Kiwis – the people, not the emblematic flightless bird –can’t believe their luck at being born in what they call “Godzone” (God’s own country). Year after year, travellers list New Zealand in the top ten of places they’d like to visit – and you never meet anyone who has been and didn’t love the place. And what’s not to like? With craggy coastlines, sweeping beaches, primeval forests, snowcapped mountains and impressive geysers, the scenery is truly majestic. The forests come inhabited by strange birds that have evolved to fill evolutionary niches normally occupied by mammals, while penguins, whales and seals ring the coast. Maori have only been here for 800 years but retain distinct and fascinating customs overlaid by colonial European and increasingly Asian cultures that together create a vibrant, if understated, urban life.
Given this stunning backdrop it’s not surprising that there are boundless diversions, ranging from strolls along moody windswept beaches and multi-day tramps over alpine passes to adrenaline-charged adventure activities such as bungy jumping, skiing, sea kayaking and whitewater rafting. Some visitors treat the country as a large-scale adventure playground, aiming to tackle as many challenges as possible in the time available.
Much of the scenic drama comes from tectonic or volcanic forces, as the people of Canterbury know only too well following the Christchurch earthquakes of September 4, 2010 and February 22, 2011. The quakes, along with several thousand aftershocks, collect ively devastated the city, which is slowly recovering.
Thousands of residents have left Christchurch, but it remains the second-largest city after Auckland, just pushing the capital, Wellington, into third place. Elsewhere, you can travel many kilometres through stunning countryside without seeing a soul: there are spots so remote that, it’s reliably contended, no human has yet visited them.