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Dunedin

  

Dunedin

Located on the East Coast of the South Island, Dunedin is a popular little university city that is well worth including on your South Island adventure. It is suitable for both shorter and longer visits, and accommodates those who are interested in both city life and the beautiful nature that New Zealand has to offer. The town is famous for it's Scottish and Maori heritage, Victorian architecture and the large university and student population that comes with it.
One of the first things to see on any list is the Otago Peninsula. This piece of land extends from the city of Dunedin straight out into the Pacific Ocean, and is a natural habitat for a number of rare and endangered species such as albatrosses, blue penguins, yellow eyed penguins, walruses and fur seals. There are a number of ways to see the peninsula, the easiest and most effective is by car. Most of the peninsula is easily accessed by car and there are plenty of parking spaces near the natural attractions, and as the peninsula is quite long, this is the easiest way to see as much as possible in one day, particularly if you want to venture to the end to see the albatrosses. There is also public busses, but obviously this leaves you with a little less flexibility, and they don't run too late into the evening so you run the risk of getting stranded. It is also possible to hire a bike or to cycle, but some of the hills are much stepper than they appear and you also probably won't make it all the way to the end.
As well as visiting the wildlife on the peninsula, there are a few really beautiful places to see as well. Allans Beach is popular amongst surfers and is a good place to spot some sea lions. Sandfly Bay is an excellent place to be at sunset as, while the sky turns from blue to red across some really striking natural formations, a couple of yellow penguins often make a slow and steady climb up the sand dunes. It is also worth noting there are no sandflies here, the name refers to how the sand flies through the air, and not the annoying little insect that you will encounter on the West Coast. If you time your return trip right and drive across the top of the peninsula on the way back, you will have a beautiful view of the city lights of Dunedin turning on one by one.
The Otago Peninsula is just one of many options. From Dunedin, if you drive in any direction, in less than half an hour you will stumble across something really fantastic to explore. Tunnel Beach is another example, showing off some unique and interesting rock formations at low tide. Aramoana is another beautiful beach worth a visit. It doesn't take long to leave behind the city and to immerse yourself in nature.
For those who prefer to stay in the city, Dunedin offers a lot more than many other cities in New Zealand. It is one of the few places in New Zealand that there is a decent nightlife scene that extends past midnight, due to the high student population, and nightclubs such as Suburbia and Carousel see crowds of young people dancing long into the early hours of the morning. For those wanting something a little more traditional, The Dog With Two Tails has weekly Jazz nights on a Wednesday where a rotating house band play classics, often with a nightly theme, to entertain swing and jazz dancers and spectators. The cafe has a good selection of local craft beers and a really carefully planned out menu of excellent standards.
Some of the more popular attractions include the Speights Brewery, which has a tour that concludes in the tasting room with several beers on tap, the Cadbury's Chocolate Factory which also has tasting and demonstrations on tempering and making chocolate as well as the history of the factory itself, the street art on display, the botanical gardens and Baldwin Street which is the steepest residential street in the world.
This is just the beginning, and if you spend some time in the city, you will find a whole plethora of things to explore and entertain yourself with. There are many reasons why everybody falls in love with this city, what will yours be?

 

Hitchhiking in New Zealand

  

Hitchhiking in New Zealand

A lot of travellers in New Zealand, in particular those who label themselves as “backpackers”, in an attempt to save some dollars will consider hitchhiking as a form of transport. While this is illegal or frowned upon in many parts of the world, in New Zealand it is perfectly legal and a perfectly acceptable form of transport. Here are some reasons why New Zealand is an excellent location to try hitchhiking in.

