New Zealand, WHAT A PLACE! I knew even before stepping foot in the country I would love it. I wasn’t disappointed. I’d heard so many great things and just had a sense that it would be a place for me. Before NZ, answering the question “where is your favourite country” was tough. I’ve been to 31 of them and all of them were pretty great. Now, however, the answer to that question is a little easier and New Zealand would have to rank supreme. And while it may currently hold this title it does have to come with several clauses. Firstly I lived here for 7 months, as a tourist and didn’t do a days work. That enabled me to see a hell of a lot of the place (although there is still so much more I could see). Having so much free time allowed me to tick off the highlights and get a feel for the country as a whole. Not working in general also just means you’re going to have a better time. When free to do whatever you want whenever you want all the time, it’s going to be hard to hate a place. I was able to live as I wanted and didn’t really have a care or stress in the world. While a 7 month holiday anywhere is going to be hard to hate, I still think you’d be hard pushed to find a better place than NZ to enjoy it. Secondly, I got to travel and experience the county at a time like no other. Other than the Aus travel bubble, which was open for 2 months (allowing me to enter), no tourists or travellers have come in since Feb 2020. That’s verging on 2 years ago, meaning there weren’t many travellers left and most had been here a while and seen everything. Additionally, for the final 3 months, Auckland was effectively locked out of its own country due to Covid. This meant 2 of the 5 million population was locked inside one city. At times it honestly felt like I had the country to myself and that I was the only tourist in New Zealand. The international tourists weren’t here and even domestic tourism was dead. Those types of conditions are unlikely to be repeated any time soon. To be lucky enough to travel, live and explore NZ during that period shall be an unforgettable part of my life and one I’ll forever be grateful for. It was incredible. The beauty of NZ is in its landscapes, vast, diverse, pristine and beautiful. To have all this without the hoards of people was truly magical. The country would still have been beautiful, yet sharing that with so many people would have detracted somewhat from the beauty. I got to see nature in all its glory, natural, unspoilt and uninterrupted. This was often highlighted when parking for a hike or natural attraction. The sheer size of a car park laid bare for me to see, once filled to capacity, now housed only my car and a few other lucky visitors.
Other benefits to the country being so devoid of tourists meant everything was so easy to plan. I never had to worry about things being fully booked. I didn’t have to plan things months in advance and hope the weather was good at the time. I simply had to turn up when I wanted and would be able to do whatever it is I had planned. In fact, the opposite was almost true at the times, whereby I had to book something at a time when others had also booked, as certain activities only operated with a minimum number of people. A small price to pay though. Some of New Zealand’s Great Walks which are stunningly beautiful, are also notoriously difficult to do, due to the volume of people wishing to undertake them. A problem that was non-existent for me. I would often trek these beautiful hikes barely seeing another soul. Enjoying the walks as they were intended to be enjoyed, without the constant throng of other trampers bypassing me. You could stop and listen to the emptiness, without the distant sound of the next hiking group just behind. The final benefit to the emptiness was the reduction in price of everything. Tour operators, in an attempt to attract the local population, had drastically reduced their prices. Often I would pay 30-40% less than I maybe would have done doing the same thing in January 2020. Not only did I have a better experience doing something due to fewer people detracting from the experience. I was able to pay less for this improved experience. As the adage goes, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” but I think that’s pretty bloody close. The downside? Being the only tourist in NZ is exactly that, I was often the only tourist! While this meant I may pay the cheapest rate for a bed in an 8-bed dorm, yet be upgraded to the private double room. It would also mean I was the only one staying there. One of the appeals to travelling is the friendships you form along the way. I did miss this side to backpacking while in NZ at this time. There weren’t any spontaneous nights out with strangers you met at the hostel bar 10 minutes ago. No groups coming together and continuing their travels as one and no bumping into someone you met a week ago at a previous hostel and sharing travel stories. This element of travelling was sadly lost. But to have that side of things, would have come at the detriment to all the other perks I’ve mentioned, so just this once I’ll let it slide. Therefore, while NZ may sit atop the pile, for now, these impacts can’t be overlooked when evaluating my time there and I shall likely never experience anything like it again.
