Lake Gunn, South Island © Jocelyn Kinghorn
New Zealand, 'Land of the Long White Cloud', is a small, sparsely populated country consisting of two major islands, North and South Island, and a scattering of smaller ones. Despite its small size it is crammed with magnificent natural beauty and has an incredible amount to offer; the only complaint travellers have is that they haven't allowed enough time in the country. Fresh air, breathtaking scenery and outdoor activities are the main attractions of New Zealand, with a tremendously friendly, honest and helpful population, colloquially nicknamed after their country's distinct symbol, the unusual but amiable flightless kiwi bird.
The two islands have surprisingly different characters. The North Island has dramatic volcanic landscapes and highly active thermal areas, long stretches of beautiful beaches and excellent sailing, ancient indigenous forests and a strong Maori cultural influence. The South Island has a slower pace of life dominated by a magnificent spine of mountains, the snow-covered Southern Alps, and the spectacular scenery of the southern waterways of the fjord lands, with glaciers, deep lakes and verdant forests.
The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was New Zealand's founding document, an attempt to settle disputes between the European settlers and the Maoris, conceding the country to British rule while guaranteeing the Maori people possession of their land and cultural identity. Today, integration has been replaced by a policy of upholding two different cultures alongside each other. Their shared love of sport, most notably the revered national sport of rugby union, and their enthusiasm for adventure and the outdoors is the unifying factor among the whole population.
New Zealand offers a huge variety of action-packed and laid back activities, from bungee jumping to skiing, swimming with dolphins, scenic flights and boat cruises on the fjords, as well as several world famous walking trails with unrivalled scenery. Alternatively visitors can immerse themselves in culture at the museums and galleries of the country's main cities - Auckland and the capital Wellington in the North, and Christchurch in the south.
New Zealand is an easy and compact place in which to travel and its spectacularly dramatic landscape alone, famous for its setting for the 'The Lord of the Rings' film trilogy, makes the long trip to these southern islands more than worthwhile.