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Introduction top

new zealandCalling all travelers! It doesn’t matter whether you’re into extreme sports or laid back wine tours. Or you simply can’t get your fill of drop-dead gorgeous scenery. This destination has it all. Next up, New Zealand’s South Island on Smart Travels.

Travel writers love to rhapsodize about far off lands and exotic destinations. But when it comes to the islands of New Zealand, all the superlatives are justified. Exhilarating landscapes as far as the eye can see, …and enough activities and outdoor thrills to keep you entertained for years.


Maps top

mapNew Zealand’s South Island is less populated than the North, and it keeps a more laidback pace. Along with its fascinating history and many gourmet delights, the South Island is considered to be adventure central by outdoor enthusiasts. Here’s where you come for relaxation, sun, and plenty of fun!

mapNew Zealand consists of two large islands, the North and the South, as well as many smaller islands. We’ll begin at the top of the South Island in Abel Tasman National Park, and then we’ll explore the city of Nelson and the Marlborough Sounds. Later we’ll move south to Queenstown, the Mecca of extreme sports.


Abel Tasman National Park top

abelWith its balmy climate, this part of New Zealand has always attracted settlers. The Maori were the first to put down stakes here. They made an epic journey from somewhere in east Polynesia to New Zealand’s North Island about 1000 years ago. Later, they traveled south to these scenic shores.

Abel Tasman National Park makes a great starting point for exploring the area. The park hugs a dramatic stretch of coastline along the northern tip of the South Island. And, although abelit’s relatively small (only 87 square miles), it’s breathtaking.

Famous for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs and sub-tropical forests, this place feels like a travel brochure come to life. If hiking’s your thing, the park’s famous coastal track offers several different hikes lasting from 3 to 5 days.


Abel Tasman Waka Tours top

abel toursWe’ve joined up with Abel Tasman Waka Tours, a family-owned tour business, to explore the park in a traditional Maori canoe, or ‘waka’. After an official Maori greeting….and a brief orientation…(Soundbite 9 26 04 to 9 26 14)… we’re ready to hit the water in this beautifully carved boat. The Maori migrated here from across the Pacific in larger versions of these canoes. Waka can range in size from small boats used for fishing or river travel, to very large war canoes manned by up to 80 paddlers. Early Polynesian explorers used the sun and stars, ocean currents, and the migration patterns of seabirds to help them navigate.

Maori were ferocious warriors, and tribes often battled one another over territory or for vengeance. The victors sometimes enslaved the losers. For at least 500 years Maori lived along this coastline, harvesting food from the sea and surrounding forest.

abel toursEnter the Europeans. The first known westerner to visit New Zealand was the Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman (hence the name of the park). In 1642, Tasman headed from Indonesia in search of a fabled great southern continent and anchored his two ships near here.

But, in a skirmish with the local Maori, four of Tasman’s crewmen were killed. The Dutchmen soon moved on.

abel toursPermanent European settlement began in the mid 1800’s. The settlers quarried granite, logged forests and burned hillsides to create pastureland. Eventually, after most of the profits were wrung out the land, a growing movement to protect this area prompted the government to make it a park. Now it makes unforgettable sightseeing, drifting the day away watching the seals …and fascinating birdlife.


Awaroa Lodge top

awaroaOur accommodations for the night are located within the heart of Abel Tasman park. The Awaroa Lodge blends effortlessly into the park landscape. Totally surrounded by native bush, this is true seclusion. There are no roads in, so you have hike, fly or come in by sea. Awaroa was built on the site of one of the area’s early homesteads. In 1884, William Hadfield built a home here for his wife and nine children. He wanted the best spot on the bay to catch the year-round sun and glorious views. With a promise of 'touching the earth lightly', the lodge is a popular choice for ecotourists.

arawoaAll this nature stokes my appetite, and you’ll find the food at Arawoa to be top-notch. In keeping with the lodge’s ecotourist philosophy, organically grown vegetables and herbs are the stars of this menu. And dishes are served up to creatively emphasize nature’s most interesting tastes, ..textures, …and flavor combinations.


Nelson top

The bayside town of Nelson is a top destination for visitors to New Zealand. The first European settlement sprang up here when the British-sponsored New Zealand Company made this a company town.

nelsonThe New Zealand Company was a grand scheme by a British politician named Edward Gibbon Wakefield. His vision was a colony made up of people from all levels of British society, as opposed the settlements of transported convicts found in Australia. Wakefield hoped to create a slice of English life in the Pacific.

Well, the plan failed. Partly because Wakefield could never get the right balance of upper and lower class Englishmen to make the move here. But a few tenacious settlers persisted, and in 1858 a royal decree made the small town a city.

Over the years, the warm weather and relaxed atmosphere attracted many artists to Nelson, and today it has one of the country’s most vibrant art scenes.


Bone Carving top

bone carvingThe creative arts in New Zealand have evolved from a fusion of cultures - Maori, European, and Asian to name a few.

If you want explore your own artistic talents, New Zealand’s Creative Tourism program might be just the ticket. Creative tourism involves learning a skill that’s part of the culture being visited. Here tourists can participate in hands-on workshops that celebrate this country’s cultural diversity. You can learn everything from basket weaving to bush medicine.

bone carvingI’ve decided to try my hand at bone carving.

I begin by choosing a pattern from the Maori inspired designs.

I cut out the rough shape, and then carefully grind it down.

For a little decoration, we glue a piece of shell to the carving.

After it’s polished up, the colors really shine.

Well I’m all done. Here’s the before, and here’s the after. My own handmade souvenir from New Zealand.


For information on workshops go to www.creativetourism.co.nz.


Marlborough Sounds
Mussel Cruise top

The Marlborough Sounds are a seafood lover’s dream. To sample some of the sea’s bounty, we’re taking a mussel cruise that leaves from the little village of Havelock.

