MY EARLY MEMORIES of New Zealand from when I was quite little was that it’s a magical, kind-of mystical place. I’ve been so fortunate to return, thanks to my career, and every time I come back the more I discover, and my love for this place just grows deeper.
To truly experience New Zealand, though, you have to get out: first, to meet the people and feel the vibe, then, to get off the beaten track and immerse yourself in the landscape. While it’s about the size of California, there’s this extraordinary variety in New Zealand from one place to another.
Here’s my essential elements for a transformative New Zealand holiday:
Above: After getting a traditional New Zealand greeting, Bryce enjoys some of the country's natural beauty.
1 Meet the locals, especially Maori. It’s their spirit that infuses the nation. Learn about their culture at Te Papa (the museum in Wellington), or in Rotorua, or practically anywhere in New Zealand. They’re amazing storytellers and their culture enriches the lifestyle with a respect and love for the natural world. You can also sense that in everyday life, because Kiwis exhibit a warm, happy style and everyone seems genuinely grateful and hopeful here.
2 Take a walk in the New Zealand bush and breathe deeply to awaken the senses. If you want to escape deep into the wilderness, there are some great guided hiking trails that start near Queenstown, like the Routeburn Track in Mount Aspiring National Park. Or, take a short walk in the forest with a Maori guide to learn about the ancient kauri forests in Northland.
3 Enjoy the country’s amazing waterways because water is everywhere in New Zealand. You’ve got the Tasman Sea on the west coast and the Pacific Ocean on the east, and you can go to the place where the oceans meet on Cape Reinga at the tip of the North Island. You can also cruise down a beautiful river on a Funyak inflatable canoe with no one in sight except your guide. And then, you can soak in a naturally heated thermal spa in Rotorua.
Above: Bryce gets up close to nature before relaxing in the hot tub with a spectacular backdrop.
4 Reach for the sky. Step outside at night and look up at the stars. In the Southern Alps, the International Dark Sky Reserve at Aoraki Mt. Cook is a famous star gazing destination with some of the world’s clearest night skies. But just take yourself away from the lights anywhere in New Zealand and you see amazing skies. Queenstown has gorgeous Onsen Pools where you can luxuriate in glacial water in a private tub with the stars above.
5 And don’t forget, a holiday in New Zealand is an adventure in itself so don’t miss out on trying your own level of adventure. You can be extreme or go for a softer adventure. It’s the home of bungee, so if you want to throw yourself off a bridge, go ahead. But you may prefer to jump in a jet boat for a thrilling high speed journey down a rocky narrow river gorge. For something a little less challenging, a cycle your around New Zealand’s famous vineyards might suit you better. •
• To view or share the six-part video series, please visit: http://www.natgeo.com/NZMustDo