New Zealand (read Tom’s complete guide) is my favorite international destination (visited in 2019, 2007, 1998, 1992 and 1981). Runner-up favorites are discussed further below.
Scenery in the South Pacific paradise of New Zealand varies dramatically in short distances, perfect for touring by campervan, car, bicycle, feet, and jetboat. New Zealand is bigger than the UK, smaller than Japan, and about the size of Colorado − a perfect escape for 2 to 8 weeks. Fully 30% of New Zealand is preserved in parkland, very attractive for wilderness lovers. Exotic, yes! Three-fourths of the country’s plant species are endemic (found nowhere else). Experience exceptional diversity within short travel hops:
- On New Zealand’s North Island:
- Experience active Maori culture (Tamaki Maori Village) amid a colorful landscape of hot springs and geothermal features (Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland) around Rotorua.
- Explore spectacular volcanoes (such as Tongariro, Taranaki, and White Island). We loved the Tongariro Crossing, a spectacular and very popular volcanic traverse.
- The more-populous North Island is big enough for wilderness escapes: a day hike along Panekiri Bluff samples the best of the 4-day Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
- Appreciate unique birds, animals, and wildlife on these ecological islands: Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park lets you see nocturnal kiwis during the day. A fun boat tour of Waitomo Glowworm Caves reveals a fascinating insect which shines like a star.
- See the world’s second largest tree species (Kauri) in Northland Forest Park, Waipoua.
- On New Zealand’s South Island, our favorite wilderness escape abroad:
- Hike well-maintained trails through lush native beech rain forest to an abrupt, surprisingly-low-elevation timberline around 1250 meters in the Southern Alps, with permanent snowline above 2000 meters, capped with scenic glaciers. The delightful alpine zone is patrolled by the clownish kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. Admire hanging glaciers and waterfalls in a day hike along the amazing Rob Roy Valley Track.
- Preventable sandfly bites are the only negative about tramping on the wet side of the Southern Alps.
- Admire glacier-covered Mount Cook which rises abruptly like a knife to 3724 meters or 12,218 feet (updated in 2013). Although it poses a daunting challenge for climbers, you can easily see Mount Cook from roads and good hiking trails (Sealy Tarns, Hooker Valley Track, and Lake Matheson boardwalk). Mount Cook is the world’s 39th most prominent peak relative to its surrounding topography.
- Walk to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, which extend tongues of ice uniquely into lush temperate rainforest, down to 300 meters (980 feet) above sea level.
- Admire the wild and scenic seacoast (Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Nydia Track, Queen Charlotte Track, and Nugget Point) and spectacular fiords / fjords (drive to Milford Sound then cruise or sea kayak).
- Throughout the country, hike (tramp) along excellent trails (Tracks) and Walkways, optionally staying overnight in convenient refuges (Huts).
- Our favorite multi-day wilderness tracks with overnight huts include: Rees-Dart Track, Routeburn Track, Gillespie Pass Circuit including Siberia Hut to Crucible Lake (The Siberia Experience), Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, Hollyford Track, Kepler Track, Milford Track, and Pouakai Track (Mount Egmont/Taranaki).
- Planes, buses, tour boats, jet boats, and water taxis efficiently assist one-way hikes or round-trip tours.
- Relax or hike on a variety wonderful beaches on South Island (such as Abel Tasman National Park and Moeraki Boulders) and North Island (Coromandel Peninsula, Ninety Mile Beach, and many more).
- Urban highlights include:
- Auckland, North Island:
- Visit the Auckland Museum if you are not able to see Te Papa Museum in Wellington (or vice versa); both are great.
- Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World
- MOTAT (Museum of Transportation and Technology) and Science Center with tactile dome
- Auckland Zoo
- Nelson, South Island: don’t miss the visual feast of WOW, the World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum.
- Christchurch Airport: see fascinating International Antarctic Center exhibits, multi-media show, and sea spider aquarium.
- This English-speaking country has very friendly people with excellent law, order, and safety.
