventure, romance and high drama that fill their weekends were really played out. Now they can go home and brag to their jealous friends until everyone’s sick to death of listening to them. Then they’ll play the DVDs and point out to anyone who’s still listening what they were doing the day the two of them were actually there.
I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you were. I’m talking about Iceland, right? Or am I talking about New Zealand? Well, as a matter of fact I’m talking about them both. Whether it be the hot springs at Reykjadalur or the ones at Hamner Springs, the trout-fishing heaven of the Minnivallalækur River or the Tongariro River. I could be talking about the mighty Vatnajökull or the Tasman Glacier, the infamous Eyjafjallajökull or Mt. Tarawera, the black sands at Reynisfara or Muriwai Beach. It could just as easily be the world famous Geysir or the Pohutu Geyser in Rotorua I’m referring to or the staggering Gullfoss or Huka Falls. The whales off the coast near Húsavík or possibly Kaikoura on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Plant or the one at Lake Manapouri.
There are shooting location sites from The Game Of Thrones in Iceland as well as the ones from The Lord Of The Rings in New Zealand. There are so many similarities between the two countries that if you weren’t careful you could get them confused and I didn’t even mention the sheep, or the thirteen ‘Icelandic Christmas hobbits’. Of course you’d have to completely forget which side of the planet you were on momentarily and not listen to anyone speak for say, a month or so, but in theory it’s possible. Unless you started counting trees, but where I come from we only count sheep.