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New Zealand, 'Land of the Long White Cloud', is a small, sparsely populated country consisting of two major islands, North and South Island, and a scattering of smaller ones. Despite its small size it is crammed with magnificent natural beauty and has an incredible amount to offer its visitors. Fresh air, breathtaking scenery and outdoor activities are the main attractions of New Zealand, with a tremendously friendly, honest and helpful population, colloquially nicknamed after their country's distinct symbol, the unusual but amiable flightless kiwi bird.
The North Island has dramatic volcanic landscapes and highly active thermal areas, long stretches of beautiful beaches and excellent sailing, ancient indigenous forests and a strong Maori cultural influence. The South Island has a slower pace of life dominated by the magnificent snow-covered Southern Alps and the spectacular scenery of the southern waterways of the fjord lands, with glaciers, deep lakes and verdant forests.
The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was New Zealand's founding document, an attempt to settle disputes between the European settlers and the Maoris, conceding the country to British rule while guaranteeing the Maori people possession of their land and cultural identity. Today, integration has been replaced by a policy of upholding two different cultures alongside each other. Their shared love of sport, most notably the revered national sport of rugby union, and their enthusiasm for adventure and the outdoors is the unifying factor among the whole population.
New Zealand offers a huge variety of activities, from bungee jumping to skiing, swimming with dolphins, scenic flights and boat cruises on the fjords, as well as several world famous walking trails. Alternatively visitors can immerse themselves in culture at the museums and galleries of Auckland and the capital Wellington in the North, and Christchurch in the south.
New Zealand is an easy and compact place in which to travel and its spectacularly dramatic landscape alone, famous for its setting for the 'The Lord of the Rings' film trilogy, makes the long trip to these southern islands more than worthwhile.
There is so much to see and do in New Zealand that it is difficult to know where to start. This is, after all, the self-styled 'adventure capital of the world', where willing participants can bungee jump, zorb and sky dive to their heart's content in outdoor playgrounds such as Queensland or Wanaka.
The natural landscape in New Zealand is astonishing. Visitors can take in the pristine fjord of Milford Sound, or get lost in the turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands. Highlights of the Hauraki Gulf islands near Auckland include Waiheke, famous for its wine, and the volcanic Rangitoto. The three mighty volcanoes of Tongariro National Park are awesome for skiing and trekking, enjoying dual UNESCO status for volcanic landscape and cultural importance.
The rugged and uninhabited West Coast, framed by the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea, is home to stunning natural features such as the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Not to be missed in this region is the TranzAlpine train, one of the world's great railway journeys, traversing the Southern Alps and passing through Arthur's Pass National Park as it makes its way from Greymouth to Christchurch.
The cities offer an entirely different experience. Auckland, known to the Maori people as 'Tamaki Makaurau' (city of many lovers), is renowned as one of the top cities in the world for quality of life. Wellington, the capital, is small but with a big city feel. Here, visitors can enjoy the culture, caffeine and, of course, the craft beer. Otago's rolling hills are home to some top wine producers.
New Zealand is also developing other sides to its tourist offering with a burgeoning wine industry, fascinating Maori culture, restorative thermal pools and natural spas, and plenty of tours themed around The Lord of the Rings, which was filmed at locations around the country.
The Auckland Museum overlooks the city and the attractive Waitemata Harbour. It is one of the most visited attractions in the city, housing a remarkable collection of Maori and Pacific Island artefacts and cultural displays. Originally built as a World War I Memorial in 1929, the building was dedicated to the memory of New Zealand victims in both World War I and II. The 'New Zealand at War' exhibition has since been joined by extensive displays about the people and the country, its cultures, art and natural history. A highlight is the Maori cultural performance of song and dance, performed three times daily.
At 1,076 feet (328m), Auckland's Sky Tower is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere and has unforgettable views over the city, the harbour and the gulf islands. It is part of the Sky City Entertainment Complex, with a casino, theatre, hotel, and conference centre. Visitors to the tower can splash out on dinner in the revolving restaurant, or admire the view from one of the four circular observation decks, reached by a glass lift. There is an outdoor deck, glass floor panels, an audio visual guide, and a number of touch computer screens providing geographical information. The Sky Deck is the highest viewing level with spectacular 360-degree views.
