Located in the Southern Pacific – more than 1200 miles from the mainland of Australia – New Zealand is an ecologically diverse land unique in its beauty. This wonderful country has an almost dreamlike quality inspiring reverence in natives and visitors alike.
New Zealand, named as the “land of the long white cloud” by early Māori settlers, is, without a doubt, a spectacular country shaped by calamitous events. Being completely isolated from other land masses for centuries, New Zealand boasts plant and animal species found nowhere on the planet.
There was a time when many species of flightless birds thrived in New Zealand because they had no natural predators. However, unchecked hunting of this easy prey by the Māori, brought several bird species to near extinction, forcing the Islanders to explore alternative avenues such as fishing and agriculture.
AUCKLAND – THE CITY OF SAILS
Most travelers arrive by air, landing at Auckland’s International Airport – roughly, a 12-hour haul from North America.
Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city, home to some 1.4 million people and is the economic hub of the country. New Zealanders – nicknamed Kiwis after their national animal – are proud of their clean, green, and sophisticated city.
Some of the city’s key sites include the wonderful Auckland Museum which is also the city’s war memorial.
The amazing 328-meter-high Sky Tower is located at the center of Auckland. It is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere offering fabulous views of the city. For the highly adventurous, Skyjump at 192 meters, is the best place to throw yourself off from.
In the evening, you can board a harbor dinner cruise to enjoy the magnificent city skyline from the water – the perfect way to end your day in this awesome city.
The picturesque tourist town of Paihia is the gateway to the area known as the “Bay of Islands.” This maritime area boasts more than 140 islands with some of the country’s most glorious coastline abundant with fish and wildlife.
Here, one of the best activities to indulge in would be kayaking – the best way to explore and enjoy the region’s subtropical coastline. You can take your sea kayak to the spectacular Haruru Falls. In the Māori language Haruru means ‘big noise’ because the water here cascades over the cliff in a ceaseless deafening roar – it is an awesome sight to behold!
WAITANGI TREATY GROUNDS
Often referred to as the “birthplace of the nation,” the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is one of New Zealand’s most historic sites – if not THE most. It was here that the famous treaty was signed between Māori chiefs and Britain.
The treaty ensured unfair advantage for the Brits as the Māori people were not able to grasp the treaty’s fine print because of language differences. This caused fighting to break out between the new and old settlers.
You can explore the Treaty Grounds yourself or take a guided tour departing daily from the visitor’s center.
A ferry from the port of Opua, across the water, is the best way of arriving at the attractive fishing town of Russell with its alluring restaurants, shops, and galleries. You will find the bay teeming with sailboats, motorboats, and yachts of every description.
It’s a visual pleasure to stroll through the delightful waterfront walkway.
A short drive will take you away from town to the majestic Kauri Forest. The Kauri is the largest species of tree in New Zealand. The size and strength of its timber made it a popular wood for construction and shipbuilding particularly for masts of sailing ships.
CAPE BRETT LIGHTHOUSE
A day trip to the Cape Brett Lighthouse is the way to go. For those who like the challenge can make the journey on foot – a more-than-invigorating eight-hour hike. Or, you can take an easier route and make part of the trip by water. Once at the lighthouse site, a short but steep climb takes you up to the Cape Brett Lighthouse. It is the site of one of New Zealand’s early shipwrecks.
Hawkes Bay, fondly referred to as the fruit bowl of New Zealand, is located on the central East Coast of the North Island. It is an area swathed in rolling hills, undulating meadows, orchards, and vineyards. Dramatic sea cliffs and coastal bays surround acres upon acres of park-like farmland. The area is known for its Mediterranean-like climate – sunny, dry, and ideal for vacation getaways.
Sitting pretty on the bay is the town of Napier, known for its Art Deco style of architecture. Back in 1931, a horrific earthquake devastated the city destroying most of the buildings.
Cape Kidnappers is another Hawkes Bay spot not to be missed at any cost. It is home to a massive colony of Gannet birds. These birds usually nest on inaccessible islands. The birds are master fishers, plunging into the ocean at great speeds invariable striking their mark every time – well almost!
ROTORUA – SULPHUR CITY
Famous for its geothermal activity, Rotorua is an excellent area where you can stroll through the lush rainforest reserve to see and smell the gushing geysers, steaming vents, and bubbling mud pools.
Dubbed the gumboot capital of the world, Taihape is an excellent stopover town. If you are lucky enough to pass through this town around Easter time, you can witness the Welly Wanging Championship – an eagerly contested gumboot throwing annual competition which most locals take part in for the trophy.
Located at the south-western tip of New Zealand’s North Island, Wellington is the capital and second largest city of this mesmerizing country down under. It is one of New Zealand’s most fabulous destinations.
You can start your city tour from the center of government – the Parliamentary Library Building and the modernist Beehive. Nearby, the old St. Paul’s Church – the former cathedral of Wellington – is a wonderful example of 19th-century Gothic revival architecture. Built in 1866, it is still one of the country’s best-loved landmarks.
The surrounding hills and the stunning coastline provide the scenic satisfaction which New Zealand is so well known for. The exciting inner city with its art galleries, boutiques, trendy cafés, and restaurants, not to forget the theaters and museums, make for a perfect romantic setting.
A visit to New Zealand’s treasure house, the National Museum is a must if you have plenty of time as the place is spread out over six levels
Wellington is also the hub of New Zealand’s film industry, becoming even more famous by serving as the filming and production center for blockbusters like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and its prequel trilogy -The Hobbit, along with Avatar, Tin Tin and District 9.
Wellington has the distinction of being voted the 4th best city in the world to visit by “Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2011” calling it the “coolest little capital in the world.”