I was only in New Zealand for two weeks in 2013, but that was more than enough time for me to realise how stunning the country is. Driving between cities and towns I saw shades of mesmerising blue that I didn’t think were possible, animals were left to their own devices as they pottered around these breathtaking open spaces and the cultural traditions left by the Maori tribes are still plain to see all over the country.
After being inspired by New Zealand’s magical landscapes, I decided to count down my top three things to do in the country.
It is worth noting here that I mainly travelled in the North Island, so I don’t have much to say about big cities like Queenstown.
4. Huka Falls, Taupo
The walk from the centre of Taupo to the Huka Falls is a leisurely one, but taking a big bottle of water is useful as there are parts of this walk which expose you to direct sunlight, meaning that you work up a real thirst.
Once you reach the Waikato River, you can see why this is so regularly visited by travellers. The water is a piercing aqua blue and the wind caresses the trees providing a beautiful soft breeze.
As you twist through the surrounding trees and shrubbery, you notice houses on the other side of the river. They range from quaint holiday homes to illustrious guesthouses with swimming pools and Jacuzzis outside, and surprisingly they don’t ruin the natural feel of what’s going on around you. They seem to melt into the bank with their floor- to-ceiling windows and dark-green décor.
After about an hour’s walk, you come to a clearing and the crashing of the onrushing water becomes steadily louder. As you step onto the footbridge above the Huka Falls, you understand why it is named after the Maori word for ‘foam’. Every second up to 220,000 litres of water cascades through the gorge and shoots out over 8 metres beyond to create a beautiful blue/green pool.
You can get right up close to the falls as well with the Huka jet boat, for more information click here.
3. Natural Springs, Taupo
Another short walk from the centre of Taupo, these natural springs are a brilliant spot to spend the day.
Small thermal waterfalls crash down, creating sets of hot pools where people can sit comfortably, or choose to get a steady massage from the falls. It’s like having a continuous flowing outdoor bath – a much underrated novelty.
Beyond the pools, the water steadily flows into the river beyond – meaning that if you swim out with the stream, your body will slowly move from hot thermal water into a refreshing cool current which then drifts you off downstream. Be careful though, after this area by the springs the current can pick up quite drastically so make sure you don’t go off too far down the river.
With areas of grass to sunbathe on around the springs, it’s the perfect place to bring a picnic and relax with a book in hand. This truly is a typical New Zealand hideaway.
2. Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata
A magical tour around the authentic movie set which was totally rebuilt for the Hobbit movie trilogy.
Set amongst some picturesque surrounding countryside, the set feels far from reality – just like the real Hobbiton is described by Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series’.
Walking past trees which give the area some cover, you are met with the breath-taking miniature village which slopes steadily up a hill, and you automatically realise how much detail goes into the makings of the set.
There are fresh flowers and vegetables growing, ornate wheelbarrows and benches, and even washing lines. In fact, we were told by the tour guide that Peter Jackson ensures that someone makes the short walk from the front doors of the hobbit holes to the washing lines to put out washing, just so that there are clear footprints marking out where hobbits would have been!
You can even have a drink in the authentic ‘Green Dragon’ pub.
For more information about how to go to the Hobbiton movie set, click here.
1. Sky Dive, Taupo
After spending a few days in the quaint town of Taupo, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sky dive over the gaping aqua-blue lake that makes the place so truly memorable.
The sky dive itself was definitely the most exhilarating experience I have ever had. As we steadily made our way 18,000 feet above ground level, I understandably became more and more nervous and before I knew it my feet were dangling out of the plane and my instructor was pushing us out of the plane and we were in freefall. For a good 20 seconds, I was plummeting so fast towards the ground that I barely had time to admire my surroundings. As I twisted through the air, shades of hypnotising blue from the sky and the lake merged into one and then BANG, my parachute was unfurled by the instructor and suddenly I had control of where I was going and the picture below was unlike anything I have ever seen before.
The lake lay untouched beneath my feet, and as I looked to my right I saw the buildings of the town of Taupo. The sun glittered on the lake’s flat surface, and as I looked beyond it I saw the mountains that surrounded the town. I had been told the night before that those mountains were used in the filming of Mount Doom for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but they certainly didn’t fill me with doom at that moment.
Once I landed, the adrenaline I felt was unparalleled to anything I have ever felt.I left saying numerous thanks to all the staff who made me feel safe, comfortable and at ease in this most rewarding of experiences.
To see what all the fuss is about, check out their website.