From tropical forests to snowy glaciers, jagged peaks to sandy beaches, bubbling volcanoes to calm meadows, New Zealand is a country of contrasts. We came looking for beauty, scenery, culture, and adventure, and found an experience that will affect us for the rest of our lives. Travelling through the country in a camper van, we found that New Zealand’s roads are made for driving, its byways open to camping, its peaks and valleys calling for us to come explore. After everything, 5 experiences stood out to us as the most unforgettable:
1. Taking in the view from Cape Reinga
The northwesternmost point of New Zealand’s North Island was a great place to start our travels – and provided a breathtaking view to set the mood of the journey. With no one else around for miles, we were mesmerized by the blue waters and picturesque beaches.
2. Dropping in to visit Middle Earth
Like most people, we love Lord of the Rings – which is why touring the film set at Hobbiton, and seeing the Hobbit holes in The Shire, was a must-do. We didn’t see Frodo, but the tour was still a fascinating experience.
3. Experiencing Maori culture
The Maori, the native people of New Zealand, have a rich history and a fascinating culture, and are extremely welcoming people to boot. At the Maori pa (fortified village) site at Piha beach, ancient carvings guarded the long-dormant volcano known as Lion Rock; we loved wandering around here and looking at the beautifully carved pieces.
4. Standing on the Ring of Fire
New Zealand’s volcanic powers were on full display at Kuirau park, Rotorua, where geothermal pools heated by underground reserves of magma bubbled and hissed. The pools were also colored with bright bacteria and mineral deposits that added a dazzling array of visual effects; we’d never felt anything so hot in nature before!
5. Walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Known as one of New Zealand’s “Nine Great Walks”, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park passes over the volcanic terrain of the multi-cratered active volcano Mount Tongariro, providing expansive views and a great workout along the way. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason; its natural beauty is unsurpassed despite the stark conditions. Hiking this trail was one of the highlights of our trip!