Monday, February 17, 2020

HIKING AND BIKING IN NEW ZEALAND, Part 1: Guest Post by Cathy Mayone

New Zealand: Sheep at Lake Pukaki, South Island
Over the Christmas holidays, my niece and her husband, Cathy and Mike Mayone, traveled to New Zealand, driving, biking and hiking on both the North and South Island, enjoying the southern hemisphere summer and New Zealand's unique landscape. I thank Cathy for sharing their trip with The Intrepid Tourist. For more details about their biking and hiking experiences, you can go to her blog .

Mike, on the Hooker Valley trail, South Island
Part 1:  Introduction to New Zealand

New Zealand wasn’t on my bucket list, but I recommend you put it on yours.  It’s actually now on my list of countries I would return to explore more. With little to no tourism advertising or iconic pictures beckoning me to New Zealand, it had simply gone unnoticed until a colleague recommended it, knowing how active we like to be.
New Zealand. South Island landscape.
Requiring advance frequent flyer tickets during the busy Christmas to New Year’s holiday and having absolutely no knowledge of the country and its geography, we began researching the trip a year in advance.  I quickly became overwhelmed prioritizing where to go in a country the size of the U.S. East Coast for our two-week, 25-year wedding anniversary trip.  We decided to make this a “reconnaissance trip” and see different parts of the country, so that if we ever came back, we would have a better sense where to “zero in”. 
We flew into Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city with only 1.5 million people.  This stat alone tells you a highlight of New Zealand – it will feel like one of the least populated, modern day countries you will visit.  In fact, according to Stats NZ, the country’s 2015 population included 4.6 million humans and 29.5 million sheep.  New Zealand does not have any of the scary creatures that inhabit Australia; they do not even have any snakes!  In 2016 the New Zealand government introduced Predator Free 2050, a project to eliminate all non-native predators (such as rats, possums and stoats) by 2050.
Typical landscape on the North Island
New Zealand’s Kiwis (the people) and kiwi (the bird)

I would be remiss if I didn’t start by mentioning one of New Zealand’s biggest attractions –they are the friendliest people you will ever meet. The people of New Zealand became called Kiwis after soldiers donned a patch of the national bird, the kiwi, on military uniforms in World War I. They are proud to be called Kiwis, and they are eager to have visitors to their country. To my surprise, a simple connection turned into an offer for dinner in Auckland with a lovely family, who are now new friends. Throughout our trip, it was easy to strike up conversations with locals, who openly shared their stories, adventures, and heartbreaks.

The Māori, who self-identify as 17.5 percent of the population, are the indigenous Polynesian people who settled in New Zealand in the early 1300s, before the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first European to sight New Zealand in 1642. The official languages of New Zealand are English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language. New Zealand was a colony of the British Empire from 1841 – 1907, and then a dominion from 1907 – 1947, when it gained full statutory independence with the British monarch remaining the head of state to this day.

The fact that Kiwis like to welcome visitors is perhaps why I was able to find amazing AirBandBs for every step of our trip.  For each stop, I had researched hotel options and AirBandBs, and opted for the AirBandB every time, and they met or exceeded our expectations every time while giving us easy laundry and kitchen facilities.  Another option we may do if we return is to rent a camper van, as free or low-cost camping is plentiful.

In Part 2 (to post next week), I will recap our week on the North Island, and in Part 3 (to post in two weeks), I will recap our week on the South Island.


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