Tim Roxborogh shares 10 things he has learned about New Zealand during the pandemic.
Two years ago, I flew out to the States to film what co-host Carolyn Taylor and I thought was going to be episode one of an eight-part international travel series. We had a brilliant, manic fortnight taking in Boston, New York and Hawaii. We knew we were living the dream and were full of ambition for the show. But then a global pandemic caused the whole thing to come crashing down.
So what do you do when the biggest health crisis in a century stops you from making a jet-setting TV show? You park the big jets and remind yourself that of all the many and varied far-flung bucket list destinations you may have on your list, New Zealand is invariably near the top of everybody else's.
Our international travel show became a New Zealand travel show, taking us on an incredible journey around the country to experience some of its many highlights. Here's what I learned along the way:
1. You can stay the night in Milford Sound
Rudyard Kipling called it the "eighth wonder of the world" as far back as the 1890s and 130 years on, he's still not wrong. This isn't just a day-trip destination - thanks to places like Milford Sound Lodge, it's somewhere to have an actual holiday. With scenery this spectacular, it makes sense not to rush back out.
2. Auckland's North Shore has wonderful suburban bush walks
When you grow up in West Auckland, the Waitākere Ranges loom so large that you think nowhere else in Auckland has bush walks. But these past couple of years I've discovered outstanding suburban gems like the Fernhill Escarpment, Eskdale Bush Scenic Reserve, Fernglen and Centennial Park. None of which are in the Waitākeres, all of which are nestled amidst the 'burbs on the Shore.
3. Rakiura Stewart Island somehow looks subtropical
Two-thirds of the way to Antarctica, if you're expecting Stewart Island to be some kind of barren, depressing, windswept, edge-of-the-universe outpost, you're in for a very pleasant shock. Without the scourge of stoats, weasels and ferrets, Stewart Island's rainforests are dense, mostly untouched and full of native birds. It's also the best place in the country to spot kiwi in the wild with more than 13,000 of our national icons living there, compared to just 400 humans.
4. South Taranaki's museums are some of the best in the country
People think I'm exaggerating when I tell them that without any doubt, my two favourite museums in New Zealand happen to be in Taranaki. And not just any part of Taranaki, but both in the small town of Hāwera, population 10,150. One is Nigel Ogle's quietly incredible Tawhiti Museum with its hundreds of waxworks and dioramas depicting the region's history. tawhitimuseum.co.nz
The other is KD's Elvis Museum, which has arguably the single greatest collection of Elvis memorabilia anywhere in the world, outside Memphis. elvismuseum.co.nz
5. Every Kiwi should make it to Waitangi
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are more beautiful, more compelling and more inspiring than first-time visitors could ever imagine. The history of Aotearoa may be complicated, but it's our complicated history and we are only the richer for understanding it. waitangi.org.nz
6. Whakātane has New Zealand's most remarkable wharenui
Built by Ngāti Awa in 1875, the 24m long by 12.5m wide by 7.5m tall Mataatua Wharenui would be worth a visit even if it didn't have a backstory worthy of a Hollywood film. The short version is that no sooner had the intricately carved building been completed, it was disassembled, shipped off to Australia for expos, put back together the wrong way, sent to London, hidden in storage, forgotten about, rediscovered, returned to New Zealand, housed in Otago with its sacred carvings chopped off to fit indoors, and then finally, a 21st Century homecoming to Whakatāne where it was restored to its 1875 glory. You can visit for yourself, with guided tours and cultural immersion experiences that bring its fascinating history to life. mataatua.com
7. Cromwell is more than just a big fruit sculpture
For too long in the shadows of its glamorous cousins Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanāka, modern-day Cromwell has everything from luxury over-the-water resorts, to world-class restaurants and wineries, to a motorsport facility complete with a car museum housing things like rare Aston Martins and Back to the Future DeLoreans. And yes, the big fruit sculpture still stands.
8. Rotorua has one of the world's best ziplines
Humblebrag, but having ziplined everywhere from Queensland to Thailand to California, there's nothing that comes close to Rotorua Canopy Tours. As much a conservation project as it is a thrilling example of adventure tourism, this really is the how-to in crafting a business that isn't just about sustainability, but of actively improving the environment and the community in which it operates. canopytours.co.nz
9. Hokitika's gold rush-era pub-to-person ratio
Rewind back to the Gold Rush days of the 1860s and Hokitika was one of the six largest settlements in New Zealand with a population of 25,000 souls looking to maketheir fortune. And whether they were finding it or not, most were spending whatever money they had at the town's estimated 100-200 pubs. That's quite a ratio.
These days, Hokitika appeals for its proximity to some of the finest virgin rainforest in the Southern Hemisphere, as well for attractions like the cobalt blue Hokitika Gorge and the engineering marvel that is the West Coast Treetop Walk.
10. There's a Jurassic Park-like eco-sanctuary in Taranaki
The fame of Wellington's Zealandia rightfully spreads far and wide, while anybody in the Waikato with even a vague interest in bushwalking is aware of the internationally acclaimed Sanctuary Mountain, Maungatautari. But far fewer of us know that Taranaki also has a fenced-off, pest-free slice of Jurassic Park-like jungle. Similar in size to Zealandia (with both dwarfed by the enormous Maungatautari), the 230-hectare Rotokare has been so successful at breeding kiwi that many are sent to live in other sanctuaries. Night tours book out fast, and while you might not see kiwi on a daytime visit, you are likely to come across a number of other threatened native birds including hihi/stitchbird, tieke/saddleback, popokatea/whitehead, and toutouwai/North Island robins. A triumph of community willpower. rotokare.org.nz
Uncharted New Zealand screens on Mondays at 8.30pm on Choice TV and is available on demand on Threenow
Check alert level restrictions, vaccine requirements and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz