An island nation of 4.4 million people (and a disproportionate amount of sheep), New Zealand is a hot spot located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean off the coast of big brother Australia. The Colorado-sized country consists of two main islands – the North Island and the South Island. While the North has cosmopolitan cities, active volcanoes and geothermal activity, the South delivers the Southern Alps mountain range, fertile green farmlands and Queenstown, “the adventure capital of the world.” With sweeping vistas, stunning landscape, Polynesian spa thermal hot springs and natural beauty so magical it serves as a cinematic backdrop for mythical lands, New Zealand is at the top of many travelers’ ‘go to’ lists. True, NZ has been on the tourist radar for quite some time now, but this year is an opportune time to explore this diverse and fascinating country. From wine tasting to bungy jumping, Maori traditional dance to whale watching, worm eating and Hobbit hopping, New Zealand has an activity for every type of traveler.
NZ FOR THE THRILL SEEKER: New Zealand is a Mecca for adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies. There are a seemingly endless amount of risky activities that will have you plummeting, speeding or soaring towards heart-pumping awesomeness at break-neck speeds. If you’re looking for an alternative to skydiving, luging, abseiling, mountain biking, jet boating and Shweebing along a human-powered mono-rail racetrack, try caving with glow worms or rafting the highest commercial waterfall. Drive the “School Bully,” the world’s biggest monster truck or go Zorbing downhill in a giant plastic hamster ball. In Queenstown, you can bungy jump with the world’s original bungy company AJ Hackett. Earn your street cred by taking the Nevis Bungy plunge, the highest Bungy in Australasia where you can jump from a high wire cable car some 430 feet above the Nevis River and score 8.5 seconds of freefall.
NZ FOR THE CULTURE VULTURE: Te Puia, the cultural center in Rotorua, is one of many places where visitors can learn about the rich history and heritage of the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people. Learn Maori customs and beliefs, including the Kapa Haka, a dance traditionally performed by Maori men before entering battle. It’s part throat exam, part ferocious dance of war. Eyes bulge, face muscles contort and pink tongues extend in this cultural act of manhood. Post performance, be sure to visit Pohutu Geyser, the largest active geyser in New Zealand and the southern hemisphere. Regarded by the Maori as a gift from the gods, this geyser erupts some 20 times each day, reaching heights of up to 100 feet.
NZ FOR WINE LOVERS: Sip some of the world’s finest Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays in the wine growing regions of New Zealand. Swain (www.swaintours.com), a leading US-based travel provider, offers several wine tours across the country. If you’re in the North, “Martinborough Wine Tour” offers a day of tastings across the Hutt Valley with Wairarapa’s leading wine makers. Or check out “West Auckland Wine Tour,” a trip will take you to the wineries of the Kumeu region, just 20 minutes from downtown Auckland. Stop at award-winning boutique wineries such as Murdoch James, Te Kairanga, Palliser, Alana Estate and Martinborough before lunching in a vineyard. Swain also offers wine and food tours across Queenstown, the southernmost wine-growing region.
NZ FOR LORD OF THE RINGS GEEKS: Fantasy nerds with a love for all things Middle Earth will be interested in signing up for an official Lord of the Rings tour. Kensington Tours (www.kensingtontours.com), a tour company that specializes in custom tours across some 90 countries, offers a 15-day self-drive trip called “Tolkien’s North and South Island.” Visit the Hobbiton movie set to see the shire, before checking out Tongariro National Park, the setting for the land of Mordor. Follow in the footsteps of Tolkien’s fellowship with a visit to the fairytale filming locations of River Anduin and the Kingdom of Rohan, plus a silversmith stop to see where the “precious” ring was made.