Australia and New Zealand have always had a special relationship, from fierce sporting rivals to allies in major military actions which have shaped the identities of both nations. We share an extraordinary bond, one that we want to continue by supporting our cuzzies across the ditch. Perhaps we have taken their laid back friendship and close proximity for granted all these years, with many of us putting New Zealand on our list of places to visit but never quite making it there. There has never been a better time to get around to it. We take a look at what makes the country so special.
North or South Island, New Zealand is spectacular from every angle. One of the biggest drawcards to the 'land of the long white cloud' is the breathtaking scenery that adorns the island nation. From rugged coastlines to dense rainforest, vast mountains, deep fiords and ancient volcanoes, New Zealand boasts some of the most incredible landscapes in the world. Although these natural features can be found in many other places, the landscapes of New Zealand are the best modern example of Gondwanaland, an ancient supercontinent characterised by its natural biodiversity and beauty.
A visit to the World Heritage listed areas of New Zealand is like stepping back in time, coexisting in the Jurassic period and unlike anywhere else on earth. It is for this reason that New Zealand has been used as the backdrop for many movies. Of course the most famous is The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy but there are many others including The Chronicles of Narnia at Cathedral Cove in Coromandel, Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong where Shelly Bay and Lyall Bay became the iconic Skull Island and The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise where the Taranaki region transformed into 19th century Japan.
New Zealand's traditional Maori culture is a defining feature that is rich with ancient history, traditions and rituals. The Maori people are indigenous to Aotearoa New Zealand with origins that trace back to Eastern Polynesia. Maori culture is shaped by legend, customs, art, tattoo, performance, community and hospitality. The unique culture is ever present wherever you go in New Zealand, with every landmark signifying some kind of legend or myth.
Experiencing the friendly Maori culture for yourself is a special part of any visit to New Zealand and there are a number of ways that visitors can engage with these traditions including trying a delicious hangi meal slow cooked in an earth oven or taking in a cultural show with the famous song and dance known as the kapa haka. Rotorua is another ideal destination to experience the Maori culture with plenty of interactive experiences on offer including staying overnight in a marae, learning a waiata (song) and even learning about traditional weaving, carving and weaponry.
New Zealand offers some pretty unique things to do. Name one other place where you can go black water rafting under a galaxy of glowworms, hike an active marine volcano or land on a glacier in a ski plane. There are just so many weird and wonderful things to do in New Zealand, and with two islands to choose from, the choice is almost endless. Ranging from sport and recreational pursuits to adventure activities, the North and South Islands offer plenty of activities to explore.
New Zealand has a reputation for being an adventure capital and rightly so thanks to its action-packed activities including bungy jumping, jet boating, sky diving and caving. Adrenaline junkies flock to Auckland, Waikato and the ski capital of Queenstown for their fill of heart pumping attractions. However if you prefer something a bit more relaxing, New Zealand is known for its spectacular natural beauty and there are some memorable ways to see it including wildlife encounters, food and wine tours and leisurely walking trails.
Aside from a traditional Hangi feast, there are a number of must-try delicacies that are unique to New Zealand and simply can't be missed. The namesake kiwi fruit is an obvious choice, while the opportunity to try a pavlova in the country that invented it (controversial opinion we know) can't be passed up. There's also the seafood delicacy of paua if you dare, or the more approachable feijoa fruit. Local products such as L&P soft drink and delicious Whittaker's Chocolate blocks are the perfect snacks to take on your scenic road trip.
New Zealand's food and wine in particular, offer distinctive quality thanks to the cool climate and long growing season which is ideal for grape growing. The three main grape growing areas are the dry sunny eastern regions of Gisborne and Hawke's Bay along with the famous Marlborough in the northeast of the South Island. However Queenstown, Auckland, Nelson, Canterbury and Martinborough are also important grape growing areas. There are a number of beautiful wineries conveniently located within minutes of major town centres which offer picturesque gardens, cellar door tastings and onsite restaurants. Casual visitors are welcome, however joining a wine tour is the best way to experience everything the region has to offer - and with a designated driver!
New Zealand is famous as a leisure and adventure playground, with Queenstown in the South Island known as the Southern Hemisphere's greatest four season alpine and lake resort. Although a popular holiday destination year-round, winter is its time to shine with the start of the snow season. New Zealand ski holidays are a super popular choice with Aussies and Queenstown offers the best skiing and snowboarding in all of New Zealand. However for those not interested in skiing there are also a great range of other snow activities including ice skating, snow shoeing and riding a snow mobile. The world-class winter playground boasts an excellent range of ski fields within a hours' drive of the city, the most popular of which include Coronet Peak, Cardrona, Treble Cone and The Remarkables.
Just 20 minutes from Queenstown, Coronet Peak offers some of the longest opening hours in all of New Zealand and features 280 hectares of diverse skiing terrain. A little further out, The Remarkables is known as New Zealand's most family friendly ski field with some of the best learning facilities in the country only 40 minutes from the city. Nearby Treble Cone is renowned as the largest ski area in the South Island and was also voted best ski area for two consecutive years by the World Ski Awards. Just under an hour from Queenstown, Cardrona offers world class pipes and parks as well as some excellent learning facilities for kids.