New Zealand is a land of superlatives, with breathtaking glaciated mountains, active volcanoes, lush forests, verdant valleys, and pristine waterways. No wonder it became Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings films. It is also home to modern metropolises with friendly residents, who love showing off their country to visitors.
New Zealand is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean and consists of two main islands and roughly 600 outer islands. One of the last landmasses to be settled by humans, its remoteness has produced a biodiversity of plant and animal life. Originally settled by seafaring Polynesians, who developed the Maori culture, the first European sighting was by Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642. It became a British colony in 1841 but is now independent, retaining Queen Elizabeth as head of state.
Travelers flock to New Zealand for its mild climate, its awesome landscapes, its unique wildlife and its ecology (caused by its geographical isolation), and the hotel and dining offerings of its major cities, which can compete with the finest in Europe.
The capital, Wellington, lies near the southernmost point of North Island. The compact city is known for its scenic waterfront promenade, its bustling harbor, its Government Center, and the timber houses scattered on the surrounding hillsides. The city offers a compelling mix of art and creativity—it is the center of the nation’s film and special effects industry, corporate culture, fine dining, and desirable amenities.
New Zealand’s most populous city is Auckland, a thriving port located in the north of North Island that boasts two harbors. Visitors can take in the spectacular views from the Sky Tower, stroll the Wintergardens in a park based around an extinct volcano, or promenade along Mission Bay Beach.