Located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, New Zealand was always a country I imagined myself retiring to – Life would mostly revolve around the sea and sub-tropics, immersing in a mix of multi-cultural diversity infused in the arts, cuisine and culture. Tranquil, yet full of vibrancy to keep my sanity.
Thanks to Air New Zealand (AirNZ) and the New Zealand Tourism Board, I got to travel to Auckland, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington, each with their own charms and beauty.
Here’s some travel-worthy facts about New Zealand I learnt through my trip that could just make you buy that plane ticket right now.
1. You can visit the workshop that produces props for LOTR
Weta workshop is a world-leading design and effects facility that produces special effects makeup and props for major blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy films, and most famously for Lord Of The Rings.
As Lord Of The Rings was filmed in New Zealand, the series itself pumped 200 million into the economy and a minister was even appointed just to oversee this critically-acclaimed project.
The workshop that made it all possible can be found in Wellington, and tours start from $25 NZ. Getting up close and personal with the designers and the magic that happens is something all geeks won’t want to miss.
2. Middle Earth’s Shire exists in New Zealand
As if Weta workshop wasn’t enough to geek out to, you can even go on a Hobbiton Movie Set tour and discover middle-earth and The Shire in a fascinating 2 hour tour. The entire set has been recreated exactly to how it was seen in The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings with spectacular views across the Kaimai Ranges during the tour.
You will see how this beautiful piece of Waikato farmland was transformed into The Shire from Middle-Earth through the guide that faithfully recounts details of how the set was created. Located in Matamata, New Zealand, Hobbiton tours start from $79 NZ for adults.
3. Commercial Bungy Jumping was founded in New Zealand
A J Hackett was the first to organize commercialized bungy jumping and opened the world’s first permanent commercial bungee site, the Kawarau Bridge Bungy at the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge in the South of New Zealand.
Numerous types of jumps of bridges and other structures are available for the adrenaline seeker in New Zealand, where bungy jumping is almost religion. Why not give it a shot with an experienced operator who can balance thrill with safety.
4. Discover the lost art of cooking a Maori Hangi BBQ
Hangi is a traditional New Zealand Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a dugout pit, pretty much resembling a natural oven.
Food tastes all that much better when you work for it; I should know, since I shoveled quite a few hot stones to get my meal.
Methods have been handed down through generations, and you too can experience this amazingly BBQ tradition at Awataha Marae, five minutes north of the Auckland Harbour bridge.
See the fire, feel the heat- Fresh meat, seafood and vegetables make up the core essence of this simplistic cooking method, reenacting how the Maori themselves feasted in the past. This is one eating experience you won’t get anywhere else in the world.
5. Sail aboard a traditional Maori boat
The Waka is a traditional Maori watercraft that was used for fishing and traversing the vast ocean to new lands. These canoes range in various sizes and you can get to sail on one too.
The Hangi I mentioned earlier takes a couple hours to cook, so you might as well take a trip to the Waitematā Harbour to experience traditional Maori canoe voyaging.
Share stories of blue water-sailing, navigation and migration with the experienced sailors and you’ll learn just how amazing it is to navigate the Waka with brute strength alone, and without a compass to boot; it’s all in the stars.
6. A proliferation of artisan coffee
The rise of dozens of coffee roasters in Wellington has had a big impact on the city’s strong cafe culture.
A continuously evolving coffee scene, coffee tours can easily be self-administered in Wellington, New Zealand. Sample some coffee while observing the freshness of coffee roasting just over your shoulder.
Havana Coffee Works is one such spot to observe live coffee roasting.
Astoria cafe, a central city landmark, is a good place to start as you navigate through the urban landscape to discover more micro-roasteries and even more coffee-driven cafes.
Mojo HQ and Roastery, Nikau, , Caffe L’Affare, Emporio and Hangar are all recommended stops as you go on a caffeine fueled adventure to experience a taste of what New Zealand’s cafe culture has to offer.
7. Rise of New Zealand’s craft beer capital: Wellington
New Zealand beer tastes pretty darn good. Over the years, capital city Wellington has also staked its claim as the Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand with a multitude of craft beer breweries sprouting out.
It’s worth spending an evening in Wellington to do a bit of a pub crawl around some of the many craft beer bars that are littered all around town. Just like the coffee roasteries, you can be sipping fresh beer brewed just next door, like how Garage Project does it.
The range of innovative flavours concocted are only limited by one’s imagination.
Black Dog, Little Beer Quarter, Golding’s Freedive and Hashigo Zake are all craft beer bars highly recommended for a tipple.
Craft beer tours like the Auckland Craft Beer Tour (from $125 NZ) are also available to showcase the very best of the country’s hoppy beverage.
8. You can go camping in the vast wilderness of New Zealand
Discovering the wilderness of New Zealand and roughing it out has become quite a popular trend in this vast natural space. Surrounded daily by tall skyscrappers in Singapore, it’s not everyday you get to take road trip to commune with nature.
There are many different types of camping in New Zealand, with 2 main regulated types of public camping spots: Campgrounds and holiday parks, Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites.
