The Land of the Long White Cloud is filled with beauty. I’m pretty sure any Google Image search will tell you that. But what it won’t show you is the plethora of adventures awaiting you when you arrive.
This landscape is not only stunning, but it’s also incredibly empty of humans. (Which, to be honest, is pretty refreshing!)
Coming from Australia where the population isn’t very high, this place seems even more of a solitary boondocks. For two months straight, my partner and I are renting a Jucy Cabana camper van and traveling through this magical land, camping alongside beaches, rivers, and flocks of sheep.
We’ve cruised through the Bay of Islands, stayed in Auckland, made our way down the North Island, took the ferry to the South Island, and have had plenty of sights and snacks in between.
We’ve only been here about one month, so this list may be a bit premature, but I’m bursting to tell everyone what New Zealand is all about! So without further adieu, here are (in my professional opinion) the top five things to do here:
#5: Traditional Maori Village Experience – The Maori are the native inhabitants of New Zealand who are said to have originally come from Hawai’i. There is still quite a big population of indigenous people who receive lots of respect and admiration (especially compared to the Natives of America and Aboriginals of Australia). One of the most eye-opening evenings can be spent in a traditional Maori village with the wonderful native people who will teach you about their culture and customs. You’ll learn about what they spent most of their time doing – preparing food and preparing for war. Much of their culture derives from protecting their land and territory and trust me, if you came upon a Maori village you would turn around and run! Their war dance in itself is scary enough to disincline fighting. However, they are a very welcoming people. When you first come upon the gates of the village, they present a peace offering. If your chief accepts it, you can be at peace and will be welcomed with open arms. If the offering is tossed aside, war will begin immediately. The women fight alongside the men in battle as well.
#4: Ski / Snowboard / Sled / Explore the Mountains – I’m a snowboarder myself and I think I speak for all skiers and boarders when I say, there is nothing more exhilarating than being on the mountain. New Zealand has ski fields on both the North and South Islands so pickings are anything but slim. When you rent a Jucy car or camper van in winter, you receive six free consecutive days of lift passes at Treble Cone! Needless to say, I took advantage of that! Although technically we’re coming into spring here, it snowed and the conditions were perfect. I highly recommend a ski trip in NZ!
#3: Hobbiton and Lord of the Rings Tours – Okay, maybe this is best for the movie buffs, but I cannot stress how fun it is to visit Hobbiton! Even people who haven’t seen the films enjoy this tour, from learning about the special effects, the story of how the location of Hobbiton was discovered, to spending time in a cool movie set village / sheep farm. While Hobbiton was my favorite, a worthy hike through Mordor is on the list as well (Tongariro National Park) where you’ll find unique volcanic landscapes and formations. Lastly, the Weta Cave near Wellington is the home of digital special effects for hundreds of films (Avatar, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, and so many more!) and an inexpensive (NZ$24 per person) 30-minute tour will show you some amazing behind-the-scenes aspects of movie making! You’ll also get to see the artists in action – you just can’t beat that!
#2: Walk on a Glacier – There are two famed glaciers in New Zealand, both on the South Island: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. We went to Franz Josef, and it was one of those exhilarating experiences I’ll never forget! First, we got all of our gear from the company (snow pants and jackets, hats, mittens, boots, and crampons) and then we took a helicopter up to the glacier. The view from the chopper was unreal in itself! Upon arrival, we donned our crampons and started our 3-hour+ hike up and around Franz Josef. The guides were amazing and knowledgable and taught us a LOT about glaciers! (Did you know that glaciers are formed by gravity? Snow builds up and it packs hard against the earth to become the icy structure that it is! They also continuously move – they are like a super slow river and waterfall – and they are shrinking very fast due to climate change. In 2008, you could walk up onto the glacier from a parking lot. In seven short years the glacier has reduced in size so much that now a helicopter is required to get on top.) DO THIS. It is undeniably bucket-list worthy!
#1: Black Water Rafting – New Zealand is famed for its adrenaline-packed tours. Skydiving, bungee jumping (one of the highest in the world – and I’m doing it tomorrow! EEK!), white water rafting, mountain climbing, the list goes on eternally! While all of these are intense and fun, none will hold a candle to the infamous Black Water Rafting. I’ve done lots of adrenaline tours in my life and been around the world and I’ve got to say – this is probably my favorite tour of all time, EVER. There are a number of tours available and we did the allegedly most fun- and adventure-packed one: The Black Abyss. It has everything! Caving, climbing up underground waterfalls (I’m surprised nobody got hurt – it’s intense!), abseiling, tubing through the pitch-black caves and seeing millions of glow worms, zip lining through the darkness – I feel like describing it is futile. Please, just do it. I promise you, it’ll be among the best things you do in your life.
It’s safe to say that this country will offer you the adventure of a lifetime. While there are thousands of options to choose from, so far these are my favorites. I still have another month to go so it may merit revision, but please take into consideration a trip to New Zealand. You won’t regret it.