By Sasha Oelsner
Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2023
As soon as you arrive in Middle-earth, you’ll say kia ora, Aotearoa (hello, New Zealand), before your breath is taken away by impossibly beautiful scenery.
New Zealand has river fjords to rival Norway, glacier-fed azure lakes encircled by fields of purple and pink lupins, dark moody mountains enveloped in cloud where the kiwi bird can be encountered, and burbling thermal rivers to warm the coldest of toes.
You’ll embrace our whānau (family) across the pond, absorbing the centuries-old Māori culture that is ingrained into everyday life in New Zealand. Along the way, you can dine on local delicacies, sip world-class wine and beer, and fill your belly with tasty road-trip snacks.
Aotearoa, known as the land of the long white cloud because of the cloud formations that helped early Polynesian navigators find the country, is one of the most popular overseas destinations for South Australian travellers. Now it’s time to find out for yourself.
Take the scenic route, or as the Kiwis say, take a tiki tour and uncover New Zealand’s natural beauty.
What did you say? Popular Kiwi phrases explained.
Chilly bin: Pronounced ‘chully-bun’. This is an ice box for storing food and drinks, what we colloquially call an Esky.
Go with the snow
In New Zealand, drive for an hour and you’ll pass snowcapped mountains one minute and volcanic rocky regions the next. The great outdoors beckons and Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, is no exception.
Here you’ll find adrenaline-laced activities to thrill even the most hardened daredevil. Feet tied together, hurl yourself headfirst from the 43m-high Kawarau Bridge into the canyon below. Strap yourself into the world’s largest swing, which takes a 300m arc across the Nevis River Valley, or be pushed safely off the world’s highest cliff jump. If you can keep your eyes open, you’ll whiz past stunning scenery on your way down… and back up again.
With the striking Southern Alps on the South Island (Te Waipounamu) and the majestic mountains on the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui), you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to a winter getaway. Adrenaline-seeking advanced skiers and snowboarders can try heli-skiinghttps://raa.clubconnect.com.au/en/queenstown/activities/flights?rm_source=samove&rm_medium=link&rm_campaign=international_travel_summer-mag-23_nov23 which, as the name suggests, will have you jumping from a helicopter and hitting the slopes.
More serene options include glacier climbing, snowshoeing and chasing the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis). This natural light show is best viewed the further south you travel, so try Stewart Island, Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in the heart of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, or New Zealand’s southernmost city, Invercargill.
Walk with the animals
If launching yourself from high things isn’t for you, there is a plethora of other activities where you can experience New Zealand’s unique flora, fauna and geology.
Head underground and witness a cave filled with tiny iridescent glowworms. The Waitomo Glowworm Caves, located near the centre of the North Island, offer one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles.
If you’re a thrill seeker, try black water rafting where you’ll negotiate underground rapids, jump off waterfalls and float underneath a cave ceiling of blue stars. If you don’t want to get your feet wet, try the Waitomo Caves combo, where you’ll visit several sites and end the tour with a magical canoe journey under the silent glowing canopy.
Is spotting a kiwi bird on your bucket list? With all species of kiwi now endangered, seeing one in the wild means trying your luck tramping (Kiwi for bushwalking or camping), and following strict guidelines near the formidable but beautiful Arthur’s Pass National Park near Christchurch. Even if you don’t see any kiwis, you may encounter the brazen kea parrot. Watch out for your car’s rubber seals and your wallet – these hilarious, cheeky birds love getting involved in everybody’s business.
Head to the North Island for more chances to see the elusive kiwi bird, with a night tour at Wellington’s Zealandia a must-do. While you’re not guaranteed to see the bird, this enormous sanctuary is designed to emulate the pre-human environment of the area, so sightings are common. Visit during the day, and you’ll also see the prehistoric tuatara, enormous native wētā insect and, if you’re lucky, the intoxicated kererū giant wood pigeon. The giant wood pigeon gorges itself on berries that ferment in its gut, which can cause it to tumble out of trees.
Heat things up
If all this talk of snow and underground rapids is too cold for you, New Zealand is full of geothermal experiences to warm you right up. Visit steamy warm rivers you can bathe in or witness boiling volcanic-fed pools so hot you definitely can’t go for a swim.
Take a day trip and visit both the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Orakei Korako Cave Thermal Park. Discover the famous Champagne Pool, wander along boardwalks surrounded by rainbow-coloured rock formations, bubbling water and mud pools.
Occasionally a geyser will shoot water high into the sky, leaving you in awe. Soak away the activities of the day at one of the region’s many hot – but thankfully not boiling – pools and spas.