Wai-O-Tapu, meaning 'Sacred Waters', is a diverse and colourful geothermal sightseeing experience. The area has been active for more than 100,000 years and features thick pools of boiling mud that bubble and belch, geysers, sulphuric mineral terraces, and steaming pools that create a kaleidoscope of colour. Walkways around the area allow visitors to admire the display of some of the most incredible earth forces in the world. Some of the best features include the spectacular Champagne Pool, a large steaming and bubbling pool fringed by red and yellow ochre deposits, and the evil looking Devil's Bath, where the high concentration of arsenic creates the vivid green colour of the water.
Te Papa is Wellington's leading attraction and one of the world's largest national museums. It is a tribute to all that is New Zealand; its people and history, natural environment, arts, and culture. Interactive technology and superb displays bring the story to life, with visitors able to experience the explosive creation of pre-historic New Zealand, go on a virtual bungee jump, experience the effects of a volcanic eruption, and much more. Other attractions include a range of magnificent exhibitions featuring some of the country's most important Maori treasures, a modern 'marae' or Maori meeting house, and an informative display on the Treaty of Waitangi.
The cable car is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wellington, and there is simply no better way to experience the destination's hidden charm. It takes people to the lookout at Kelburn, where there is a beautiful view over the city and across the harbour. Visitors can either take a return journey or walk back down through the beautifully landscaped Botanic Gardens. At the top terminus there is the small Cable Car Museum explaining its history.
Christchurch's heritage trams, dating back to 1954, have been beautifully restored, offering visitors a unique experience that takes visitors on a two-mile (3km) loop of many of the city's best attractions. The drivers offer insight on the history, architecture, activities, and points of interest. Visitors can hop on and off at any of the stops to explore at their leisure. The most interesting sights include the Aquarium of Discovery, punting on the Avon River, the exquisite Botanic Gardens on the banks of the river, New Regent Street with its pretty Spanish mission-style architecture, the magnificent Gothic buildings of the Arts Centre, and Canterbury Museum, with an excellent Antarctic exhibition.
The spectacular ride takes visitors to the top of the crater rim of Christchurch's extinct volcano on the outskirts of the city, unfolding magnificent views over the Canterbury Plains and towards the Southern Alps, and the sweep of Pegasus Bay and Lyttelton Harbour, as it rises to 1,460 feet (445m) above sea level. At the summit the Gondola Complex features the Time Tunnel Heritage Show with a walk-through exhibition and video relaying the history and geological evolution of the Canterbury region as well as Maori mythology. From the summit it is possible to walk back down through the Port Hills to Sumner Beach.
Mount Cook National Park is known for its exquisite alpine beauty and is home to the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mount Cook. Its Maori name, 'Aoraki' means 'cloud piercer' and at 12,218 feet (3,724m) it towers above the surrounding snow-covered peaks in the park. A third of the park is covered in permanent ice and snow and the mighty Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier outside of the polar regions. Glacial melt gives the lakes their beautiful milky, turquoise colour and there are many walks in the area to take in the dramatic beauty.
The Queenstown Gondola takes visitors up to Bob's Peak above the town, and has incredible views over Queenstown, the lake, and the Remarkables Range. At the top of the gondola is the Luge offering three-wheel cart rides for all different ages and abilities, or there are numerous walks on the mountain with beautiful views of the area. At the bottom terminal is the Kiwi and Birdlife Park featuring nocturnal kiwi houses and other endangered species of New Zealand.
Arrowtown sits at the edge of the Otago Goldfields and was one of New Zealand's biggest gold towns in its day. It still has reminders of the gold rush days with little miners' cottages along the tree lined streets, historic wooden buildings, and 19th century-style shops. There are the interesting remains of a Chinese settlement, with interpretive signs, nestled along the banks of Bush Creek where gold was panned. The Chinese diggers often worked through the remains of previous miner's claims in search of undetected fine gold. The Visitors Centre contains the excellent Lake District Museum that has a small display on local history and gold mining.
