New Zealand is full of uniqueness. The interesting dynamic of warm, laid back, quirky people with an extreme sport mentality. The enveloping natural beauty. Indigenous-rooted, Siri-butchering city and street names. Sheep everywhere you turn. So when a good friend of mine asked what should be on her itinerary for her upcoming visit to New Zealand, I drilled down a list of experiences that would provide the best, most representative taste of what this amazing country has to offer. As a sidebar, most people don't realize that New Zealand is made up of three main islands: North Island, South Island, and little Stewart Island at the very south tip. So, given that trips often consist of visiting either the North or South Island, I've included where you can most easily find each.
1) Take a Great Walk. Or at least part of one. New Zealand's natural beauty is arguably unsurpassable and one of the best ways to take it all in is on one of the country's 10 Great Walks. They lie throughout the country with varying degrees of difficulty, length, and accessibility. But find one (just one!) that you can tramp for even a brief time for some breathtaking scenery. See locations and details at http://bit.ly/1B20mJY. (North, South, and Stewart Islands)
2) Marinate in Maori (pronounced MOW-ree, like COW) culture. The influence of the once aggressive indigenous peoples of New Zealand is palpable. And fascinating. Seek out Maori heritage sites and/or traditional events. At the very least, attend an evening show that includes customary food, dance, and rituals. There are a few good ones in Rotorua like Mitai at http://www.mitai.co.nz. (North Island)
3) Jump on the Wine Tasting Trail. Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs have become world-renowned but the New Zealand Classic Wine Trail is far more expansive than that. You can sip crisp whites from the North Island's east side to smooth reds in Martinborough further south then start all over again on the South Island from Marlborough down to Queenstown. To start plotting your stops, check out my winery picks and Trail maps at http://robingoesto.com/blogs/blog/10563277-trailblazing. (North and South Islands)
4) Do something extreme. The great irony of the Kiwis is that while they are so laid back, they really like to go big. Glide down the massive Te Paki sand dunes on a body board. Speed down expansive 90 Mile Beach in a bus. Or get your nerve up to try an extreme activity like Shweeb, Zorb, or Swoop. (North Island)
5) Attend a sheep shearing competition. Given that New Zealand holds the most sheep per capita in the world, there is more to learn about these cuddly creatures than you ever thought possible. But what I found most enlightening during my adventure there, was the job-slash-sport of sheep shearing. Due to the sheer numbers, farmers have had to perfect the art and speed of shearing which is fascinating (and sometimes alarming) to watch. Sheep shearing competitions abound throughout the year in New Zealand. Find one at http://shearingsports.co.nz. (North and South Islands)
6) Bask in the glow(worms). The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are nothing short of magical; particularly since the glow worm is unique to New Zealand. With thousands of tiny, sparkling glow worm lights twinkling above as you float through underground caves and caverns, the experience feels other-worldly. And you can't find it anywhere else in the world. Details at http://bit.ly/1BUOtYy. (North Island)
Photo credit: The Huffington Post
7) Be in the black. New Zealand's national sports teams are called the All Blacks, the Black Caps, and the Black Sox (of rugby, cricket, and men's softball respectively). So get out of the dark and in to a match to learn a little something about and soak up Kiwi passion for their teams. If the national teams are off season, look for regional schedules. Get a head start on New Zealand's sporty pastimes at http://bit.ly/1zZ4NRS. (North and South Islands)
8) Welcome the new day.. first! Gisborne, on the North Island, is the first city in the world to see the sun of each new day. Kind of a cool thing to do to celebrate new beginnings. Or just bragging rights that you saw the dawning day before anybody else. (North Island)
And last but certainly not least...
9) Catch a Kiwi. The bird kind. And not literally. Those adorable, endangered little balls of feathers are not easy to find. But if you can catch even a glimpse of one (your best bet is at night since they are nocturnal and not social), you'll have spotted something that lives only in New Zealand. And probably the cutest damn bird you've ever seen. (If time is of the essence, go straight to Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua. Here's their website: http://bit.ly/17SyOLw.) (North and South Islands)
Got another to add to the list? Please comment to share your suggestion!