"So…where are you going, again?"

I get this question a lot.  It’s usually followed by, “And…what is there to do in New Zealand?”

Let’s tackle the obvious one first.

New Zealand is a small island nation to the east of Australia.  If you live in the United States, it’s basically on the opposite corner of the globe:

Where the heck is New Zealand?

In case you were wondering, that’s a 13-hour flight across the Pacific.

It’s made up of the North Island, the South Island, and Stewart Island, plus a number of smaller isles.  It’s also quite a small country; to give you some perspective, here’s New Zealand laid over the central U.S.:

By total area, New Zealand is 97.21% smaller than the United States.

Pretty tiny compared to what we’re used to.  So now we know where New Zealand is…but what’s over there, anyway?  Why would anyone go to such a small, isolated place?

Have you SEEN Lord of the Rings?

As anyone who’s familiar with the films can attest–or, anyone with a quick look at “new zealand” image search results can tell you–the country’s greatest assets are its diverse, beautiful natural landscapes.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island

Maori Bay, North Island

Lake Kirkpatrick, Queenstown, South Island

Of course, New Zealand is more than just untamed nature.  It’s home to 4.55 million people, with over three-quarters of them living on the North Island, and nearly 1.4 million living in the city of Auckland.  If it were a US state, New Zealand would be right in the middle, ranking 26th between Kentucky and Louisiana.  For some local comparison, it has roughly 1.5 million more people than Iowa and a million less than Minnesota.

Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

Since it’s in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand’s seasons are opposite ours.   November to March are the warmest months, and May through August are the coolest.  The weather varies depending on location, with the North Island being milder than the South.  In fact, Wellington’s coldest average temperatures only dip into the high 40’s!  Sounds nice to a Midwesterner, right?  Not to worry, though—snow can be found on the South Island and in the mountains of the North.

The culture of New Zealand is a rich one, a blend of British and Polynesian tradition.  The country was settled by the Māori people in the 13th and 14th centuries.  Coming in large canoes, the Māori brought with them a distinct language and history.  Like the indigenous people of North America, they lived undisturbed until the arrival of British  colonists in the early 1800’s.  Although relations began amicably, the familiar pattern of land seizure,  war, and decimation of native population by disease emerged.  The people faced decline throughout the 19th century, but recovered in the 1900’s and have undergone a cultural revival in the last fifty years.  Currently, 15% of people in New Zealand identify as  Māori, and aspects of their culture can be seen in many places.  Many words from the language, or te reo Māori, have been integrated into the vocabularies of all New Zealanders.   Names of places are often written both in their Māori and English titles (for example, “Aoraki/Mt. Cook”).  And if you’re lucky enough to see the All-Blacks play, you’ll see their traditional pre-match haka in all its glory.

Although this is just a brief introduction, I hope you’ve learned a bit about New Zealand (or, hopefully, can at least find it on a map).  Of course, this all is based on my cursory research—I’m so excited to go and explore it for myself!

Twenty-three days and counting…still not packing.

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