New Zealand is my favourite country on Earth. But before you discount my must-experience list given enthusiastic bias, rest assured it’s been a weighted and considered delegation. I backpacked there two months ago for a short three weeks, flying over from Sydney primarily for the scenery that would satiate my unabashed love of Lord of The Rings. I didn’t expect to become enamoured with its people, moved to tears by mountains and fall in love with the country. My must-sees are based on experiences that are distinctly Kiwi – a particular flavour of living that keeps on giving long after you leave.
Each place gave me a sense of empowerment, and I’ve mapped the degrees to which that occurred.
Please note I spent most of my time in the North Island; undoubtedly there are endless other Edens in the South.
10. Rangitoto Island
Eager to hop across the harbour, this hilly hike was undertaken with far too much weight in my backpack. That said, I found the view that much more serene when I stopped panting and became still. Rain swept the hillside for ten minutes then gave way to warm sun – a microclimate made for the raincoat-ready.
9. Devonport Beach, Auckland.
A quiet and dandy shelled beach cloaked in a cove of calm waters. Dusk did wonders for deep thought; bay’s beauty caught. Before I knew the time had climbed past five and called for me to drive my legs towards the grass beyond; the photos capture peace I sought.
8. Kaikoura in snow
The bus refused to travel up the road in ice and snow. The beach was minus 2 degrees, my fingers had begun to freeze as I clicked the camera shutter, for a site I could not capture. There, upon the icy shore, the seagulls next to Helen War sought refuge from the frozen rain. My friends, in all my sweetest dreams there’s never been such dissonance ‘tween waves, the sky, the beach, the snow, and the sea in all its milky glow.
7.) Muriwai Beach
With a friend I found a flock of Gannets nesting in the rock; the breeding birds are some of only few left in the world. The fuming ocean frothed a fury never seen before, and mist dismissed the clarity that one can see in calm. Burning glare upon the water, beautiful on blackened sand, bore a brightness that incited me to freeze the frame within my eye.
6.) Sulphur Lake, Rotorua
I can’t stress enough the power of a geological masterpiece in unruly weather. Ignore those who seek to dissuade you from New Zealand in winter time – walking around in the candid company of birds, gargling thermal spots and extraordinary rainbows is enough. I recall saying aloud “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” with a clarity of honesty that solitude set free.
5.) Lake Taupo at sunset
As the bus skirted the great Lake Taupo, we called for a brief interlude to marvel at the sun, whose mighty grace humbled even the loudest of observers. This is one of the moments I call on in need; the warm light that faded, receding with speed.
4.) Redwood forest, Rotorua
The Redwood forest is unmissable – do not dismiss the magic of the massive mellow trees, their defiant stature giant over bird and bush and beast. Do take a walk and feel the stillness; quiet, silent, dark yet vibrant. Tracks that weave through weathered rock relieve your feet from concrete stock – then pad through shaded softened ground to sense the special place you’ve found.
3.) Underground Caves, Waitomo
The power of caving moves your mind to align with your body in blissful bind. There’s crystal that hums and water that drums through tunnels below in a turmoiled torrent, where the weak are at war with a force that will floor you. Calmly push through the cold and with clarity behold what is lying in wait down the caverns of old. Glowing worms in the dark, dotted stars in a dome – I adore the down-under, where you too can roam.
2.) Abel Tasman Track
With a friend that I’d met on my travels, we set out to wander the track by the sea. The detour called “inland” winds up through the light sand until you can look down with glee. A Kea was laughing on behalf of the birdlife that nested in branches and grass. As you grapple with backpack that weighs half a ton they are flying above you with class. Then you camp near the beach in a hut that will teach you to test out your torch ‘fore twilight. In the morning you bask in a darkness so vast and the pink in the sky far away. And the beach is your own if you need to atone – find forgiveness to falter the fray.
1.) Winter Alpine Crossing, Mt Ruapehu
In the winter you might have the place to yourself, as you trek through the snow and the icy shelf. We were plodding along, 25 people strong, and surmounted the Staircase and ridge before long. Later laid on the ice in an intimate silence; priceless powerful moment, the world our alliance. There was nothingness, peace, not a whistle, or piece of pollution to pierce the placating location.