The mountainous region of New Zealand has many things to see and do.
New Zealand's size is misleading. Visitors need more than a day or two --- more like a month --- to see all that this island nation at the bottom of the South Pacific has to offer. At 104,000 square miles, it's about the size of Colorado and has about the same number of inhabitants --- four million. The country boasts 29 regional tourism organizations, reflecting the diversity of attractions available.
Most visitors arrive in the sprawling city of Auckland and travel first to Northland, the Far North, and the subtropical climate. The peace of the district is perfect to dispel jet lag after, say, the 12-hour flight from the United States. Tourists can drive themselves around, take organized tours or use public transport, particularly buses. The regional tourism organizations will provide all timetable information. Attractions include the magnificent stretch of Ninety Mile beach, giant Kauri trees, the early history of New Zealand, and the stunning Bay of Islands.
The Rotorua thermal region, full of volcanic lakes and the capital of Maori culture, is a must for visitors no matter how short their stay. Take a flight over Mt. Tarawera, which erupted in 1886, or visit the village that was buried, much like Pompeii, underneath the eruption. Fly-fishing for trout is excellent in the region, and every evening the locals offer a concert of Maori music.
Taranaki is the energy province that produces the country's indigenous oil and gas, onshore and off. Its spectacular coastline is a mecca for surfers, and Mt. Taranaki, a perfect volcanic cone, dominates the scenery. The mountain may be covered in clouds for days, which provides a good reason to spend a week browsing the local stores, coffee shops, museums and art galleries in the capital, New Plymouth.
Most people allocate equal time to both islands. They should take three times as long on the South Island. From the moment the ferry from Wellington sails into the tranquil Marlborough Sounds, a series of "drowned valleys" at the top of the South Island are visible, and visitors realize more time should have been allocated to explore this myriad of waterways. Often the hour on the ferry is all the time they'll get. Marlborough is also a major wine-producing region; visitors are not only welcome but actively encouraged to visit.
Queenstown, the second major tourist destination after Rotorua, is in the heart of the Southern Lakes. Hotels built on the side of one mountain command views across the 52-mile-long Lake Wakatipu and to mountains all around. Queenstown's 19th-century gold rush origins have become its 21st-century tourism bonanza. The home of bungee jumping and thrilling jet-boat roads, it's New Zealand's adventure capital.
Every visitor leaves New Zealand satisfied if they've seen Fiordland and Milford Sound. Some fly from Queenstown by plane or helicopter, while others arrive by cruise ship from overseas. But for most, access is via the road from Te Anau, through mountain ranges, to the Homer Tunnel. With 8,000-foot peaks on either side for miles, it's one of the most scenic roads in the world.
Geoffrey Darling has been writing since 1980. In 2007, he received an Ohio Senate award for contribution to the arts, recognizing his work performing in Ohio prisons. Darling also worked for the New Zealand government as the Minister of Energy's press secretary and edited three small community newspapers.
New Zealand 2007 image by Luc Wullschleger from Fotolia.com