One of the big reasons for going to NZ was to experience my first ever winter ski season. Safe to say it didn’t quite go to plan as I broke my collarbone 1 month into the season. Ending my time on the slopes before it had really begun. As I detailed in my Winter In Queenstown blog, which goes into the specific, I have absolutely zero regrets. Yes, I would have preferred to enjoy more of the mountain slopes and improved my skills on the board above what I was able to accomplish. But in the end, it wasn’t meant to be. Life very rarely goes exactly to plan, as brilliantly explained by Tommy Baker in his book, The 1% Rule, he states “We will experience challenges, adversity and chaos at least once every single day. Operating under this ethos allows us not to be surprised, but rather to get excited when it comes”. Effectively saying if you anticipate that things are likely to go wrong at some point, you’ll be less taken aback when they do and better able to deal with it when it does. The problem with hoping everything goes exactly to plan is ultimately when something doesn’t quite go right, you’re going to be disappointed. Operating this way, you’re going to be more disappointed than not. A lot of life happens when your plans change or something unexpected happens. So while I didn’t get to snowboard as much as I wanted, I turned the setback into something positive. I got to do lots of other things that I maybe wouldn’t have done if I never broke my collarbone. I probably wouldn’t have brought a drone, got much more into photography, planned my mate’s stag do, wrote as many blogs, got creative with business ideas. As I said it’s a shame I didn’t snowboard more, but I still got to experience it. I look forward to doing it again in the future.
I spent 6 of my 7 months on New Zealand’s South Island. Sometimes referred to as the mainland, due to being the biggest of New Zealand’s 2 (major) islands. However, the population of the south island is ⅕ that of the north. This gives the South Island a population density of just 8 people per square km. Compared to 35 for the North Island. As a reference, the UK has a population density of 281 people per square km while being comparable in size to NZ as a whole. This should give you some kind of idea as to how vast yet devoid of civilization the south island is. Added to this is the fact that 400,000 of the south island inhabitants live in the city of Christchurch, further bringing down the spread of people across the island. So if there aren’t too many people, meaning not too many big cities, what is there in the south? The answer to that is unequivocal outstanding natural landscapes that take your breath away. Every turn, every corner, every angle of this great island leaves you speechless with the beauty it possesses. Trying to find the words to describe some of the South Islands landscapes is often a futile task. The ever-present spine of the island is the Southern Alps which run its length and are home to NZ tallest peak, Mt Cook. It is the presence of this magnificent mountain range and the geological process behind their creation that gave rise to the beauty and diversity of the island’s terrain. Powerful natural forces over the course of millennia have shaped the island and its habitats into truly unique locations often not seen anywhere else on the planet. These strong forces have helped to shape a huge variety into the island’s landscapes. The far south is home to the Fiordland National Park, where steep glacial valleys frame unspoilt temperate and alpine forests, often framed by a plethora of waterfalls seeming to descend from the heavens. Move up the east coast and you soon come across the rugged Catlins coastline, which seems to transport you into a scene from Jurassic Park. Go west and you follow the Southern Alps into the Mt Aspiring National Park, where crystal clear rivers flow through valley floors of towering snow-capped mountains. As you move further north the diversity only intensifies. The harsh coastal rainforest of the west coast humbles you before it rises into the Southern Alps which then continues North. In the island’s centre, you have beautiful huge lakes, which shine every shade of blue. The lakes signify the start of vast open plains which lead down from the mountains and back out to the east coast. At the northern tip of the island, waves lap at golden beaches, and mountains melt first into water-filled sounds teaming with wildlife before finally becoming the sea themselves. A backdrop of mountains still ever-present though. It’s a landscape that really has to be seen to be believed. Taking a moment and admiring a view conjures deep emotions within. You wish to never leave, hoping your eyes can stay fixated here forevermore. Yet you pull yourself away knowing it won’t be long until you’re treated to another such scene. I have never visited a place so spectacular!
While for me the South Island holds the crown, the North is more than capable of holding its own. And although spectacular mountains remain, they are less numerous. Here it’s what lies below ground, that has helped to shape the land above it. Geothermal activity and a volcanic history has left a legacy easily visible to those that venture here to look. Sadly my travels of the north were less extensive compared to the south, but even my brief escapade was wonderful. The nation’s capital Wellington is a lively city, full of character and atmosphere. A small capital by most standards but that also adds to its charm. Be prepared for wind though and cherish the days which are calm. The western coastline offers beautiful sunrises, some of the very first in the world and endless empty beaches. While the eastern coast offers delightful sunsets and is a surfers paradise. The ominous Mt Taranaki is a landmark that literally rises out of the ground and takes charge of the horizon for miles around. It’s an awe-inspiring sight which only gets better up close while exploring Egmond National Park which surrounds it. Venture north and you’ll be able to get underground for yourself, exploring the cavernous region of Waitomo. Home to extensive cave systems and beautiful glow worms. Move to the centre of the island and you’ll come across NZ largest lake, Taupo, formerly a volcano itself. Its last eruption left behind the massive creator which became the lake and is thought to have been the most violent eruption across the planet in the last 5000 years. Just south of Taupo more volcanic wonders await. The Tongariro National Park, home to numerous volcanoes, old lava flows, green acid pools and thermal sulphur vents. The place transports you to what feels like another planet entirely. To the north, Rotorua, a geothermal heartland, with natural hot pools, springs, vents and mud baths. If you’re after a bit more adventure sprinkle in raging rapids you can raft down. Another relic of a volcanic past is the Coromandel Peninsular, now home to some of the best beaches in the country the perfect place to soak up the NZ sun. The land you step foot on the eroded remnants of the Coromandel Volcanic Zone. To pass into NZ tropical far north, you must first pass through Auckland a sprawling modern city set around 2 harbours. A great place to start or end a journey but not the city to add substance to your trip. Sadly I was unable to explore Northland, the most northern province of NZ due to Covid restrictions, yet here subtropical coastlines, beaches and islands await. Along with the meeting place of two great oceans.
