Wild and untamed New Zealand encompasses some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. Largely uninhabited, yet bursting with unquestionable beauty, the islands offer visitors a veritable buffet of landscapes to explore, each one painted with a unique palate of color.
Having just completed an epic 18-month road trip taking in the sights and sounds of Australia's often overlooked but very friendly neighbor, I've collated some of my favorite snapshots from the Land of the Long White Cloud.
From Cape Reinga at New Zealand's most northerly tip to Stewart Island off the south coast, it was nature that took the reign and dictated my route. Wending my way along rugged shores, through lush valleys and atop snowcapped peaks the highways and byways of New Zealand provided the perfect setting for a freedom escape.
Want to check out some of my favorite spots from 18 months on the road?
Please be warned that the following images may inspire you to "down tools" and book a flight to Middle Earth immediately.
I'll start with the south island's west coast. It was one of the last regions I explored but it captivated my imagination and inspired the desire to live forever in its wilderness.
Caving within the Te Ananui system
While many simply steam along State Highway 6 to the tiny town of Franz Joseph, there is merit in allowing an additional day or two to explore. Stay overnight in Charleston and head out with the team at Underworld Adventures to explore the Te Ananui cave system, or soak in the sea air from one of the region's deserted beaches.
I avoided the often over crowded Franz Joseph and opted to explore neighboring Fox Glacier. While a heli hike with Fox Glacier Guides is the ultimate way to experience one of the country's most iconic glacial inhabitants, there's plenty of opportunity for those on a budget to get up close and personal with the ice.
Inside an ice cave on the Fox Glacier
For just $4 the Fox Glacier Holiday Park will turn you into a fountain of knowledge with their series of informative Outfoxing Guides. Thanks to their insider info I was able to hike to the face of the glacier, capture glow worms on film and photograph the idyllic reflection in the waters of neighboring Lake Matheson.
Reflection Point on Lake Matheson
TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
You can't get any closer to Middle Earth than by traversing the 19km Tongariro Crossing.
If you're so inclined you can summit Mt Ngauruhoe the active stratovolcano (Mt Doom) at the heart of Frodo's quest, however take note of the eruption warning information at the beginning of the climb.
For more information refer to this guide from the Department of Conservation.
Flying aside Mt Ngauruhoe
Completing the crossing is a quintessential Kiwi adventure however for those with limited time or no desire to break into a sweat, I highly recommend an air tour with scenic flight specialists Mountain Air.
Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
If like me you've time to spare, the combination of the day hike and Volcanic Explorer flight offers detailed insight into the birth place of New Zealand's breathtaking terrain.
Driving through Fiordland will make you realise just how small and truly insignificant you are.
If you need any more convincing then get airborne with Air Fiordland who'll fly you high above the rugged peaks and deep waters of the sounds. I managed to hop aboard their Doubtful Sound flight and was blown away by the scene that unfolded below.
The Milford Sound
If you've your own wheels I suggest you drive the route through the Eglinton Valley to the Milford Sound yourself, but if time is tight a day trip from Queenstown may be more convenient. For those with a few days to spend in this vast National Park Te Anau is the perfect base from which to explore.
Catch of the day on the Waiau River
My favourite activity in Fiordland? Fishing the abundant waters of the Waiau River with Mark from FishJet. Largely thanks to the fact that there are few permanent residents and his team work hard to promote the importance of preservation the river is bursting with beautiful brown and rainbow trout.
Aside from the remaining forests of gargantuan Kauri Northland's most notable feature are the 144 islands that make up the Bay of Islands.
For the adventurous traveler the opportunity to scuba dive the nutrient rich waters that play host to an abundance of marine life is not to be missed. Neither is the chance to hurl yourself from 16,000ft above the bay with the maniacs over at SkyDive BOI.
In free fall over the Bay of Islands
While my adventurous other half was free falling from a great height, I joined the team at Dive North to discover the sunken wreck of the HMNZS Canterbury, a colossal navy frigate sitting at depths of between 12m and 38m below the surface. And set sail aboard the R Tucker Thompson, a gaff rigged tops'l schooner operated by volunteers from a not for profit society dedicated to its preservation.
A grey moray eel defends his patch among the coral
Two of New Zealand's most notable destinations, Queenstown and Wanaka are at the heart of every backpacker's road trip.
Whether you're young or old the beauty of this region inspires thoughts of a simplified existence, one that involves numerous days spent on the water and discovering the surrounding shoreline... and of course a few beers afterwards. If the idea of self-sufficiency floats your boat get out on the glacial waters of Lake Wanaka with the team at Wanaka SUP and Sail.
Exploring the shallows of Lake Hawea
Short of time? As ever an air tour is the perfect way to drink in the surrounding landscape, I flew with the Helicopter Line from Queenstown, across The Divide to the Milford Sound and was blown away by the sheer scale of the world beneath.
Flying high over Fiordland National Park
They also offer a seasonal snow landing which meant that half way through proceedings I found myself atop a glacier looking down into a valley blanketed in shades of green and earthy hues.
If golden beaches and rugged coastal walks are your cup of tea you'll love exploring the Abel Tasman National Park.
Te Waikoropupu Springs
From my base at Motueka Top 10 Holiday Park I spent three weeks hiking the trails that weave alongside the Tasman Sea, speeding through the tracks of the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park, exploring the coastline aboard the Sea Shuttle, kayaking with playful seals in the neighbouring marine reserve and sampling the range of delicious produce made by the artisans who call the Abel Tasman home.
Kayaking with Kateriteri Kayaks
Have you spent time exploring New Zealand? Share your recommendations below.