The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, roughly translated as “Land of the Long White Cloud”. Until a couple of decades ago, many people thought of this small country at the bottom end of the Pacific as simply an extension of Australia – and they couldn’t have been more mistaken. It’s kind of like telling a Canadian they’re an American or mixing up your Eastern European countries. Not a good idea.
With the release of Lord of the Rings, tourism to New Zealand rose sharply and millions have since discovered the history, fauna and sheer majesty of this incredibly beautiful and unique part of the world. Aotearoa has become an increasingly popular destination that now consistently ranks among the top five “must-visit” places on the planet. Here are some of the best reasons to move New Zealand to the top of your list, and they don’t have anything to do with hobbits or Hollywood.
- It’s Not Australia
While Australia may be New Zealand’s most prominent neighbor, the two countries couldn’t be more different. The climate, topography and wildlife are completely distinct, and you won’t find kangaroos or deserts on either of New Zealand’s two main islands. Not seeing New Zealand because you’re already been to Australia is like saying you won’t bother with France because you’ve already toured Germany.
- Maori Culture is Amazing
New Zealand’s indigenous people came to the country by canoe over 700 years ago. They arrived from other Polynesian islands and developed their own language, culture and customs. Many people are familiar with the famous Maori Haka, the ceremonial dance that prepared warriors for battle, welcomed guests or marked special occasions. Visiting New Zealand gives you the chance to get a first-hand look at the art, culture and achievements of the country’s first settlers.
- The Scenery is Spectacular
For such a small country, the diversity of New Zealand’s landscape is pretty unbelievable. Along a stretch that doesn’t quite reach 1,000 miles, you’ll find towering mountain ranges, glaciers, fjords, rain forests, rugged beaches, crystal-clear lakes, glow worm caves, thermal geysers, vineyards and orchards. On the same afternoon, someone can be water skiing north of Auckland while another intrepid soul is tackling the snowy slopes of the South Island. If you want a little of everything, you’ve come to the right place.
- It Packs an Adrenalin High
New Zealand is the home of bungee jumping, extreme sports and unbeatable hiking. And if you want to do anything on, in, over or under the water, you can probably do it here. The whole country is like one big adventure playground and no matter where you go, you’ll find plenty to challenge you in the great outdoors. Of course, if you’d rather sink your toes in the sand and save your energy for a wine tour, you can do that too.
- No Scary Animals
About the biggest critter you’re likely to see in New Zealand is a deer, and the country has no snakes or scary predators. What it does have, however, is a stunning variety of birds and marine life. You’re unlikely to see a notoriously shy kiwi in the wild, but be prepared for penguins, dolphins, whales, the world’s only alpine parrot (kea), a three-eyed lizard (tuatara), and sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.
People in New Zealand tend to be incredibly friendly, so don’t be surprised if someone invites you home for “tea” (what North Americans would call “supper”). From the magnificent Bay of Islands to the Malborough vineyards and breathtaking alpine lakes, New Zealand has something for everyone. Come to Aotearoa with an open heart - and be prepared to leave a little piece of it behind.