If you are looking for a travel destination that has it all, then look no further than New Zealand. For those with an adventurous spirit, an appreciation of the outdoors, a penchant for indigenous cultures, and an interest in learning how to drive on the left side of the road, New Zealand is the place for you. This summer I had the pleasure of ticking off another bucket list item, which was to visit the amazing, incomparable, and unbelievably beautiful New Zealand. I spent a total of 16 days in New Zealand and let me tell you – I feel like I only scratched the surface. We tried to spend equal amounts of time in the North and South islands and decided to see the country by taking an epic road trip by Winnebago. For some survival lessons in Winnebago etiquette, click here.
Depending upon your interests, New Zealand has it all! If you are a Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie franchise aficionado like me, you’re in luck because there are several film set locations within New Zealand on both islands where the epic series were shot. I had the pleasure of visiting Hobbiton in the North Island which was amazing. As soon as you enter the gates of Hobbiton, you feel instantly transported into the movies. It is as though you can see the daily life in Hobbiton unfold before your eyes as you move around the set and see places where classic scenes took place. Mordor is in the South Island, but unfortunately, I couldn’t make my way there, guess that means I have to back.
Another amazing aspect of life in New Zealand is the pervasiveness of Maori culture. Near the northernmost point on the North Island is the Waitangi Treaty Ground. The Waitangi Treaty ground is the place where the first accord between the Maori people and the British crown was signed. The signing of this accord was essentially the birth of the nation of New Zealand as we know it today. To learn more about the history of New Zealand and the influence of Maori culture visit the Te Kongahu Museum. One of the highlights of the Waitangi Treaty ground, in addition to the gorgeousness of the grounds and view of the ocean, is the Maori cultural shows, which include singing, dancing, and hakas among other demonstrations.
The fearsome faces we are making in the picture are traditional Maori facial expressions known as pūkana. Pūkana or facial expressions are an important facet of Māori performance. They help emphasize a point in a song or haka and demonstrate the performer’s ferocity or passion. For women, pūkana involves opening the eyes wide and jutting out their tattooed chin. For men, it means widening the eyes and stretching out their tongue or bearing their teeth. Though these expressions may be intimidating, they are not necessarily a sign of aggression, but may simply show strong and deep-felt emotions. I’m proud of my pūkana face!
For those who want to get outdoors and on the water, you can take private or group charter fishing trips which is exactly what we did. Even if fishing is not your thing, I mean New Zealand is an island right, so why not give it a try? Here are some pictures of some of the fish we caught and cooked as soon as we returned to the pier. These fish were some of the best I have ever tasted.
In the South Island one of the highlights for me beyond Queenstown, which is an amazing city worthy of at least a few days of exploration, are all the many skiing options. As someone who grew up skiing and someone who has had the good fortune to ski in several places in the world, the conditions in New Zealand rank high. We chose to go to Cardrona one of the most popular ski areas in the South Island. The conditions were amazing, pure powdery natural snow, sunny day, and an all-inclusive package which meant as a tourist, I didn’t have to worry about equipment or apparel. The package also included transportation to and from the mountain in addition to lift tickets. Some pics from Cardrona.
Another thing New Zealand is famous for on both islands is their glow worm tours. There are many caves throughout the country that are home to the famous glow worms. Probably the most famous are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. We went to Waitomo and were presented with several tour options. We chose the “Odyssey” tour option, which is an underwater river rafting tour. Fair warning, this tour is not for everyone, if you are claustrophobic or afraid of the dark, consider another tour. This tour was by far the highlight of my New Zealand vacation, and I would do it again if I am fortunate enough to return to the country.
I have had the privilege of traveling a lot, and I must say unequivocally that New Zealand is easily in my top 3 best trips of all time. I encourage you to find your way there for your next vacation.