Although often times in the gigantic shadow of its Australian neighbor, New Zealand is worlds apart from any experience found elsewhere and it is geographically much farther southeast than most people imagine. New Zealand is a former British colony, with fascinating cultural influences due to its location in southern Polynesia. Large swaths of rolling green meadows, churning geysers, creaking glaciers, and never-ending stretches of magical overgrown beaches encourage travelers to make the long haul across oceans to indulge in the disarming natural beauty of New Zealand year after year.
New Zealand was one of the last landmasses to be inhabited, only discovered in 800 AD by Polynesian navigator Kupe. The discovery initiated a steady stream of migration from today’s French Polynesia until Dutch Abel Tasman and finally James Cook came across the islands and claimed them for the British Crown, ruled from Australia. The native Maori people are still a considerable minority, enriching the cultural climate of the largely European (Pakeha) nation.
Cinematic Sanctuaries and Bungy* Jumping Buffs
New Zealand’s geography is divided into two major north-south islands. Depending on where you travel and the time of year, the activities and topography will change dramatically. The South Island is famous for its unique relics of the last Ice Age, the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, which plunge just below the islands tallest peak in the Southern Alps, Mount Cook. These glaciers are particularly spectacular because they continue to flow through temperate rainforest strikingly close to sea level. Winter in the Alps region is excellent for skiing, mountaineering and filmmaking – scenes from The Chronicles of Narnia were filmed here. For a thrilling wildlife experience, do not miss the South Island’s Otago Peninsula where you can enjoy a cozy bed and breakfast among sea lion, sea elephant and penguin habitats, to name a few.
The North Island is relatively warmer during the summer and milder all year long. Put yourself ‘on edge’ with a trip to serene Lake Taupo, which also happens to fill the caldera of one of the largest super-volcanoes in the world. Extreme outdoor sports abound on both islands, as New Zealand is the original inventor of Bungy Jumping (also found at Lake Taupo) among other creatively dangerous activities. The west coasts are extremely popular for black water rafting, otherwise known as cave rafting. This exhilarating experience should not be missed, even by the beginner. If a new heart rate is not what you are looking for, make your leisurely way to Ninety Mile Beach at the very north end of the island; the name is not deceiving and the experience is absolute paradise in the summer months. The Great Barrier Island to the east is a mind blowing underwater experience for most scuba divers and an equally sensational getaway for the sand-bound.
New Zealand is a destination for all seasons, with activities spanning the elements and progressive cities to keep up with those of faster pace. Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown are all very youthful and spirited cities with the distinct eclecticism of New Zealand culture to overload the senses and invigorate the spirit. New Zealand may be far from most places in the world, but it is certainly worth any length of travel to reap the fruit of this nation’s existence. Travel to New Zealand and experience it all for yourself.