If you have to spend 20-plus hours in airports and on planes to fly halfway across the planet to get to a place, the destination better be worth the grind.
New Zealand is a fine payoff, indeed, for that kind of hassle.
The land that the Maori call Aotearoa, which translates as "land of the long white cloud" is known for its natural beauty and amazing outdoors activities. I went there to take a multi-sport adventure cruise with Backroads, the active travel company that I previously traveled with on two adventures in Europe on Danube river cruises.
7 Things About a Biking Cruise with Backroads and AmaWaterways
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This time, we sailed from Auckland on the North Island all the way to Dunedin at the bottom of the South Island.
Along the way, I learned a few things about New Zealand that can help you have a good working knowledge and help you prepare for your first trip to this fascinating island nation.
The indigenous people of New Zealand are the Maori. These people are the world's original explorers and adventurers, having settled throughout Polynesia and the larger region by undertaking epic canoe trips to reach the far-flung and remote island. More than 600,000 people identify as Maori in New Zealand, or about 15 percent of the residents. To truly immerse yourself in what New Zealand is all about, make sure to seek out experiences that help you learn about the Maori culture, customs, language, music and dance.
Entry to the country is easy for travelers with a U.S. passport. No visa is required from U.S. travelers to New Zealand. You fill out a form upon arrival that allows a stay for up to three months, and your passport must have an expiration date that extends at least three months beyond your trip.
New Zealand wines have been earning acclaim for decades now. The country features a range of blends and varietals but is well known for its Sauvignon Blanc. Top regions to sample the flavors and enjoy wine tours in New Zealand: Hawke's Bay, Marlborough, Canterbury and Waiheke Island (off the coast from Auckland).
New Zealand is a relatively small country, located about 1,200 miles east of its massive neighbor Australia across the Tasman Sea. New Zealand is home to about 5 million people, with about 3.7 million living on the North Island.
The country features two main islands, North Island and South Island. They are separated by a narrow waterway, Cook Strait. The North Island has the largest population centers of Auckland in the north and Wellington, the capital city, in the south. The South Island is more wild, desolate and great for exploring nature. The South Island is 33 percent larger than the North Island and is the 12th largest island in the world.
Hikers can take on the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand. These are famous multi-day trails that are meticulously maintained by the country's Department of Conservation. The challenging routes range from 20 miles to 51 miles and typically take two to six days to finish. Try one or more of these Great Walks to see waterfalls, beaches, rainforests and all the wonderful natural features New Zealand can offer.
New Zealand has surprisingly few mammals and "nothing that can kill you," the natives like to say. Instead, the country offers an interesting variety of docile animals. In fact, the country's only native mammals are bats and marine animals. In the fjords, you can easily spot dolphins and seals. New Zealand is the seabird capital of the world. The country is home to about 80 seabirds, and more than one-third of those are only found in New Zealand. Look for albatrosses, New Zealand fairy terns, gannets, penguins and a variety of ducks. Onshore, you can try to spot fantails, keas and flightless birds like the wekas and iconic kiwis. (Note: kiwis are nocturnal and difficult to spot.)
Lord of the Rings
New Zealand is filled with multiple filming locations for the epic trilogy "Lord of the Rings" movies, as well as "The Hobbit" trilogy, and these films have been credited with a surge of tourism in the past decade from people who want to see whether the nation can really offer such magical places as depicted in New Zealand native Peter Jackson's movies. Yes, these Middle Earth landscapes are real, and you can see them on one of the many LOTR tours offered throughout New Zealand.
Located on the southwest corner of the South Island, Fjordland National Park consists of a stunning network of cliffs, valleys and fjords. The mountains, lakes and rainforest environment receive vast amounts of rainfall each year, which creates rushing waterfalls. Within the region are several glaciers, as well. Because of the isolation and unique characteristics of the area, the park is home to plant and animal species not found anywhere else. This is an amazing region to explore on a hike or cruises in the fjords.
New Zealand's merino (sheep) wool and possum-merino blend products rank among the most-coveted items for visitors to buy. Gloves, hats, socks, sweaters and other clothing are available, and these items are soft, washable and eco-friendly. They are durable and work especially well to regulate body temperature because of the nature of the fine fibers. Also, the New Zealand possum is a pest in the country that was introduced from Australia in the 1800s and pose a serious threat to the environment, native birds and agriculture. Possums are harvested humanely during regular culls, and the purchase of a possum product aids the restoration of the country's environment.
Of course, you want to know what to eat and drink (aside from the wine). New Zealand has a fine selection of craft beers, and you can find plenty of charming craft brew joints in the bigger cities, especially Wellington. Look for Garage Project or Panhead beers if you want a distinctive taste of New Zealand brewing. Seafood is a top choice when in New Zealand as are meals made with lamb, steak and pork. Other treats include fresh kiwi fruit, honey and artisan ice cream and cheeses (the country is known for its fine dairy production).
New Zealand dollars (NZD) exchange at about 65 percent of 70 percent of the U.S. dollar, as of this writing. Prices are such in the country that the exchange difference is essentially nullified when compared with U.S. prices for items like, beer, food or clothing.
You drive, walk and bike on the left side in New Zealand. Stay focused to stay safe when getting around -- whether by car or bike.
The country holds its biosecurity sacred, and you'll pay steep fines if you bring in unauthorized foods and other items (whether intentionally or not). It is best to familiarize yourself with the rules before entering the country, and make sure to declare any items at customs upon arrival if you have any doubt as to whether your items are allowed.
Sports fans likely have heard of the national rugby team from New Zealand. The All Blacks have been among the best squads worldwide for more than a century and are a great source of national pride for New Zealanders. They are the only team to have claimed three Rugby World Cup titles, as of 2019.
Thanks for reading,