WANDERING the streets of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington in leather loafers felt nothing like tackling the rocky mountain paths from a visit five years ago.
The New Zealand cities, which I visited recently on a work trip, buzzed with a rhythm that was urban and electrical. I was more familiar with the lush bushes in Mount Cook, quiet tranquillity in Milford Sound and the numbing iciness of Franz-Josef Glacier.
But the good thing is that New Zealand, whether you are in the country or city, offers great adventures. And if you're a klutz like me, expect memorable misadventures too.
Green-skinned Orcs and hairy Hobbits may be familiar to tourists who know that the Lord Of The Rings movies were shot there, but what about ghosts?
In Wellington's Bolton Street Memorial Park, a long-haired woman in a red dress emerged from an old colonial graveyard when the last rays of the sun had almost vanished and the chilly winds were howling eerily.
Harbour Front: Wellington's magnificent harbour is fringed by beaches, marinas and warehouses. The city hosts three festivals - one of which is the annual Dragon Boat Festival in late February - which attracts huge crowds.
Earlier, I had taken a cable-car ride up to the 25ha Botanic Gardens and then walked downhill for about half an hour through protected native forest.
I got lost exploring the gardens and found myself facing 19th-century stone graves, iron memorials and wooden tablets.
A sign said I had to walk through the memorial park to get to the city centre. I was too terrified to take the trail alone, so I waited.
The woman emerged, never said a word but pointed to some brick houses in the distance. I thanked her and hurried along, without looking back. After 10 minutes of walking, I was back in bustling Lambton Quay, Wellington's Orchard Road.
The wind in Wellington can catch you unawares too. I was crouching over a bed of exotic-looking flowers when a sudden strong gust sent a plastic chair at a cafe flying towards me. Luckily, I dodged in time.
On other occasions, I saw a forceful blast strip a sign off a pole and almost send a cyclist tumbling down a slope.
But you don't have to stand and just watch, for a trip to New Zealand is never complete without signing up for at least one adventure sport.
You should expect thrills and spills. Five years ago, my friend Huimin and I kayaked at Milford Sound. It was supposed to be an easy paddle around the fjord but our boat almost capsized because we could not coordinate our paddling movements.
'Quick, get away from the approaching ferry. The big waves might turn your boat over,' warned the guide.
'Trying, trying. But we can't,' we yelled back. The boat rocked left, then right, and left again. One arm was already in the chilly waters. And then the boat miraculously stabilised.
We also hiked in the Franz-Josef Glacier, using a pickaxe to make steps in the ice. Worried about the cold, I wore five thick tops, instead of the recommended two.
But I forgot to wrap my legs, which were clad only in thin spandex slacks. And barely halfway up, I developed leg cramps and could not move. I panicked when nobody noticed I was not walking.
Luckily, the guide did a headcount and was shocked to find me 100m away behind the group, waving frantically for help. I aborted my hike.
On this recent visit, I did something tamer - jet boating in Christchurch. The boat I was on blazed through the shallow azure waters of Waimakariri River at 80kmh, did a 360-degree spin and came to a sudden halt.
Historic City: Christchurch is a vibrant city renowned for its elegant grey stone 19th-century buildings, lush gardens and tree-lined avenues.
Seven passengers held on to the handrails tightly for dear life. Actually, with the icy winds whipping my face, I felt more cold than terrified. I adjusted my ski mask and gloves and an Australian tourist said in jest: 'So, this is what you're up to in New Zealand - to rob a bank.'
The ride in a spectacular section of a 190km river canyon was part of a full-day Alpine Safari adventure. An overland drive to the high country to view the Southern Alps and across the Canterbury Plains followed by a scenic two-hour train journey on the Tranz Alpine completed the NZ$300 (S$335) tour.
In the train, the atmosphere grew tense as we approached the 101-year-old Staircase Viaduct, which at 73m is the highest of the viaducts crossing the Southern Alps.
The train commentator told us to get ready for a split-second photo opportunity of the river plains below. Passengers swamped the left side of the carriage to get that memorable shot.
But do be careful whom you aim your camera at elsewhere. In Auckland, a burly man, whom I had taken a shot of, tailed me for a while.
'Hey there, did you just take my picture?' he asked repeatedly, wearing an angry scowl. I pretended not to understand, hiding my fear. After a while, he left.
Asians, who are increasingly making their presence felt there, may end up in your snapshots too. A New Zealand ministry official I met was a Sri Lankan and one cabby who fetched us was a Laotian.
Food-wise, there are Indian, Chinese, Thai and even Khmer cuisines.
In Wellington, I saw banners screaming Chinese Foot Reflexology and Malaysian Food in Cuba Street, the city's shopping strip.
The foot reflexology session was a letdown.
But I knew my luck could only improve at the two restaurants next door which were doing a booming business selling fried rice and spicy laksa.
One turned me away with a 'Sorry, we are fully booked', but the other asked me to queue.
Ten minutes later, I was sharing a table with two Indonesian women who were chattering away in Bahasa Indonesia, a language which I could speak.
Talking to them was nice and so was the plate of sambal fish. I felt right at home.
5 things to do
1 In Wellington, hop on a cable car to get to the Botanic Gardens where you can enjoy exotic forests and colourful floral displays and specialist gardens. It's free. Make time to visit the award-winning Lady Norwood Rose Garden and the historic Bolton Street Memorial Park, where many of the city's pioneers are buried.
2 In Wellington, visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to better understand the country's geology and natural environment as well as the culture of the Maoris, the indigenous people. Visit www.tepapa.govt.nz for details and admission charges.
3 In Christchurch, sign up for full-day tours that include a jet boat ride and a Tranz Alpine rail ride. Cost: NZ$300 (S$335).
4 Explore the city centre and Hagley Park in Christchurch. In Cathedral Square, visit the cathedral for a great city view.
5 In Auckland, sky-jump from the Sky Tower. Fall from a height of 192m at about 85kmh for around 11 seconds before you land gently. Cost: NZ$195.
1 Don't carry an umbrella in Wellington. It's useless as the rain and wind can be very strong.
2 Don't forget to take along a sweater if you want to go for a jet boat ride, especially during colder months. You want to enjoy the scenery without worrying about the cold.