When someone asks you to choose your favourite country, it can be a bit like trying to pick your favourite book. Or your favourite film. Or your favourite Ben & Jerry’s flavour. In other words: tough.
I have a few contenders for my favourite country: Fiji (palm trees & tropical beaches – not a bad combo); Australia (my adopted home, once upon a time); and of course the UK (my real home). But the country that most often comes out on top is the one and only beautiful New Zealand.
Yes, it takes forever to get there (at least from the UK, anyway), but it is totally totally worth it.
Let me show you why:
1: SOMETIMES, IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:
This is the view from a hill just outside Queenstown: adventure capital of New Zealand. Actually, forget New Zealand – Queenstown is probably the adventure capital of the world. I took this photo minutes after landing, having just paraglided (paraglid?) above this stunning view. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
2: AND SOMETIMES, IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:
A sunny morning on Urupukapuka Island (the largest in the Bay of Islands). A couple of minutes after taking this photo, I ran down to the beach, stripped down to bra & pants and jumped into the sea!
3: WHICH MEANS THAT SOMETIMES YOU GET TO HANG OUT WITH THESE GUYS:
I met dolphins in the Bay of Islands, on the boat from Paihia to Urupukapuka Island. The sea was choppy as we followed a pod through one of the channels. One dolphin looked particularly sickly, and the captain informed us that sadly this dolphin looked as though she may not make it. He warned us that she may unfortunately die while we were watching. We left the dolphins then, to take in some of the other sights, but we caught up with them in a sheltered bay further on. Of course, everyone was looking to see if the sickly dolphin had made it. To our great surprise, there she was with the rest of the pod. Not only did she look considerably healthier, but swimming along beside her was a newborn dolphin pup! We all cheered as he kept up with his mother, so young that we could still see the creases on his tummy where he’d been curled up in his mother’s womb.
4: …OR WITH THESE GUYS:
You can quite often find seals chilling on the rocks at Kaikoura, on New Zealand’s South Island. Obviously, you have to be sensible and keep a respectable distance from them, but it’s surprising how close you can get without disturbing them.
5: YOU CAN EAT MCDONALDS ON THE PLANE:
…and I don’t mean on the flight over. I’m talking about Taupo, where a decomissioned plane is actually part of the restaurant. I’m not a huge McDonalds fan in normal life, for a number of reasons (health, environment, supporting smaller businesses etc etc), but I made an exception for this one. After all, how often do you get to eat your dinner looking out of the window of a decommissioned plane, taking in the New Zealand scenery?
6: THE MUSSELS ARE AMAZING:
Until I went to New Zealand, I never knew how much I loved mussels. Fresh green lipped mussels, straight from the market & before that, straight from the sea. Cooked outdoors on a barbecue griddle, then eaten on picnic benches overlooking the sea. Surf & turf has never tasted so good.
7: FERGBURGER IS PRETTY DELICIOUS, TOO:
If you go to Queenstown, you have to go to Fergburger. Fact. You may get lucky andd get food & a table straight away, but expect to wait for up to an hour at busy times. But there’s a reason for that: they’re scrumptious & they’re famous among backpackers the world over. (Perfect after getting caught out in the rain – as happened in the above picture!)
8: TRUE, THE CYCLE LANE CAN GET A BIT OVERCROWDED…
The Otago Rail Trail is a 152km walking & cycle route on New Zealand’s South Island. It follows the route of the old railway, which means you get to cycle through tunnels & over bridges. (Tip: when cycling through tunnels, head for the light at the end! If you try to look at the track right in front of you where it’s pitch dark, you fall off the bike. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. Honest.)
9: …AND THE TRAFFIC CAN BE TERRIBLE…
It’s well known (and well broadcast) that New Zealand has more sheep than people. In fact, there are around 6 sheep to every person. But then, this is hardly surprising when you think that the whole of New Zealand only has a population of around four and a half million people – around half the population of London or New York. This means lots of space & roads that are rarely clogged up with cars – although occasionally clogged up with sheep!
