New Zealand is a country of rare seismic beauty: glacial mountains, fast-flowing rivers, deep, clear lakes, hissing geysers and boiling mud. There are also abundant forest reserves, long, deserted beaches and a variety of fauna, such as the kiwi, endemic to its shores.
Any number of vigorous outdoor activities - tramping (hiking), skiing, rafting and, of course, that perennial favourite, bungy jumping - await the adventurous. You can swim with dolphins, gambol with newborn lambs, whale-watch or fish for fattened trout in the many streams.
The people, bound in a culture that melds European with Maori ancestry, are resourceful, helpful and overwhelmingly friendly. The extraordinary place names - try Te Awamutu, Whangamomona or Paekakariki for tongue-trippers - are resonant and, with a modicum of practice, easy to pronounce.
Because it's such a compact place, travel within New Zealand - whether by plane, bus, rail, car or bicycle - is affordable and efficient. Accommodation too is cheap and varied. And the culinary promise of venison, fresh seafood, sublime ice cream and award-winning wines should more than whet the appetite.
Full country name: New Zealand
Area: 268,680 sq km
Population: 4 million
Capital City: Wellington
People: 75% New Zealand European (Pakeha), 10% Maori, 5% other European, 4.5% Polynesian, 5% Asian, 0.5% other
Language: English, Maori
Religion: Predominantly Christian (75%)
Government: Independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations
Head of State: Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright
Head of Government: Prime Minister Helen Clark
GDP: US$85 billion
GDP per capita: US$22,360
Annual Growth: 2%
Major Industries: Food processing, wood and paper products, wool, textiles, dairy products, iron and steel, machinery, tourism
Major Trading Partners: Australia, Japan, UK, China and the USA
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Some of the noteworthy cultural events include: Summer City Programme (January to February; Wellington), which is a series of festivals around the city; BMW Wine Marlborough Festival (2nd week in February; Blenheim); New Zealand Festival (February, even-numbered years only; Wellington), an entire month of national and international culture; Golden Shears Sheep-Shearing Contest (March; Masterton), a must for lovers of sheep and sweat; and Canterbury Show Week (November; Christchurch), which has agricultural exhibits, rides and local entertainment.
1 Jan - New Year's Day
6 Feb - Waitangi Day
Mar/Apr - Easter
25 Apr - Anzac Day
1st Mon in June - Queen's Birthday
4th Mon in Oct - Labour Day
25 Dec - Christmas Day
26 Dec - Boxing Day
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Currency: NZ Dollar
It's possible to travel economically in New Zealand. Budget travellers can expect to get by on less than USD40.00 a day if camping or staying in hostels and self-catering. Motor camps and motels all have kitchens for guests' use, so staying in these also gives you the option of doing your own cooking. One of the main reasons people come to New Zealand is to participate in the activities the country is known for. Some cost nothing - tramping, swimming, birdwatching - but as so many enjoyable activities are expensive, they can end up being a major part of your travel budget. If you stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and spend money on rafting, bungy jumping and the like, be prepared to outlay about USD100.00 a day.
Tipping is becoming more widespread in New Zealand, principally in the major centres where there's been more foreign influence. You should tip 5-10% of the bill in a restaurant (not in a simple café) if you feel you have received exceptional service.
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Wellington is situated on a splendid harbour at the southern tip of the North Island. Often maligned for its ill-tempered weather, Wellington is a lively city of culture and arts and great ethnic restaurants and cafes. It is also home to the country's government and national treasures.
Buildings of interest include the modernist Beehive (the executive wing of Parliament), the old Government Building (one of the largest all-wooden buildings in the world), the National Library (housing the most comprehensive collection of books in the country), and the Katherine Mansfield Memorials (the property where the famous author was born in 1888). In addition, there are museums (including the excellent Te Papa museum), a zoo and stunning views of the city from the top of Mt Victoria. Cuba Street has great shopping, Thorndon has historic sites of interest, Lambton Quay is the primary business street and Mt Victoria is the place to go for cheap accommodation and dining.
This waterside city has a strong pulse and a nautical twinkle in its eye. Its bewitching location on a thin stretch of the North Island, which is surrounded by the Pacific on just about every side, is complemented by the lush subtropical forests of the nearby hills and islands.
Auckland's tourist attractions are, unsurprisingly, based around all things maritime. When you've had enough of aquariums and the history of sailing, go looking for Maori culture and dinosaur skeletons, lie in the gardens or try stargazing at the Observatory.
Northland is the cradle of both Maori and Pakeha (European) culture: it was here that the Pakeha first made contact with the Maori, and where the first whaling settlements were established. The Treaty of Waitangi was also signed here. Often referred to as the 'winterless north' because of its mild year-round temperatures, Northland has a number of interesting museums (Kauri Museum), glorious, blonde beaches (Ninety Mile Beach) and diving spots (Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, reckoned by Jacques Cousteau to be among the top 10 diving sites in the world), historic towns (Paihia and Waitangi), game fishing (Bay of Islands) and flora and fauna reserves (Waipoua Kauri Forest).
Otago & Southland
Three highlights dominate Otago and Southland: Queenstown, set in a glacial valley, with a bevy of adrenaline pumping activities; the walkways of Fiordland National Park; and Otago Peninsula, which boasts New Zealand's first foray into ecotourism.
Queenstown, on Lake Wakatipu, is a town synonymous with parasailing, white-water rafting and bungy jumping. Fiordland National Park is a wilderness of mountains, ice and beech forests. The scenic climax is undoubtedly Milford Sound, situated in the shadows of towering mountains and waterfalls.
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