A gorgeous country with friendly people and lots of things to do, New Zealand has become a top destination over the past few years. Like Australia, European settlers made homes in New Zealand in the 1800s and learned to live alongside the indigenous people. But don’t be fooled into thinking these two countries are similar. They may be neighbors, but New Zealand and Australia are very different countries with their own unique identities. If the two countries were human, Australia would be the fun, active party type, while New Zealand would be the laid back, smart, and cool.
The Beauty of New Zealand’s South Island – If New Zealand is known for one thing, it’s the incredible natural beauty. The country has everything from lush rolling hills to majestic, snow-covered peaks, from fjords and lakes to gorgeous beaches. It doesn’t get more beautiful than the South Island, though, particularly the West Coast. While you’re there you can see the Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier, which can be accessed by helicopter for an unforgettable hike through the ice. Go during ski season and hit the slopes as well. Don’t miss Milford Sound in the South, where you’ll see dramatic waterfalls and fjords. Hiking, kayaking, and jet-boating are popular ways to view the beauty there, or relax and take it all in on a scenic train tour.
Middle-earth – Peter Jackson arguably put New Zealand on the map, tourism-wise, after shooting his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies there. The movies took advantage of the amazing landscapes in this country. They were perfect for creating the other-worldly feel the movie required. You can visit many of the film locations and see where it all happened with your own eyes. The green rolling hills around the town of Matamata became the setting for the Shire, where Bilbo Baggins lives. Tour are available for you to see the sets. The “Hobbiton” sets were built but then removed after the first films were made, and then the whole thing was rebuilt for the Hobbit films and is now there to stay. The majority of the famous filming locations for The Lord of the Rings movies are located on the South Island -yet another reason to visit the South Island.
Maori Culture – Kia ora! Learning about the Maori culture is a must while in New Zealand. The Maori people, originally from Eastern Polynesia, predated the European settlers by more than 500 years and developed their own distinct cultural practices. You’ll no doubt encounter the art, language, and people on your travels through the country, but you can also arrange to be part of a tour that focuses on discovering more about the Maori culture. Learn about the way their ancestors greeted visitors, the games they played, and the way they cook food in the ground; find out about the significance of the face tattoos, the common design elements in Maori art and architecture, and of course the haka. Many cities feature these kinds of tours, including Kaikoura, Rotorua, and Waimarama.
Get Your Adventure On – Helicopter tours, hiking, kayaking, jet-boating, and skiing, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to do in New Zealand. The country is also a hot spot for extreme sports and adrenaline-pumping activities like skydiving, white water rafting, zip lining, and Zorbing. It was a New Zealander, A. J. Hackett, who started organizing commercial bungee jumping, in 1986, seven years after it appeared in the U.K., and its not difficult to find bungee operators in New Zealand now.
The Geothermal Features of Rotorua – Rotorua stinks – literally. This town in the North Island smells like sulfur (that not-so-delightful rotten egg smell) because of its intense geothermal activity. Visit and you’ll see bubbling mud pots, steam rising from the hot pools of water everywhere, and bursting geysers. These features aren’t very common in the world; only Japan, Russia, Iceland, and the U.S. have areas of similar geothermal activity. So it’s an incredible opportunity to see one of earth’s rare wonders. To really get up close and personal, consider going to a spa where you can soak in the health benefits of the mineral waters in hot baths and mineral pools. While you’re at it, get a massage, too – after all, you’re on vacation.
Glow Worm Caves – Glow worms are insects that glow with bioluminescence, like fireflies, and they’re plentiful (relatively speaking) in both Australia and New Zealand. Make the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves part of your itinerary, and you’ll see thousands of these little creatures light up the cave as you travel through by boat – a truly wondrous site. Waitomo is located in the North Island, not too far from Rotorua.
Whales, Dolphins, Seals, and Penguins – New Zealand is a great place to see an abundance of wild animals you might otherwise never see in your lifetime. Head out on a whale-spotting sea tour. Two good places to try are Auckland, a city in the North Island, and Kaikoura, in the South Island. You’ll likely also encounter some dolphins on your boat trip. You may see the common dolphin, the bottle-nosed dolphin, the dusky dolphin, or even the rare Hector’s dolphin, which lives only in the waters off New Zealand. After whales and dolphins, go check out some seals. In Kaikoura, you can walk out to see the seal colony up close and personal – but not too close -watch out that you don’t trip over a seal sunning herself.