The Maori people’s Polynesian ancestors sailed around the Pacific Ocean with their navigational skills to guide them. One of the last islands to be discovered was Aotearoa New Zealand. The “Aotearoa” part of the name comes from the wife of the adventurer Kupe, who pointed out the long white clouds that were over the land, thus giving Aotearoa its name which translates to “long white cloud.”
European settlers first came to New Zealand in 1642 with Dutch explorer Abel Tasman at the forefront of the expedition. While he never set foot on the island, due to a skirmish with the Maori tribes, his name for the island, New Zealand, stuck. Captain James Cook was the next European to visit New Zealand and with his publicity of the island, settlers began arriving in New Zealand in search of timber, flax and whales.
Once the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the Maori and British Crown, settlers flooded the area. The paramount chief, Ngati Whatua, could see the clear advantages of attracting the British Crown’s representatives to the island as it brought trade opportunities, new technologies and protection from the rival tribes. Maori historic sites and colonial-era buildings still dot the area in a country that is culturally diverse and full of things to see and do.
To this day, New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture is accessible to visitors and it will engage you, almost immediately. Try the famous war dance, haka, made popular by the All Blacks rugby team. Devour a traditional hangi meal (it’s an entire feast that is cooked in the ground). There’s a number of things you can participate in and try your hand at to get a better understanding of the Maori culture but perhaps the most interesting and engaging part of it all is how connected and contemporary the culture is. Their traditions are rooted in deep history, but everywhere you go in New Zealand you will be confronted with opportunities to learn about Maori myths and spirituality or learn some of their language or even participate in a cultural performance. The culture lives on because the country embraces its history and the indigenous people that created Aotearoa – New Zealand.
The islands of New Zealand are home to incredibly diverse animal species—many of which can only be found in New Zealand. There is the national symbol, the kiwi, a flightless bird that is native to New Zealand and can be found on both islands. The tuatara is another animal that calls New Zealand home. This reptile species is considered a “living fossil” and its lineage stretches back to the time of dinosaurs. If you prefer birds to reptiles, check out the alpine parrots, who are incredibly intelligent, or the yellow-eyed penguin, also known as the hoiho, and of course, the grand royal albatross. Once you get off the land and dip below the waves, you’ll come across diverse marine life as well. Whales, dolphins, fur seals and more can all be found off New Zealand’s southern shores.
There is no end to the stunning scenery in New Zealand. Everywhere you turn, there are towering snow-capped mountains begging for attention or incredible sparkling coastlines drawing you to their shores. From rugged coasts to lazy, pristine beaches New Zealand doesn’t slack on coastline lookers. Volcanos rule the horizon in the central plateau of the North Island and the glaciers to the south offer a remarkable view.
Not only is New Zealand pretty to look at, but it delivers on activities and fun adventures too. All those vistas and mountains and beaches and plateaus offer opportunities to get off the couch, out of the hotel and to get active. Choose from skydiving, bungy jumping, mountain biking, snorkelling, jet boating and more. The potential risk inherent in these activities is the major draw and thrill for many New Zealanders who do these things regularly, but if you are thinking of jumping in head first (literally with bungy jumping!) during your holiday, add another layer of protection and make sure you have travel insurance that will cover you for the adrenaline-filled adventures available all over New Zealand.
Being surrounded by water makes it no surprise that New Zealand has a maritime climate. New Zealand is warm in the summer months, and never truly gets cold even in the depths of winter. The South Island gets the lion's share of the rain that falls, with the West Coast and Fiordland ranking among the world's wettest places. In the North Island, warm, damp summers fade imperceptibly into cool, wet winters, while the further south you travel the more the weather divides the year into four distinct seasons.
Most people visit New Zealand in the summer, but it is a viable destination at any time of the year. From December to March everything is open, though often busy with Kiwis holidaying during the Christmas season. In general, you're better off heading to NZ during the shoulder seasons (October, November and April) when attractions are quieter, and reservations are easier to come by. Winter (May–Sept) is the wettest, coldest and consequently least popular time, unless you are enamoured by winter sports, in which case it's wonderful.
Be sure to organise comprehensive travel insurance and check which circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy. Personal injury and income protection insurance is also strongly recommended for travel to New Zealand. Australian visitors can incur significant medical and travel costs or loss of income as a result of accidents in New Zealand and are not entitled to compensation for these from New Zealand's national accident compensation scheme after return to Australia.
New Zealanders are refreshingly relaxed, low-key and free of pretension, and you're likely to be greeted with an informal "gidday!", "Kia ora!" (Hi) or "Kia ora, bro!" (Hi, mate). The legal drinking age is 18, but by law you may be asked to prove your age by showing ID, which must be either a New Zealand driver's licence or a passport (foreign driver's licences aren't accepted).
Image courtesy of Flickr user thinboyfatter.