It has been my good fortune to visit 118 countries to date. Friends sometimes ask: "What is your favorite foreign country?" I respond with: "I don't have a favorite foreign country, but there are several that I would put at the top of my list for sheer beauty." One of these is New Zealand.
This is a country that has two parts, a North and South island. Both have their own brand of beauty. New Zealand lies 1,000 miles east of Australia and is about the size of the British Isles. Cook Strait (12 miles) separates the North and South islands. Its population is four million, with more than a million living in the principal city of Auckland. Its capital is Wellington. The racial makeup is comprised of descendants of settlers from Great Britain along with Europeans, the Maoris and Polynesians. The climate varies from temperate to subtropical. This is one of the most isolated countries in the world. Since it has a small population, it remains natural and mostly untouched.
Most tourists arriving here land in Auckland. This is a city facing the water and has been called the City of Sails. It has fine hotels with international standards. The food is very good and the city has a wonderful selection of restaurants to choose from. Some have said it is more British than England.
I suggest you sightsee with an organized tour so you are not trying to find your way around and you have the advantage of a tour guide. If you are the type who can't stand group travel, then you can rent a car and do your own thing.
Where to visit? New Zealand's coastline is some 11,000 miles long. Eighty percent is exposed to the sea. A portion of the North Island is the Bay of Islands. Here the climate is quite temperate and it is where the New Zealanders sometimes come to vacation. In the center of the North Island is a collection of national parks. It has snow-capped volcanoes, geothermal activity, trout lakes and rivers along with beautiful forests.
In this section of the country, you'll not want to miss Rotorua and the Waitomo Caves. These caves consist of a network of limestone caves and grottoes. A portion of these has glowworms. Much activity is available to you in this area. Rotorua is the North Island's most popular destination for tourists. The town has hot thermal activity and some people feel the waters and rocks have healing properties. There is a spa here where some claim to have been healed of various ailments. You'll want to visit Lake Rotorua and several other smaller lakes in the area. Horseback riding is available along with four-wheel drive tours to the backcountry.
The capital, Wellington, is situated on the southern portion of the island and is quite interesting. Outside the city are dairy and sheep farms and vineyards, and the national parks of Egmont and Whanganui are interesting and scenic.
The South Island offers an incredible variety of scenery -- from the beautiful seacoast to the Southern Alps and the Fjordlands. It was my thrill some years ago to board a ski plane and fly to the Southern Alps and land on a glacier at Mount Cook. The scenery is beyond description. Some of the "don't miss" areas of the South Island would include its national parks, the Marlborough Sounds, the west coast region with its rainforest, and some of the wildlife colonies, including penguins. The city of Christchurch is interesting, with fine hotels and restaurants. It now has over 315,000 inhabitants.
Fjordland National Park is the largest in New Zealand. The landscape is principally water and forest. Wildlife is abundant here, including marine mammals, birds and penguins. It consists of 14 fjords and five lakes. The most famous is Milford Sound. When you see ads for New Zealand, Milford Sound is often the photo to capture your interest. If you are traveling independently, you can take a boat tour of this area.
There is good rail, bus and ferry transportation around the country if you do not wish to drive or tour with a group. Almost every turn in breathtaking.
I will be hosting a cruise departing March 21 that starts with a flight to New Zealand and includes two nights in Auckland for some sightseeing. Participants will then board the ship "Discovery" and cruise east to some of the islands in the South Pacific, ending in Tahiti. You'll see our ads in the Roundup. We'd love to have you join us. Happy Travels!