The remarkable scenery of New Zealand ranges from icy glaciers crawling relentlessly across rocky mountain passes to pastoral meadows dotted with sheep. This is a land where you might spot a Hobbit in the Shire – but don’t hold your breath – or Bungy jump from a dizzying height – you probably will hold your breath. The culture is rich and diverse, as are the flora and fauna. The opportunity for active pursuits is nearly endless. If that’s not enough to have you packing your bags, here are seven more tempting reasons to visit New Zealand.
1. Maori Culture is Integral to New Zealand’s Identity
The Maori (pronounced MAW-ree) are the indigenous people of New Zealand. They came to the islands from Polynesia more than 1,000 years ago, handing down fascinating myths and legends for generations. They call New Zealand Aotearoa, or “the land of the long white cloud” and Maori is one of the official languages.
Learn about Maori traditions of carving, weaving, storytelling, and kappa haka (singing and dance) at a marae or tribal meeting grounds. You’ll see traditional Maori tattoo or moko worn on the face and body. Expect to be greeted with the traditional Maori pressing of noses! Travel Maestro tip: Te Puia and Tamaki Village in Rotorua are two of the best places to experience the Maori culture.
2. New Zealand’s Food and Wine are World-Class
Kiwis love their food, rightfully because it is some of the freshest you will find anywhere. The distinctive Pacific Rim cuisine includes loads of seafood like green-lipped mussels, Bluff oysters, and fresh fish, as well as celebrated lamb dishes. Dining is casual and fun, exemplified by the outdoor barbie, or barbeque.
New Zealand also has many high-quality wineries and vineyards. A long ripening period gives New Zealand wines a vibrant intensity that pairs so well with the fabulous food. During the summer, lively wine and food festivals abound and are a chance to experience Kiwi hospitality at its best. Travel Maestro tip: Foodies and oenophiles, be sure to travel some of the Classic Wine Trail stretching from Wellington to Hawke’s Bay. Along the trail are sustainable farms and fabulous restaurants, in addition to excellent wineries.
3. Diverse Nature and Wildlife Abound on the North and South Islands
The two major islands of New Zealand have very different characteristics. Both are mountainous with coastal plains. The North Island is more populated and has a warmer, temperate climate, along with vigorous geothermal areas and active volcanoes. The South Island has a more open, spacious feel with spectacular fjords, glaciers, agricultural plains, and hundreds of streams and lakes.
You can whale watch, swim with dolphins or Fur Seals, get a close-up view of charming penguins, or horseback ride through the wilderness. New Zealand is also a birdwatcher’s paradise. It’s home to unique birdlife such as the fuzzy, long-beaked kiwi which is the national symbol. You’ll also spot the warbling tui, and the flittering piwakawaka, as well as 80 types of seabirds in New Zealand. Travel Maestro tip: Nature is the top reason many people visit New Zealand. Plan to spend a lot of your time outdoors taking in the marvelous spectacle of nature.
4. New Zealand is a Water Sports Mecca
With the ninth longest coastline in the world, Kiwis love the water and make full use of it by sailing, surfing, kayaking, diving, fishing, and rafting. Basically, if you can do it on the water, it’s can be found in New Zealand.
The Bay of Islands on the North Island is a popular place for fishing, scuba, and dolphin encounters. On the South Island, take a sightseeing cruise or kayak tour through the glacier-carved landscape of Fiordland National Park. Travel Maestro tip: The breathtaking scenery of Milford Sound on the South Island is simply beyond words (see top image).
5. Explore New Zealand’s Geothermic Wonders
In and around Rotorua on the North Island, steam floats from the ground and you can feel the heat underfoot. You can smell the sulfur as mud pools bubble and gurgle and geysers spew boiling water in great bursts. Walkways provide safe access to view these geothermal phenomena. You can even visit the edge of a steaming volcano crater!
New Zealand’s renewable geothermal resources have been used for centuries for cooking and heating. Travel Maestro tip: Another fine use of the naturally heated water? A relaxing soak in a thermal spring!
6. Kiwis Practically Invented Adventure Travel
New Zealand is an adventure lover’s playground that offers every adrenaline booster you can imagine from bungy jumping to caving and skydiving to white water rafting. For those who love the thrill of acceleration, you can get it in the air zip-lining, on the ground 4-wheeling, or on the water jet-boating.
If you still have energy, add canyoning, mountain biking, hang gliding, and parasailing to your vacation. Travel Maestro tip: Try the unique Kiwi adventure invention of zorbing which consists of rolling down a hill inside a huge clear plastic sphere!
7. New Zealand is Home of Middle-earth
More than 150 locations around New Zealand were used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit Trilogy. The country’s dramatic scenery of soaring mountains and magical valleys was a perfect real-life match for the fictional Tolkien world of Middle-earth.
Visit the Hobbiton to see the Party Tree and Bag End in person. Spend a day exploring the many filming locations in the towering mountains and native forests around Glenorchy. Take a walking or rafting tour to see the twinkling glow worms that live in the Waitomo Caves. Travel Maestro tip: Some of the sound in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was recorded in the Waitomo Caves because of their acoustic quality.
Keep in mind that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere. That means Kiwi seasons are the reverse of North America’s and Europe’s. The best times to visit are spring (October – November) and fall (March – April), unless, of course, you want to ski the Southern Alps. Then you should go in winter (June through August).
All images graciously provided by New Zealand Tourism.