New Zealand: My First Travel Love
Leah Walker January 9, 2014

On the seventh day of creating the universe, Christians and Jews believe that God rested. I thought this too, until I visited New Zealand. I now imagine that God spent that seventh day making New Zealand His masterpiece. There’s just no other explanation for this place.

New Zealand South Island

In the North, rolling hills are swathed with the most lush, green grass and dotted with sheep and cattle. It’s as if He stood atop the hills and rolled out the plushest carpet ever made. Trees jut out of the ground like rockets being launched. Colors vary from orange to eggplant to jade. Golden bushes line the landscape; they’re so vivid it’s as if they’re on fire.

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Smells of sulfur and grounds that bubble are distinctive of Rotorua’s thermal region. Nature’s hot tubs and healing mud bring about visions of rich, Belgian dark chocolate simmering in a double boiler.

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Lake Taupo, a body of water that appears as if it’s the size of an ocean, is watched over by nearby mountains so high that even in spring, the snow doesn’t melt. Waves crash the shore with a purpose that only Mother Nature knows. The winds howl to remind visitors they’re not in heaven, not yet anyway.

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Further south on the North Island is the dry, desolate stretch of Tongario National Park. It doesn’t appear to belong sandwiched between verdant lands. Far from the road that cuts through this section lie three imposing volcanoes, including one of the most active in the world. These commanding and volatile mountains are responsible for the brown landscape and a testament to the power of the boiling lava beneath the earth’s surface.

New Zealand North Island

From windy Wellington, the ferry journeys to the South Island through the Cook Straight closely followed by its cast of dolphins and whales welcoming visitors. These marvelous mammals seem to shout kia ora as if they’re on the New Zealand tourism board’s payroll. The route meanders through Queen Charlotte Sound, some of the most scenic country imaginable, before finally docking in Marlborough, the famed wine country of the South Island.

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Row after row of Sauvignon Blanc grapes soak up the warm sun until the day they’re plucked from the vines. Green lipped muscles call the Pelorus Sound home, at least until they’re uprooted from their watery paradise.

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Each mile down the South Island’s west coast brings one jaw dropping vision after another. Colonies of coal-black Kekeno seals call the cold, rocky shores of Cape Foulwind home, while Punakaiki bewilders with its pancake rocks and blowholes. Disappearing Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers gradually change the landscape of this area. Majestic Mount Cook, all 12,316 feet of her, stands proudly as the highest peak in New Zealand. The surrounding Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo are as turquoise as any water in the Seychelles, but the mere thought of diving into the glacier-fed lakes conjure up visions of purple lips and lost appendages.

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Driving through Mount Aspiring National Park is inspiring. Each hairpin turn reveals more of the area’s towering mountains and remote wilderness. Massive waterfalls tumble into rushing rivers leaving mouths agape. Wanaka, Hawea, and Wakatipu Lakes battle it out for most beautiful, but clearly the winner are the people who lay their eyes up on them. The Remarkable Mountains are truly that, and Milford Sound very well could be most special spot on earth.

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Arrowtown harkens back to the area’s mining heritage, while paying homage to its Chinese immigrants. Queenstown is the epitome of outdoor offerings, solidifying its status as the extreme sports capital of the world. The phoenix-like Christchurch continues to rise from the ashes. Though many of its structures were destroyed, the spirits of its residents don’t appear to be.

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If there is a more visually spectacular place in the world than New Zealand then I’ve never seen it. The country leaves other locales seething with envy. The country’s landscapes have left an indelible mark on my memory.

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It is often said that there’s nothing that compares to your first love, and in regard to travel, New Zealand is that for me. Consequently, every destination is compared to New Zealand, and I just haven’t found a place that can quite measure up to the country’s almighty beauty. It really is heaven on earth.

Leah Walker

Leah’s a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that’s in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah’s thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don’t extend to speaking French. Yet.

43 Comments

  1. Totally agree with all of this! As I said in my New Zealand trip summary post- “All trips from here on forward battle for second best trip ever 🙂 “

  2. I completely agree – NZ is absolutely, breathtakingly, stunning. The natural colors are just amazing. My favorite part about New Zealand is the drive!

  3. Leah,

    These pictures are amazing. So many of our friends rave about the South Island all the time – Savi and I would love to go to Australia (my family lives there) and New Zealand, but it’s such a trek from London 😉

    That shouldn’t be an excuse though. I could travel for days for views of Lake Taupo. It most definitely is a photographer’s delight.

