They're at either end of the country – the impossibly beautiful white-sand beaches of Karikari Peninsula and the impossibly beautiful deep-green waters, forests and mountains of Te Wahi Pounamou, our World Heritage Area in the Deep South.
Like many other New Zealanders, with long-haul travel on hold I've taken the opportunity to discover, or rediscover, the thrill of being a stranger in my own land.
Tourism NZ recently released spending models predicting Kiwis travelling around Aotearoa may spend up to 18 per cent more this January than last. Using MBIE data, it shows we're supporting economic recovery by exploring the country.
In the July school holidays every region welcomed more domestic visitors - in some cases 50 per cent more - than the previous year.
Pre-Covid, domestic visits accounted for 60 per cent or $9 billion of tourism's $40.9 billion contribution to the economy.
As TNZ noted, "Every time someone heads into a new region, they don't just visit tourist attractions. They shop at local retailers, book hotel rooms, eat at restaurants supporting employment and community growth."
It also says, "Tourism is a major employer of women and youth and on average every $178,000 of visitor spend creates one new job. These jobs are important for our regions, especially where there may be few other employment options."
As founder and CEO of Hobbiton, the Lord Of The Rings-themed village near Matamata that's one of our leading attractions for international and local tourists, Russell Alexander and team needed to be fast on their feet when borders closed.
"I saw what was happening in China and it was quite obvious what was coming. We cancelled some capital projects because we were aware that in these times cash is going to be king. You need to preserve your cash position, be realistic about what the numbers are going to be and then adjust your business accordingly."
Alexander applauds Government actions like the wage subsidy, "but one of the first decisions we took was: We need to paddle our own canoe. That's not a political statement – you need to drive your own business and not sit around waiting for the Government to help."
It came at a terrible cost. "Before lockdown we had 266 staff and we had to make 241 redundant. That was absolutely awful – there were families and friends and kids who had worked for us for 15-20 years."
Adjusting the business – Alexander hates the word "pivot" – meant budgeting for a shocking 8-9 per cent of previous visitors.
But they under-estimated Kiwis' desire to visit Hobbiton. "We're tracking at 12 per cent and we've gone from 26 staff to 40 FTE. So we've actually been employing people over the last 2-3 months, getting some of those people back."
And they've created new attractions. "We opened The Hub, a new conference centre, on March 11 and closed it on March 16. We reopened it in November with a wellness event with Sir John Kirwan. It's a new facility where organisations can conference during the day and then tour Hobbiton. We've opened another new boutique venue, The Mill House."
Other innovations include a breakfast for photographers who want early-morning shots and popular summer harvest markets.
Another benefit to an all-Kiwi Hobbiton: "We've got more than 200 people a day coming. With less people coming through, people are enjoying a bit more space and we can provide a more personalised experience."
Alexander is optimistic about the attraction's future and has advice for other operators. "It's about adjusting to what the new realism is, and we're going better than we anticipated. We're employing people and we're learning how to run a small business again.
"We're quite lucky – our management team was the same team 15 years ago when we were even smaller than this, so we knew how to adjust to smaller numbers. We knew what to do and we knew how to do it quickly.
"It's about being decisive. Make decisions - you're not going to get them all right but the only thing worse than making wrong decisions is making no decisions. And when you realise that you haven't got it 100 per cent right, adjust."
Green shoots, too, at one of Aotearoa's largest tourism ventures. Ngāi Tahu Tourism previously hosted more than one million customers a year at 13 adventure activities.
Jo Allison, general manager corporate services, says the Christchurch-based iwi operation paused all but one site at lockdown. "We have since been able to reopen most of the attractions to the domestic market, with some re-openings due to STAPP [Government support for major attractions]."
Shotover Jet, Hukafalls Jet, Dart River Adventures, Dark Sky Project (Tekapo), Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, the National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa (Rotorua), Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools and Glacier Guides are open. Today, the Hollyford Track returns.
"We've opened a new attraction, the All Blacks Experience, in Auckland. This joint venture with New Zealand Rugby is the first major tourism attraction to launch in Aotearoa since Covid-19."
The state-of-the-art, interactive showcase features the All Blacks and Black Ferns – indeed, all our national rugby teams.
However Rotorua's Agrodome and Rainbow Springs are in hibernation, probably until borders reopen.
"New Zealanders enjoying our experiences have been hugely supportive. We're loving showing Kiwis our own backyard, and they are expressing how much they are enjoying it too," Allison says.
Hukafalls Jet had its strongest sales month ever in October and there's particularly strong demand for Hollyford Track guided walks. The season has been extended into April to provide more opportunity for New Zealanders to appreciate the experience.
Unlike these two global-standard organisations, most Kiwi tourism ventures are Mum-and-Dad businesses – motels, yacht charters, guiding. Many rely on servicing cruise-ship excursions, cycle trails or vineyard tours.
When those were mothballed, many smaller businesses moved quickly, taking one problem caused by the lockdown and using it to solve another.
Several firms formed an informal nationwide co-operative, using drivers and vehicles who'd normally ferry visitors around attractions like the Waitomo Caves and Rotorua, Marlborough and Central Otago vineyards, to deliver supermarket and pharmacy orders to those who didn't want to or couldn't leave their homes.
As 2021 dawns with the promise of vaccines, many Kiwis will be wondering if they'll be allowed to take their passports out of the bottom drawer. But they'll also know – like my grandchildren, enjoying their first New Year under canvas at Coromandel – that there's a lot to see and do in Aotearoa. Home is where the heartland is.
· Ewan McDonald is a multi-award winning travel journalist whose features appear in New Zealand and international publications. He is the immediate past president of Travcom, the New Zealand society of travel writers and photographers.
4 HIDDEN GEMS
Do you have a favourite destination around New Zealand? Four Kiwis spill the beans on the place they like to for R'n'R, and why.
Wanaka is the favourite holiday spot for Richie McCaw – and now wife Gemma and daughter Charlotte Rose too. The All Blacks' legend has been going to the Central Otago lakeside spot for 30 years.
What do you love about it? It has a great mix of activities - waterskiing, mountain biking, walking tracks, rivers for fishing and the skifields during the winter.
What is the first thing you do when you arrive? Fill up the jetboat and get up a river with the BBQ.
Must-do activity? Walk up Roy's Peak. Views on top are spectacular!
And the must-try local dish? Lamb shoulder at Kika restaurant.
Kaylene Thomas (Northland) recommends Mahinepua. "There are beautiful beaches and the Mahinepua Peninsula Track is an outstanding coastal walk with stunning views of the Cavalli Islands, Cape Brett and sometimes even Mt Camel on the Karikari Peninsula."
Clementine Ludlow (Auckland) says Ohiwa, across the harbour mouth from Ohope in the eastern Bay of Plenty, is an awesome holiday and camping destination. "It's a quiet spot served only by the camp store with mountain bike tracks, a historic pa site, glowworm caves, amazing views and a fantastic beach."
Sarah Prior (Westport) says: "The new Kawatiri River Trail from Westport to Carters Beach is very exciting – great for walking, biking and running. This will eventually stretch right from Westport to Charleston. Charleston is a dream, with a café, heaps of great swimming spots, caving tours, a rainforest train and often a weekend market."