Hopefully, these vivid descriptions paint a picture of the countries beauty and that’s before you even mention the wildlife that called this place home before us. A bird lovers dream the array of avian species is enormous, with creatures here that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The ever-present background melody of bird song is a beautiful accompaniment to the outstanding landscapes they inhabit. Yet while birds are the main attraction, you’ll also be treated to seals, dolphins and penguins as well as vast amounts of cattle and sheep. New Zealand’s dedication to protecting these delicate environments and species has to be commended. They do a wonderful job of protecting and conserving these places in the hope that future generations will also be able to enjoy them. In addition to preserving their natural heritage, New Zealand has also done an excellent job of assimilating the Maori culture into everyday life. With Maori being the gatekeeps of the land long before Europeans came ashore, it’s refreshing to see how willing NZ is to embrace its cultural past and bring it centre stage into its national identity. It’s a stark contrast to that of Aboriginal culture and its acceptance in Australia. It seems many countries could learn a great deal from NZ.
Having now spent a considerable amount of time in both Australia and New Zealand I’m going to throw my 2 cents into the debate surrounding which is better. Although as with anything I’ve ever written, it’s my opinion based on my experiences. I challenge you to go for yourself and form your own opinions based off your experiences. In terms of a country to purely travel, I would rather visit NZ over Australia. Say you had 4 weeks to see one or the other I think you’d be better off going to New Zealand. You’d be able to see far more diversity and breadth as opposed to what you’d get if in Australia for the same amount of time. Or if you were to try and see the same “amount” in Aus you’d spend way more time travelling between places or money to actually get from place to place. This is due to how vast a country Australia is in comparison to NZ. For example, you could road trip down the East or West coast of Australia in 4 weeks and you’d have an amazing time doing so. But really that’s all you’d get to see. If you spent 4 weeks in NZ you could comfortably see all the major parts of the south or north island, or get to tick off the real highlights of both islands if you so chose. I mean as I write this it does sound a bit of a weird argument even to myself and really depends if you’d rather sample one specific part of a country or a greater variety to a whole country. Both places are amazing so you’re really splitting hairs trying to pick one over the other. It ultimately boils down to what you’d rather see and experience. NZ offers you a chance to experience a little bit of everything, while Australia is clearly more suited to beaches and bigger cities. That being said if I was to elect to live long term in one of the countries I would likely select Australia. Again both would be incredible choices but if I’m to nitpick, Australia comes out on top for me. The cost of living in both places is high and pretty comparable, but in Australia, it seems you earn better money. Plus while NZ is undeniably beautiful, sometimes it did seem a little too empty and like there wasn’t much going on. Australia seems to have a better balance, you have vast swaths of the country very devoid of anything, but you also have quite a few sprawling metropolises buzzing with life and action. Again it’s really down to personal preference and I would be hard-pressed to really pick one over the other. Either of them you’re going to have an amazing time, living, working, travelling. But based on my experiences that’s how I would rank them. It’s worth mentioning that, that selection is likely down to the framing I have experienced in both places. Which has tunnelled my experiences into those conclusions. My perspectives have obviously been swayed by my experiences. I lived and worked in Australia and didn’t travel too widely, whereas in NZ I didn’t work and travelled a great deal. At the end of the day though both countries are amazing places and I’m so happy I’ve been lucky enough to experience both in their own right.
There we have it, New Zealand, Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. The most apt name for the most amazing country. Above the cloud, the night sky is the best I’ve ever seen too. I arrived in NZ full of optimism and excitement and after waiting over a year to finally visit, it was well worth the wait. It was a risk to go, visa troubles and a lack of working right may have scared others in my situation away. However, I’m so glad I stayed the course and listened to my gut, telling me that everything would all be okay. For this, I was rewarded with the most incredible 7 months and the most amazing end to an epic 3-year adventure. For that New Zealand, tēnā koe (thank you). And while one day I hope to return, if that fails to transpire, I won’t be resentful. As I know the time I shared with you shall likely never be topped and the circumstances of my visit never repeated!