I have lived in New Zealand for over fifteen years and do not plan on leaving anytime soon. New Zealand consists of two main landmasses – the North Island and the South Island – and is filled with beautiful landscapes and a wonderland for those in love with nature. With average temperatures in the summer ranging from 68°F-77°F, New Zealand’s seasons run opposite to those of the Northern Hemisphere, summer being December-February and winter being June-August.
The North Island
The North Island is about 657 miles from bottom to top (about a 13.5-hour drive) and, for the most part, volcanic, with three active volcanoes in the middle. Settled on the edge of the Ring of Fire, New Zealand contains the world’s largest concentration of youthful volcanoes. Shaped like a horseshoe, the Ring of Fire stretches from the southern tip of South America, along the west coast of North America, across the Bering Strait, down Japan, and ending around New Zealand. About 30 miles off the mainland, White Island is home to New Zealand’s most active cone volcano (and visible from my house). We also have several hot areas where the lava comes close to the surface, and as a result, you could compare some of it to Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
At the top of the North Island sits Cape Reigna. Enjoy a walk to the Cape Reinga Lighthouse, capturing the Tasman Sea view meeting the Pacific Ocean. Visit Toputatputu Bay for a relaxing beach day and stay the night at the beach’s campsite. Want to be one with nature? Take a multi-day hike along the Te Paki Coast Track. 30 miles long, this trail takes about 3-4 days to complete but provides the best scenery of Cape Reinga and the Far North Area. About 12 miles south of Cape Reigna lies the Te Paki Sand Dunes. Grab a bodyboard and something to cover your mouth – you don’t want to get a mouthful of sand on the way down!
The Capital City of Wellington
At the bottom of North Island lies the capital city of Wellington. Enjoy a scenic ride in the Wellington Cable Car from the city’s heart through the hillside houses of Kelburn up to the lookout perched above the city. On the way up, get off at Kelburn Terminal to enjoy a walk through Wellington Botanical Garden or head to Space Place to get a view of the Southern skies. Get off at Lambton Quay Station and head to Wellington’s “Golden Mile,” home to the highest quality shopping center with stores ranging in styles from music to books to fashion.
The South Island
The South Island doesn’t have active volcanoes and is about five hundred miles from top to bottom. It is famous for winter skiing, trout fishing, and some of the world’s most impressive glaciers due to the significant mountain ranges on the west coast. The South Island marks where Captain Scott set off from Dunedin to race to the center of the Antarctic in 1912. The north end of the South Island houses Wineries, many known for their world-famous Pinot Noir. Known as the Adventure Capital of the World, Queenstown has an adventure for everyone. Fuel your adrenalin with bungy jumping, white water rafting, sky diving, river surfing, and so much more. Queenstown is the place to go to for those that love to get their adrenalin racing.
Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
After Lord of the Rings was released in 2001, New Zealand became known as the ‘Home of Middle Earth.” Filmed on both islands, you can visit multiple famous filming locations and be transported into the mythical world of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit Trilogy. On the North Island, the Hobbiton™ Movie Set was used for both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and now provides daily tours of the village. Enjoy a beer or sample the banquet dinner at The Green Dragon Inn. New Zealand’s South Island’s mountain ranges and wilderness provide a dramatically beautiful background for many of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit scenes.
I want to leave you with one of my favorite memories of living in New Zealand. Here is a picture of me taking a flight on one of the few passenger DC3s still flying. It was built in 1944 and is currently managed and owned by Air Chathams, a small, privately-owned airline. I am afraid there is no Disney or Universal here; you just get what nature has to offer, and most of it is free, including parking. The flight is only $70, which is a bargain to experience this classic aircraft!