10: …BUT YOU CAN ALWAYS GRAB A TAXI:
Abel Tasman is a National Park on the north of the South Island. Renowned for its beautiful beaches, it’s a perfect place to wander, then stop for a swim or a sunbathe. And at the end of the day, head home on the Abel Tasman water taxi, which hops from bay to bay. Better (and cheaper) than a London cab, anyway.
11: THERE ARE SOME PRETTY SPECIAL WATERFALLS:
Maruia Springs waterfall is on the South Island, and particularly spectacular after heavy rain. Right after taking the above photos, I landed really badly on a tree root and hurt my ankle. I guess that’s the price you pay for a good photo…
12: …AND THE LAKES AREN’T HALF BAD, EITHER:
…NO, REALLY REALLY…
Lakes in order of appearance: Lake Rotoroa on the South Island (not to be confused with the more well-known and only-one-letter-different Lake Rotorua on the North Island); Lake Wanaka on the South Island; Lake Matheson, also on the South Island. All beautiful places for a stroll along water’s edge and a picnic on the shore.
13: SOME OF THE BEACHES LOOK LIKE THIS:
Remember what I said about Abel Tasman National Park, and how it’s renowned for it’s beautiful beaches? This is what I was talking about. Golden sand and (fingers crossed) glorious sunshine. Then once you’ve worked up an appetite wandering along the beach, you can dig into some of those mussels I mentioned earlier. Scrumptious!
14: …AND EVEN WHEN THE WEATHER’S BAD, THEY CAN LOOK LIKE THIS:
Kaikoura is also on New Zealand’s South Island, but it’s a very different kind of beach. Pebbles curving round in an elegant bay, and set against a magnificent mountainous backdrop. It’s also Kaikoura where the seals hang around, though usually in the rocky pools at either end of the beach, rather than in the middle of the beach itself. You can also join a whale watching tour here, if you’re looking for some slightly bigger sealife.
15: BECAUSE OF COURSE, IT CAN GET A BIT CHILLY SOMETIMES:
How many countries have a glacier that flows through a rainforest?! Franz Josef Glacier is on New Zealand’s South Island, and absolutely took my breath away. Maybe this is just me: I’m kind of obsessed with ice, and have been ever since I first saw pictures of Antarctica as a child. For me, hiking up an enormous river of ice was an unforgettable experience, and an absolute must on a trip to NZ.
16: L&P IS DELICIOUS. AS IN, REALLY DELICIOUS:
Lemon & Paeroa (L&P) is to New Zealand what Irn Bru is to Scotland, or what Dr Pepper is to USA. It’s a fizzy pop, and it’s kind of New Zealand’s national drink. What’s Paeroa? I hear you ask. No, it isn’t some exotic New Zealand fruit. It’s actually a place with a natural spring, and it was here (using ‘Paeroa water’) that the drink was first made. And drunk. And drunk and drunk. And now my mouth is watering…
17: YOU CAN KAYAK YOUR WAY INTO NARNIA…
Cathedral Cove is part of the North Island’s Coromandel Coast. In the 2008 film of Prince Caspian, Cathedral Cove stars as the beach where the Pevensie children come through to Narnia from London. It’s a secluded beach that can’t be reached by road. Instead, you have to walk there – or go by boat. We kayaked their from Hahei, which didn’t look far, but was a strain battling against the waves – especially for someone like me with itty bitty muscles! We arrived in Cathedral Cove tired and drenched from the sea spray, but full of satisfaction at having made it.
18: …OR YOU CAN DRIVE:
New Zealand is definitely a good country for a road trip. It’s the kind of country where you just want the freedom to explore. Where you want to make the most of the hidden gems & the open road. I travelled around New Zealand as part of a small group tour, with Adventure Tours. It was a fantastic way to meet people and to see an enormous chunk of the country. But now that I’ve been once, I would definitely travel independently a second time. My own route, my own stopovers, and my own playlist belting out as I drive through some of the most sensational landscapes on earth.
