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Top Destinations for 2016: New Zealand


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New Zealand stands alone as a geographically and culturally unique travel destination.

Its impressive Southern Alps are reminiscent of the mountain range of the same name in Europe, while floating glaciers in some of its lakes aren’t so different from those in Antarctica.

Because New Zealand went uninhabited by humans for 80 million years, it’s both biogeographically and culturally rich. It’s home to more penguin species than any other country as well as a host of different kinds of indigenous birds. Other animals like the stoat and the wallaby were not introduced to the country until humans established themselves in the country. Polynesians came to the country between 1250 and 1300, building the unique Māori culture that continues to thrive there today.

Where to go

Lovingly called the “coolest little capital”, Wellington is New Zealand’s political and cultural hub. Drive or climb your way up to the top of Mount Victoria, ride a historic Wellington Cable Car, or get a deeper understanding of pre-human New Zealand at the Zealandia sanctuary, a large section of bush that immerses visitors in some of New Zealand’s ancient flora and fauna.

Wellington Cable Car

Wellingon Bay

Auckland may not be New Zealand’s capital, but it’s its biggest city and a hub for both natural sites and nightlife. Visit some of the city’s 48 volcanic cones, like Rangitoto Island— you can take a tour by ferry, which is an adventure in itself. Auckland is also home to gorgeous beaches. Ride along the shore on a horse or just kick back and relax in the sand.

Auckland Skyline

If you’re looking for adventure, Queenstown is the place to go. It’s popular for its snow sports, particularly skiing, and is surrounded by the picturesque Southern Alps. If paragliding and skiing aren’t your thing, you have more relaxing options as well: Queenstown is close to the world’s southernmost wine producing region, so be sure to enjoy a glass.

Queenstown Cable Car 

The Bay of Islands micro-region is home to a rich history of Māori culture as well as some amazing marine life. Tapeka Point is full of water animals like penguins, whales and dolphins, and a trip to the Waitangi Historic Reserve will help you better understand how British and Māori culture began to blend—it’s where the treaty making New Zealand a British colony was signed.

Roberton Island, Bay of Islands 

What to do

Explore a cave

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves destination is home to a New Zealand-exclusive species of glowworm that lights up the cave system. Take a guided tour through the caves—it ends with a boat ride during which the only light source is the glowworms above.

Live the Hobbit life

The Lord of the Rings Hobbit village, Hobbiton, is on permanent display near Matamata, south of Auckland. Even the drive to the set is beautiful — expect lots of green pasture and sheep.

Go whale watching

Kaikoura is the place to go if you’re hoping to see whales in their natural habitat, particularly the sperm whale. The coast is also full of dolphins that swim alongside the whales. Take a boat tour, or, if you’re feeling really fancy, a tour by plane. It’s hard to go wrong in Kaikoura, but if the whales are feeling shy, have no fear—the coast is also full of southern fur seals that are easy to see, particularly at low tide.

A sperm whale in Kaikoura

Stargaze at one of the world’s nicest skies

Go camping in picturesque Twizel,where light pollution is a non-issue and the stars are gorgeous. It’s a hub for astronomers and one of only five reserves in the world recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Go to a rugby match

Rugby union is generally regarded as the national sport of New Zealand, and a trip to a match at the Tri Nations or Bledisloe Cup competitions will show you why. New Zealand’s national team, the All Blacks, is the best rugby team in the world.

Take part in a traditional Pōwhiri ceremony

The Pōwhiri is a traditional welcome ceremony in Māori culture. It includes a challenge and call of welcome from the host, a traditional Māori warrior, and then speeches and food. It’s a great chance to better understand the history of the culture and its influence on Kiwis today.

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