- Cities proudly offer excellent “i-Sites” (tourist offices) which distribute free highway maps, free pamphlets, free lodging and campground directories, and free booking service.
- Auckland, North Island:
- Rent a campervan or car and stay in comfortable motor camps with cabins as we do. Economical motor camps offer great variety & value, with kitchens & bathrooms available as private or shared.
- With seasons reversed Down Under, we visitors from the Northern Hemisphere can escape winter blahs to enjoy summer fun! Jet lag is only 3 hours from western America (Pacific Standard Time, PST) to New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT).
To support my work:
Buy any products at Amazon.com | Sign up for AirBnb.com
A world of natural wonders
My wife Carol and I enjoy escaping urban areas to athletically explore natural wonders. We especially love the mystery and beauty mountains. Below are some highlights from each continent we’ve visited:
- Trains and lifts make the majestic Alps the world’s easiest mountains to visit with public transportation.
- Visit spectacular Switzerland for an ideal mountain vacation in one of the world’s safest and most democratic countries. Admirably, the Swiss love nature, preserve diverse cultural traditions in four official languages, and exemplify progressive values.
- The stunning Dolomites of Italy make a perfect hiking trip combined with romantic Venice, via its convenient airport. The Dolomiti range may be the world’s most impressive concentration of knife-shaped peaks served with ski resort lifts convenient for summer hikers. You can easily day hike (staying in comfortable three-star hotels reached by rental car or bus), or trek long distances from hut to hut (sleeping in rifugio dormitories), or climb exciting via ferrata routes.
- On hiking trips in 2011 and 1981, the beautiful fjords, mountains, and people of Norway touched my heart deeply. Foreign language poses no barrier for kindred spirits (plus most Norwegians speak English). Experience natural wonders, charm, culture, and history within the world’s most democratic country.
- While Greece is well worth visiting (especially romantic Santorini Island and the rugged northern mountains of Zagori), the exotic Republic of Turkey offers more variety, the friendliest people, and spans 9000 years of history.
- The magnificent Himalaya in Nepal impresses you with diverse human cultures living on the flanks of soaring summits. Due to the country’s relatively poor health conditions, wash hands frequently and be careful what you eat.
- The Canadian Rockies rival any mountains in the world for breathtaking natural beauty, easily reached on paved highways, great for bicycling.
- United States of America:
- Big and brawny, the USA has an abundance of world-class natural wonders. The West is best:
- Utah has the world’s best concentration of slot canyons, natural arches, and colorful desert canyon country favored with mostly sunny weather, great in Spring and Fall. As of 2020, Utah has attracted me to visit 19 times, more than any other area in the world! Extend your visit to nearby wonders in Arizona (such as Grand Canyon of the Colorado River) in Southwest USA.
- Washington (my home base) is one of the most ecologically and scenically diverse states in the USA.
- Yellowstone (Wyoming) has the world’s best concentration of geysers and geothermal features.
- Montana‘s Glacier National Park is a hiking paradise on the wildly spectacular Rocky spine of North America.
- Hawaii offers some of the best hiking in the world, with striking natural beauty attracting me six times (as of 2017).
- Alaska hosts the rugged margins of American culture in a superlative, wild landscape.
- The Andes (Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina) rival the size of the Himalaya, and their slopes thrive with colorful traditional cultures such as the Quechua people, the direct descendants of the Inca.
- Ecuador offers incredible variety, from the Andes Highlands to the Galapagos Islands, a wondrous adventure for children and adults. Families and wildlife lovers should put the wonderful Galapagos Islands at the top of their dream travel list. This fabulous eco-adventure attracted me thrice as a warm escape from Seattle’s wet winter and early spring (April 8-27, 2009; February 21-March 3, 1994; and January 12-26, 1986).
