When HTD discussed this article with Mick for the first time, he contentedly agreed with our ideas – except on the tiny modal verb “could” in its title. at least since we have read these suggestions for a trip to his homeland, we have understood why the heading has to be “5 Reasons Why New Zealand Should Be Your Next Destination”. Curious?
Let’s give the floor to Michael, (23), economist and globetrotter, currently based in Austria.
“A couple of years ago, I paid half-price on a ticket to New Zealand that included five connections:Düsseldorf-Barcelona-London-Singapore-Sydney-Auckland-Wellington. With the usual delays and missed flights, the journey took upwards of 50 hours. But it was worth it because, well, I got to spend three weeks in what is (you know it’s true!) the world’s most beautiful country. The journey usually takes somewhere between 30 and 35 hours, depending on your connection. Should an industrious Austrian miner ever manage to dig a hole through the earth, New Zealand is, more or less, where he’d emerge. Its isolation makes it hard to reach, but it also makes it worth reaching. (New Zealand on the Mediterranean doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?) So it’s safe to say that one doesn’t end up in New Zealand by accident. Those that take up this epic journey – a journey that was even more epic when my great-great-great- great-great grandfather came by boat from England 200 years ago – do so for good reasons. Here’s why you should join them:
1. The Tongariro Crossing: If there’s one hike you should not leave New Zealand without doing, it’s the Tongariro Crossing, frequently heralded as one of the world’s greatest one-day hikes. Mt. Tongariro sits in the shadow of its bigger neighbor, Mt. Ngauruhoe (that’s “Mount Doom” for all you Lord of the Rings buffs), in the Tongariro National Park, the group of volcanoes that dominate the landscape in the heart of the North Island. The Tongariro Crossing is a 19 km route that passes just under the 1978m summit and over the mountain’s active craters (which last erupted in 2012). Leaving the tussock grassland at the track’s starting point at Mangatepopo and climbing past the remains of old glaciers and lava flows, the path is often steep and at times very exposed (protip: dress accordingly!). But what awaits the determined adventurer at the top will take your breath away, if the climb hasn’t done so already. The Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake provide a stunning contrast to the chestnut-brown of the rugged volcanic landscape in which they are embedded. Weather permitting, spectacular views can be enjoyed across the valley to the imposing Mt. Ngauruhoe, and, on a very clear day, to the perfectly cone-shaped volcano of Mt Taranaki in the very west of the North Island. Insider tip: Stop in Ohakune on your way to the Tongariro National Park and fill up on delicious chocolate éclairs, cream donuts and, yes, the locally grown carrots at Johnny Nations, a quintessentially Kiwi dairy that you’ll find on your left as you enter the “big carrot” from Waiouru. After the Crossing, don’t miss out on the Tokaanu Natural Thermal Pools near Turangi – the perfect way to reward your exhausted body and bring a great day to an end.
2. Road-tripping on the South Island: About three-fourths of New Zealanders live on the North Island. And if we North Islanders are perfectly honest, we’ll admit that the South Island is the more scenically interesting of the two islands. From golden beaches, native rainforest and secluded fjords, to glaciers that stretch from sky to sea, alpine peaks, mountain lakes and rugged plains, the South Island has it all – a microcosm of a continent, a title befitting New Zealand itself. Nelson, Farewell Spit, Arthur’s Pass, Franz Josef Glacier, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, Lake Tekapo, the Canterbury Plains, Banks Peninsula Kaikoura. There’s so much to see on this island that the few short weeks you’ll likely have at your disposal will not be nearly enough to fully appreciate it all. But this is where road-trips come in. So hire a rental vehicle, tank up and hit the road (protip: always stick to the left lane when driving in NZ!). Here’s a possible route, similar to one friends and I drove last year. Much of the South Island can be enjoyed from the road, but I would recommend choosing a couple of areas that you would like to take more time to explore (such as number 3 in this list). Tip: No trip to New Zealand is complete without ordering take-out Fish N’ Chips and heading to the beach to watch the sun go down.
3. Paradise on earth: the Abel Tasman Coast Track: One South Island attraction that I cannot recommend enough is the Abel Tasman National Park’s Coast Track, in the very north of the island. Golden sand, turquoise water, waterfalls and lush forest, day after day after day. The track from Marahau to Totaranui is 51 km long and takes three to five days. The limited number of beds in the cabins and the lack of roads into the park ensure that the unending stream of picture-perfect, golden beaches will remain (mostly) deserted. Be prepared to exert yourself, as you’ll be carrying all your gear, food and water with you. But there’s no better feeling than dumping your heavy load in the sand, losing the layers and diving into the beautiful surf. An alternative to walking the track is kayaking from bay to bay. Either way, paradise awaits.
4. Stay on a Sheep Farm: Having grown up in the countryside surrounded by green, rolling hills populated with sheep – everywhere sheep! – many of my memories of New Zealand are memories of the country life, where people work hard, life is simpler and change comes more slowly. Sadly, this is a part of New Zealand that most tourists miss out on. In recent years, our family has been encouraging friends who visit New Zealand to spend some time living on one of our friends’ farms and taking part in its life. That could mean feeding orphaned lambs, mending fences, mustering sheep with quad bikes and dogs, or, for those of you who can stomach it, docking, a particularly brutal annual exercise that involves cutting off the tails of newborn lambs (I began docking as an 11 year old). Fortunately, the concept of farmstays has emerged in recent years to provide those interested with a taste of this way of life. It’s also chance to get off the beaten tourist path and meet some genuinely hospitable people.
5. The “coolest little capital” in the world: New Zealand’s biggest draw card is obviously its unique natural environment, but in recent years it has gained attention for its great citylife, too. Auckland, New Zealand’s population and commercial center, ranked 3rd in the world in Mercer’s 2015 quality of living survey. Christchurch, though most famous for the earthquake that devastated the city in 2011, exudes creativity and optimism. And then there’s Wellington, the most charming of them all, referred to by Lonely Planet as the “coolest little capital in the world”. Nestled in the hills overlooking the beautiful harbor, Wellington’s natural landscape is as interesting as its architecture. Quaint wooden cottages dot the steep hillsides while landmark government buildings and gleaming glass towers mark the cityscape. Here you’ll be able to enjoy Wellington’s world-class coffee and taste the offerings of its many microbreweries. It’s worth noting that Wellington holds the distinction of being the city with the highest number of cafes, bars and restaurants per capita in the world. Catch the cable car up to Kelburn and then wander down through the gorgeous botanical gardens. The lookout on Mount Victoria offers a spectacular view of the city and harbor. For those looking for some quiet and perhaps a little exercise, I would highly recommend taking half a day to walk from the Brooklyn Windmill through the Te Kopahau Reserve to Red Rocks on the rugged South Coast. Breathtaking views over the city and out across the Cook Strait to the South Island abound, and you’re likely to stumble across a colony of fur seals lazing on the beach. Finally, head down to the Wellington waterfront, where life is vibrant and there’s always something happening. If you look carefully, you’ll find a plaque on the boardwalk with the apt inscription: “It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.”
When’s the best time to visit New Zealand? NZ is of course always worth visiting, no matter the time of the year, but don’t expect to spend much time in the water if you come in July or August. The months from November to March are best.”
Mick was born and raised in New Zealand but has lived in Europe for many years. Currently living and working in Vienna, he is an avid traveler and can’t wait for the next chance to return home.
HTD thanks Mick a lot for his immensely informativ article and the stunning photos! (ger) (photo credits: Mick & his brother Raphael)