While similar in size to Great Britain, New Zealand has a population of around four million compared to our 60 million plus – so that means a lot more space to breathe and enjoy being away from the crowds, including 14 spectacular national parks and over 15,000 kilometres of rugged coastline.
North Island tends to have a gentler landscape than South Island with its more challenging and isolated terrain. You can trek in New Zealand and literally not see another soul for days. The contrast in scenery can be astonishing, from volcanic craters to pristine beaches and lowland lakes. The New Zealand Department of Conservation also maintains more than 900 ‘backcountry’ huts for longer bush journeys – tranquillity and adventure are yours for the taking.
Food and wine
When it comes to food, New Zealand isn’t short of great local produce or specialities: prawns grown in geothermally-heated water, succulent racks of lamb, an amazing array of seafood including huge oysters, fresh vegetables and fruit galore, including the kiwi. Wine is also world-renowned with amazing cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec in Hawke’s Bay, sauvignon blanc in Marlborough and pinot noir in Central Otago.
Arts and crafts
The British only moved in a few hundred years ago but the Maoris have been here for over a thousand. The blend of ancient Maori culture and customs with newer colonial influences affords an interesting range of arts, crafts and architecture. Watch Maori craftspeople at work in Rotorua at the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and bring home souvenirs, visit the Art Deco City of Napier, rebuilt in the 1930s after an earthquake, or see the fusion of Polynesian art and colonial architecture on churches in the North Island.
Past to present
Pitched as the world’s ‘youngest country’, New Zealand earned this title as the last landmass to be ‘discovered’ in the world (technically speaking other countries can claim to be younger, with some only achieving independence in the last few years).
New Zealand’s first settlers were the Maori, whose legends describe an epic journey from mythical Hawaiki (probably around the Polynesian islands) about 1,000 years ago. The first documented European to ‘discover’ New Zealand was a Dutch navigator called Abel Tasman in 1642. But it was Britain’s own Captain James Cook who ‘claimed’ it for Britain in 1769 and first mapped most of its coastline. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi established the country as a nation.
Today, New Zealand is an independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth with a population that is mostly British origin with 15 per cent indigenous Maori. While the country is relatively ‘new’ it boasts a colourful multi-cultural past that makes exploring its natural beauty even more interesting.
Lie of the land
New Zealand is situated in the South Pacific Ocean and is divided into two main islands – North and South – with 15,000 kilometres of beautiful coastline. Mountain ranges run down much of its length with Mount Cook on South Island the highest at 3,754 metres. The country has a slightly larger landmass than Great Britain at 266,200 square kilometres.
In a couple of days’ drive, it is possible to take in volcanic mountain ranges, beautiful beaches, dense rainforest and even glaciers and fiords. A quarter of the country still remains forested, and most of these areas are now protected as national and forest parks for everyone to enjoy. Due to its separation from other landmasses about 100 million years ago, there’s a wealth of ancient and unique flora and fauna. Steps have also been taken to protect rare and endangered species such as kakapo (flightless parrot), kiwi (flightless bird and national emblem) and tuatara (oldest reptile).
When to go
New Zealand enjoys its warmest months in December, January and February and its coldest in June, July and August. Those looking for the warmest climes should travel during the UK winter and head to the subtropical north. The south is temperate and slightly milder. UV rays are very strong so be careful when out in the sun. Cold fronts and tropical cyclones can also quickly move in, so be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. It’s also wise to consult the Government’s travel advice guide to New Zealand before you go at www.fco.gov.uk.
Getting to New Zealand by air is pretty easy but the only same-plane service is run by Air New Zealand between London and Auckland. With non-direct providers you could also enjoy a stopover in cities like Kuala Lumpur, Seoul or Hong Kong. See www.flightmapping.com/NewZealand for more details and flight searches.
British passport-holders can travel to New Zealand for six months without a visa. There are some stipulations on your passport however. Check with the New Zealand High Commission, New Zealand House, 80 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4TQ at www.nzembassy.com or call 020 7930 8422 for more details. If you want to study or work in New Zealand, call 09069 100100 or visit Immigration New Zealand at www.immigration.govt.nz.
There are crime and health risks for travellers in New Zealand especially if you are participating in adventure activities so don’t go without travel insurance. Check the FCO travel advice guide on New Zealand at www.fco.gov.uk for country-specific tips and you can also read our own articles on travel health and avoiding crime abroad.
Find out more
Find more holiday ideas at www.newzealand.com. Or pick up a copy of The Rough Guide to New Zealand or Lonely Planet’s New Zealand travel guide to take with you. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy is as good a brochure as any for getting a taste of the breathtaking landscape, inspiring one of the country’s more recent nicknames ‘Middle Earth’.
With Direct Line it’s quick and easy to sort out your travel insurance for New Zealand. Our Discoverer policy is perfect for gap years, backpacking holidays and longer trips to New Zealand. Apply online for a travel insurance quote today.
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