Most people outside the country will know New Zealand for one of a very few reasons. Lord of the Rings. The national rugby team, the All Blacks. Oh, and sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.
It's true that the movie, those fifteen all-conquering sportsmen and several million woolly mammals are an essential part of what makes the country special, but its far from the full story. It is an incredibly diverse place with a wide array of attractions that believe its small size – in fact there are so many things to do in New Zealand that most visitors find themselves quickly running out of time and wishing them 'given themselves another few weeks 'down under'.
Located on the edge of two tectonic plates, New Zealand has no shortage of subterranean activity. While this occasionally manifests in less enjoyable forms such as earthquakes, it also provides some of the most incredible natural phenomena that the country has to offer. The sulphuric mud pools of Rotorua attract tens of thousands of visitors every year, for example, while the Tongariro Crossing – the best one day walk in the country – takes hikers right across the slopes of a dormant volcano. Even Lake Taupo, the largest lake in the country, was caused by a massive prehistoric eruption. Thankfully these days the liveliest activities in the area will be a jetboat zipping past or an angler pulling a huge trout from the water – altogether a far more enjoyable activity.
Adventure tourism plays a massive part in the appeal of Aoteora (the Maori name for New Zealand, literally translated as The Land of the Long White Cloud). White water rafting and swimming with dolphins, bungy jumping and skydiving – activities that get the adrenaline pumping seem to be something that New Zealand specializes in. Queenstown, in the country's south, is the most well known destination for madcap adventure but is by no means the only place. Finding crazy things to do in New Zealand is not difficult – from surfing down sand dunes on Ninety Mile Beach in the far north to hiking for ten days spotting kiwis around Stewart Island in the far south you'll never find yourself far from somewhere that Dramatically lifts the heart rate.
If you do not mind a quiet drink or two New Zealand will never disappoint. Rightly famous for the quality of it's Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, fans of beer and spirits will also be able to find international quality lager and vodka that is locally produced and distinctly different from varieties found in other countries. It's the wine that most people come for, however, and with cellar door tours and walk-up tasting sessions available throughout the many growing regions and given that most of the vineyards are located in geographically stunning parts of the country, it would be easy to spend an entire trip in a state of cheerful inebriation!
When it comes to natural beauty New Zealand is truly unique. Being able to stand on the top of a snow-capped mountain and gaze out over natural native forests towards unspoiled beaches and rolling seas in the distance is an experience that visitors will not forget. Glaciers crawl slowly towards the ocean, whales bask just offshore in the nutrient-rich waters near Kaikoura and birds weave amongst the leaves of kauri trees that have been standing for over a thousand years. From the iconic Miter Peak towering over the still waters of Milford Sound to world-class diving in the kelp forests Near Poor Knight's Island, New Zealand provides an incredible variety of things to do and see for the nature lover.
There's no doubt about it, New Zealand provides a lot more than sheep, rugby and a few wandering hobbits.