New Zealand is one of the most isolated and beautiful countries in the world. Most people think of the country as being just off the coast of Australia and tend to lump the two together, in fact over 1200 miles of water separates the two countries.
On a visit to New Zealand, you can experience some of the most dramatic and unspoiled landscapes anywhere on earth. New Zealand boasts snow-capped mountains, deep blue lakes, forests, geysers and boiling pools of mud. The South Island contains most of the country’s highest mountains, including Mount Cook at 12,000 feet; while the North Island has more volcanic activity.
New Zealanders do not take their beautiful country for granted, many towns and cities have walking trails and around a third of the land is designated as National Park. Also, if some parts of New Zealand look vaguely familiar, the country’s dramatic and unspoiled landscapes are featured in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.
One thing that you will immediately notice about New Zealand is that it is sparsely populated. Sheep outnumber people by about ten to one. The sea has always been important to the people of New Zealand ever since the Maoris settled on the two islands around 1000 years ago. No place in the country is more than about 80 miles from the sea.
Although the country is sparsely populated, it has become increasingly cosmopolitan, attracting immigrants from all over the world. Many New Zealanders are of British descent; there are also many immigrants from China, Korea and Japan. Around 23% of New Zealanders were born overseas, one of the highest such percentages in the world. Visitors as well as residents enjoy a high standard of living in beautiful New Zealand.
New Zealand appeals to lovers of the great outdoors and in recent years, the country has become one of the main destinations for so-called adventure travel. You can find it all in New Zealand, white water rafting, skiing, hiking, (tramping as it is called here) sky-diving, hot air ballooning, kayaking and swimming with sharks. Also, for the true thrill-seeker, the most extreme of extreme sports, bungee jumping.
Queenstown has become the unofficial capital of adventure sports as well as the most visited destination in the country. The city boasts the world’s first commercial bungee jump site. It has also become a popular destination for skiing and winter sports. Queenstown is situated in some of the country’s most beautiful scenery, in a country that is not exactly short on natural beauty.
While New Zealand is undoubtedly a major destination for outdoors enthusiasts, the country also boasts sophisticated cities and a fascinating culture. New Zealand has also been recognized for its quality wines in recent years. The country has six major wine growing regions and it is possible to spend your entire time here simply touring vineyards. There are over 80 in the Auckland area alone.
Auckland, known as the City of Sails, is where most international visitors arrive. It is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the country and offers a wide selection of shops, nightlife, galleries and restaurants. Many visitors are surprised at the quality of the dining in Auckland – particularly recommended are those restaurants specializing in Asian and Pacific Rim cuisine.
The Maoris were the first inhabitants of New Zealand and it is difficult to travel through the country without coming across reminders of their culture and influence. The Auckland Museum is a great place to become familiar with Maori culture. For a more hands-on experience, visit the reconstructed and authentic Maori village at Tamaki. One place not to be missed is the East Cape, one of the last places where the Maori language is part of everyday life.
For much of the 19th century, New Zealand was a British colony and one of the most noticeable things to any visitor is how much parts of the country feel like Britain. The city of Christchurch, with its squares and avenues and beautiful Victorian buildings, is perhaps the most “English” of New Zealand’s cities, it even has a River Avon running through the center. The delightful town of Dunedin might have been transplanted from Scotland. Also, another aspect of New Zealand life that is good to know, New Zealanders drive on the left.
Most visitors leave New Zealand with a favorable impression. It is a country that really does have it all, wonderful scenery, vibrant cities, excellent food and wines and a fascinating culture.
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