Nowhere else in the world, outside the polar regions, can one see glaciers so close to the sea. The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers extend more than eight miles (13km) from the highest peaks of precipitous mountains to the valley floor and are surrounded by rainforest. The glaciers are moving at an average rate of three feet (1m) a day, but the Frans Josef can move up to an incredible 16 feet (5m) in one day. A wide range of companies offer guided trips to explore the spectacular ice formations, taking visitors up onto the mighty rivers of ice.
Hemmed in by towering granite cliffs and dominated by Mitre Peak, the calm deep waters reflect ice-covered mountain tops, waterfalls plummet from the cliff tops to the water below, and Bottlenose dolphins play in the foaming wakes of the boats. The 14-mile (22km) long fjord of Milford Sound is the most famous attraction in the Fjordland National Park. The road to Milford Sound is one of the finest alpine drives in the world, with many view points to admire the sheer scale of the dramatic landscape. A variety of boat cruises or popular kayaking trips provide opportunities to see the fur seals, crested penguins and dolphins, while scenic flights give a unique perspective on the area.
Canterbury is one of the most popular ski areas in New Zealand. It's located not too far from Christchurch. Mount Hutt is the most developed ski resort in Canterbury. The resort caters for skiers of all levels, with good intermediate and advanced runs, and a 'magic carpet' lift for beginners. There are also some excellent off-piste areas, including a run through the Towers rock formations at the top of the mountain. One of the main disadvantages of Mount Hutt is its location on a very windy section of mountains in New Zealand. The ski area is forced to shut down roughly 14 days per season due to dangerous winds.
Situated on a peninsula just 45 miles (75km) south of Christchurch, Akaroa is a historic colonial settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. It is Canterbury's oldest village and its French character is evident in the street names, quaint historical architecture, and French inspired cuisine. The pretty town and its lovely bays and harbour offer an enormous range of activities for tourists. With its beautiful colonial architecture, cafes, and restaurants, Akaroa is an easy place to spend a relaxing day, and for the more active the surrounding area offers fantastic walking trails, sea kayaking and sailing.
Lake Wanaka was voted as one of the world's top 10 most romantic destinations. It is a picture-perfect alpine lake located in the Otago region of the South Island. It is New Zealand's fourth-largest lake and certainly one of its most beautiful. The lake is popular for boating, fishing, and swimming and the temperate climate ensures that this is a year-round destination. The nearby Harris Mountains provide ample opportunity for skiing in winter as well.
Located between Wellington and Auckland, Taranaki has for a long time been largely overlooked by tourists in New Zealand. It is only recently that visitors have discovered the charms of the westernmost province in New Zealand, with its lush gardens, rolling hills of dairy farms, scenic parks, and world-class surf spots. The biggest city in Taranaki is New Plymouth, a busy port on the Tasman Sea rated by the United Nations as one of the best small cities in the world.
Situated 62 miles (100km) off the coast of northeast New Zealand, Great Barrier Island is a paradise of unspoiled wilderness and beautiful vistas. The bulk of the island has been given over to nature reserves and the local ecosystem has thrived, home to rare creatures such as Brown Teal Ducks and North Island Kaka Parrots. The real attraction of Great Barrier Island lies in the multitude of outdoor activities, including scuba diving, sailing, kayaking, surfing, fishing, hiking, quad biking, mountain biking, and golf. The population of Great Barrier Island is only around 850, but there are still some good restaurants and lodges for visitors to enjoy.
Situated on the Volcanic Plateau of Central North Island, the continuous volcanic activity has formed the landscape around Rotorua and the main attractions are based around its natural resources. There are a number of hot springs and thermal baths, the basis for its fast-growing fame as 'Nature's Spa of the South Pacific'. The crystal lakes offer holiday activities such as trout fishing and water sports, and nearby geothermal fields feature bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers, and steaming rivers. Rotorua is also the Maori cultural heartland and visitors can experience the spirit of their culture in many performances featuring stories relayed through song and dance, and a 'hangi' feast, the traditional Maori method of cooking in an earthen pit.
