New Zealand's relatively small population in relation to land mass has helped preserve both its natural beauty and resources. Travel aboard the biofueled planes of Air New Zealand and embark on an eco-friendly exploration of this natural wonderland.
Hike the Milford Track
In 1908, "The Spectator magazine called this 33.5-mile trek through New Zealand's Fiordland National Park "the finest walk in the world. More than 100 years later, despite large-scale global growth, this park is still home to jaw-dropping scenery. Part of the Te Wahipounamu Unesco World Heritage site, it features a rare combination of rain forest, river rapids and mountain heights carved from glaciers thousands of years ago.
The Milford Track is accessible to both experienced and novice trekkers. The number of hikers who can walk the full Milford Track in peak season is limited to 90 per day -- 50 with a private guide company, Ultimate Hikes New Zealand, which holds an exclusive franchise on guided Milford walks. Booking through Ultimate Hikes is the easiest way to walk the Milford, as transportation, meals, accommodations and guides are included with the exploration package. Groups head out every day of the six-month season (late October to late April) from the Queenstown headquarters.
The other 40 are those registered as "independent walkers, meaning they are not trekking with Ultimate Hikes. All independents must book through the New Zealand Department of Conservation. Every hike starts at the north end of Lake Te Anau and continues to Sandfly Point on Milford Sound. It is said that the route dates back to 1888 when two Scots, Quinitin Mackinnon and Ernest Mitchell, first struggled through the mountain pass that now bear's Mackinnon's name.
If you're trekking the Milford on your own, you may walk without bookings during the more hazardous off-peak and winter months.
If the Milford Track has you shaking in your hiking boots, consider hiking Tongariro Crossing, highly regarded as one of New Zealand's best one-day walks. It's a high-altitude hike through volcanic terrain featuring cold mountain springs, lava flows and active craters, stunningly pristine crater lakes and astounding views.
The Best Natural Attractions
Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga are located on the tip of New Zealand's North Island. The sand dunes, quicksand and broad flat stretch of Ninety Mile Beach could not be more dissimilar than the lush landscape of Fiordland National Park. It's from here that the Maori say the souls of the dead depart -- an understandable choice given its wholly serene environment.
Travel from sandy beaches to one of the only places on Earth where you can behold full-fledged glaciers this close to the ocean. At Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers these sluggish mountains creep from the towering heights all the way down to the floor of untouched rainforest.
At Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, the Earth's molten core touches the surface with artistic grace; geysers, mud pools, hot bubbling lakes and steamy terraces are colored with dark, dramatic oranges and reds. Bring your camera and some heavy-duty shoes.
Binoculars are a must as you traverse Ulva Island, tucked into Stewart Island's Paterson Inlet. This small islet is brimming with native bird life -- and they are not shy around humans so be prepared to get up close and personal.
An activity for daredevils to write home about, black-water rafting in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From leaping off waterfalls and cliffs to aquatic exploration of subterranean waterways to abseiling off rock faces, these caves are an exciting playground for thrill seekers and nature lovers.
The Poor Knights is a unique marine reserve that Jacques Yves Cousteau rated among the best diving spots in the world. Warm water currents create an inviting atmosphere for a wide variety of tropical species that aren't found anywhere else in New Zealand's waters. First Light Travel is a company offering several year-round dive packages catered to your skill level.
Another aquatic adventure is kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park. The coastline here is some of New Zealand's most beautiful and best preserved. You can cozy up to seal pups and dolphins as well as rest on the soft sands of deserted beaches. If you'd like to get your land legs back for a bit, head inland and explore the rocky headlands before paddling home.
Queenstown is New Zealand's adrenaline capital. There are several festivals throughout the year here, including the Winter Festival held between June and July annually. The fun-loving festival features parties, parades, Frisbee golf tournaments and winter swimming.