New Zealand: Home to Hobbits and other “Middle Earth” adventures.
You may think journeying “Down Under” is just too far to travel on vacation but, once you visit New Zealand, you’ll likely want to return. It’s simply not possible to experience everything offered by this country’s two major islands on a single visit.
While several cruise lines offer 13 to 15-day Australia/New Zealand cruises between Sydney and Auckland, visiting New Zealand via excursions off a cruise ship only scratches the surface of this diverse country.
On escorted or self-drive land tours, you will discover New Zealand’s glaciers, gentile streams flowing through sleepy valleys dotted with sheep, towering mountains capped with snow, fabulous sunny beaches, 10 active volcanoes, world-class cities and much more.
For special interest travelers, seven to nine-day escorted themed tours, focused on adventure, food and wine, Lord of the Rings (exploring the “Middle Earth”) or other interests, represent excellent tour options. However, you can easily spend a week exploring each island with a self-driving tour – on the left side of the road. I recommend beginning on the South Island, arriving on a domestic flight to Queenstown from Auckland connecting with your international flight.
Milford Sound and Fjordland National Park in the southwest of the South Island, should be at the top of your list of World Heritage Sites to visit. In addition to magical vistas, rain forests, waterfalls and mountains, you will encounter abundant wildlife, including dolphins, fur seals, penguins, ducks and a wide range of native New Zealand birds. You also will find diverse flora (more than 700 native plants), ancient forests and numerous walking trails. The park is reachable only by boat, or via a single road from Queenstown, where you should plan to spend at least two nights.
New Zealand’s second largest city, Christchurch is known for its public gardens, parks and green-ways. I especially recommend punting on the Avon River. While the city still recovers from a series of devastating earthquakes several years ago, you will enjoy this laid-back South Island city and its bucolic countryside. It’s also a jumping off point for expeditions to Antarctica, so be sure to visit the International Antarctic Center where “snow” falls every six minutes.
Following a three-hour-plus ferry ride across Cook Strait to the North Island you arrive in Wellington, recognized as one the world’s most livable cities. It’s also the nation’s dynamic capital. I highly recommend a city tour that includes at least half a day exploring the innovative national museum – Te Papa Tongarews – which traces the country’s heritage and the culture of the Maori’s, New Zealand’s original people.
Time permitting, drive up the east coast to visit the Mitai Maori Village in Rotorua. Your kid-friendly Rotorua adventure might also include the Hells Gate Mud Spa, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, cave tours, whitewater rafting or a visit to the Hobbiton movie set.
In Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, you can easily spend a few days touring the city and enjoying day trips to explore the country’s rugged northwest coast or offshore islands. You also might opt to visit New Zealand’s finest vineyards or a nearby kiwi farm before flying home.
While New Zealand may seem like a long distance to travel, it’s a magical destination well worth the journey.