New-Zealand: best things to do

I have to admit it: I am a big fan of New-Zealand, and so far, it’s my favorite country. Here are the reasons why and the best things I did and enjoyed there.

Queenstown

1. Swimming with dolphins

In the East of Northland (Northern part of the North Island), there’s one of New-Zealand gem: the Bay of Islands. The flora is quite Mediterranean, and it’s one of New-Zealander best spot to spend the summer holidays, especially on boat sailing between more than a hundred of islands. There I had the occasion to swim with dolphins. NZ has one of the rare growing population of dolphins in its natural environment. This means swimming with those dolphins is a different experience than swimming with dolphins in some aquatic park. For example, you can’t touch them, because they remain wild. But it’s definitely a great experience, just to be in the water with them, swimming and playing around you, and you can hear their songs. This experience is quite physical because they swim very fast, but it’ll make you feel part of nature and its beauty.

In the Bay of Islands was also signed the Waitangi Treaty. You can visit the historical site. Nearby in the forest, you can see some of the tallest trees on Earth, Kauri trees. On the other side of the coast, there’s the mythic 90 miles beach, an interesting drive, before reaching Cape Reinga, the most Northerly point of NZ, with its beautiful scenic.

2. Speleology with glow-worms

Still in Northland, you should make a detour to visit the Waitomo Caves. If you’re not claustrophobic, speleology is the best way to discover it. I never did it before, and I really enjoyed abseiling along a waterfall, crawling in a small tunnel, climbing rocks. The underground is another world, not cold, not warm, sometimes there’s water, and sometimes it’s dry, but it’s all mineral. I quickly understood why I had to wear a helmet, as I was not really used to get a roof so low. I banged my head several times into it. The great reward for all this is the glow worms. It’s almost the only life you can find there. In a large cave, the guide asked to shut down the light, and suddenly a sky full of stars appeared. There are thousands of glow worms shining in the dark, a magnificent show.

3. Geothermal Wonderland


Rotorua is a must-see in New-Zeland, its geothermal area. Honestly, it’s true, it often smells like a rotten egg because of the sulfur in the atmosphere, but it worths it. There you can see some geysers, like the Pohutu which gushes at 30min or the Lady Knox which gushes every day at 10:15 am (I let you guess how this is possible). There are two great sites you must visit. In Wai-O-Tapu you’ll see of course some mud pool boiling, but also some caves from which hot stream is escaping, silica terraces, some lakes with strange colors with the most famous one “Champagne pool” (be carefully it’s really hot, 74°C, and acid). The other great site is Waimangu Valley, which was created by the eruption of the volcano Mount Tarawera in 1886, which means it’s the youngest geothermal site on Earth. You’ll see smoking lakes, like the Frying Pan 55°C (very acid PH is 3,5), a 50°C little river, and the Inferno crater with its 80°C lake (Ph 2,1). No need to mention: don’t touch anything and strictly follow the path.

Rotorua is also a great place to discover the Maori culture, there are daily representations of the Haka, the famous Maori dance performed by the All Blacks the national rugby team, before every match.

4. Tongariro crossing

This is the best hiking day you can in New-Zealand, across the Tongariro National Park, and its volcanoes. Probably the most famous one is Mt Ngauruhoe (2287m), used as the Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings. The walk is 17 km long and can take 7 hours for the slowest. It’s not really a hard walk, even if the ground is made of ashes. Sometimes the landscape made of volcanic rocks looks like Moon ground. The reward is at the top, where you’ll discover beautiful blue lakes you must not touch as there are very acid. From the top, if the weather is good enough, you can enjoy a wonderful 360° view, including Lake Taupo.

5. Te Papa Tongarewa

Wellington is New-Zealand capital city, more commonly known as Windy city, and home of the National Museum Te Papa Tongarewa, well located on the seafront. This museum is really well made, interactive. At the same time, it’s interesting regarding the History and Culture of New-Zealand, the Maori people, the colonization, but it’s also artistic.

6. Whales Watch

If there’s a place on Earth where I’ll probably settle myself one day, it’s in Kaikoura. Located on the East coast of the South Island, Kaikoura is a small peninsula, from where you can see the Southern Alps ending into the Pacific Ocean. People don’t visit this place because of its rocky beach, but because of its underwater pit, which attracts Sperm Whales. It’s the best place in New-Zealand to watch whales, and also black and white dolphins (as well as seals along the road).

7. Fjord cruise

On the Southwestern coast of the South Island, there’s the Fjordland National Park, where you can fjords. The most famous and visited one is Milford Sound. You can book a trip from Queenstown (capital of adventure sports) across this Park, to reach the fjord where you can enjoy a cruise. I really recommend you to do this cruise. The boat can take you under giant waterfalls (especially after rain) and you’ll probably see some seals, laying and sunbathing on the rocks.

November 2007 to January 2008 – Working Holiday Visa

Introduction to New-Zealand

Welcome to Aotearoa, the country of the long white cloud, as it’s named in Maori. This is probably the country which is the most often missing on a map, so just to help you: it is located in the bottom right corner of the map. This means it’s even further than Australia, 2000 km away, in the Pacific Ocean.

