Top things to do in New Zealand, Part – II

DestinationNew Zealand Maori Warrior Culture
Listen to Top things to do in New Zealand, Part – II

Since we couldn’t cram everything into a trite Listicle with 10 measly points, we had to go continue with the story and count everything unique, wonderful, and experience-worthy about New Zealand. The journey continues… 

1. Understanding Maori culture

This is not something to do on a whirlwind dance around the country. Understanding a country is rarely a short process for any country, but it’s a process with a lot of fun and insight to be gained. But as one of the earliest offshoots of the Polynesian culture which sailed and settled in New Zealand many centuries ago – we’re talking around early 1300s – the similarities and differences are breath-taking. Experiential travellers who have sampled Polynesia will quietly amazed how linguistics, mores and customs have traversed thousands of kilometres and hundreds of years, melding and adapting to nature and surroundings to become what it is today. And then, of course there is the history of the struggle and assimilation, making New Zealand the country we know and love. At the very least, the uninitiated should go sign up for a traditional hangi meal.

2. Go for a burger crawl

Quite a segue, no? From history lessons to melty burgers! But New Zealand, and especially Queenstown, has made no bones about (pun intended!) its supremely tasty beef. Therefore, lip-smacking burgers. From Fergburgers and Devil Burgers in Qtown to Wanaka’s Red Star burgers, there’s a trail of mouth-watering goodness to be sampled. Eat… we mean, go bravely!

3. Queenstown Luge

Taking the Skyline Gondola up the mountain and admiring the view is a favourite pastime of travellers. But if you thought that the way down was just the same gondola on the other line, let us tell you there’s a faster, more thrilling way down! The Queenstown Luge is a 1.6-kilometre paved path that winds down the hill. Travellers can luge their way down, soaking in the views from high and as the sled swoops in and out of the turns, there’s nary an age who won’t go ‘whee’!

Even better, there are two tracks. The first one is simple or elementary, excellent for families with youngsters – but still boatloads of fun. The other is… advanced. More speed, more fun. And since once is no fun at all, we’re happy to inform people that there are group tickets for the gondola and the luge rides. Ride up, slide down and repeat till happy!

4. Trundle around in a motorhome!

A motorhome crossing a bridge in New Zealand.
There’s self-drive and then there is exploring the country in a motorhome.

A great idea nowadays, and we note this with an equal measure of irony and amusement. But… now that we’ve got the niggardly thought out of the way, New Zealand is a great country to hire a big van, stuff your belongings and go explore the countryside at your own pace. The Department of Conservation has set aside great lots with complete sets of amenities catering to motorhomes and campervans. Wake up one day to a beach and the next day facing a mountain – now who can complain against that? Heartily recommended for couples young and old, families or even solo travellers with wanderlust!

5. Jetboating!

Jet-boating in New Zealand.
Jet-boating in New Zealand.

Besides throwing people off high places profitably, New Zealand is also the pioneer of the daredevil adventure sports of jetboating. What’s special about it? So these boats may look like regular speedboats, but instead of a motor, propeller shaft and a propeller, these boats suck up great gobs of air, compress it and thrust it out the back-end. Why? Because the ravines, where the boats ‘ply’ after a fashion, are sometimes very shallow – even going to a depth of a few inches at a time. Not suitable for a traditional propeller boat. A jetboat, however, has no such problem; it will just skim over with nary a worry. So that’s what they do. With extreme prowess, as travellers find out. Jetboat operators take these big boats, fill them up with people and hurtle at breakneck speeds through the mountain-carving rivers. Passing rocky gorges with just a few inches to spare at whirlwind speeds, ‘pirouetting’ midstream to wild screams of glee – a boat ride is seldom this exhilarating.

Expert Tip: Do not schedule a jet-boat ride after a hair-styling appointment.

6. Glug some wine. Oh, we meant wine-tasting!

Standing in a grape field, viticulture and wine-tasting tour
A New Zealand vintner talking about viticulture to travellers on a wine-tasting tout.