    1. The South Island gets all the credit, but I’d like to explore more of the North. I didn’t give it enough time, especially north of Auckland. I’d love to see your photos though. Go visit ASAP!

  4. We haven’t got to New Zealand yet. Germany was our first travel love. And a country we simply adore returning to. And not only because the airfare’s lower from Gran Canaria than to New Zealand. We’ll get to the latter later rather than sooner.

    1. First travel love is Germany? That’s high praise. I suppose I’ll have to get there on one of my next trips to Europe.

  5. Best place I have ever been. Best everything! Have to go back. Would love to do the camper thing again. So many great places in two islands; I think a bare minimum visit would be 7 days on each island. The flight time from the Eastern US is brutal, so add on 2 days at each end to compensate.

    1. Seven days isn’t enough for the Queenstown area. Of course, I’m a glutton. I didn’t do the campervan, though I’m not opposed the next go around.

    1. I can’t begin to do them justice with my beginning photography skills. I’d love to go back with more experience and a better camera.

  6. I’m in complete agreement, Leah! Three weeks in the South Island was woefully inadequate, pure and simple. I’ve classified “New Zealand” as yet aonther “life project”; you can imagine there are many similar projects worldwide. 🙂 Finally, it’s worth emphasizing your photos above made me ache with longing. 🙂

    1. Yes, a lifetime wouldn’t be enough for New Zealand. There’s a new discovery every day. I’ve got the itch to go back, and it just may happen.

  7. Hi Leah, enjoyed your post. I was there for two weeks in 2011, North and South Island. Did you get to Mt. Cook on the South Island? Also, saw you were in Malaysia… would love to hear your feed back on that since I may be going this spring. Richard

    1. I did go to Mt. Cook. It was wonderful and one of the places I went hiking. I’d love to go back. Oh, and I’ll comment on your Malaysia question on that post.

  8. I have seen many posts about the beauty of New Zealand, and each one is prettier than the next, but I never see pictures of animals (cows don’t count). This is one reason I always pass on New Zealand. I would rather go into a jungle and see macaws, toucans, eagles, and manatees. I’ll get there one of these days though.

    1. Ok, there are plenty of animals: kias, kiwis, whales, seals, dolphins, SHEEP, and a whole bunch I can’t remember. Bonus–there are no snakes, so you can hike safely. 🙂

  9. Ohhh, New Zealand! I am so in love with this country too, and agree that God spent a whole day creating this masterpiece. I still have yet to visit the South Island, but I have no doubt it will happen in time. I’d also love to do some hiking next time, and visit in the warmer months! Great photos!

  10. I am from New Zealand and when I was younger, I couldn’t wait to travel the world even though I had never seen most of New Zealand. I travelled right around Australia and absolutely loved it. I then went to Europe and Switzerland blew me away for its scenery. But Switzerland was soon knocked off its no1 position when I visted Norway (in good weather). I then travelled back from Europe through India, Himilayas, Thailand, Mayaysia, Bali, and back to New Zealand. Norway remained at the top of my list.

    My next trip was New Zealand’s South Island. I couldn’t believe I was in my own country. It looked like Switzerland, Norway, and even Hawaii all compacted into two small islands.

    Many years later I visited Colombia. While not as majestic as New Zealand, it is totally beautiful for different reasons. One-third lies in the richest part of the Amazon, it has the northern reaches of the Andes, world’s highest coastal mountain, lots of volcanoes, Pacific Ocean, Caribbean coastline, richest bio-diversity (along with Ecuador), and absolutely packed with stunning scenery.

    1. I’m so happy to hear that you are amazed as I am at your own country. I often wonder if people who live in such amazing places truly know and appreciate what they have. New Zealand is one such place. I’ve yet to get to Norway, but I know I would find it as beautiful as New Zealand and Switzerland.

  11. Oh Leah, your photos make me almost homesick enough to want to move back there.

    Just before I took off on my great OS (Over Seas) adventure back in the ’80s, the then NZT&PD had an advert campaign “don’t leave town ’til you’ve seen the country”, to encourage locals to visit our own backyard before taking off on our great overseas trip.

    Kiwis (and our Aussie cussie bros) have been big international travellers since, well, just about always, and the farther away the better, before coming home to appreciate what is on our respective doorsteps. Unfortunately, I got as far as OZ and have been here ever since. (My island home is a beautiful place, but it’s just too far south.)

    Thanks for peaking my wanderlust for the old stomping ground.

    Cheers and Hooroo

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