MarlboroughDuring the summer season, which in New Zealand is from December to February, a cruise of the Sounds is an ideal way to experience the natural beauty and tranquility of this area. The bays, inlets and hidden coves seem to go on forever. At one time, this land was above water. After the ice ages, sea water rushed in to fill the valleys and create this sinuous coastline.

Greenshell mussels are native to New Zealand and aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Cultivated on long lines, they’re easily recognized by their vibrant green and gold shells.

For a true "taste of Marlborough", wash down freshly steamed mussels with a glass of local Sauvignon Blanc wine.


Herzog Winery top

herzog wineryThe Marlborough area is New Zealand's best-known wine producing region. More than 70 wineries grace this countryside, producing a variety of internationally acclaimed labels. Especially popular is the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

Sunny days and cool nights combined with a long ripening period help create these flavorful wines. Grapevines originally brought here by European colonists flourished in this island soil. Although Marlborough built it’s reputation on white wine, Pinot Noirs are growing in popularity. We’re visiting the picturesque Herzog winery to sample some of the fruit of the vine.

Because fine wine and excellent food go hand in hand, this family-run winery offers a gourmet restaurant to complement its liquid refreshment. The artfully prepared Mediterranean-style cuisine is creating a buzz here herzog wineryin this country and beyond. Over the past few decades, a spirit of creative experimentation has swept through New Zealand’s restaurants. Once known primarily as a supplier of lamb, this country now showcases abundant and varied produce. Here, the chef’s creations are inspired by fresh Marlborough specialties, such as olive oil, shellfish and salmon.


Planning Your Itinerary top

New Zealand is a relatively small country with well-maintained roads. But keep in mind that Kiwis drive on the left hand side of the road.

If you’re on a tight schedule like we are, you can also take advantage of the many readily available domestic flights to drastically cut down on travel time.

We’ll take a short flight from Nelson south to the dramatic city of Queenstown.


For help with planning an itinerary, visit www.newzealand.com/travel.


Queenstown top

Queenstown is at the top of the popular New Zealand destinations list. It’s easy to see why. You might have heard all of the talk about this being the adventure capital of the world - birthplace of bungee jumping and home to all kinds of extreme sports.

Well, it’s all true. But Queenstown offers much more. It has great restaurants, shopping and nightlife. And it’s just a downright gorgeous place.


New Zealand By Balloon top

balloonTo get a bird’s eye view of the scenery, we’re heading out at daybreak for a hot air balloon ride. New Zealand sits on two tectonic plates — the Pacific and the Australian. Because these plates are constantly shifting and grinding into each other, New Zealand has had lots of geological action, and remarkable landscapes to show for it. This part of the country is especially beautiful.

balloonThe terrain spreads out before us, like scenes straight out of “Lord of the Rings”. In fact, the entire “Rings” trilogy was shot here in New Zealand. With its mountains and glaciers, vast plains, and miles of sandy coastline, it’s no wonder New Zealand has become a sought-after film location.

balloonOur balloon ride caps off with a champagne breakfast, a tradition that dates back to the first hot air balloon ride in France. Back then, champagne helped reassure local farmers that the balloonists were really Frenchmen and not beings from outer space.


Mad Dog River Boarding top

mad dogOkay, they say this is the land of extreme sports and I’m ready to take the plunge. To ease my way into things, I’m trying out Mad Dog River Boarding. (Hmmm, I’m not sure about the name, but how hard could “river boarding” be?)

The trip begins enough with a full safety briefing.

mad dogWe make our way into the main river current and then the excitement begins. Continuous rapids keep us moving for about 45 minutes. This has to be nature’s most jaw-dropping, bone-rattling thrill ride. And the mountain scenery makes it all the more exhilarating. After the rapids mellow out, there’s an optional Jet Ski ride for those who are still looking for more action. And at the end of the trip, you’ll find a riverbank slide…and a whole series of rock swings and jumps. Oh boy, am I going to be sore tomorrow!


Lake Cruise top

lake cruiseA cruise aboard the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw offers a more low-key water adventure. It takes us out across Queenstown’s beautiful Lake Wakatipu. Affectionately known as the ‘Lady of the Lake’, the TSS Earnslaw hold a special place in the heart of locals. This is one of the last remaining coal-fired passenger vessels operating in the Southern Hemisphere. The ship has been transporting goods to remote settlements here since 1912.


Cruises run daily throughout the year.


Queenstown House top

Our bed and breakfast, the Queenstown House, is just a three-minute walk from the town center. Resting on the hillside, it provides wonderful views over the lake and mountains. This is one of the oldest B&Bs in town, though it recently underwent a major renovation. Especially cozy is the fireside sitting room stocked with magazines, books and games.


Shotover Canyon Swing top

shotover canyonTime for our grand finale – and only adrenalin junkies need apply. Shotover Canyon Swing is the world's highest giant swing. Now, I love great views, but this - this might be going too far!

Here’s how it works: you’re attached to ropes and a full body harness and then launched off a cliff-mounted platform.

shotover canyonCue the stunt double.

You drop 200 feet, and then swing into a giant arc 350 feet across the Shotover River Canyon.

I love New Zealand! In fact there’s no better place to hang around!


Cheers! top

new zealandLike a trip through Middle Earth, …a visit to New Zealand propels you to another dimension. Whether you crave high altitude thrills, …or the serenity of a secluded beach, …this small island nation promises to bring your own travel fantasies to life.

Hmm, I think I may be developing a taste for extreme sports. Maybe I’ll try bungee-jumping next.... maybe. I’m Rudy Maxa. From New Zealand’s South Island, cheers!



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For help with planning an itinerary, visit www.newzealand.com/travel.