New Zealand is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. New Zealand has been called “God’s own country” and the “Paradise of the Pacific” since the early 1800s. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses – that of the North Island, and the South Island,
New Zealand is a country of stunning and diverse natural beauty: jagged mountains, rolling pasture land, steep fiords, pristine trout-filled lakes, raging rivers, scenic beaches, and active volcanic zones. These islands are one of Earth’s most peculiar bioregions, inhabited by flightless birds seen nowhere else such as a nocturnal, burrowing parrot called the kakapo and kiwi. New Zealanders have adopted the kiwi as a national symbol, and have even taken the word Kiwi as a name for themselves.
These islands are sparsely populated, particularly away from the North Island, but easily accessible. There are sparklingly modern visitor facilities, and transport networks are well developed with Airports throughout the country and well maintained highways. New Zealand often adds an adventure twist to nature: it’s the original home of jet-boating through shallow gorges, and bungy jumping off anything high enough to give a thrill.
In the Mackenzie Country, the snow-capped jagged peaks rising above turquoise lakes have provided the inspiration for many a postcard. Tucked in behind is the country’s highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook. Another region where mountain meets water with striking effect is Fiordland National Park where steep, densely forested mountains rise from the sea. The most accessible and perhaps one of the most beautiful, spots is Milford Sound.
New Zealand is a geological hotspot and has many dormant and active volcanoes, geysers and hot springs. The best place to start is Rotorua, where the smell of sulphur lets you know you’re close to the action. The surrounding countryside has many parks with geysers and hot springs,South of Rotorua is the town of Taupo, on the shores of the country’s largest lake, which was formed in a massive volcanic explosion. Beyond Lake Taupo is Tongariro National Park, dominated by its three volcanoes, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. All three mountains are still active. White Island, a volcanic island just off the coast. The island is truly a different world with its smoke plume, green crater lake and the pohutukawa trees clinging to a fragile existence on the volcanic rock.
New Zealand has very unique plants and animals. One of the most impressive is the kauri tree, one of the biggest species of tree in the world. Few of these giants are left. The beaches of the South Island, particularly The Catlins and the Otago Peninsula, are good places to see marine animals such as penguins, seals and sea lions in their natural habitat.
While the countryside is the main attraction of New Zealand, you’ll need to visit a few cities to see the truth of that. Auckland is a pleasant city with its waterfront districts like the Viaduct Harbour and Mission Bay, old volcanoes (Mt Eden and One Tree Hill), a handful of museums and the Sky Tower, the tallest free-standing building in the Southern Hemisphere. The more interesting architecture and the fine Te Papa museum can be found in Wellington, the nation’s capital.
New Zealand has a wealth of national parks, rural areas and other out-of-the-way places that are worth a visit. Sadly, only Nine of the best are listed below (in alphabetical order), but you’ll find many more as you browse this beautiful country.
- Abel Tasman National Park— golden sand beaches, kayaking and the Abel Tasman Coastal Track
- Aoraki Mount Cook National Park— lots of hiking opportunities and New Zealand’s highest mountain
- Bay of Islands— pretty spot in the North Island with historical significance
- Coromandel Peninsula— rugged coastline with plenty of beaches and hiking opportunities just one and a half hours from Auckland
- Hawke’s Bay— wineries in the hills and art deco architecture in Napier
- Milford Sound— beautiful fiord in Fiordland National Park
- Taupo— trout fishing and adventure activities in the central North Island
- Tongariro National Park— three volcanoes, two skifields and one of the most popular hikes in the country
- Westland National Park— home of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
- Wanaka— two beautiful lakes and the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, canyoning, rock climbing. A small town with a great feel.