New Zealand may be dwarfed by its grand Australian neighbor down under, but it offers a dizzying array of diversity in a compact area there’s no cause for an inferiority complex. From cosmopolitan cities to breathtaking nature, indigenous culture to adrenalin-fueled activities, this small but multifaceted country offers visitors so many tempting options within its borders you can’t possibly squeeze it all in. Spanning the North and South Islands, here’s a hobbit-free shortlist of cool Kiwi highlights to help you hone in on your must-dos.
1. Go Tramping
So stunningly scenic are the nature trails within New Zealand, the Kiwis have coined their own word for hiking. Whether you do a day-walk or a multi-day trek, you just have to get out there and tramp. The South Island has some of the top trails, including the world-renowned Milford Track, Routeburn Track and Abel Tasman Coastal Track. A series of well-maintained backcountry huts make longer excursions comfortable (advanced booking may be required). On the North Island, volcanic alpine tramping around Tongariro Crossing is not to be missed.
2. Watch Whales
The nutrient-rich waters near Kaikoura make it a marine-life mecca. Sperm whales, orcas, dolphins and fur seals are year-round residents and migrating humpbacks, pilots and blue whales often pass by. It’s one of the best whale-watching spots in the world, and local tour boats boast a 95% chance of a close encounter these magnificent creatures. The area is often dubbed the Serengeti of the South Pacific as it makes for an incredible photo-safari, but be sure you put the camera down sometimes and just be humbled in the presence of these graceful giants.