Monday, 01 March 2010
IT’S not hard to understand why over two million tourists choose to flock to New Zealand each year.
With its breathtaking scenery, stunning beaches, volcanic activity, fascinating Maori culture as well as action packed activities each one more terrifying than the last, New Zealand offers something for everyone.
Geologically New Zealand is a young country and a sparsely populated one at that. With just over 4 million inhabitants, 1.3 of which live between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, you can travel for miles seeing nothing but sheep and rugged farmland.
Without a doubt one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get around is by campervan and this is a popular option.
Whether you prefer a more luxurious motor home or are happy with a smaller budget car there is no shortage of choice with rental companies all over the country offering cheap packages.
New Zealand is a relatively small country so driving from place to place never takes long. The roads are good too, however you will find yourself crawling along at times as you twist along the windy mountainous roads, but the view you get along the way is always spectacular.
If you are intending on seeing both islands then three weeks should be time enough to see all the major sights, but allow a month for a leisurely look around.
The North Island
The majority of New Zealanders will tell you the South Island is the place to be, and whilst there is no denying that the lower island has more than its fair share of stunning scenery, the North Island certainly has its own unique appeal and should not be overlooked.
Given the country’s position on the Pacific Ring of Fire, volcanic activity is common and a major tourist attraction. Boiling mud pools and steaming springs are evidence of this and are dotted all around the North Island.
Rotorua and Taupo are where the wondrous volcanic activity can be seen at its spectacular best.
Once you get past the smell of Rotorua (it smells unpleasantly like rotten eggs due to the hydrogen sulphide drifting up from vents) it is the perfect place to relax with countless spas, hot springs and mud pools. Geysers are another incredible sight Rotorua has to offer with the Lady Knox Geyser performing on cue every morning.
Both Rotorua and Taupo are the activity playgrounds of the north, white water rafting, sky diving, kayaking, sledging, mountain biking and whatever else you fancy scaring yourself to death with can all be achieved here.
Hot water beach on the Coromandel Peninsula is another example of the country’s wondrous volcanic activity and each day at low tide the beach is filled with people digging their own hole in the sand creating their very own hot pool.
Water quite literally bubbles up from below the sand, making the pools so hot that waves crashing in are necessary to make it bearable to sit in.
The Peninsula itself is beautiful with many sights including Cathedral Cove, gigantic and impressive Kauri trees and numerous other beaches perfect for relaxing or a spot of snorkelling.
Make your way to the very tip of the north; Cape Reinga, stopping along the way at Whangarei for some world class scuba diving at the Poor Knights Islands, and the Bay of Islands for some whale watching or swimming with dolphins.
If you get a good day, Cape Reinga offers a breathtaking view and the short walk to the lighthouse provides some interesting Maori history along the way. Make sure to stop at nearby 90 mile beach to witness the incredible sand dunes and have a go sand boarding down them.
The Waitomo caves in the Waikato province are a definite must see. With over 300 caves there is a package to suit all tastes. Abseiling, black water rafting, caving and climbing are all available.
Though if getting wet isn’t your cup of tea you can take a guided walk through the caves along with a short boat ride and take in the thousands of glow-worms sparkling spectacularly above.
The North’s big city is Auckland, which is pretty and impressive as far as cities go. It offers an abundance of shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, museums, galleries, as well as harbours (two of them) beautiful beaches and a theme park.
But Wellington, the country’s capital is smaller, more manageable and much more appealing. Lively markets, canooers paddling the harbour and countless outdoor cafes bustling with people from all walks of life; all serve to provide a lovely laid back atmosphere.
The city is also known for its cultural diversity and arts with the national museum, Te Papa being a popular tourist attraction.
Although both cities are worth a look, if you are on a tight time scale spend less time in the cities and explore what else the island has to offer.
The South Island
With less than a third of the population of New Zealand residing in the South Island, it is a vast space of natural unspoiled beauty. The Splendour of the dramatic environment coupled with the island’s love for adventure makes the South the more appealing of the two. The world renowned Marlborough wineries and the pretty region of Nelson will kick start your trip.
With these regions boasting year round sunshine you’ll be able to enjoy the many beaches and sample some of the finest wines in beautiful weather whatever time of year you are visiting. It can be tempting to skip this out altogether and head straight to the South’s main attraction: the impressive Franz Josef and Fox glaciers situated on the west coast.
These are the largest of the 60 glaciers in Westland National Park and most accessible for tourists.
There are many companies offering a variety of packages designed to explore the glaciers. Many offer half day or full day guided walks, along with ice climbing and heli skiing but if all that sounds too strenuous, a helicopter ride is a really good, albeit more expensive, option.
Around 260km southeast of the glaciers you’ll find the pretty town of Wanaka. During the winter months Wanaka is alive with skiers who gather here to sample the slopes at nearby Cardrona and Treble Cone Alpine resorts. Although these resorts offer some challenging slopes they are very popular with beginners, with more experienced skiers choosing to head to Coronet Peak or the Remarkables at nearby adventure capital, Queenstown instead.
Every activity from bungy jumping to sky diving, and canyon swinging to jet boating are readily available here. Make sure to take the very steep gondola ride to Bob’s peak for panoramic views of the town and the Remarkables.
Further south located on the west coast is Milford Sound. One of the most beautiful sights in the country and often cited the number one thing to do in New Zealand.
There are many ways to explore the sound, including boat cruises, coach, scenic flights and of course hiking, with the most famous being the stunning four day Milford Track. Christchurch is the South Island’s big city, even though it only has a population of just over 300,000.
It is just a little smaller than wellington, but every bit as charming.
A notable chunk of the city is donated to sports fields and parks making its label as ‘The Garden City’ a suitably fitted one. It is remarkably English and a quaint and pleasant city to relax in. Go for a punt along the River Avon or a leisurely walk through the Botanic Gardens.
There are plenty of other attractions, including the Air Force Museum, numerous art galleries and the Christchurch gondola which offers 360 degree views of the city and the wider Canterbury region. All in all Christchurch offers the perfect end to your trip.
Qantas offer flights to New Zealand from £745 return from London Heathrow.
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