A very new country

New-Zealand is one of the latest land discovered by human. It was first colonized by people from the Pacific islands, which settled there around 1300 AD. They are the original indigenous people named Maori. Later, in the 17th century, Abel Tasman was the first European who discovered the New-Zealand coast and left his name to the sea which separates the country from Australia. But it’s only a hundred years later that the explorer James Cook made the first map of the two islands which form the country, and left his name to the strait between these islands. So the colonization of New-Zealand by Europeans really started in the 19th century. In 1840 was signed the Waitangi Treaty between the Maori tribes and the United-Kingdom, making New-Zealand one of the British colonies, and still seen as the foundation act of the country, and the warrant of Maori’s rights. This treaty didn’t avoid two wars between Maori and Pakeha (name of the Europeans) in that century. New-Zealand became officially independent as a dominion in 1907

Maori

First, it was colonized by whales and seals hunter, then farmers, as the green lands offered great possibilities to grow sheep. There was some gold fever in the late 19th century. But New-Zeland remains few populated, with less than 5 million.

What I like about New-Zealand is it’s a very socially progressive country. It was the first to give the right to vote to women in 1893. All the official key positions of the government have been occupied by women. Queen Elizabeth as Head of State, the Governor-general, the Speaker, the Chief of Justice, and the Prime Minister. The actual one, Jacinda Arden, even gave birth during her mandate. Unlike its neighbor Australia, New-Zealand has a better consideration for its indigenous people, since the Waitangi tribunal formed in 1975, which intends to give back land to the Maori tribes to which they belonged. Maori is one of the official languages, and the Maori culture is pushed forward, as many tourists can see.

I also love New-Zealand because this country is ecological, or at least which tries to be “green”. NZ is completely nuclear-free, which means no nuclear energy, and also that no nuclear weapons can enter its waters (even American submarines).

Middle earth

New-Zealand landscapes became very popular thanks to the Lord of the Rings, filmed by the local director Peter Jackson. But what does NZ really looks like? As I said, the country is divided into two main islands, North Island and South Island (no need to explain where they are located), plus several smaller ones, which most important is Stewart Island, located at the south point of South Island. North Island is known as the “smoky island”, because of its volcanoes, and its geothermal area. South Island is known as the “jade island”, because, yes you can find jade stones there. There’s no volcano in the South, only the Southern Alps chain of mountains. One important thing to know about NZ is the tectonic plates. Indeed, the country is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, onto the geological rift between the Pacific plate and the Australian plate. That means NZ is a seismic country, which also explains the geothermal area.

Hobbiton

Due to its remoteness, New-Zealand has a very well preserved nature. There was no mammal before the arrival of humans, only birds, like the Moa (a kind of ostrich, now disappeared) and the famous kiwi-bird with no wings. It also means there’s no dangerous species in NZ, not even snakes (only a very rare venomous spider, the Katipo). I’d say that, what characterizes most the NZ landscapes, apart from millions of sheep, is ferns, especially tree ferns. Maybe it’s due to its subtropical climate (mostly in the North, the South is more temperate climate).

Working holiday visa in Kiwiland

I went to New-Zealand with a Working holiday visa. With that visa, you can stay for 12 months in the country (only 3 months without it) and you’re allowed to work if you’re aged between 18 and 30. Honestly, I wished I could stay longer in NZ, but as I was only 19, and it was the first time I traveled so far away from home, and alone, my mother wanted to be sure, that I would not stay too long.

  • Transports: due to my age, I wasn’t allowed to rent a car, and I didn’t stay long enough to buy one, so I traveled by bus. The network is really well made, and you can almost go wherever you want. I also took the Tranzalpine train, just for the view. There only 3 railways in NZ, which is understandable in such a shaking country. Also remember, they drive on the left side.
  • Accommodation: I mostly used the BBH network (Budget Backpacker Hostels). Remember smartphones and applications didn’t exist in that time.
  • Language: English is the other official language, that everybody speaks with a very strong accent. Trust me my first phone call was a nightmare. But after two months, I felt really proud when I was perfectly able to make a reservation by phone.
  • Working: the easiest way to find a job is in agriculture. In the Bay of Plenty (North Island) and in the vineyards of South Island, they need a lot of workers, so being a fruit picker is very common (apples, grapes, etc.). I was a kiwi fruit picker, and very happy to work with that symbolic fruit of NZ. Until I learned it was originally a berry from China, renamed “kiwi” to make it sounds more NZ.
  • People: New-Zealanders are very friendly, welcoming and very relax people. “Sweet as” is the way to describe them.
  • Sun: this is the main danger in NZ, due to the hole into the ozone layer. Less protected against UV, sadly NZ has the highest rate of skin cancer. So, suncream must be part of your daily routine. And I mean it, I had my worst sunburn there.

November 2007 to January 2008 – Working Holiday Visa