For a country roughly the size of Colorado (270,000 square kilometres), New Zealand offers a remarkably varied landscape. Lush rainforests, stunning mountain chains, steaming volcanoes, geothermal hot pools, sweeping coastlines, deeply indented fiords and some of the world’s most recognised tourist towns; it’s no wonder it is a “must-see” destination for so many.
This magical land has been featured in films such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia trilogy, largely because no single country can offer such diverse and awe-inspiring landscapes as can be found here. The panoramas, like the grassy fields that stretch to the foothills of the mountains look exactly as described in The Lord of the Rings novels.
New Zealand is comprised of two main islands, North Island and South Island, as well as several small surrounding islands, each with their own captivating draws. One third of the country is made up of national parks and wildlife preserves. The seasons down under are the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere, but since summer and winter temps only vary by about 10 C, New Zealand remains an ideal vacation spot year round.
The North Island’s extensive coastline is surrounded by a myriad of islands, beautiful bays and beaches. At the northwestern most tip of the Aupouri Peninsula sits the lighthouse at the tip of Cape Reinga. This sliver of land divides the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean and can be found by following the Twin Coast Highway. It is a highly frequented tourist destination. The cape is a sacred place for New Zealand’s indigenous population, the Māori, who believe it is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld.
Auckland is the country’s largest city. Set between two harbours and close to several hiking trails and vineyards, it is a great multicultural city to visit. The breathtaking Coromandel Peninsula is easily accessible from Auckland and will thrill all visitors with intriguing rock formations and sand beaches surrounded by hills of lush green rainforests. Cathedral Cove, in Mercury Bay on the eastern shore of the Coromandel Peninsula, was used in the Chronicles of Narnia. Tourists, regardless of their experience with the film, will be blown away by the majesty of the bluff rising sharply above the ocean and deep river crevasse surrounded by 61 metre high waterfalls plunging into the waters below.
The Bay of Plenty offers a year-round sunny climate and is the ideal resort location with endless beaches and outdoor activities. Just 50 kilometres offshore, visitors can set foot on White Island, New Zealand’s only active marine volcano, a geological wonder well worth visiting. The island is treeless, and reminiscent of a moonscape. Walking tours will take you past steaming fumaroles, bubbling pools of lava, and house-sized boulders on your way to the main volcanic bowl where the cliffs tower over 300 metres high.
The gentle plains, rolling hills and pastoral lands of Hamilton Waikato conceal a network of limestone caves and have been made famous by the filming of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Fans wanting to visit The Shire, or Hobbiton as it is otherwise known, will find it on a quiet country road near the town of Matamata. A two hour drive will transport you from Auckland and into the magical Shire. The movie set fills 12 acres of rolling hills where 44 Hobbit holes have been dug into the hillside surrounded by gardens and orchards on pastures owned and operated by the Alexander family. The most recent addition to The Shire was The Green Dragon Inn, added in 2012.
Lake Taupo, the largest fresh water lake in Australasia, offers visitors the chance to view thermal springs, bubbling mud and steam vents. Rotorua also offers an active geothermal landscape filled with hot springs, mud pools and active geysers. Here, the Te Arawa iwi, one of the larger New Zealand Māori tribes, offer tourists a glimpse of the landscape in the Whakarewarewa Living Thermal Village, located at one of the first places where Māori guides welcomed international seafarers. This site is an authentic, living Māori village and shares some of their customs, traditions and way of life with visitors.
Whanganui National Park has been virtually untouched by man. You can escape to this mystical landscape filled with remote rainforests, lush vegetation and stunning scenery; walk across the Bridge to Nowhere, canoe the mighty Whanganui River or bike the Mangapurua and Kaiwhakauka tracks, two stages of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail.
Before leaving the North Island take a quick stop in Wairarapa, the premium wine destination and hotspot for foodies and wine lovers. Watch the sunrise in Eastland, a place blessed with receiving the very first rays of the morning sun in the world and visit Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and creative hub for the film industry, arts and culture.