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Even if you haven’t seen the The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit films, you’ll know New Zealand is incredibly scenic. The South Island is lined with exquisite mountain ranges, glaciers, and lush forestry while the North is renowned for its breathtaking coastlines, geothermal treasures, and remarkable glowworm caves. And this is just a quick taster — you need to see the majestic landscape from up close to truly appreciate its beauty.
Reaching New Zealand is as easy as getting the right visa, hopping on a plane, and arriving some 12-14 hours (if you’re in North America, more if you’re coming from Europe) later. Getting around is as easy as hiring a car or campervan, or even getting a travel pass from a local bus company. The exchange rate tends to be favorable towards the US Dollar, British Pound and Euro too, so even though the country is slightly more expensive than other destinations, you’ll be able to stretch your budget and make it last.
There aren’t many places in the world which have made as big of an effort to preserve and respect their indigenous culture as New Zealand has. Maori phrases feature prominently in street signs, TV programmes, and everyday interactions. Waitangi Day, albeit controversial, is very much a part of local tradition. There are also plenty of attractions especially devised to bring New Zealand’s visitors closer to the Maori culture, heritage and history.
Hospitality is New Zealand’s middle name. In the smaller cities, it’s not uncommon for people to smile at passing strangers and say hello. Enter just about any hotel, bar or restaurant and nine times out of 10 you’ll be greeted with a smile. New Zealanders are just naturally polite and friendly — and that alone is a bonus for travellers visiting this lovely country.
New Zealand’s temperate climate and soil diversity have helped the country stamp its place in the global viticulture stage. The whites tend to be the best renowned, though a dedicated network of vineyards in Central Otago bring plenty of red grape varieties to the forefront. Marlborough is the country’s leading wine producer, and there are many others scattered around the North and South Islands too.
Obviously, the usual precautions apply: always lock up your valuables, steer clear of spotty neighbourhoods and so forth. Still, comparably speaking, New Zealand is much safer than many places around the world. For the most part, you can walk comfortably at night in all the major cities (again, provided you avoid the shady areas) and solo travellers can enjoy all the best attractions without worrying about their safety.
Bungy jumping in Queenstown. Abseiling in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. Caving and canyoning in Waitomo. Zorbing in Rotorua. White water rafting, jet boating, kayaking, skydiving, heli-skiing… you get the idea. New Zealand is the perfect playground for adrenaline junkies and sports enthusiasts of all kinds. If that’s the kind of thing you’re into, you’ll definitely be spoiled for choice when it’s time to map out your must-dos.
Known for their challenging terrains and breathtaking backdrops, the nine Great Walks have become a favourite among local and visiting hikers of all abilities. Two of these walks reside in Fiordland National Park, while others are nicely spread across the North and South Islands. You can take a guided tour, or tick these walks off your bucket list on your own. Remember to pack for all seasons, as these hikes are also infamous for their volatile weather conditions.
Not only does New Zealand have clearly-defined seasons, there are plenty of attractions to suit every passing phase. The Cardrona Valley transitions from a prime ski destination in the winter into a cool mountain biking terrain in the summer. Not too far away, Arrowtown is renowned for its autumn festival, bringing plenty of foliage to admire as the temperatures drop. And, of course, the summers are the best time to soak up those wonderful coastlines you’ll come across during your stay.
Birds, prehistoric reptiles, rare dolphins and many other marine creatures — a trip to New Zealand will bring animal-lovers a trove of wildlife to discover. The famed kiwi birds can be seen at selected reserves and zoos, particularly in Auckland, Rotorua, and Wellington. There are various tours that will expose you to the marine life, and you’ve got your pick of predator-free islands along the Bay of Islands, Hauraki Gulf, Wellington, and Marlborough Sounds to explore as well.
New Zealand’s crystal blue lakes will astound anyone who sees them. Hidden gems like Lake Quill are a once-in-a-lifetime sight, and distinctive wonders like Lake Taupo are consistently complemented by magnificent waterfalls. Then there’s also Lake Rotorua and Tongariro’s Emerald Lake, which will amaze passing visitors with their geothermal-induced colours.
Here’s one key reason to visit that sometimes gets overlooked. New Zealand’s clear, dark skies enable the keenest star gazers to get a good glimpse of the Milky Way and the Southern Cross. The best locations to escape the light pollution and appreciate the twinkling formations are Castlepoint in Wairarapa, Mount John Observatory in Tekapo, Big Sky Stargazing in Aoraki/Mount Cook, Wellington’s Carter Observatory, and the Auckland Stardome.
Not just Hobbiton, either. The Department of Conservation keeps a handy list of places that enabled Peter Jackson to turn Middle-earth into a reality. Even without the visual effects, orcs and fantastical creatures, the landscapes are magical in their own right. Glenorchy, near Queenstown, is among the prime filming spots to check out, as is the neighbouring Mount Earnslaw. Hardcore film buffs should also keep an eye out for other movie-worthy destinations around the country.
Auckland and Christchurch come alive every Chinese New Year with their Lantern Festivals. Wellington’s Cuba Street is home to their own eclectic festivities, Tauranga holds the Jazz Festival every Easter, Queenstown’s Winter Festival is an annual occurrence, and there are oodles of concerts and events throughout the year. In other words, no matter where you’re heading, you’ll always be entertained by a regular lineup of local activities.