Haere mai, people!

The mere mention of New Zealand brings to mind picturesque landscapes, exotic fauna, and a unique confluence of cultures quite unlike any other nation. And it’s time we had a ‘squiz’ at the hottest and most exciting destination south of the equator, says Sushmita Sarkhel

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New Zealand comprises two main islands, the North and the South Island as well as a few smaller ones, and the whole nation is roughly about the size of Italy. But don’t be fooled by its size, there are a million things to do and to see.

Our journey begins from the north, that is, the subtropical Northland region well known for its pristine, expansive coastlines. It is said that no matter where you travel to, in Northland you are never more than 40 minutes from the sea. And since the waters are relatively warmer, it ideal for activities like deep sea diving, snorkelling, surfing, kayaking and the likes. Swim with the dolphins or explore the region by following the trails through uninhabited forests or simply relax in a yacht and soak up the sun. Mount Manaia in the Whangarei District is the remnant of a 22 million year old volcano and must-see. When you climb the summit, make sure you have your camera to take shots of the breathtaking panoramic views. The Bay of Islands is most popular for fishing and sailing and not to be missed if you want some adventure. From dune riding to dolphin discovery – there’s something in it for all kinds of thrill seekers.

Our next stop, Auckland, is locally known as ‘the maiden with a hundred suitors’, and we’re definitely not questioning why. From beautiful beaches to savvy shopping outlets, Auckland has it all. Being the hub of multiculturalism, Auckland is the ultimate destination for foodies and art enthusiasts alike. Make sure you try the ‘Pacific Rim’ cuisine, a style that incorporates Asian and Pacific flavours. From Auckland, hop over to the Coromandel Peninsula – NZ’s most popular holiday destination. The Hot Water Beach is a must-see. Enjoy a unique natural experience where thermal heat rises through the sand a heats up the water to give rise to hot water springs. Dig into the sand and enjoy a relaxing hot spring spa from Mother Nature. The beautiful and calm Kauri forest and the Waiau falls are not to be missed either. If history and archeology is your thing, then take some time out to explore the gold mining relics, the ancient Maori pa sites and the colonial architecture in the surrounding towns.

NZ basically straddles two tectonic plates and also belongs to the Pacific ‘ring of fire’. As hazardous as this may sound, it has ultimately led to some mind blowing geothermal areas with reputed health benefits. A three hour drive from Auckland is the town of Rotorua, our next destination and a key centre for geothermal tourist activity. Hundreds of tourists flock to Rotorua to exclusively check out the mud pools, hot springs, volcanic terraces and geysers. Whakarewarewa, Waimangu, Waiotapu, Hells Gate and the Hidden Valley are the most popular among tourists. Apart from this, Rotorua is a great place to try out Zorbing (which actually originated in Rotorua), rafting, kayaking, and sledging – all in all a great list of activities for an awesome adventure packed holiday! Often overlooked, Rotorua is also considered the heartland of Maori culture. Don’t forget to take some time out and try out carving or weaving or singing and dancing in some Maori shows.

Any travelogue would be incomplete without the mention of NZ’s National Parks and Tongariro National Park (a World Heritage Area) is the main attraction in the Ruapehu region. The park protects three of New Zealand’s most dramatic natural assets – the active andesitic volcanoes Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, and provides a spectacular hiking experience (including the famous Tongariro crossing). Does skiing and snowboarding on an active volcano sound like your thing? Then the Turoa and Whakapapa ski areas on Mount Ruapehu is the destination for you! Boasting of world class facilities and a stagerring range of ski runs – there is something for everyone (first timers included).

      Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

New Zealand has some incredible wildlife. It’s isolation from the mainland millions of years ago have resulted in the evolution of some unique flora and fauna, including some direct descendants of of prehistoric wildlife. And of the places to enjoy NZ’s fauna is the small town of Kaikoura in the South Island. Time stands still in this scenic little town. Be it whale or dolphin watching, swimming with the seals or enjoying the bird life, we promise you, you’ll never be the same. If you truly want to explore the area, try a bike, or on horseback, or – if you’re the more adventurous kind – a llama!

The ultimate destination for eco-tourism is Akaroa, our next stop. Get up close and personal with the playful Hector’s dolphins or enjoy a peaceful kayak ride and get to observe the White-flipped penguins at the Pohatu Marine Reserve. Akaroa is truly a nature lover’s paradise. Mount Cook National Park is another World Heritage site and comprises of breathtaking journeys across snow-capped mountains. The Ball Pass is a challenging 3-day alpine crossing of the Mount Cook Range and allows close views of New Zealand’s highest mountains.

Our final stop is Queenstown. If you have a bucket-list, then we’re sure you’ll be crossing out at least a few from your list after your visit to Queenstown. Skydiving, bungee jumping, jet-boating, canyon swinging, parapenting, heli-skiing – the list of activities is virtually endless. And if you’re a recovering shopaholic, then please be warned – Queenstown is every shoppers dream come true. Designer brands, local boutiques, thrift stores – there’s room for everything. Shops are open all day and most of the evening 365 days a year. Queenstown is arguably the best place in the world to buy traditional wool and sheepskin clothing and indigenous Pounamu (greenstone). In Arrowtown you’ll find a unique shopping atmosphere along historic Buckingham Street – boutique and specialty stores offering exquisite hand-made chocolates, premier clothing, local wines, fine arts and local crafts including jade, crystal and gold.

Anytime is a good time to visit New Zealand. The county enjoys a temperate climate – which means mild temperatures, moderate rainfall and plenty of sunshine. But before you start packing, remember that you will be visiting a country in the southern hemisphere where the coldest month is July and the warmest, January! What are you waiting for? It’s time to experience all things Kiwiana!