A Wealth of Natural Diversity
Ask Country Walkers President Timo Shaw about his home country of New Zealand, and his eyes will light up with delight. The landscapes of this island nation are delightfully diverse—with frosty alpine regions, rainforests, and golden sand beaches all within easy reach in a single day. Much of the region is sparsely developed—making it perfect for outdoor adventures and naturalist exploration. “People who live in urban areas can’t see stars like these,” says Timo Shaw, native New Zealander and President of Country Walkers. “In New Zealand, there’s low light pollution, and on a clear night, the stars are like diamonds scattered across black velvet. You can see the Milky Way and Southern Cross clearly shining through.”
A nation of adventurers, New Zealanders—often called “Kiwis”—have traveled extensively throughout their island nation during 2021 and kept many natural attractions healthy, active, and vibrant. And with the exciting news that New Zealand has once again opened its doors to international travelers, there’s no better time to explore this nature-lover’s paradise.
Exploring the Bush
New Zealand forests, known locally as the “bush,” are home to a large variety of unique flora and fauna. Popularized by New Zealand film director Peter Jackson with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the moss-covered tree trunks and pristine mountain glens are world-renowned for their beauty. And during the last few years of limited tourism, the forest has been thriving. “It’s almost as if nature took a little rest in 2020,” says Jan Kirkpatrick, New Zealand resident and Country Walkers guide. “Now it’s refreshed and back in full bloom! The bush is bursting with color and the birds are more vibrant and active than ever.”
The bush is home to many species of native birds which thrive in this island environment with few natural predators. For example, you might see:
- Fantail birds: at first glance, these little birds might seem quiet and unassuming—but boy are they active! Possessed of seemingly infinite energy, fantail birds soar through the air performing all manner of acrobatic loops and twirls. Sometimes referred to as the “bushman’s friend,” these insectivores love to keep people company as they walk through the bush. Human activity flushes insects from their hiding places—allowing these hungry little gymnasts to soar through the air, fanning their pleated tails to trap the insects.
- Tūī birds: these sonorous songsters have spectacular blue, green, and bronze plumage with a distinctive white tuft at the throat. With two sets of vocal cords, tūī are able to vocalize two sounds at the same time—making for a truly remarkable sunrise birdsong in the bush. Tūī birds are a species of honeyeater, and they especially love honeydew—a secretion produced by certain types of honey eating insects. Honeydew is typically on the trees during November and December—the perfect time to see this remarkable bird in action.
- Kiwi and weka: One of New Zealand’s iconic birds, the kiwi is a unique and endangered creature. The only bird species to have nostrils at the end of its beak, the kiwi also has hair-like feathers, abbreviated wings, and marrow-filled bones—and is consequently flightless. Weka, another native New Zealand bird, looks very similar to the kiwi, although the two are not related. Weka are small, round, flightless birds with long beaks and big personalities. Curious to a fault, the cheeky weka won’t shy away from exploring human habitats and campsites. They are much more common than their famous neighbors, the kiwi, and are often mistaken for them.
Exploring the Coast
No trip to New Zealand’s South Island is complete without exploring the glorious sandy beaches and lagoons of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. This exceptional trail winds through lush coastal forests, opening to golden sand beaches lapped by the clear azure waters of the Tasman Sea. You might explore natural wonders such as Split Apple Rock—a granite sphere gradually cloven in two by the forces of wind and water. You may spot kekeno, native fur seals, sunning themselves on the rocks, or perhaps catch a glimpse of dolphin playing in the surf.
And what better way to explore the water than on a boat? During our guided boat tour of Kenepuru Sound, our local New Zealand ship captain shows you how to pull bushy strings of green lipped mussels out of the water—bristling with the shiny green shells characteristic of this prized shellfish. You’ll have the opportunity to sample freshly-shucked mussels there on the boat—accompanied by a glass of one of New Zealand’s superlative vintages. A true Kiwi experience!
New Direct Flights Make Travel Easier
Starting in July 2022, Air New Zealand has announced new direct flights to Auckland from Houston, with New York and Chicago coming this fall. “It’s always been a bit of an undertaking to travel around the world,” observes Timo Shaw, freshly returned from visiting family in Auckland. “But these new direct flights from the east coast and mid-west are going to make it much easier. Just hop on the plane, settle in for the night and wake up in New Zealand.”
If New Zealand is on your bucket list of Big Trip destinations, our Country Walkers Tour Consultants are eager to help! We’ll answer questions, point you in the right direction with optional activities, sight-seeing, or tour extensions that will help you reach your goals. Just a quick call to 855.445.5617 will put you in touch with an expert Tour Consultant who will be happy to help you build a plan that ticks every box.