It is hard to describe how I feel about my whirlwind vacation in New Zealand, but one thing is certain – one week we spent there was nothing short of amazing. Our trip was jam-packed with spellbinding sights, finest food and wine, exciting activities and, believe it or not, we even managed to squeeze in some quality down-time in the beautiful mountains of the South Island. The rich culture, high standard of living, hospitable people and stunning nature of New Zealand make it a perfect destination for solo travelers, couples and families alike. It truly is one of the most astounding parts of the world I have seen and the fact that it is tucked away and somewhat off the beaten track, makes it even more special. If you are considering a trip to New Zealand, believe me, there are countless reasons why you’ll fall in love with this country and most probably won’t want to leave (or start planning a return trip right away). While we covered a lot of ground and did a lot of activities, I wanted to start my series about our antipodean adventures by sharing my personal views on what makes this country so special and the reasons you should travel to New Zealand.
1. FRIENDLY PEOPLE
New Zealanders, colloquially known as Kiwis, are truly a very friendly people and excel at making you feel welcomed. You can always rely on a local to share interesting stories about their country and then send you on your way feeling like you have made a friend for life. They are always keen to assist in case you need an advice or recommendation. My father-in-law loves talking to locals everywhere he goes, saying it’s the best way to find local gems. I remember he stopped a random lady in the street of Auckland asking her for a good pizza place in the neighborhood. Not only did she share her favorite spot, but she escorted us there and made sure we were introduced to the owner. It was a very pleasant spot with lovely courtyard hidden in the back, and they most certainly served delicious pizza. In short, don’t be shy to reach out and communicate with Kiwis, they love it and are always keen to help out or just chat. Most importantly, there’s a strong cultural identity here and it’s easy to come away feeling privileged to have experienced it. It was very inspiring to see how everyone truly loves their country and is so rightly proud of where they live.
2. MAORI CULTURE
The indigenous people of New Zealand arrived more than 1000 years ago from Polynesia, and make up around 15% of the country’s population. This culture, woven with that of the European settlers, makes for an interesting and sometimes dramatic backdrop to today’s New Zealand. The traditions and tales of generations of Maori are still evident around the country. Carving, weaving and tattooing are common Maoki art forms, as are powerful physical performances combining waita (singing) and haka (dance). You can watch haka performed by the national rugby team, the All Blacks, before their matches. Auckland Musuem and Wellington’s Te Papa Tongarewa are great places to learn more about Maori history.
3. STUNNING NATURE
You see videos and photos and think you are prepared for it, but you really aren’t cause no visuals give it justice. From sweeping seascapes and soaring mountains to volcanic peaks and rainforest-clad gorges, the scenery in New Zealand is varied and spellbinding. From the Southern Alps, to the rugged West Coast, to the lakes, to the beaches, to the fjords, the glaciers, the geysers and the green, green, green everything… it truly is a perfect place to escape into the wilderness. We’d see one lake and think it cannot get better than this and then arrive to the other lake and be wow-ed again. New Zealand is definitely a paradise for nature lovers, and even if you aren’t it will turn you into one. Cities of New Zealand are great, but it is what lies beyond the cityscape that will astound. The best way to explore is to rent a car or a good private tour to explore. I’d also highly recommend exploring both North and South islands as there are places not to be missed in both places. It was really inspiring to see how keen Kiwis are about preserving the nature and how very environmentally conscious everybody is.
4. FINE FOOD & WINE
We have some delightful meals during our trip and New Zealand wine is really delicious. We did two wine tasting tours – Waiheke Island and Central Otago wineries, which boasts high-quality varietals including chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir and riesling. Marlborough is another region producing one of the finest wines in the country. Rolling hills covered with vineyards provide an amazing scene for sipping a glass of wine and enjoying fine food. Due to rich volcanic soil, local produce in New Zealand is truly delicious. Much like Japan, local restaurants focus on serving seasonal ingredients, so you always enjoy the best of the season. Lots of towns and cities have a weekly farmers market which is great for buying locally sourced goods and Kiwi’s take a lot of pride in where there food comes from.
5. NUMEROUS ACTIVITIES
New Zealand is a perfect place for outdoor activities, and there is so much to do that you will never get bored. From extreme sports to mellow family-oriented activities, there is something for everybody. You can try everything from snow-boarding to surfing, hiking to white water rafting. Queenstown in particular is heaven for adrenaline-junkies: bungee jumping (did you know it was invented in New Zealand?), zorbing, paragliding, and skydiving are just a few varieties of extreme sports you could consider trying. However, it’s not just the extreme sports on offer, there is also fishing, sailing, scuba diving, mountain biking, swinging, zip-lining and even Luging.
New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world, with a very low crime rate. So wherever you go, you will not feel unsafe or threatened.
It may sound a bit rudimentary to some, but I love drinking water and will take it over a can of soda or even a glass of freshly squeezed juice any time. In New Zealand, there are more than 425,000 km of rivers and streams, about 4,000 lakes and over 200 underground aquifers. Therefore, water is relatively abundant. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that water in New Zealand is as pure as it gets, and buying a bottled water is essentially a waste of money. Except in exceptional circumstances, NZ tap water is universally safe to drink.
8. NOTHING CAN HARM OR KILL YOU
Unlike the neighboring Australia, which comes with all sorts of lethal and terrifying creatures, New Zealand is completely void of any mammal predators or harmful animals like venomous snakes, scorpions or venomous insects. Its sole venomous native spider – the rare katipō – has almost mythical status. Few New Zealanders have ever seen one, let alone been bitten. Despite their reputation, there is no solid evidence that anyone has died from a katipō bite in the last 100 years. Apparently, it nests in remote beaches, and is poisonous only 6 weeks a year. Basically you must be really unlucky to be stung by it. Our guide told us that the worst and most common thing that can potentially happen to you is being stung by a bee. In a nutshell, I’ve never been so calm and relaxed while trekking through the forest.
9. UNIQUE WILDLIFE, FLORA & FAUNA
New Zealand is an incredible destination for wildlife. It is home to the endangered kiwi bird and Kea (rated as one of the most intelligent in the world). Besides the birdlife, you can whale watch, spot wild dolphins and even seals. If you are lucky you can even see the world’s smallest penguin.
10. IT IS JUST LIKE MIDDLE-EARTH
This ties back to my point about stunning nature. After filming the entirety of the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, Peter Jackson decided that New Zealand had everything he needed to film The Hobbit Trilogy as it already was “the perfect Middle -earth.” We visited The Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata and it did feel like we were transported to the magical world of hobbits. Definitely a must-do when you visit New Zealand.