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The top things to do in New Zealand

May 09, 2016 by Jamie Gallerani

New Zealand is full of breathtaking scenery, fascinating culture and inspiring adventures. Here, staff traveler Brittany recounts her experience trekking through the country and shares some of her best tips and photos from her stay in New Zealand. Read on to get tips on the best things to do in New Zealand.

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Get to know the locals

There are so many reasons to visit New Zealand, but the people really make the trip worthwhile. Kiwis—as the locals refer to themselves—are the nicest people. The majority of locals you will meet are culturally similar to Americans and Australians but they’re even more welcoming and trusting. For example, hitch hiking is still a popular thing with younger travelers and it’s not uncommon to meet a Kiwi family who will invite you to their home to have dinner or even stay with them. In fact, many people are willing to work for accommodation, which is called woofing. Also, many New Zealanders love Americans; I was thanked three separate times by locals for helping save them from the Japanese during World War II!

It was also fascinating to meet and learn more about the indigenous Maori people, who descend from Polynesia. I discovered that there is a lot of indigenous influence on practices and beliefs throughout New Zealand. Many of the street signs and town names are in the Maori language, and a number of Maori words and phrases are used in everyday speech.

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Admire the landscape

You will see tons of beautiful, awe-inspiring natural structures throughout the country. It’s nearly impossible to take a bad photo because there are stunning landscapes everywhere you look. Here are three of my favorite sights to see in New Zealand:

Milford Sound
This fjord is one of New Zealand’s most recognizable icons. It’s bounded by verdant rainforest and soaring cliffs, and you can cruise through while marveling at Mitre Peak rising over 5,000 feet out of the water or cascading waterfalls tumbling from dense greenery.

The pancake rocks of Punakaiki
These limestone rocks are really cool. They were formed over 30 million years ago by water pressure, and the vertical, sea-carved indentations make them looked stacked.

Tongariro National Park
Active volcanoes, rugged mountains and thermal lakes make this UNESCO-listed park a must-visit. The otherworldly landscape holds important spiritual and cultural significance for the Maori people, which is interesting to learn about.

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Learn some words & phrases

Aotearoa: This is the name for New Zealand in Maori, and it translates to “The Land of the Long White Cloud.”

Kiwi: This is the name of both the locals and the nocturnal, flightless birds native to the country.

Kia ora: A Maori greeting used to say “hello.” It literally means “be well” and is regularly used in conversation.

L&P: Short for “Lemon & Paeroa,” this is the country’s popular lemon soda—it’s a must-try!

Chillybin: The word for a cooler, perfect for storing your L&P.

Gumboots: This is what Kiwis call rain boots.

Jandals: These are flip flops. They’ll come in handy if you travel to New Zealand during our winter, which is summer over there.

Sweet as: This means “cool” or can be said when something is really good. For example, if someone asks “How was that sandwich?” you can reply “Sweet as, mate!”

She’ll be right: Everything will be ok!

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Find things to do in Queenstown

Hit the trails
If you’re into hiking (or tramping, as the Kiwi’s call it), Queenstown Hill Time Walk is a must-do when visiting New Zealand. It’s a very enjoyable hike that’s challenging but not too difficult. It takes you through a fir forest and you can admire beautiful views of Lake Wakatipu and the distant mountain range known as the Remarkables from the top. If you prefer an easier trek there is also a walkway along the lake, which is a great place to stroll as you admire the scenery.

Eat regional fare
From world-renowned lamb and flavorful seafood caught along the coast to merengue-like pavlova, the national dessert, there is no shortage of delicious food to try in New Zealand. Some of my favorite bites were green-lipped mussels, meat pies and Anzac cookies, which are sweet biscuits that became popular during WWI because they don’t require eggs and keep well. New Zealanders also love their fish & chips!

Try local favorites
No visit to the city of Queenstown is complete without a stop at Fergberger. This burger joint, which is affectionately called “Ferg’s,” serves hamburgers the size of your head! There’s always a line of visitors (since not many locals actually live in Queenstown) but the flavorful food made with fresh ingredients is truly worth the wait.

Go to a wine tasting
New Zealand produces some world-class wines, and a visit the Gibbston Valley vineyard on our Australia & New Zealand tour is a great opportunity to sample regional vintages. The vineyard is located in the Otago region, which is is known for its chardonnay and pinot noir but also produces some of New Zealand’s world-renowned sauvignon blanc. Plus, the drive there is stunning!

Tap into your adventurous side
Queenstown is distinguished as the world’s foremost adventure capital and has been a go-to place for bungee jumping since the late 1980s. If you’re seeking a thrill and this hair-raising sport isn’t for you—trust me, you’re not alone—there are more than enough opportunities to enjoy a daring adventure during your stay. Go paragliding, take a jet boat ride through the canyons or enjoy a ride on the Skyline gondola to marvel at beautiful views of the lake from above.

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Pack what’s important

Pack for the season
When it’s summer in the United States, it’s actually winter in New Zealand. I would recommend packing warm clothes and rain boots if you’re traveling during this time of year because the temperature can change drastically and it will get pretty chilly. But, keep in mind that you can buy just about anything you forgot at a big store called the Warehouse, which is similar to our Walmart.

Bring sun protection
There is a hole in the ozone above the country, so even though it might not be that warm or sunny on a particular day, you could still get a bad sunburn. Bringing sunscreen, a hat and even light layers are really important.

Carry bug spray
If you plan on going hiking, you’ll definitely need bug spray with deet to keep sandflies at bay. These bloodsucking insects are similar to gnats or mosquitoes and thrive in areas prone to rainfall or rich with vegetation. The insects go away at night but are terrible during the day, and you’ll definitely want insect repellent when you’re outside.

Have you ever been on a tour of New Zealand? Tell us about the best things to do in New Zealand on Facebook!

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About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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