Kia ora and haere mai (or ‘hello’ and 'welcome' in maori)!
If you would like to visit New Zealand, be prepared to discover a country which combines in a single limited area wonders such as fjords, waterfalls and hiking or trekking trails like in Norway, glaciers, geysers, mud pools and other geothermal phenomena like in Iceland, hot springs and ski slopes like in Japan, fresh produce and delicious cheese and wine like in France and endless golden beaches like in Tasmania.
In a range of less than a hundred kilometers you will drive through tropical forests, glacier lakes, thermal pools, high mountains and white sand beaches.
Add to this some adrenaline-boosting sports, friendly seals sunbathing on the rocks, beautiful Victorian architecture, Maori haka dances, stunning beaches with caves, giant boulders or heating magma underneath, vintage cars on the road, a restaurant on a tramway built in 1927 and some fireworks and you will have it all in a single place!
Another thing which makes NZ exceptional is that it was the first country in the world to grant suffrage (or the right to vote in elections) to women in 1893! Hats off for Kate Sheppard - the woman appearing on the NZ ten-dollar note to whom we owe this historical event. Another famous guy appearing on the NZ five-dollar note is Edmund Hillary who, together with a Nepalese mountaineer, became the first climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.
Aotearoa, which is the maori name of New Zealand and literally means the Land of the Long White Cloud (as from the sky it looks like it is entirely covered by a cloud), is so sweet-as!!!
‘Sweet-as’ means ‘awesome’ and is one of the most common terms used by the New Zealanders, but let us drop the formalities at once and just call them simply Kiwis!
If you want to continue your journey alive, do not ever dare mixing up a Kiwi (an amazing guy living in the most beautiful country in the world!) with a kiwi (the amazing national bird which cannot fly and is threatened by the Australian opossum, which seems to be the subject of a serious argument between Aussies and Kiwis!) or a kiwifruit (one of the most delicious fruits in the world!)!
NZ comprises two main islands - the North one and the South one separated by the wild and chilling but so stunningly beautiful Cook Strait, where you feel like the wind is leading an epic battle with the sea and your huge ferry looks like a tiny, fragile, shaking as hell shell!
Do not let yourself be misled by the references - as everything is reversed in this part of the world (we are in the South part of the globe and so it is summer in December and winter in August - weird!), the North Island is the warmer one with its beaches and geothermal activity complemented by the unique Maori culture.
The capital Wellington and the biggest city Auckland are located on the North Island.
The South Island is colder but also more pristine with its fjords, mountains and glaciers - a real paradise for trekking-lovers!
If you want to explore NZ properly, you need a caravan, a campervan or a motor home (the difference between these is that the motor home and the campervan do not need a car to pull them forward compared to a caravan, and a motor home is bigger with its own bathroom as compared to a campervan) and you will come across any shape, size and brand of these amazing moving homes on the NZ’s roads. Some of them have buggies, bicycles, canoes or even boats attached to them.
Ours was a Kea motor home named after the curious native olive-green and orange bird which is the world’s only alpine parrot and makes the weird screech ‘keeeea’!
Travelling around so much natural beauty and being able to stop for lunch or stay overnight at desert spots waking up with stunning views or the trumpet sound of sea lions is just magic!
Reaching the geothermal area of Rotorua on the North Island after driving from Auckland through some cute small towns with lots of art is the first surprise of the journey.
The first thing you will notice before you have even spotted any steam is the smell of old socks coming from the sulphur but do not worry - you will surprisingly quickly get used to it.
The place looks more and more surreal as you walk through geysers, bubbling mud pools, Mars-coloured lakes, hot springs, silica terraces and smoking ground everywhere.
With the kaleidoscopic colours of the Artist’s Pallette and the boiling Champagne Pool, Mother Nature would have earned without any doubt the most precious art prize!
There are many geysers in Rotorua. The Lady Knox Geyser discovered accidentally by prisoners and named after the daughter of a NZ governor is spectacular with its jet reaching up to 20 meters.
Finally you can relax soaking in a hidden hot (almost 40°C) mineral-rich river in the middle of the forest, away from the touristic spots. Simply heaven!
Having a Maori meal of chicken and potatoes called 'hangi', cooked in a traditional way on heated stones buried in an earth oven, and watching some Maori haka dances and rites outside a rugby stadium is part of the Rotorua experience.
It will help you learn more about these once ferocious local tribes who do not seem to differ a lot from the mythical Vikings.
You can also go around some natural rainbow-coloured springs looking for kiwis in the evening (as they are night birds) and see a couple of them, but also the amazing tuatara (a native lizard) and a very talkative and socialite kea who seemed to hate being alone and therefore showed us in a particularly noisy way her unhappiness when we left the springs...!
After the bubbles, steam and jets, a second surprise on the North Island is the stunning Coromandel Peninsula surrounded by the blue of the South Pacific ocean. Two of the most amazing places you will ever see in your life are located there - Cathedral Cove Beach and Hot Water Beach - but you have to work out hard to enjoy each of them!
There is an hour not-so-easy walk down through the cool forest to reach the beautiful Cathedral Cove white sand beach with its natural gigantic stones and tunnels under the rocks. On the way the view of the surrounding bay is stunning!
Hot Water Beach is extraordinary! A beach and magma at the same place? Impossible and still here it is! For two hours either side of low tide, you can enjoy sitting in your personal spa pool on the beach watching the waves coming closer and closer! Do not forget the spade (and you need a big one!) as you first need to dig your own hole in the sand which will be immediately filled with hot water coming out from beneath the earth, heated by the magma under the beach!
On the way to Wellington in order to cross the Cook Strait to the South Island, you can stay overnight at the shores of many beautiful lakes including the NZ’s largest lake, the 622-sq-km Lake Taupo, sitting in the caldera of a volcano.
Preparing your own meals in the motor home and waking up surrounded by beauty and serenity is one of the coolest things on earth!
Crossing the Cook Strait switching from one gorgeous fjord to another is the preamble of what you will see on the South Island - a big WOW!!!
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