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The tour began on New Zealand’s North Island. Auckland, the
country’s largest city, has a laid-back feel, and while the
majority of New Zealanders live here, it can hardly be described as
crowded. Two wonderful sights worth the time here are the Auckland
Zoo and Mount Eden, where some of the best views of the city can be
A short drive outside of Auckland are two other must-see sights.
First, the Maori Crafts and Arts Institute features educational
information on the Maori people the indigenous people of New
Zealand. Second, Crater of the Moon resembles a scene right out of
“Lord of the Rings” on my visit, a sulfuric mist was blowing over
the geysers, mud baths and piping hot water springs. The mist was
everywhere, creating a mystical and magical feel as I walked
through the wooded walkway of the geothermal hot springs.
Next, we headed south past the magnificent mountains of
Tongariro National Park. We traveled along the scenic waterfront
drive to Mt. Victoria and Wellington, the capital city and the
southernmost town in the North Island.
The best sights here can be had by taking the cable car up to
the top of Kelburn for spectacular views of the city and harbor.
Here’s a great place to have lunch and then walk down the hill
through the botanical gardens, with lush displays of roses, herbs
and exotic flowers, to the downtown area.
To fulfill our adventure taste, we went quad-biking in
Wellington a great adrenaline rush as I navigated a four-wheel
mini-vehicle down steep roads, through tropical forests, into
streams and out in the open savannah. Three hours felt like 20
minutes. After about a week on the North Island, we were ready to
travel south, to where many say the most beautiful sections of New
Getting to the Bottom of Things
There is no bridge between the North and South islands, so we
took the Inter-Island Ferry. The scenery is beautiful as the ferry
travels through Marlborough Sounds and Cook Straight. Once on the
other side, the Kaikoura coastline was the perfect place to spot
seals, as their colonies are abundant along the coast.
Here, indulging in the cost of taking a whale-watching flight
with Wings over Whales was well worth the fee. For $150, the sight
of a whale from the air is like no other. Whale watching from a
boat does not allow visitors to comprehend the size of these
gigantic submarine-sized animals. From the air, we followed a sperm
whale swimming just below the water surface, spouting water and
moving along at a leisurely pace.
The views of the seal colonies and coastline from the air were
priceless also. The flight is 45 minutes and according to Wings
Over Whales, there is a 99 percent chance of spotting a whale (they
hold their breath for 45 minutes at a time and there are eight
whales in the vicinity).
In Fox Glacier we explored the icy side of New Zealand. A
helicopter flew us to the top of the glacier, where we donned
crampons and walking sticks for our walk through the icy
wonderland. We explored ice caves, gingerly avoided crevasses and
learned about the history of glaciers.
I was beginning to think Queenstown, our next stop, could not
possibly live up to expectations. Of course, little did I know that
Queenstown is so ruggedly beautiful with Lake Wakatipu, the
Southern Alps and lush greenery that it’s the perfect setting for
world-class adventure sports.
I went hang-gliding, soaring through the sky above the river’s
roaring water, as my tandem instructor pointed out the changing
colors in the trees (it was March, New Zealand’s autumn). The sun
began to set as we gently floated down, and the explosion of reds,
oranges and yellows illuminated the sky.
With two days in Queenstown, I decided to spend the next day
exploring water activities. I partook in the triple challenge: jet
boat, helicopter ride and white-water rafting. The jet boat ride is
world-famous, and its 360-degree turns, top speeds and daredevil
closeness to the rock formations make it one of the most popular
activities in Queenstown. The helicopter ride and white-water
rafting experience completed the thrills.
As many in the industry know, New Zealand tourism has exploded
over the last few years. The Contiki tour showed me that the
country really does appeal to all. Luxury travelers will find fine
dining, luxury accommodations, and activities like wine tours,
whale watching and pleasure cruises. For adventure travelers and
those on a budget, this green paradise boasts accommodations for
every level and one-of-a kind activities, like heli-hiking,
skydiving and more.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture boasts one of
the strictest systems in the world (to prevent visitors coming in
and spreading hoof and mouth disease, for example). Clients must
declare their hiking boots, otherwise they could be slapped with a
hefty fine at the airport.
New Zealand is a beautiful, green, lush country as a result of
rainfall. Make sure you tell clients to pack raingear and remember
that many activities (heli-hiking, skydiving, hang-gliding, etc.)
are weather-dependent. Fortunately, there are ample other
activities that can be done in any weather.