Campgrounds/ holiday parks are well-equipped camping sites with multiple facilities like tents, toilets and even swimming pools, while DOC sites operate on a ‘trust basis’ with minimal facilities.
Campgrounds range from between $10 and $40 NZ per site, while DOC sites will at most cost $19 NZ, while some spots are actually free.
9. Delicious sustainable seafood
29 million dollars worth of seafood was exported to Singapore in 2014, so why not just enjoy from the source?
Not only is New Zealand’s seafood (especially the native Greenshell Mussels) on a whole other level of the gastronomic scale, its sustainable harvest lets you feel all that much better while feasting on sweet succulent crustaceans.
New Zealand is twice voted the most sustainable seafood industry in the world and almost half (45%) of the population eats seafood at least once a week. Seeing how deliciously fresh it is, I can see how I’d fit into this statistic easily.
One of the places where I enjoyed freshly shucked Clevedon coast oysters was at the annual Federal Street festival, where a myriad of popup food stalls tantalize the tastebuds.
10. Less than 5 per cent of New Zealand’s population is human – the rest are animals
Animal Lover? New Zealand is the place to be. There’s about 10 sheep to 1 person while the whole of New Zealand has a population of just over 4.5 million. Sheep aren’t the only non-human worth seeing.
Taking a driven overland safari tour to Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony, visit the worlds largest, most accessible gannet nest colony while passing about a gazillion sheep and cattle. Gannet safaris is the fastest way to reach the top of Cape Kidnappers without any walking.
Reaching the peak of Cape Kidnappers, you’ll get to see tons of Gannets, a large white seabird, in their natural habitat frolicking around, up close just within a few feet. Nature always finds a way.
11. There are black sand beaches in New Zealand
New Zealand is literally surrounded by beaches with many major cities situated right on the water. The pounding Tasman Sea of the West Coast makes beaches on this side of the country somewhat wilder, with black sand.
Black sand?! These heavier and minerals are left behind by the waves, causing the beach to appear black. Its perfectly safe though.
Piha and Muriwai are two such black-sand surf beaches where you can hire blokarts, bikes and kites to wean away the day leisurely.
12. Get the freshest organic produce from New Zealand’s farmers’ markets
Every Sunday, one of the largest and longest running farmer’s market in New Zealand gather at Kenilworth Road, Hawke’s Bay – Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market sees over 50 producers and grocers come together to present a fresh barrow load of food, ready for sale and consumption.
Purvey the goods personally and buy them knowing that’s as fresh you can get from the source.
The lively atmosphere at Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market comes with hot roasted local coffee, numerous stalls selling breakfast and live acoustic music for what can only be described as the perfect Sunday afternoon.
13. Award winning wines come from New Zealand
Personally, I adore white wines from New Zealand more than reds, so it surprises me that I immensely enjoyed the Church Road McDonald Series Syrah 2013, which won the Champion Wine Of The Show for AirNZ’s 2015 wine awards. And it only costs $20 NZ at Church Road Winery in Taradale, Hawke’s Bay. Oh there’s one in Napier as well.
You won’t want to miss the wine tours in New Zealand, like the Twilight Odyssey Tour we went on.
This tour brings you on a scenic drive through the vineyards as you learn about the terroir.
Of course, a full interactive wine tasting begins alongside gourmet platters at Vidal. We then proceeded to Elephant Hill for the main course accompanied by a glass of wine. The evening then finishes at New Zealand’s oldest and grandest winery, the Mission Estate for dessert wines and more sweets.
Not a bad way to spend the day at all. Another winery shoutout definitely has go to Batch Winery at Waiheke. Try the 1444 Pinot Gris 2014, which was my favorite there.
14. There’s a New Zealand town stuck in the Artdeco era
Napier is a small town in Hawke’s Bay with around 61,500 people and architecture that takes you back to the 1930s.
In 1931, Napier experienced a devastating earthquake that pretty much leveled the entire town, but also gave an extra 4000 hectares of uplifted land.
The buildings were then rebuilt in the 1930s Art Deco theme and although through the years several buildings were replaced with contemporary structures, most of the centre was eventually recognized in the 1990s as architecturally important and is since protected and restored.
Napier is considered one of the two best preserved Art Deco towns in the world!
One of the Napier’s Art Deco tours even takes you on a ride in vintage cars, guided with enthusiastic volunteers who will fill your head with trivia about Napier.
15. Kiwis know how to have fun
All in all, New Zealand hospitality has been nothing but heartwarming. A mix of modern trendiness with sincere smiles, you’ll feel right at home in New Zealand as the locals treat you just as you would a guest in your home. But this doesn’t mean they’re boring old farts.
Just check out this rad safety video by AirNZ; I’ve never sat through an entire safety video actually WANTING to continue watching a safety video.
Fly direct to Auckland via AirNZ from Singapore from $1271 round-trip
If you book at least 30 days in advance, fly in comfort and style via AirNZ to the land of the kiwis.
AirNZ even has a Economy Skycouch, which is a row of three Economy seats that together create a flexible space for whatever you want it to be – it’s like having your own couch on the plane.
With incredibly amiable service in the air, AirNZ is definitely my flight of choice for when I make my next trip to New Zealand. Till then!