New Zealand has some of the world’s best wines. It’s the volcanic soil and temperate climate, experts say, along with factors like the right acidity…

Sorry, there were some important points which were said and noted, but we got very interested in the tasting part and left the recorder somewhere. We’ll find it. Eventually. But what’s better is that New Zealand has a host of distinct regions and wines, just like France – so if you just like to drink wine and want to sample a few very good ones, you’re at the right country. Or if you want to go deep into viticulture, corking, and the like – you’re also come to the right country.

Evening picnic in New Zealand
Unorthodox picnic ideas, Kiwi style!

7. Have a picnic

Yes, we know it’s no biggie. You can have a picnic anywhere. For epic picnics, there are places such as Greece, Italian Andes, Namibia, Morocco, United States, Australia… they can all be on the world’s top 10 lists and little New Zealand won’t even be missed.  But… imagine this. A meadow in Taupo. A wicker basket with fresh harvested berries, triple tier sandwiches, fruit preserves, golden kiwifruit bursting with sweet nectar, a chiller with a bottle of sparkling wine and a tub of New Zealand ice cream. Simple, but memorable. 

8. Eat Fish and Chips

New Zealand has lot of British cultural, much like other nations with colonial history in the rear-view mirror – and it doesn’t stop at cuisine either. But it has adopted the humble fish and chips as a staple as much as the Ye Olde Country. So much so that travellers can find a fish-and-chips outlet at every town and city in New Zealand. Whether it is a restaurant, a café/ boulangerie, a 5-star gourmet experience or even a hole-in-the-wall joint, people will never lack for fish and chips. And they do it so well, too – battered and fried fresh fish, crispy finger chips with garlic aioli and veggies… ah, heaven!

9. Bird-watching 

Penguin on New Zealand beach.
Just adorable – one of New Zealand’s penguin residents.

Because New Zealand has no wild animal predators with bird as their menu, there are a massive number of birds in this country. Then, many of them are endemic – which means there are only found in this country. For example, the kiwi bird. This shy nocturnal flightless bird is endangered, but conservation is giving it a fighting chance. Then there is the kakapo, the world’s largest parrot. Also, endangered… but so cute. Here, check out this video to know the kakapo up, close and personal. In our estimation, this is one of Youtube’s most underrated videos with the redoubtable Stephen Fry and a very Victorian (cough, cough) kakapo!

In short, this is a birdwatcher’s paradise. If you’d like to see the iconic kiwi while in New Zealand, you’ll have to visit a hatching facility, like the West Coast Wildlife Centre, because these nocturnal birds are extremely rare and hard to spot. And if you’re really into birds, consider doing the White Heron Sanctuary tour, where you’ll go into a remote wildlife reserve that few people get to see.

10. Self-drive adventures

One of New Zealand’s prime relaxation and adventure activities, self-drive experiences are just all kinds of rewarding. With the country accepting Australian and International Driver’s Permits, travellers can chalk out an itinerary, book pitstops, land, pick up car keys and drive off. It’s as simple as it should be. Well, travellers flying in overnight/long-haul flights should ideally rest a day before jumping into the driver’s seat, but that’s just common sense. 

You’ll see periwinkle skies, mile after unending mile of perfect tarmac, inky blue night skies with millions of winking stars, mountainsides, plains, valleys and symmetrical fields stretching as far as the eye can see. 

There are self-drive itineraries which start from a week onwards to almost 2.5 weeks on the road. For starters, we’d recommend the drive from Queenstown to Wellington, it’s so famous that Google throws it up as an auto-fill option! Then, there is the drive from Christchurch to Greymouth, an LOTR-special from Hobbiton to Misty Mountains, a short, epic one from Havelock to Picton and then some more scores of options…

Well, as promised here are another 10 items which we feel are iconic in New Zealand. But we think we have another 10 in us somewhere. Keep us bookmarked and who knows!

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