Te Anau rests on the shores of the beautiful lake of the same name with spectacular views of mountain peaks all around. It is the hub of the region and an excellent base from which to explore the Fjordland area. Te Anau has achieved the reputation of being the 'Sightseeing and Walking Capital of the World' having easy access to some of the most splendid Great Walks and scenery. Lake Te Anau is the second largest in New Zealand, attracting visitors with a wide variety of water sports. The town also has a wonderful resource centre with information on tramping and other excursions, as well as offering aerial sightseeing or organising trips to the main attractions in the area.
The Milford Track is considered to be the finest walk in the world. It is a four-day hike ending at Milford Sound that has been attracting tourists and locals for over 100 years. Following glaciated valleys and crossing an alpine pass it traverses some fabulous scenery, past towering snow-clad peaks, along rivers and waterfalls, over grassy plateaux, and through dense rainforests. The number of hikers is limited and accommodation is provided in comfortable mountain huts along the way.
Mount Victoria, locally abbreviated to Mt Vic, is a prominent hill to the east of the centre of Wellington, linked to Mount Albert by a ridge. The suburb of Mount Victoria is a mixture of residential and commercial activity on the western flank of the ridge above the southern end of the Wellington CBD. Mt Vic boasts beautiful views of the city and the suburb is well populated by artisanal cafes and eateries that add to the local feel of the walk. This was also the location where numerous scenes of was shot.
Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary and one of New Zealand's most important and exciting conservation projects. A hundred and twenty years of farming had seen this 220-hectare island stripped of almost all its native bush but between 1984 and 1994, volunteers planted between 250,000 and 300,000 trees. The Island is now sixty percent forested with the remaining forty percent left as grassland for species preferring open habitat. Visitors can access the island by a regular ferry service, which leaves from Auckland and Gulf Harbour. When on the island, visitors can enjoy a guided walk, explore the beaches or simply admire the natural beauty of the place.
The weather in New Zealand is changeable throughout the year, though the climate is fairly temperate, with fairly predictable conditions over longer periods. The North Island has mild winters and warm and humid summers, the South Island has lower temperatures with cold winters and extensive snowfields and glaciers. Snow falls on all the mountains in winter, and the west coast receives the most rain. The summer months in New Zealand are from November to April.
Local currency is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD), divided into 100 cents. Most businesses accept MasterCard and Visa, and while Diners Club and American Express are also widely accepted in the main tourist centres, they might have limited acceptance elsewhere. ATMs can be found in all towns and cities.
The official languages in New Zealand are English and Maori.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Oblique flat blade plugs are standard.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond the period of intended stay in New Zealand. No visa is required for stays of up to three months. Travellers must have a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) obtained prior to boarding.
UK nationals: UK citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond the period of intended stay in New Zealand. They must have a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) obtained prior to boarding. British citizens holding a passport endorsed British Citizen, or a passport containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom (and accompanied by documents that further establish their right of abode in the UK), do not require a visa to enter New Zealand for a stay of up to six months. British citizens with passports endorsed British National (Overseas) may stay for up to three months without a visa. In all other cases, a visa is required.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond the period of intended stay in New Zealand. No visa is required for stays of up to three months. Canadians must have a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) obtained prior to boarding.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in New Zealand. No visa is required.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in New Zealand. South Africans require a visitor visa which must be organised prior to travel.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond the period of intended stay in New Zealand. No visa is required for stays of up to three months. They must have a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) obtained prior to boarding.
All foreign passengers to New Zealand must hold return/onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country (usually NZD 1,000 per month, or NZD 400 if accommodation has been prepaid). Note that all visitors must obtain a permit to enter Tokelau from the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office in Apia, at least two weeks prior to travel. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no health risks associated with travel to New Zealand. New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) covers emergency treatment for visitors, but health insurance is recommended to cover any additional charges and for those not entitled to free emergency treatment. Those intending to participate in adventure activities, such as bungee jumping, white water rafting, etc should ensure that their travel insurance covers these types of activities.
Gratuities are not expected in New Zealand and service charges are not applied to bills, but it is acceptable for guests to tip at their discretion.
New Zealand has a reputation as one of the safest destinations in the world, however sensible precautions against petty theft are still advised.
