Hi, everyone, I’m Patty Kim. Get ready and pack your bags for the playground known as New Zealand; a country whose people are nicknamed for their famous flightless bird, the kiwi.
New Zealand… it was discovered by humans less than a thousand years ago… then re-discovered by moviegoers in 2001, when the island nation’s stunning landscapes were splashed across theater screens worldwide, standing in for Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings.
New Zealand’s two main islands lie off the southeast coast of Australia. Put together, the north and south island are about the size of Colorado… but they pack plenty of geography into a small space. From the peaks of the Southern Alps… to mossy forests ideal for hiking… the scenery here lures not just sightseers, but travelers looking to go outside and play.
The majority of New Zealanders, about 75% percent, live on the North Island. Its biggest city, Auckland, is also the biggest city in the country, and nearly surrounded by water. Auckland claims to have more boats per person than any other city in the world, so it’s a great place to sample a favorite Kiwi pastime… sailing.
If you want to get away from the city lights, Tongariro National Park is one of the North Island’s most popular places to go hiking, or trekking, as the Kiwis call it. Bubbling mud signals that the area is still volcanically active.
But most people seeking adventure head for the South Island, where there’s fewer people and more wilderness. Christchurch is the gateway city. Originally settled by the British, it’s been called the most English city outside of England. You can even go punting on the Avon River, passing through the botanical gardens… a relaxing way to unwind from an international flight.
Nearly a third of the South Island is protected as national park land. There are trails for trekking, rivers and lakes for kayaking, caves to explore, rocks to climb, and plenty of mountains for biking. The fly fishing is considered some of the world’s best. Fishing here may look serene, but landing a beauty in this pristine setting is heart-pounding in its own way.
While you’re outside, keep your eyes open for New Zealand’s native wildlife. Fur seals are common along rocky coasts. At Curio Bay, you can spot yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore after their daily fishing trip, from late afternoon until sunset.
For a closer look at wildlife, head to the town of Kaikoura. Here, deep waters close to shore attract a wide variety of marine mammals. Hop on a whale watching tour for a chance to see humpbacks, sperm whales, and orca whales. And with its clear water and good visibility, Kaikoura may be the best place in New Zealand to put on some flippers and go swimming with dolphins.
If you’re planning to be outdoors, the best time to visit New Zealand is during its summer months of December, January, and February. The most flexible way of getting around is by rental car. Just remember to drive on the left… and watch out for sheep, on the way to your next destination.