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  • Writer's pictureJuliet Weller

Let's Go To ...New Zealand

New Zealand. It's even further 'down under' than Australia. Very often, travelers making the journey to Australia want to tack New Zealand to the journey because they want to see ALL THE PLACES in one trip. I have to advise you...please don't try. Can you imagine seeing all of the US in a single visit of a few weeks.

Cottages in a valley, from the movie set Lord of the Rings

Granted, a few weeks will get you a VERY nice vacation in both countries, rife with adventure, culture, history, arts, beaches wildlife nature. Visit small towns and stunning valleys, enjoy adventure tours and relaxing days; there is a lot of diversity to discover - cruise off to the Great Barrier Reef, watch the sun rise and set in Uluru and act like a local in some of the country's world class cities. There's no shortage of activities on your action packed journey, including a tour of Hobbitton for the Lord of the Rings fanatic in you. Whether you visit both at once or not, a trip to New Zealand of one to two weeks, (three is even better) will grant you the experience of the island's full flavor.

Begin in Auckland with a private tour of the city. Tamaki Makaurau, the Maori name for Auckland (meaning a city of 100 lovers), is aptly named with visitors experiencing first-hand why locals love this beautiful, geographically and culturally diverse city. Enjoy an extraordinary first impression of New Zealand and optimize your time on your first day in Auckland. Your private tour will take in selected historical and cultural sites of significance, cityscapes, harbor views and coastlines, views of ancient volcanic peaks, and parks with unique flora and fauna in New Zealand's largest city.

Spend the next couple of days south of the city, where suburban scenery gradually gives way to the farmlands of South Auckland. The Waikato River will accompany you for much of your journey through the green countryside. Travel via the city of Hamilton as well as through rich Waikato farmland, before arriving at Waitomo. Below the hilly green pastures of the Waitomo region is a subterranean limestone landscape of caves, sinkholes and underground rivers. Discover the ancient underground labyrinth and marvel at the limestone formations, and experience the wonder of a unique boat trip through the starry wonderland of the Glowworm Grotto.

Move on to a sheep farming operation in Rotorua for a demonstration of sheep shearing and wool handling; then to Rainbow Springs, a great showcase of New Zealand flora, fauna, and magnificent Rainbow and Brown trout. See the endangered kiwi and be part of an ongoing conservation campaign to help save this iconic bird. For lunch, try the authentic Maori hangi meal at the next stop, Te Puia, then on to the beautiful Whakarewarewa geothermal valley which is alive with boiling mud, steaming hot pools and the fantastic Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers geysers.

Takeoff to Queenstown and keep heading south into the lush green of Southland's alpine farming country, and on to the unforgettable drama of Fiordland's scenery. View New Zealand's second largest lake, Te Anau, where en route to Milford Sound there is astonishing beauty at every bend and ample opportunity for pictures. Cruise the fiord and discovery scenery unchanged since Captain Cook's arrival. It's a place of towering mountains, rain-forests, wildlife and glorious peace and calm.

Transfer from Queenstown by coach to Glenorchy and the mouth of the Dart River to board a jet boat. The Wilderness Safari takes you on a spectacular 90-minute jet-boat journey through the Dart's ever-changing braided river system where you'll be surrounded by snow-covered peaks, hidden valleys and waterfalls. The tour includes an easy guided 30- to 40-minute walk through the 'Heritage Trail' at Paradise where your knowledgeable guide will enliven your walk with an informative and entertaining commentary about the ancient native beech forest, the unique flora and fauna, as well as the fascinating Maori and colonial history of the area. You'll also journey by coach via a scenic back-road route, while hearing stories about the surrounding countryside and stopping to view scenery that has formed the epic backdrop for many international films, including 'The Lord of the Rings'.

Kawarau Gorge

Next day, your privately guided tour begins with a scenic drive through the spectacularly rugged Kawarau Gorge where the mighty Kawarau River follows the road through precipitous bluffs and rock-strewn hillsides. Pass through Cromwell, in the true heart of the Central Otago wine and fruit-growing region - a quick stop at one of the local fruit stalls is a must. Traveling along the shores of Lake Dunstan into the Lindis country, one gets a sense of just how remote and sparsely populated the area is. Past Omarama, the first of two large alpine-fed lakes appears into view with Mount Cook, or Aoraki as it is known to the local Maori, forming an impressive backdrop. The journey then continues through the Mackenzie Country and down onto the fertile Canterbury Plains. On arrival into Christchurch, the Garden City and New Zealand's second largest city, enjoy a brief orientation tour of the city center before being dropped at your hotel.

Explore the garden city and the surrounding areas of Christchurch, then on towards the Port Hills, which overlook Christchurch, and offer stunning views of the city, Canterbury Plains, Lyttleton Harbour and the distant Southern Alps. After dropping into Lyttleton Harbour, you will have time explore a private garden that has been growing since 1865 and includes a variety of exotic trees, shrub rhododendrons, camellias and a good variety of New Zealand native plants.

Head over the crater rim to another private garden that is 15 years old; the garden has a strong New Zealand theme and a largely formal layout. Within the evergreen structure of totara hedges, there are many native New Zealand plants and hybrids of exotic varieties raised in this country. Visit to the botanical gardens to see exotic trees that are some of the largest, the tallest or the oldest of their kind in New Zealand. You will see spectacular color, intriguing sculptures and memorial plantings that celebrate local and international history.

So a three-week trip is the one for you? I'm ready. Let's start planning!

'til next week.


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