Mountain lakes, braided rivers, snowcapped rugged peaks, dramatic fiords, temperate rainforests, majestic glaciers, spectacular geothermal features, 9400 miles of shoreline… Does this sound like heaven to you? If so, the youngest country on earth is calling your name, and it’s a travel experience that you can truly feel good about.
Called Aotearoa—“Land of the Long White Cloud”—by the native Maori, New Zealand was the last major landmass on earth to be discovered by humans. As these striking islands became inhabited by greater numbers of people, the populace realized that they had found a rare gem, and were determined to protect it. Today, one-third of New Zealand’s total area is publicly owned and preserved for scenic, scientific, cultural and recreational purposes. In a country the size of the state of Colorado, this 30% equates to approximately 31,000 square miles of protected land.
Unlike many other tourist destinations, this is not the place to vacation to if you’re looking for all-inclusive resorts, theme parks, or lazily lounging in the ocean. New Zealand’s passions are sustainable tourism and cultural understanding, and most recreational opportunities offer an unparalleled authentic experience. Instead of clustered all-inclusive resorts, you’ll find hostels, eco-friendly hotels, secluded lodges and resorts, farmstays, vacation homes and other less imposing accommodations. Also, New Zealand’s location between 37°S Latitude and 47°S Latitude makes much of the surf quite chilly, so wet suits are highly recommended over traditional bikinis and swim trunks, especially in the waters surrounding the South Island. Do not let these cold seas dissuade you however—incredibly bountiful and diverse marine life can be found here. Whale watching and swimming with dolphins are two of the most highly recommended tourist experiences. If you’re lucky, you might just see the world’s rarest dolphin—the Hector's Dolphin—a shy, small marine mammal that is only found in New Zealand’s coastal waters.
Living up to its young heritage, New Zealand takes an energetic approach to its recreational opportunities. The best and often only way to see New Zealand’s breathtaking landscapes up close is to hike through them (or “tramp” as locals call it). Aotearoa’s trekking opportunities vary from easy strolls through ancient rainforests, to daunting mountain climbs, and everything in between. There is something for absolutely everyone, with a variety of accommodation options for overnight and multiday treks. You can camp, stay in communal huts, or even backpack to lodges that offer first-rate rooms and gourmet meals.
The best suggestions for hikers are to plan early, make the necessary reservations, and to be prepared for anything and everything that nature may send your way. New Zealand’s rugged terrain creates chaotic weather patterns, so a beautiful sunny day can change to rain or blinding snow without warning. The Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ) is also quite active, so it’s highly recommended that you check geologic conditions with the Department of Conservation prior to any geothermal tours. One element of nature that outdoor enthusiasts rarely have to be worried about is the wildlife. There are no poisonous animals or large carnivores on New Zealand’s dry land, and insects may be slightly pesky, but are usually quite harmless. Instead, New Zealand is a bird mecca, and a highly recommended locale for avian buffs. Contact the DOC with any questions, indicate your planned itinerary, and book popular track routes in advance. New Zealand limits the number of visitors that can hike a track on any given day, which ensures an unhindered, authentic experience with nature for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. A little preparation goes a long way here, and the rewards are limitless.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles on New Zealand’s vast recreational and cultural destinations.