New Zealand


New Zealand is absolutely stunning and a great place for adventure, with its beautiful and varied landscapes, cool people and tons of places to see and thing to do (also, they have very good milk). I rented cars from Omega Rentals (one for the North Island and one for the South Island) and explored the country from top to bottom.

In the Northern part of the North Island you'll find the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves which are just magical - in the main cave you enjoy a nice little boat ride while the cave is lit up by tens of thousands of the blue-glowing Arachnocampa luminosa, a species of glowworm exclusive to New Zealand (no photos allowed). You can get tours and enjoy a number of the area's caves.

Next there's another magical place - Hobbiton, the actual set of the Hobbit Shire in the Hobbit movies. The attention to detail and realisim of this place are unbelievable - a truely delightful experience. Finally, as you make your way towards Rotorua, you'll find Wai-O-Tapu, a very cool natural park showcasing the otherworldly and colorful displays of volcanism.

I continued my route towards Wellington stopping at the impressive Huka falls. Wellington is a quiet city where you'll find more cool things to do. The legendary Weta Workshop that did practical effects for movies such as Lord of the Rings, District 9 and Avatar has tours available, and they are awesome. Among tons of cool stuff you'll get to see props made for District 9 that didn't end up in the film, including a cool prawn miner outfit and a prawn explosive collar (the movie's backstory is about miner aliens looking for asteroids that end up stranded on Earth). Details about the tour here (no pictures allowed with the exception of the shop's museum).

Wellington's Te Papa Tongarewa Museum is outstanding with the world's only display of a giant squid, exhibits on maori culture and a fantastic display of NZ's involvement in WWI. Wellington's Cable Car offers nice views of the city from above.

After exploring the North Island I took the ferry to Picton at the top of the South Island. The views of the South Island after passing the Cook Strait are fabulous. Picton is a pretty little town that serves as gateway for exploring the incredibly scenic South Island. One of the best things to do over here is explore the Abel Tasman National Park comprising a string of scenic deserted beaches connected by walking pathways through the forest. A tour with a company called Wilson will take you by boat to one of the beaches and pick you up later after you have completed your walk. The deserted golden beaches and the forests full of giant ferns were magical (we did trip #9).

We drove South following the island's Western coast, stopping to take pictures of the fabulous coast, check out the seal colony at Foulwind or be amazed by the "pancake" rocks at Punakaiki. Next we reached the glacier area and explored Franz Josef and Fox glaciers - you can hike towards the base of the glaciers which was an outstanding experience (helicopter tours are also available). Franz Josef also has a small wildlife centre where you can see NZ's national symbol, the Kiwi Bird - some of the cutest animals on this planet for sure (no pictures allowed).

Our final destination in New Zealand was the adventure town of Queenstown. To get there you'll pass through some more incredible scenery including snow-capped mountains, Wanaka and Hawea lakes, rivers, green pastures and some almost-desert areas. Puzzling World in Wanaka is also worth a stop.

Queenstown also has a cable car for cool views of the city. At night a stargazing tour is avalabile from up above. New Zealand has nice, light pollution-free skies at night with stunning views of the Milky Way (we even got to see the ISS in orbit). Finally, from one of the nearby mountains we even got a glimpse of the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis. While not nearly as intense as the Northern Lights in Norway, it was still a great experience.

I was absolutely impressed with New Zealand and all its landscapes and attractions. NZ is one of the best travel destinations I have ever experienced.

Additional info:
- country entry on Wikipedia
- country profile on Wikivoyage

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New Zealand

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