19: AND SPEAKING OF STORIES, THEY’RE PRETTY MUCH EVERYWHERE:
Forget lovelocks on Parisian bridge – it’s all about rocks in Bruce Bay. Travellers here have scrawled their names and countries (and sometimes other messages) on the sea-smoothed pebbles they’ve picked up from the beach. Then they’ve left them there, like an offering at the shrine of travel. They’re there for other travellers to read, and for the sea to eventually reclaim. I guess the appeal of this beach to me is obvious. I love a place with a story, and Bruce Bay has thousands.
20: SELFIES ARE A BIT MORE EXTREME, HERE:
When I went paragliding, it sort of happened a bit by accident. We were stayng in Queenstown (commonly known as the adventure capital of New Zealand) and I’d planned to go skydiving again, having been once already on the North Island. We got right out to the drop zone before the skydive was cancelled because of the wind. So what to do? How to fill the afternoon? I went for the next thing I could think of: paragliding. After skydiving, I thought, how scary can it be? Answer: very. With skydiving, you don’t really have to do anything – it’s the instructor who launches you both out of the plane, not you. With paragliding, just getting up in the air takes an act of extreme courage. When he gave the signal, my instructor said, I had to run for all I was worth – down a hill and over the edge of a knoll. If the wind failed to catch the parachute, we would fall and it would be at least a broken leg. Luckily, the wind caught and we soared. The Remarkables (aka The Walls of Mordor) loomed in the middle distance. The instructor gave me control and taught me how to do wingovers. Twirling through the air in such a beautiful place was breathtaking. It was like a dance, and the landscape was my music.
21: IN THE COUNTRY, THERE ARE PLENTY OF WAYS TO LITERALLY GET HIGH:
From skydiving over Lake Rotorua on the North Island, to paragliding outside Queenstown on the South Island, New Zealand certainly doesn’t lack ways to get up in the air. Whether you want the joy of ascending or the adrenaline rush of falling, New Zealand is all about the extremes. Bungee jumping, scenic flights, vintage planes, hang gliding… As if the country wasn’t beautiful enough from the ground, there are plenty of ways to see if from a higher angle as well.
22: …AND IN THE CITY, TOO:
At over 300 metres tall, the Sky Tower in Auckland is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. It offers fantastic views across the city & is a great place to sit and have a cup of coffee. Or you can stand on the glass floors and look down at the roads and buildings, such a long long way beneath your feet… Oh, and speaking of adrenaline, you can always bungee jump from the Sky Tower, too!
23: YOU CAN CLIMB MOUNT DOOM (IF YOU CAN MAKE IT TO THE TOP):
Mount Ngauruhoe is a volcano on New Zealand’s North Island. It’s such a perfect conical shape that it almost looks like a child’s drawing of a volcano, rather than a real one. And it’s almost taken on fictional status – as it’s often referred to by another name: Mount Doom. The mountain was used as the fictional Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. It sits on the famous (or perhaps infamous) Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, and if you’re prepared to hike up a mountain of volcanic sand (think one step forward, two slides back), then there are some spectacular views from the top.
24: …AND EVEN IF YOU CAN’T, YOU CAN GET VIEWS LIKE THIS:
On the more regular 1 day Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, you just pass the base of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom). But the 19.4km hike does take you past the Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes. These sound like names from a children’s book, and don’t quite fit with the barren blasted landscape you’re walking through. Still, there’s something beautiful in this rocky place. And the views across the lower lands are sensational.
25: NEW ZEALAND IS LITERALLY MIDDLE EARTH!
The Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand – and travelling around the country, you can totally see why! It’s like the England of old (or more probably, the storybook England that never really was) but quadrupled. Everything’s bigger, bolder, more breathtaking. Forget hobbits and elves – New Zealand is like a fantasy land on its own!
Have you been to New Zealand? What did you love about it? Anything that I’ve missed off here?