A small country in the South Pacific Ocean, New Zealand has recently been attracting major attention.
Its extraordinary scenery -- glaciers and rain forests, beaches and mountain ranges, volcanoes and geysers, tranquil lakes and fjords, meadows and plains, thunderous waterfalls and serpentine rivers -- provide the backdrop for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Ringsmovie trilogy.Take the New Zealand Photo Tour >
For those who prefer more flesh-and-blood fantasies, it may help to know that Academy-Award-winning actor Russell Crowe is a native of Wellington, the capital city.
"New Zealand is Middle Earth. It has every geological formation and geographical landscape you can imagine... and some you can't."
Elijah Wood, "Frodo Baggins"
The country consists of two main islands and several smaller ones a thousand miles from the coast of Australia.
In size, it's comparable to Great Britain. Yet with a population of only 3.8 million, it's one of the world's least-crowded countries. That makes it alluring to those seeking peace and relaxation -- as well as couples who adore thrills and adventures.
More than a third of the land has been set aside in national parks, reserves, and heritage sites that preserve the country's ecological treasures. New Zealand has 13 national parks with relatively untouched landscapes that are home to ancient forests, rare birds, and creatures that have survived since prehistoric times.
New Zealand's most famous bird and national symbol, the kiwi, has been described as the most "unbirdlike" bird in the world, with its nostrils at the end of its beak and loose hair-like feathers and whiskers. You'll also hear New Zealanders referred to as Kiwis. New Zealand is home to the world's only flightless parrot, the rare kakapo, and the world's only alpine parrot, the kea, as well.
Horseback riding trips are a popular way to see New Zealand's scenery and get close to nature. Tour operators lead guided treks on beaches, farms, forests, and high country.
The Unique Culture of New ZealandNew Zealand's indigenous Maori people have a language and culture all their own. The Maori first arrived in canoes from their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki more than a thousand years ago. Their traditional arts such as carving, weaving, kapa haka (group performance), whaikorero (oratory), and moko (tattooing) are practiced throughout the country. Today Maori culture also includes art, film, TV, poetry, theater, even hip-hop music. Visitors to New Zealand become quickly aware of the Maori language; the majority of destination names are of Maori origin.
Climate of New ZealandNew Zealand's seasons are the reverse of the Northern Hemisphere's. The warmest months are December, January, and February; the coldest are June, July, and August. In summer there's plenty of sunshine, and activities in and around the water include rafting, snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking. There's snow on the mountains in winter and excellent skiing. Away from the mountains, New Zealand winters are fairly mild.
Adventures in New ZealandWith the country surrounded by sea, criss-crossed by rivers and lakes, covered in native bush and with a central spine of magnificent snow-capped mountains, there's something for everyone who enjoys the outdoors and the sense of freedom a sparsely populated land provides. Extreme activities include bungee jumping, jet boat riding, rafting, and heli-skiing. Couples also enjoy hiking and water-skiing, mountain climbing and caving.
City Life in New ZealandNew Zealand society is sophisticated and multi-cultural, and the honesty, friendliness, and openness of Kiwis is likely to impress you. Another great advantage of New Zealand is that its diverse physical, cultural, and artistic landscapes are all relatively close to each other.
Auckland is the largest city with 1.1 million people; Christchurch is next at 350,000. Wellington is the capital. Also known as the City of Sails, Auckland has a vibrant harbor that has attracted worldwide attention in recent years, thanks to the America's Cup.
A compact city ideal for walkers, Wellington also boasts a lovely harbor, which is encircled by green, towering hills. The city offers a satisfying blend of arts and culture, dining delights, shopping, and scenic beauty, making Wellington an ideal urban destination. Its central business area is divided into four quarters, all within walking distance of each other: The concentrated shopping and indulgence of Lambton Quarter, the intellectual center at Willis Quarter, the innovation and community of Cuba Quarter, and the entertainment of Courtenay Quarter.
Wellington maintains 50 museums and galleries. Its pride is Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. Located on the waterfront, this internationally acclaimed museum combines leading-edge technology with traditional exhibits that tell the stories of New Zealand's unique land and people.
Havens for Romantic Couples