Rugged, breathtaking, spectacular, otherworldly. All words used to describe New Zealand, one of the friendliest and most remote countries on the planet. With mountains, beaches, forests, glaciers, thermal springs, fiords and rivers, this Pacific island nation is a unique destination combining ancient indigenous culture with modern and cosmopolitan cities, miles and miles of untouched wilderness with tiny farmsteads and quaint villages. Here are a few of the top things to see and do in New Zealand.
1. Tread Auckland’s skywalk
For something a bit different, climb the 328-metre high Sky Tower and walk a suspended one-metre wide platform with no handrails and only a harness to keep you in place. If you dare.
2. Swim with dolphins at Kaikoura
Watch whales and seals, swim with the dolphins and spot albatrosses just off Kaikoura on the South Island, before treating yourself to a seafood bonanza of fresh crayfish, blue cod, mussels and more.
3. Find Middle Earth
You’ve seen the films, now it’s time to visit one of the many locations for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Thanks to Peter Jackson, the acclaimed director, New Zealand has actually become Middle Earth and a quick search online reveals a host of sites to visit.
4. Cheer on the All Blacks at Eden Park
Kiwis are passionate about rugby union – it’s the number one sport in these parts. Visit the symbolic home of the beautiful game in Auckland and catch the national team in action.
5. Drink the good stuff at a South Island winery
The South Island has five renowned wine regions, including Marlborough, Canterbury and Nelson, each with a wealth of outstanding and award-winning wineries. Spoil yourself with a mouth-watering Sauvignon Blanc or a rich pinot noir.
6. Explore Napier’s art deco scene
Situated on the North Island’s east coast, Napier is well known for its art deco architecture, with thousands of tourists flocking to the city each year for the Art Deco Weekend.
7. Jump out of a plane
One of the adventure playgrounds of the world, New Zealand offers the thrill seeker many adrenaline-fuelled delights, including bungy jumping but also plane jumping. Not for the fainthearted, skydive from Taupo on the North Island at about 12,000 feet. Or not.
8. See the stars
New Zealand is one of the best places on earth for stargazing so head to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and Mackenzie Basin where you can enjoy stunning and light-pollution free views of the stars at night.
9. Sail the Bay of Islands
For those in search of relaxation and quiet, the Bay of Islands in the north of New Zealand provides the perfect place to experience a sailing trip or a cruise around any of the numerous pristine islands.
10. Ski like you just don’t care
No trip to New Zealand would be complete without a trip to the mountains and a chance to ski away to your heart’s content. The Southern Alps has resorts including The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona. But beware: the drive to the top of each mountain is an eye-opening experience in itself.
Russell is a British expat living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he writes about his search for a life less ordinary at www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com, one of Australia’s leading expat and travel blogs. He can be followed on Twitter and Instagram as @russellvjward.