The last time I was in Australia I asked a friend of a friend where I should visit, he said New Zealand! Granted, he was a Kiwi but after closer examination I found that he made a very good point.
Whether you’re looking at voluntary work or simply seeking a career break, here are seven reasons to put New Zealand at the top of your list:
1. They speak English
Let’s face it, how many of us can speak another language? We may have briefly studied French or German back in the day but can we really converse with the locals? In New Zealand you don’t have to worry. There’s a bit of an accent going on but they speak English, it has to be a plus.
2. The transport system is safe
New Zealand prides itself on its national transport system. With its the inter-island bus system, ferries, taxis, trains and subways, you won’t get stranded wondering how you’ll get back to your base. Reports of muggings, theft and disingenuous travellers out for your luggage are rare.
3. The landscape
Whatever you’re looking for: subtropical forests, towering mountains, pristine glaciers or volcanic lakes, New Zealand has it. Boasting a 15,000 km coastline its wild, untamed West Coast is in stark contrast to the serenity of the golden beaches and tranquil harbours of the East Coast. New Zealand sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire across two tectonic plates, resulting in some breathtaking volcanic plateaus. Rotorura in particular is a great place to see geothermal activity with spouting geysers and bubbling mud pools.
4. Food (and wine!)
New Zealand offers cuisine to suit all tastes. Whether it’s delicious seafood or its famous lamb, New Zealand’s underestimated nosh deserves an accolade in its own right. Try local crayfish, whitebait fritters, paua and hapuku. Wine connoisseurs will already know that New Zealand is renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc but that’s only the start of it. Don’t miss out on the various wine tastings at many of the Kiwi vineyards.
NB: If you like to try something completely different (and if you time it right) the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival offers an opportunity to face a real ‘bush tucker’ trial. Celebrating Maori culture, the brave (or otherwise) can sample live huhu grubs and the local muttonbird delicacy.
5. Extreme Activities
New Zealand is a haven for adrenalin seeking junkies of all ages. Whether it’s bungee jumping, sky diving, zorbing (rolling downhill in a giant orb), white water rafting – the list is endless. If you’re thinking of taking one trip, make it to the Franz Josef Glacier on the South Island. Helicopter tours head out to the more remote parts of the area. If you’re seeking an added element of adventure on your sabbatical, you can hike through the actual peaks and ice caves of the glacier. Be warned, you can actually hear the ice shifting which is quite a spine chilling experience.
6. The Culture
New Zealand isn’t the exclusive domain of the adrenalin seeker. It offers an eclectic mix of attractions. To explore the Maori culture head for Te Papa museum in Wellington or catch the final year of the Face Value Art exhibition which examines Moko facial tattoos. For true culture, be sure to sample the local beer (tui), go to a rugby game and visit Christchurch on the South Island which is gradually being rebuilt after the 2011 earthquake.
7. Friendly Locals
The Kiwis are amongst the friendliest people on the planet and you’ll find a warm welcome wherever you head to. It’s also rumoured that one in five of every ‘local’ you meet in a New Zealand bar will have been an extra in one of the Lord of the Rings movies. Ask them and see! Even if it’s slightly wide of the mark, at least you’ll strike up an interesting conversation. Just don’t confuse a Kiwi with an Australian.
Whether you opt to travel in the summer months from December to February or prefer a cooler climate, you’ll never be stuck for options. And in case you’re wondering about the sheep shearing, New Zealand Federated Farmers are actually campaigning to make sheep shearing an Olympic demonstration sport.
Kate Smedley is making the final choice for her own career break this year – no prizes for guessing where.