- Argentina and Chile are beautiful and varied, making a great reverse-season escape to summer (January-March) away from the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Buenos Aires, “the Paris of the South,” attracts we lovers of Tango music and dancing. The wild beauty of Cerro Fitz Roy and Torres del Paine brought me back for a repeat visit in 2020, which added a driving loop from Bariloche to Tronador volcano to the new Patagonia National Park. Argentina is much bigger than New Zealand, requiring more travel time between sights, from Mendoza wine region and Iguassu Falls (both not yet seen) to Patagonia.
- Pristine Antarctica is remote, very cold, yet alluring − best seen in combination with a trip to Patagonia (southern Chile or Argentina), where you board a ship from the port of Ushuaia, on the Island of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. 10 days is the shortest cruise to the scenic Antarctic Peninsula; we cruised for 12 days. Find a ship with the fewest passengers (90-130) to increase your land excursion time. Don’t forget a prescription medicine patch to prevent motion sickness across the rough Drake Passage (5 days round trip on treacherous seas). If affordable, extend your voyage (22 days) to spectacular South Georgia Island to see vast colonies of Emperor Penguins.
- Big countries such as Australia require many extra transit days via ground transportation to reach the highlights. Save time by coordinating multiple internal flights with rental cars and practical campervan rentals. Carol and I escaped Seattle’s winter for 7.5 weeks exploring some great forest parks in southern Australian summer, January 26-March 18, 2004. We most enjoyed Australia’s exotic animals and plants. Best weather for a separate trip to northern and interior Australia (the “Red Centre”) would be September or October.
- In a nutshell, New Zealand is our favorite foreign country to visit, as described at the top of this article.
Having satisfied my curiosity after five thorough visits to New Zealand, I’m now most excited about returning to hikes in the European Alps.) We also hope to visit Africa at some point. When we’re not flying abroad, North America inspires many RV trips, especially in the West.
The above favorite links are a subset of my complete SITE MAP: INDEX of PhotoSeek contents.
International travel opens our outlook on a diverse world of wonders and human commonalities. Most people worldwide enjoy hosting guests and employing the Golden Rule − the ethic of reciprocity − to treat others how you want to be treated.
− Tom Dempsey, creator of PhotoSeek.com
Seattle, Washington, USA
February 28, 2016
More New Zealand images
Recommended Guidebooks from Amazon.com
Search for latest “New Zealand travel” books at Amazon.com.
We optimize our valuable travel time with good guides:
- Lonely Planet New Zealand 20 (Travel Guide) Paperback – Folded Map, April 20, 2021: carry this essential guide on the trip.
- Lonely Planet Hiking & Tramping in New Zealand (Travel Guide) – 2018. Carry along this good backpacking and hut-walking planner.
- New Zealand, National Geographic Adventure Map, 3500 – Folded Map, January 1, 2019
Beautiful, glossy books for planning trips, making handsome souvenirs (heavier than above):
- Lonely Planet Discover New Zealand (Travel Guide) Paperback – 2018: LP’s “Discover” series is on handsome, heavy glossy paper, a good souvenir, helpful for trip planning.
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide New Zealand Paperback – 2018: is another attractive, well-researched guide series on heavy photo paper.
- Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List 2 2: The Best Places on the Planet …Ranked Hardcover – Illustrated, 2020
- Explore Europe on Foot: Your Complete Guide to Planning a Cultural Hiking Adventure by Cassandra Overby – Paperback – 2018: highly recommended by Tom for both inspiration and practical details for planning your next walking adventure
Regarding smartphones — with great power comes great responsibility (as says the Greek “Sword of Damocles” anecdote, and more recently, Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man). Sadly, monetized social media has often enabled extreme memes to shout-down both civility and reality itself. To my relief, Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker restores our faith in the triumph of public good in his important books:
- Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018)
- Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters (2021)
I completely agree on New Zealand being the favorite place – mine, too. Went there in 2017 and among other things did the Routeburn Track (first time I almost ran out of camera cards despite carrying 4 x 64G :). Your photos are stunning and make me want to go back, especially with the current weather here in Seattle!