New Zealand, sitting like a huge semi-colon in the Pacific southwest across the Tasman Sea from Australia, is a paradise for adventurers. Forests, lakes, rivers, beaches, mountains, valleys, islands, geysers, and volcanoes have provided this relatively small group of islands with international-class outdoor activities.
Wellington, a harbor town of around 350,000 inhabitants on the southern tip of North Island, is the nation's capital. Government offices vie for a place in the constant wind with shops, museums, and a zoo.
Auckland, the largest city and the only one topping a million persons, calls itself the City of Sails and competes with Sydney, Australia, for the magnificence of its harbor. The Auckland Museum houses a considerable collection of Maori cultural items, and the city itself has the largest concentration of Polynesian people in the world.
New Zealanders have a deserved reputation as the most friendly hosts and travelers in the world. There may very well be more sheep than humans in this beautiful country, as an old saying goes, but the people you do find you'll never forget.
The native Maori culture has experienced a not-always-calm resurgence that has led to financial restitution for some tribes for lands taken from them in the early British colonial period. In general, the increased focus on Maoritanga (Maori culture) has only added more layers to a lively and caring country that were the first to give women the vote (1893) and the earliest to develop viable social welfare programs.
Year-round adventures in remarkable settings attract visitors from around the world. The inverted seasons of the southern hemisphere allow July snow skiing and Christmas scuba diving. Hiking, or 'tramping' as it's know to the locals, along any of the Great Walks is unforgettable, and the Milford Track rates as the world's best.