28th Nov 2012 3:56pm | By Editor
With its action-packed itineraries, Hollywood good looks and hobbits (probably), New Zealand is a natural blockbuster
It used to be you could count the clichéd images of New Zealand on one hand. One of the mighty AllBlacks running the length of the pitch; lots of sheep and a few mountains.
But with the release of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the country gained muchmore exposure and quickly became the destinationof choice for a new wave of travellers. And we’re not just talking about Ring geeks on the hunt for hobbits and orcs here.
It may merely look like a broken, upside-downItaly on the map, but New Zealand is quite simply one of the most beautiful countries in the world.It boasts mountain ranges that rapidly fi ll your memory cards, boiling hot geysers exploding into the air, vast glaciers, raging rivers that suck you down in a flash and then spit you out just as quick,and cities which are growing quicker than sightings of Lindsay Lohan making a tit of herself.
If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings movies –and if you haven’t, customs won’t let you in –you’ll have an idea of the kind of country you’ll be visiting. And no, there weren’t many special effects to make Middle Earth look that good –it’s almost all natural.
The first thing that hits you is the power of the land. Nowhere are you more privy to the Earth’s ebbs and flows. Whether it’s through traditional Maori tales of gods moving mountains with thunderbolts, or just through plain old observation, you’re given a real sense of the Earth being a powerful, living thing.
Adventure and adrenalin are big in New Zealand. Whitewater raft down knee-trembling rapids, throw yourself off a 320m Sky Tower in the middle of a city, jump out of a plane while spooning a complete stranger and jet boat through a canyon, close enough to see the moss growing on the walls. Queenstown, on the South Island,is the place to be for all sorts of shenanigans.Short of inserting an IV of pure adrenalin into your arm, it’s where it’s at for excitement.
The big three cities are Auckland and Wellington on the North Island, and Christchurch on the south.Each has its own characteristics but they are all urban enclaves surrounded by rugged country, and are traditional launching points for seeing the rest of the country.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, with only around 1.4m inhabitants, and the result is a sprawling mass of suburbs and a city that has a sophistication and style to rival any Southern Hemisphere metropolis.
A healthy smattering of cafés, bars and restaurants gives the impression of an ever-developing area that can keep you busy for more than just a couple of days.
Wellington is the country’s capital and boasts one of the world’s most beautiful harbours, as well as many of NZ’s coolest bars and cafés. It was no great surprise when Lonely Planet named it the world’s fourth best city to visit last year, in their Best in Travelbook. Top for a bit of culture is the superb Te Papa museum, where it’s very easy to lose a day.
Christchurch is the most European of the country’s cities and has a slower vibe than its northern cousins.It’s set on the Avon River, and there are loads ofwalks and museums to enjoy, as well as plenty ofactivities in the surrounding areas to keep you busy.The vibrant, student town of Dunedin is a shortscenic drive south.
But you don’t really come to New Zealand for the cities. It’s the natural landscapes that will make your time worthwhile.
From the beautiful Bay of Islands in the north tothe stunning Fiordland National Park in the south– not forgetting Rotorua, Taupo, Waitomo, Abel Tasman National Park, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier and the Otago Peninsula in between – there’s a good chance you won’t have experienced or seen anything like it before.
If you’re going to travel halfway across the world, you’d be missing out on something special if you don’t get that NZ stamp in your passport.