New Zealand’s marvelously varied geography makes for a stunning adventure destination regardless of your passion—from beachfront to mountaintop. In this beautiful island nation, no highways will spoil your serenity and no snakes will slither at your feet.
Visit “boiling White Island” to witness some lively volcanic activity. Here you can don a hard hat and gas mask for a hike into a huge volcanic crater. Photograph the stunning lake, boiling mud and steaming vents within. To cool things down, consider a helicopter flight over Fox or Franz Joseph Glaciers, or gaze at the snowy summit of Mt. Cook.
Enjoy Doubtful Sound’s fjords, wilderness and waterfalls virtually untouched by humans. Milford Sound is one of the world’s greatest fjords, with ice-age carved valleys and mountains that seem to rise directly out of the water. Resident wildlife includes dolphins, seals and penguins.
Birders will enjoy Stewart Island, inhabited by less than 400 people and home to avian species like Kaka, parakeets, tui, bellbird, and New Zealand’s iconic kiwi bird.
A wonderful way to enjoy New Zealand is on foot. Some popular “Great Walks” have a waiting list of two to three years. The Milford Track is one, featuring soaring peaks, plunging waterfalls and lush rainforest. The Coromandel Peninsula is another walking paradise with quiet coves, picturesque beaches and the remnants of old gold mines.
In addition to its natural wonders, New Zealand’s settlements will steal your heart. Kiakoura presents a unique combination of ocean and coastal alpine scenery. Look for whales and seals in the water and seabirds in the air, or swim with dolphins! Napier has the most comprehensive collection of art deco buildings in the world and is also home to the oldest wineries in New Zealand. Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, is also an excellent place to relax in a cozy alpine resort or enjoy regional cuisine, like venison and lamb. For a unique souvenir, purchase a possum fur hat.
Don’t miss a visit to a Maori village. These native New Zealanders will fascinate you with their traditions, tattoos, dances and artwork. Press noses with a chief and become an honorary tribe member!
New Zealand packs a stunning array of wildlife, geography, culture and adventure into a small island nation. But don’t be fooled by its size—big adventures await you!
The Maori were New Zealand’s first inhabitants. Centuries ago, they crossed the ocean from the Polynesian Islands in wooden boats and settled throughout the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The last wave came from Tahiti in about 1350. Traditionally, the Maori survived on fishing, snaring birds and cultivating crops like potatoes. Maori artwork includes intricately carved bone and jade jewelry, face and body tattoos, and carved wooden gateways at the entrances to their communities. The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud.
Europeans began to arrive in the late 1600s. A Dutch expedition under Abel Janszoon Tasman is credited with the first European discovery in 1642. After a violent altercation with the native Maori, Tasman abandoned his efforts to make land. It would be more than 100 years before another European attempted to occupy New Zealand, when Captain James Cook reached the islands in 1769 and claimed them for Britain.
By the early 19th century, British missionaries and whalers established settlements, chiefly on the North Island, and a wave of immigrants soon followed—despite the opposition of the Maori natives. The region was wild and lawless, far from the government and administration of Britain, and the Maori suffered greatly. Firearms introduced by settlers increased tribal warfare. A great many Maori also lost their lives to diseases brought from Europe. War and sickness cut the Maori population nearly in half.
In 1840, the Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which granted them rights to New Zealand’s farming, hunting and fishing but also granted British sovereignty over the entire country. Disputes over land led to violent Maori uprisings soon after the treaty was signed, but peace was established by 1871 when the Maori were granted representation in the New Zealand parliament.
Early in its history, New Zealand established itself as a place of equality. It was the first nation in the world to allow women the right to vote—which was granted in 1893, almost 30 years before the United States would allow women the same right. By 1935, New Zealand was a self-governing nation.
Today New Zealand is known for its efforts to minimize pollution, poverty, inner-city overcrowding and racial conflicts—which it does better than many other nations. New Zealand strives to help more Maori achieve leadership positions in business, industry and government. Its people also value environmental conservation and maintain a high standard of living.
New Zealand’s economy depends on exporting meat, dairy and wool. Merino wool from New Zealand is regarded as some of the finest in the world. The region is also known for making exceptional wines—sauvignon blanc and pinot noir are the most celebrated.
The majority of vineyards are located on the East coast of the Islands in the rain shadow of the mountains. Vineyards enjoy long hours of sunshine and nights cooled by the sea. No vineyard in the country is more than 80 miles from the ocean. The result is wine known for its purity and intensity—much like the land itself.
Photos: © WOLFGANG KAEHLER