Though New Zealand has a strong reputation for tolerance towards homosexuality, there are still isolated incidents of homophobic related crime. LGBT travellers should be aware of local sensitivities, especially when visiting rural areas. Importing illegal drugs is punishable by up to 12 years' imprisonment.
New Zealand is ranked first in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business rankings. The business culture of New Zealand conforms to a typically British model: formal, reserved and conservative. However, this is tempered with a characteristically Antipodean warmth and friendliness, creating a relaxed, yet professional atmosphere.
Business etiquette in New Zealand will be familiar to those who've worked in western corporate environments before. Foreigners should use titles until instructed not to do so, and maintain eye contact when speaking to their associates. Business meetings should be scheduled at least a week in advance, and then confirmed a few days before they are due to take place. The dress code for business in New Zealand is usually formal. For meetings, men should stick to a dark suit, worn with a tie; women should wear a smart dress/business suit/pants suit and limited accessories.
The official language of business in New Zealand is English, and business hours are generally from 8.30am (or 9am) to 5pm, Monday to Friday; and 9am to 12.30pm on Saturdays.
The international access code for New Zealand is +64. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0061 for Australia). A good option is to purchase a local prepaid SIM card at the airport on arrival in New Zealand. WiFi access is widely available in hotels, restaurants and other tourist establishments, except in some of the more remote areas.
Travellers to New Zealand over 17 years do not have to pay duty on 50 cigarettes, or 50g of cigars or tobacco, or a mixture of all three not exceeding 50g; three bottles of spirits or liqueur each containing not more than 1,125ml; 4.5 litres of wine or beer; and other goods to the value of NZD 700. Goods exceeding the allowances must be declared. Personal effects not dutiable include items such as jewellery, binoculars, portable radios, prams, camping equipment, cameras and video cameras. Prohibited items include concealed firearms, foodstuffs, animals, plants and plant products. It is forbidden to export Greenstone, Maori antiquities and Paua shells (unless they are products manufactured from such shells). Prescription medications need to be accompanied by a doctor's letter and the original prescription, they should not amount to more than three months worth of the medication.
Tourism New Zealand, Wellington:+64 4 462 8000 or www.tourismnewzealand.com
New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 328 4800.
New Zealand High Commission, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 20 7930 8422.
New Zealand High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 5991.
New Zealand High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6270 4211.
New Zealand High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 435 9000.
United States Embassy, Wellington: +64 4 462 6000.
British High Commission, Wellington: +64 4 924 2888.
Canadian High Commission, Wellington: +64 4 473 9577.
Australian High Commission, Wellington: +64 4 473 6411.
Honorary Consulate of South Africa, Wellington: +64 4 815 8484.
Honorary Consul General of Ireland, Auckland: +64 9 919 7450.
The Hauraki Gulf is studded with numerous islands, some recreation retreats and others conservation islands with restricted access for the protection of rare bird, animal, and plant life. Waiheke is the most popular, with picturesque bays and white sandy beaches, rolling farmlands, and hills cloaked with vineyards and fine wineries. Uninhabited Rangitoto is a large volcanic cone with an unusual landscape of black distorted lava shapes. It is possible to hike up to the crater rim and explore the lava caves on the slopes. Each island has its own distinct character, so tourists can decide if they want to explore natural geographic features, relax on the beach, or simply wander around galleries and cafes.
The Bay of Islands is famous for its beautiful coastal scenery. Interspersed with numerous little coves, inlets and sandy beaches, the historical townships of Paihia, Waitangi and Russell are the central hubs of the area. Sailing and boat cruises around the islands are the main attraction, but the natural surroundings and warm waters of the bay make it an ideal place for kayaking, swimming, diving, and fishing. The bay is also of historical significance as the place where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between the European settlers and Maori chiefs in 1840.
Hamilton is a pretty town 80 miles (128km) south of Auckland. Its proximity to the bigger city means it is often overlooked by tourists in New Zealand. However, as an excursion from Auckland, Hamilton has some worthwhile sights to offer. There are several hot springs around Hamilton, and the city is full of gardens, parks and river walks. Not far out of Hamilton is Matamata, home to the Hobbiton Movie Set, the 'Hobbit village' created for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Guided 'film and farm' tours are offered for fans of the movies.
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