New Zealand

Welcome to Middle Earth! Or the closest spot on the planet that resembles that mythic world of emerald forests, plunging fjords, mountain lakes, and even volcanos. Only the stunning natural beauty of New Zealand could serve as the location of “Middle Earth” for the “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy.

But the dazzling panoramas of New Zealand’s two main islands (North Island and South Island, of course!) are just the beginning of what this “Paradise of the Pacific” can offer you. The people of New Zealand, or Kiwis, are an active lot and the country’s fantastic landscape makes an active playground for adventurous souls. Here, on the far side of the earth, you can rouse your physical self with dozens of challenges like canyoning, 4-wheel roading, heli-hiking, hot-air ballooning, rafting, river jetboating, sailing, scuba, sky diving and those are just a few of the possibilities.

In this land of extraordinary experiences, you’ll also discover a very special indigenous culture, the Maori. The original peoples of these islands, the Maori culture is deeply intertwined through its language, Te Reo Maori, and its customs of warm hospitality and deep respect for the natural world. You’ll feel this energy up close at a marae – a sacred meeting space immersed in a traditional Maori welcome with its prayers, dances, chants and songs.

Join a haka – a war dance – and enjoy your fill at a traditional hangi – a Maori feast cooked in the ground. The Maori culture is ancient, but you’ll see its contemporary expressions all around, for instance in Maori tattooing, ta moko, bold, intricate spirals drawn on the face. Visit the region of Rotorua to engage in these deeply distinctive ceremonies.

In Rotorua, you’ll also get a taste (and sulfurous smell) of the geothermal bubblings here as it’s an epicenter for volcanic activities – geysers, rising steam, hot mineral pools, and steaming mud baths. Visit nearby Mount Tarawera, site of New Zealand’s last major volcanic eruption.

There is no end to the overwhelming panoramas throughout this natural jewel of a country. On the South Island, take in the Southern Alps – pristine snow-capped spires rising from deep, turquoise lakes. Or treat yourself to a technicolor display at Fiordland National Park where thickly forested mountains loom over the sea.

Here you’ll find the astonishing Milford Sound with its cliffs, waterfalls, and misty rainbows inviting you to stay forever. Look for seals, dolphins and crested penguins in this unworldly marine setting. At the other end of South Island, Abel Tasman National Park will enchant with its perfect palette of verdant green hills and white sandy coves slipping into a clear glassy sea. Tramp (hike), kayak, swim, or just soak up the colors of this pristine slice of nature.

As much as you’ll love the natural glories of New Zealand don’t overlook its smallish but very livable cities. On North Island, Auckland will charm you with its beaches, culinary, and music life. Enjoy the many cultural festivals in this multicultural city. And don’t forget Wellington, the country’s capital – small but lively, with a great music and dining scene.

Just remember to leave yourself plenty of time to explore this beautiful off-the-beaten-path world, reverently referred to in the Maori language: Aotearoa, or “Long White Cloud”.