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Have you ever been to New Zealand? Most of us would have to answer "no," but that is unfortunate since New Zealand is one of the most beautiful and interesting places on the planet. I will never forget my incredible experience there, and I can, without reservation, fully recommend this very close and yet far away land to anyone hemming and hawing over where to take their next vacation.

Some of the benefits of visiting New Zealand include:

  • Pristine wilderness and unparalleled natural wonders surround you at every turn.
  • Many species of animals live here that are found no where else on earth.
  • Unique and memorable museums, historical landmarks, and other popular tourist stops abound.
  • Maori cultural traditions continue unabated into modern times, giving you a glimpse of a very old and radically different way of life. More subtle cultural differences discovered between the European-descended populace and that of Australia or the U.K. will also be appreciated.
  • Since New Zealand is a modern, Westernized nation, you can enjoy all the conveniences you are accustomed to while exploring this far-off land.

Some travel tips that may come in handy are:

  1. Bring a variety of clothing types since New Zealand stretches from the borders of the sub-tropics, through the temperate zone, and down to areas chilled by the cold southern winds.
  2. Bring a good international SIM card to keep yourself in touch with the rest of the world while away. Phone calls, text messages, and internet access can all be boosted and expanded by getting the right SIM. This was something I learned all too late, but if I ever went again, I would obtain a great international SIM card before ever leaving home.
  3. Map out your travel plans ahead of time, but be open to finding unexpected "bonus stops" along the way. Travel both North and South Island if you can to get the most diverse experience. Personally, I found that I could not go everywhere I wanted to all in one trip, so I am definitely planning another excursion.

The Basic Lay of the Land

New Zealand lies isolated in the mid-southern Pacific over 1,500 km (900 mi) from Australia. It consists of two main parts: North Island and South Island. There are also a number of smaller isles offshore. The shape of South Island is somewhat long and skinny, and the majestic, snow-capped Southern Alps are its "backbone." North Island has a good number of active volcanoes, a large lake (Lake Taupo) in its center, and is shaped something like an upside down boot.

Touring North Island

I arrived in Auckland from Sydney and proceeded to tour the town. I watched a professional rugby match at Eden Park, investigated the Stardome Observatory, and explored the New Zealand Maritime Museum, which has exhibits that span from the first Polynesian settlers right up to modern times.

Next day, I went fishing and sailing on Lake Taupo. I caught the brown and rainbow trout the lake is stocked with along with the local whitebait. They were delicious. The view of the surrounding volcanoes reminded me that the lake was really just a water-filled, volcanic crater.

The next stop was on the west coast of North Island- New Plymouth. There I walked the gigantic botanical garden that is Pukekura Park. Amongst the plant life, both local and exotic, I sat on Poet's Bridge and gazed over Fountain Lake. It was early February, so I was there for the Festival of Lights. The whole place was lit up that night like a Christmas tree. Soon I darted off to nearby Mt. Taranaki, a snow-capped peak that is encircled by greenery and quaint little farms. It was quite worth the extra trip to behold that mountain's beauty.

At North Island's southern tip, in Wellington, I visited the zoo, rode the cable car, and looked over the cultural and artistic treasures housed at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. That last phrase translates, roughly, "the place of the treasures of our land." Since Wellington is the capital, I also had a look at the Beehive, the government building that is shaped just like its name sounds.

Touring South Island

Just over the straight, to the north of Nelson, I camped for a couple days at Abel Tasman National Park. I encountered huge swarms of sea birds, wild boars, deer, possum, unique frogs and lizards, wild goats, and more. The forested hills and valleys are traversed by many streams, and it is truly a wilderness experience. I also did a little kayaking while there out to Tata Island in Golden Bay.

I moved on to Christchurch where I saw the International Antarctic Centre. This is the place where Antarctic expeditions begin, and they have educational and entertaining tours as well. Also in town is the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, which had numerous old-time military planes on display. Finally, just on the outskirts of Christchurch, is the "open range zoo" called Orana Wildlife Park. Funny, I hadn't expected to find lions roaming about in New Zealand.

Next, I saw the Moeraki Boulders along Koekohe Beach. These rocks are "odd in their regularity." That is, they are almost perfectly spherical. They were exposed by the ocean's waves when surrounding mudstone was eroded. While there, I dined on a fish and chips at an on-site restaurant.

Finally, I reached the southwest corner of South Island for my final stop. It was the beautiful deep-cut fiords of the "Fiordland" region. Mountains rise sharply out of the sea, some of them rising so high that they wear a cap of snow.

Memories That Will Not Fade

The Maori didn't arrive in New Zealand until around 1250 A.D., and few Europeans settled there until the 19th Century. I guess I wasn't the only one a little late in discovering the wonders of New Zealand. One thing is certain, however- I will never forget the experience. These are memories that will never fade.


Written by Luke Duggan — February 17, 2015

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