Arianwen is the publisher of the travel blog Beyond Blighty – a collection of anecdotes, tips and advice for the independent and adventurous budget traveler. She has just completed a six-week adrenaline-fueled tour of New Zealand. As she traveled through the country, she started to notice that a few things made her smile on a regular basis – things that New Zealand is better at than anywhere else:
New Zealand has long been regarded as one of the best countries in the world for adventure sports. In Queenstown, not only can you take on the first ever bungy jump, you can also fly across a canyon on the world’s biggest swing. Skydiving is possible almost anywhere, while there’s a unique opportunity to pilot a stunt plane in Motueka. On the north island, you can swim with sharks at Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium in Auckland, canyon down waterfalls, go extreme caving or raft a 7-metre waterfall. Or how about hydrospeeding down rapids on top of a plastic sledge, or taking to the skies in a hot air balloon? If snow sports are more your scene, a number of slopes are accessible in winter, and if that’s too technical you can climb or hike on Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. How’s that for choice?!
Inspiring film directors like Peter Jackson and James Cameron to make huge blockbusters, New Zealand has some of the most diverse and beautiful scenery of any country, especially for its size. It’s incredible how you can travel just a few hours and go from rolling grassy hills through bleak terrain with snow-capped volcanoes and end up in a vineyard! You’re never that far from a gorgeous beach or spectacular undulating coastal paths, while the towering peak of Mt Cook, the west coast glaciers and Fiordland are all must-see locations.
Kiwis say they have similar weather to the UK. Having been to New Zealand in June and July, I would argue that it’s warmer, dryer and brighter. Having said that, I did get caught out in a few heavy downpours – not least the time when I was throwing myself off a platform on Auckland’s SkyTower 192 m up! One thing that really cheered me up as I walked through the streets was that their pavements almost always have covered walkways, so you can shelter or even make it all the way to your next destination without getting drenched.
When a tour operator adds small, quirky touches to their business, it goes a long way towards making a positive impression. The more activities I did where you’re able to purchase photos or videos afterwards, the more I came to look forward to seeing what their USB stick looked like! It sounds silly, but try telling yourself this shark-shaped USB, pen/USB combo or little section of bungy cord attached to a carabiner wouldn’t bring a smile to your face.
Everybody loves a rainbow. I probably saw more rainbows in New Zealand in six weeks than I had in 30 years combined before I went there. Often it didn’t even need to be raining. At the Hobbiton Movie Set and as I entered Wellington, I was greeted by double-ended rainbows of vivid shades, and I even glimpsed one as I flew upside down in a stunt plane with U-Fly Extreme. If there really were pots of gold at the end, Kiwis would all own yachts and mansions.
If you spend 10 minutes walking around Auckland you’ll find at least half a dozen restaurants and pubs claiming to serve the ‘best fish and chips in New Zealand’. They can’t all be right though, can they? Well, I would argue that it doesn’t matter. Every time I ordered fish and chips (which was probably more frequently than was good for me), I’d have claimed it was the best I’d ever had too. Is it that the fish in the Southern Hemisphere are tastier or do they have a secret method of preparing it? Whatever the secret is, they are onto a winner.
Not everyone is as big a fan of Roxette, Savage Garden and Bonnie Tyler as I am – I get that – but in New Zealand, there is no shame. I was constantly loitering in supermarkets or outside bars just so I could listen to a song I hadn’t heard in years. On a road trip with my sister in the north island, I discovered ‘Classic Hits’ (pronounced ‘Clissic Hets’ in the Kiwi twang) and I got so excited I took a photo of the radio so I wouldn’t forget the frequency. It was one massive hit after another from the 80s, 90s and present day, and we didn’t stop singing the whole drive.
Driving in New Zealand is easy for two main reasons. First, there are so few people, you will often find yourself on open stretches of road with no other vehicle in sight. The second reason is that an overtaking lane weaves its way along most minor roads, alternating between being your right of way and that of traffic heading in the opposite direction. Look out for the Wise Owl signs in and around Rotorua. You can’t not listen to his words of advice when you see his worried expression looking down at you from the roadside.
It’s often debated which nation has the friendliest people. For me, the award would have to be shared between Kiwis and Colombians. I can’t count the number of times people went out of their way to help me out in New Zealand. Service with a smile is something often forgotten elsewhere, but never by the Kiwis. There’s a sense of everyone being content and it rubs off on you the more time you spend in the country. Sadly, though, they’re not all dressed as superheroes…
Perhaps being a dedicated fan (a ‘ringer’) has its negative connotations. There are certainly some who take their obsession too far, visiting every film location in the country while dressed as a pipe-smoking hobbit. But I would argue that getting your LOTR geek on is actually great fun and pretty rewarding if you leave your inhibitions behind. I visited both Hobbiton and Peter Jackson’s design workshop ‘Weta Cave’, as well as re-enacting scenes from the first movie in the woods of Mt Victoria in Wellington. Don’t take it too seriously and you can have a great time, learn a lot about film production and see some beautiful landscapes.