By Ananya Krishnan
It’s impossible to capture the staggering natural beauty and rich resurging culture of New Zealand in just words and a few pictures, but for the next few paragraphs, I’ll make my best attempt. My family and I visited the North Island in December 2017, and for the four days we had, we tried to see as much of this incredible place as possible.
There are plenty of exciting man-made things to see on the North Island, like Matamata, where Peter Jackson created and filmed Hobbiton and the Shire for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, and of course, the incredible restaurants and museums in Auckland and Wellington, which can’t be missed. But, there’s a reason New Zealand is lauded for its incredible landscape.
Driving out of Auckland, one is soon met with peaceful, rolling green hills, enhanced by cloudy skies and drizzles of rain. The idyllic landscape is dotted with farms and small towns, and maybe this is a lingering remnant of their colonial past, but I felt like I was in fact driving through the English countryside.
Despite its history as a British colony, New Zealand is one of the few countries I’ve seen celebrate and attempt to repair the culture of their indigenous population, the Māori. I’m sure there are plenty of conflicts, prejudices, and systemic problems remaining, but purely based on my personal observations and comparisons I drew to the United States, I was extremely impressed by New Zealand. Even if someone isn’t Māori, they still call New Zealand Aotearoa and greet people with kia ora which is used as “hello” but literally means “be healthy or well.” Mountains, natural landmarks, and towns are also re-adopting their original Māori names over the colonial British replacements.
When we were in Rotorua, we had the chance to visit Mitai Māori village, eat a traditional hangi dinner, learn about haka chants, and go on a guided bush walk through the village and surrounding natural area. It was such an amazing experience, and we learned how Māori traditions are being upheld and revived by the younger Māori generations.
We also had a chance to see the incredible scenery nearby Rotorua in Wai-o-tapu, which is an active geothermal park. Brightly colored pools, geysers, and hotsprings are concentrated in this volcanic area and each one is unique!
About an hour-and-a-half away, you can find Tongariro National Park, whose stunning mountainous scenery and icy-blue waterfalls make perfect stops and photo-ops on a relaxed hike through the area.
These national parks and magnificent landmarks have an exquisite beauty of their own, but what makes New Zealand special, to me, is the beauty of seemingly “ordinary” places that don’t have a national park distinction or significant landmark. Just driving along the coast, or through the farmlands, and beside mountains is simply stunning. There’s something infectious about the simplicity and natural beauty of the whole country and all the unique traditions each and every Kiwi is incredibly proud of.
About the Author: Ananya Krishnan is a sophomore from Saratoga, California, majoring in Environment and Sustainability and minoring in Business and History. One of her favorite travel destinations is Provence, France, because of its plethora of historical sites and beautiful scenery.