Our Why Travel series continues with New Zealand. I felt shock when I discovered there are tons of people out there who are on the fence about going to New Zealand. Before writing this, I spent too much time analyzing why people would question a trip like this. Is it the distance? The cost? The time commitment to do it right? Whatever your reasons are for being on the fence, New Zealand needs to be on the top of your bucket list.
New Zealand Is Beautiful
If nothing else, New Zealand's beauty is unparalleled. There are countless beautiful places around the world, but New Zealand is the most pure, pristine place. Once you get outside Auckland, the bucolic landscape engulfs you. Rolling green hills, adorable sheep, and two lane roads wind you through the countryside where you can see why New Zealand holds a special place in the hearts of so many. Whether you go north or south from Auckland, you'll find beautiful coastlines and quaint, rural towns. If you visit the South Island, you'll see a raw landscape with snow-capped mountains, winding blue rivers, and glacial, smooth-as-glass lakes. New Zealand is a photographer's dream.
In addition to its stunning beauty, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world. The birthplace of modern bungee jumping, there are dozens of locations throughout the country to hurl yourself off a bridge or a building, including the Auckland SkyTower, the highest point in the sourthern hemisphere. If jumping off structures isn't your speed, you can hike, bike, or go off-roading in nearly every type of terrain. If winter sports is your thing, check out the South Island's skiing and snowboarding areas, which are popular throughout the world. Whatever activity gets your blood pumping, New Zealand has it in spades.
Culture and History
The culture and history of New Zealand surprised me. Having visited twice now, I knew about the Maori people and during both visits, spent time Rotorua; the Maori cultural center of New Zealand. What I learned this most recent trip was the involvement the New Zealand (and Australian) Armed Forces had in World War I. During our visit, New Zealand celebrated ANZAC day (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) where everyone pays respect to those lost during WWI. The battle of Gallipoli caused the New Zealand Armed Forces lost somewhere between 14,000 and 17,000 soldiers. For a relatively small country, entire family names were lost. The Australian forces lost upwards of 50,000 soldiers. April 25, the anniversary of the landing in Turkey, is thought to be the beginning of "national consciousness" and both countries commemorate their soldiers' sacrifices on this day. In honor of the 100th anniversary of ANZAC day, Weta Workshop put up an amazing exhibit of the experiences the soldiers faced.
The Maori culture is as vibrant as ever. Many locations in and around Rotorua offer cultural experiences where you can eat a hangi style meal and watch several of their traditional dances. We spent a full day at Te Puia Cultural Center. Te Puia has three active geysers, a hangi lunch, performances throughout the day, and an optional evening banquet meal with multiple performances, including the All-Blacks Haka. In addition to a great tourist attraction, Te Puia uses its proceeds from souvenirs to put back into their cultural school. Te Puia offers scholarships to students from Maori tribes throughout New Zealand to come to Te Puia and learn woodworking, carving, weaving, and other traditional Maori skills so their culture does not die. You can purchase items made from apprentice students as well as many other New Zealand themed gifts.
For those few who may not know, New Zealand is the backdrop for dozens of famous movies. Because of its beauty and rugged landscape, New Zealand, like Iceland, is an ideal location for cinematographers. Perhaps most famous, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed entirely in New Zealand. Peter Jackson, a kiwi himself, put New Zealand on the map for the film industry. Wellington, New Zealand's capitol city, is home to the Miramar peninsula, aka Wellywood. With the world's largest green screen, countless soundstages, effects companies, and more, an entire movie can be made start-to-finish on this one peninsula of New Zealand. Most directors choose to use New Zealand's landscape and shoot on location to enhance what can be done with CGI. Be sure you make your way down to Wellington and visit Weta Workshop. Weta (either Weta Workshop or Weta Digital) worked on the LOTR and Hobbit movies, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ghost in the Shell, The Legend of Zorro, District 9, Avatar, Elysium, Man of Steel, Edge of Tomorrow, Furious 7, Mad Max: Fury Road, and many, many more. You can nerd-out like crazy just at Weta alone. You can also visit filming locations for the LOTR and Hobbit movies, as well as Alien: Covenant, A Wrinkle in Time, Wolverine: Origins, and loads more.
If you can only choose one place to go in your entire life, I would, hands-down, recommend New Zealand to be that one and only destination. You won't be disappointed.