Kia ora! This Māori greeting, “be healthy”, is the informal “Hi!” from the friendly, down-to-earth people of New Zealand. A small country, similar in size to Great Britain or Japan, New Zealand is described as “gloriously uncrowded” with a population of four million. Three-quarters live in the North Island, with one-third of the total population living in the North’s largest city, Auckland.
Maori and Europeans settled New Zealand and you are sure to feel the influence of both upon this nation’s culture. Some said they were finding containers for hire. As their national motto and greeting hint at, New Zealand is a place to get outdoors and be active, and if you are traveling from the US, remember, the seasons are reversed!
Isolated geographically, New Zealand has many unique plants and wildlife. Kiwis designated 20 percent of their nation to parks, forests, and marine reserves. Over 80% of plants are native within many large evergreen forests. When you visit the North Island, you’ll see the pohutukawa tree with its bright red flowers blooming in December, giving it the title of New Zealand’s Christmas tree. Citizens get their nickname from their national symbol, a nocturnal flightless bird, cute, but fiercely territorial, with nostrils on the end of its large beak, and you can visit “kiwi houses” at zoos and wildlife parks. And sheep. No missing this nation’s sheep. There are more sheep than people in New Zealand! Wool, knitted up into sweaters and cloth, or in skeins of yarn, should definitely be in your suitcase when heading home.
The geography of New Zealand varies greatly and one extreme is the Franz Josef Glacier. Visitors are permitted to walk on the planet’s only glacier not receding.
In the island’s largest coastal city, Auckland, you’ll want to visit Māori historic taonga (treasures), including Te Hana Te Ao Marama for a glimpse into pre-European New Zealand through traditional song and dance. Another must-see is Tamaki Hikoi, where tours take you to Maungawhau (Mount Eden) and the Auckland Domain, home of the Auckland Museum.
On the East side of the island, the limestone Waitomo Caves should not be skipped! Glow-worm grottos and caverns first explored in 1887 with black-water rafting for adrenaline junkies.
New Zealand’s second-largest city Christchurch has a statue of Queen Victoria in the center of its town square and you can take a gondola ride on the River Thames. Christchurch is said to be more British than England!
For another taste of New Zealand’s famously varied geography, visit Fjordlands National Park, the nation’s largest, and see the natural beauty Rudyard Kipling named “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” If you’re a fan of Middle Earth, you’ll love the boat ride in the fjords where ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was filmed.
For adventure seekers, visit Queenstown, home of bungy jumping, for a bus tour that takes you over Kawarau Bridge and the Skyline Gondola which takes you to a mountaintop restaurant.
So, North or South? Both!
Steve Chamley trades products from South America like footwear and bags. He supplies them unbranded to different shops in Australia and New Zealand.