5 Rules to
Conquering New Zealand

In 2009 I spent nearly a month in New Zealand. It absolutely stole my heart. If you know me well and are accustomed to my propensity for falling in love with places/animals/people/inanimate gadgets, that statement might not  mean much to you. Point taken, but I still strongly believe even the most cold hearted of souls would find themselves whistling songs of joy as they went about this gem of an Island.

Our path to happiness

Provided below is my best advice for future NZ travelers, based on my experience. If NZ is not on your immediate must see list (you should add it immediately), I hope you enjoy the read anyways. This is in no way a comprehensive list, so make sure this is used as supplemental reading and not the main dish.

Many of the photos below were taken by my fellow hobbit traveler, Jeremy Hamaoui. Some others were just plain lifted off of his facebook. Props to Google images for the remaining few.

1.   Fall in Love....with Falling

New Zealanders make even the most adventurous American seem like fanny pack wearing, RV camping soccer moms. They are a nation of adrenaline junkies and nothing gets the heart racing quite like a free fall.

I only tempted a Kiwi style death once (during my riving rafting experience in Rotorua). It technically can be considered a fall, but I'm reserving it for another section.

My braver compatriots, however, had no problem tying their ankles to a piece of fabric and plummeting towards the earth during our stay in Rotorua.

Jeremy ready to take the plunge

Not attempted by us but also worth noting is the 134m Nevis bungy jump in Queenstown.....

and the free fall out of the Skytower in downtown Auckland.

A recommendation to do any of these activities coming from me carries very little weight. I see my life flash before my eyes if I do so much as go down stairs two steps at a time. It's safe to say falling out of the sky isn't my cup of tea. However, my buddies had a blast in Rotorua and the other two activities had a lot of hype behind them. Also on my "I will never consider it, but had I been born with a pair, it would be awesome" list was the ability to be transported from the North to South island (and vice versa) via sky dive. The ferry boat suited me just fine.

2.   Get Wet

There are an endless list of rivers, lakes and ocean beaches to enjoy in a multitude of ways on the small south Pacific island. Whether you want to take it easy or attempt to drown yourself, the choice is yours.

We did a little bit of both, starting with a leisurely whale watching day trip out of Auckland, navigated by a friendly bunch (herd? school?) of dolphins..

Nothing cheers Karter up quite like a breaching dolphin

followed by the aforementioned Rotorua river rafting, which boasts the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.

Next on the agenda was surf lessons in Kaikora...

(Ed note: Photo is not of me, but this is basically what it looked like.)

capped by some river surfing in Queenstown. River surfing is basically river rafting but instead of a reliable, safe raft, you get a boogie board, and in place of a paddle built for maximizing power and reducing drag in the water, you get your out of shape, lumpy legs. At least mine were lumpy at the time. Those little dots in the water are us. That little dot trailing all the other little dots is me.

The rafting experience is a big must do, as was the whale watching . Sites on that particular excursion included tons of dolphins, a hammer head shark and a few southern right whales.

3.   Ready, Set.... Hike

The scenery in NZ is amongst the most beautiful and diverse in the world. The north and south islands both provide amazing opportunities to put a little wear and tear on your boots and work off that beer gut you will be developing (more on that later).

The list of hikes we took is too long for this already too long list but a few incredibly memorable ones spring to mind right away. Mt. Maunganui might be my favorite place on earth. The "mountain", which only takes about 45 minutes to get up, rests at the end of an isle where the ocean can be viewed on both sides once you reach its pinnacle.

Karter looking rather majestical as we ascend Maunganui

Considerably more challenging was the Tongariro Alpine crossing. The roughly 20k (damn you American measuring system) hike leads you through grasslands, over barren mountain tops, past sky blue lakes and lastly through a thick forest. Basically, it's like completing the Lewis and Clark expedition, but in a condensed , one day version where you don't fight/exploit Native Americans (it's cool America, we totally made up for it by putting Sacajawea on a coin absolutely no one uses).

In Queenstown you can take a quick gondola ride to get to the beautiful look out point, but we opted for the one hour trail hike.

Lastly, not enough can be said about the Fox Glacier hike. You begin by traversing uphill through a rainforest, complete with drinkable waterfalls. Then, carefully you work your way around an incredibly steep cliff, aided only by a tiny ledge and loose chain (which falls in line with the rest of New Zealands "eh, if you die, you die" safety policy). As you come around the bend, you reach a massive (and presently growing) glacier. Your guide quickly outfits you with cleats and your soon stomping around on what I imagine must be God's favorite ice cube.

I highly recommend all of these experiences. If you're near any one of them, don't hesitate, DO IT! They served as the highlights of my trip.

4.   Hang with the Kiwis

There probably has never been a population of people as cumulatively nice as New Zealanders in the history of mankind. It's as if a buddhist monk and an extremely drunk Australian chick had a love child that adopted all of their best qualities.

Example 1A: My traveling bunch lands in Auckland after a 16 hour flight from LA. Our preparation for the trip (or at least mine) pretty much ended at "get to Auckland", so we were in need of advice as to where to stay, what to do, etc. I casually explain our dilemma to a local working at a sandwhich shop. He stops what he's doing and leaves work (!) to walk us (!!) 3 blocks (!!!) to the most happening young person hostel (Base hostel) in downtown Auckland.

Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to as many New Zealanders as possible. Any apprehension you may have will melt away instantly upon being greeted by their positive, relaxed manner. You'll be exchanging epic life stories (or at least listening to their epic life stories) in no time.

Looking a little too cool for my own good. Unfortunately, standard at the time.

5.   Get into the Sports Culture

New Zealanders love their national teams. They adamantly support the All Blacks (rugby), Black Caps (cricket) and, to a lesser extent, the unfortunately named Tall Blacks. No that's not a joke. They call their basketball team the Tall Blacks. *Awkward Crickets* Moving on.

There are two amazing aspects to their sports culture. One, every NZ national team does the Haka, which might be the single most intimidating thing I've ever seen.

Is there anything on earth scarier than 30 200+lb men staring you in the eyes and screaming at you while slapping their elbows and pretending to play with their genitals (watch 0:44 of the above video for that magical moment). I think not. It also doesn't help that most opponents know they will be absolutely decimated in over the course of the next hour. The All Blacks are amongst the best, if not the best, in the world every year.

Secondly, the Kiwis drink like their teams victory depends on every fan achieving a near death blood-alcohol level. This becomes especially obvious during Cricket tests (matches), which make baseball games seem like the 100m dash. Cricket tests can be contested over 5 days in some occasions, with each session lasting several hours.

I know it doesn't sound like a blast by the way I'm describing it, but listen to these step by step instructions and you'll be a die hard supporter of the All Blacks and Black Caps in no time.

  • Step 1: Grab a New Zealand beer. I recommend  Mac's, which has a few great varieties as well as a brewery in Wellington that is worth a visit. Tui is a good choice as well
  • Step 2: Try to learn the sport. Rugby and Cricket make absolutely no sense at first. For example: they Rugby players punt to their opponents for no apparent reason. Find the closest Kiwi (successfully executing Rule 4 on this list) and ask them an endless stream of questions.
  • Step 3: As you consume the alcohol, three things will happen. You'll become happier, you'll run out of brew, and your memory will fade. If you find yourself at this point, repeat steps 1-2.

Honorable Mention: Zorbing

Zorbing really needs little explanation. Watch the video below and you'll know immediately how you feel about it. It either looks awesome, or horrible, depending on your stomach's tolerance level and the strength of your secret desire to be a hamster (Freudian claim?). There are opportunities to give it a try all over NZ.

For more from Xander