It's green - New Zealand prides itself on being a natural paradise, and there are many efforts in place to try to live a green lifestyle so that the residents can protect the natural beauty that surrounds them. The logistics are there - the car will already be going in the same direction, and, if you take out of the equation the extra fuel consumed from the little bit of extra weight in the passenger seat and the potential extra distance that your ride may be willing to take you to your destination, there are no more harmful emissions released into the atmosphere.
New Zealand doesn't have many roads - When you look at the South Island, most of the towns, most of which are very small and based around one large road, are all located on a large loop road that circles the Southern Alps. This means there is a high chance that everybody going in one direction on the road will be passing by the destination you are trying to reach. The drivers and the hitchhikers know this, and so drivers are more likely to stop to pick you up, and when they do, there is no awkward moment of “well actually I'm not going in that direction”. At the very least, they can take you further down the road where you can wait for the next ride. The North Island is a little more complex, but is still very easy to navigate by hitchhiking.
Kiwis are friendly - This is a bit of a stereotype, and of course there are exceptions to the rule and you cannot guarantee that your driver will be somebody that you get along with, but generally speaking, on the whole, Kiwis are friendly and talkative people. Sometimes they are too friendly and talkative that you miss some of the beautiful landscape rolling by out of the windows. Most hitchhikers will tell you stories about the wonderful people they have met, about some drivers who have become best friends, about people who have been willing to not only drive them but to take them into their homes and to feed and accomodate them, and of course of the amazing stories that these people have conjured up on the road. Most of the drivers who will pick up hitchhikers have been hitchhikers themselves before, and so there is a real sense of community amongst those who participate in hitchhiking.
Money saving - While it is courteous to offer your driver a small amount of money to offset the cost of fuel, most of them will turn down your offer. The cost of private transport in New Zealand is often expensive, and in some remote places services like Intercity don't run every day, but you can always guarantee there are cars travelling on the roads. These bus companies do operate at a very reasonable rate, but it doesn't compete with the diminished price of hitchhiking.
Waiting times - You will hear horror stories of people waiting for hours and hours on the side of the road in the rain, but, generally speaking, usually you will be picked up in under twenty minutes. Hitchhiking is very popular in New Zealand, so much so you don't really see people standing on the side of the road with their thumbs up because they have already been picked up and are making friends on the way to their destination. There are times when you will have to wait longer, and picking a good location where cars are driving slowly and where you are clearly visible makes a huge difference, but on the other end of the scale, sometimes people are offering to give you a ride when you haven't even begun to try to get a ride.
See the sights - if you don't get picked up by a local, chances are you will get picked up by an international traveller who will want to stop and to take photographs and to visit the locations. You shouldn't try to hitchhike if you are on a tight schedule, but if you have the time, you will most likely get a very thorough tour of the area you are in.

 

Napier - Hawkes Bay

  

Hawkes Bay

Often overlooked by the travelling and backpacking community in New Zealand, Napier is a beautiful town on the East Coast of the North Island. The original town was devastated by an earthquake in the 1930s, but has been rebuilt again in art deco style and is now a haven for foodies and wine enthusiasts, boasting some of New Zealand's best wine and cuisine.

The largest tourism draw to this little town is the wine. Hawkes Bay is the second largest wine region in New Zealand, and probably the most diverse. The area is a particularly good place for producing Syrah and Chardonnay, although a variety of different climates, soil conditions, and natural factors means that the area is producing almost every kind of wine you can imagine. New Zealand is most famous for it's Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough, but if you would like to expand your tasting palette past this iconic flavour, then Hawkes Bay is the right place, and you will immediately know that you are in wine country as soon as you enter the region as vineyards spring up all around you. From historic vineyards with tasting rooms in old churches at The Mission, to modern contemporary oceanside wine tasting at Elephant Hill, there is enough variety to satisfy even the most stubborn wine hater.
And what better way to enjoy wine than with some fantastic food? Hawkes Bay is also a large agricultural area, producing a lot of high quality vegetables and stone fruits, and often you can buy your produce directly from the guy who grew it in his back garden. Because of the local supply of such fantastic quality food, many nationwide famous chefs have set up their restaurants in Napier where they compete as friendly rivals to put out the most interesting and delicious food. From a five course degustation prepared by the fantastic Maori chef Jeremy Rameka, completed, of course, with matched wines and detailed descriptions by the knowledgable staff at Pacifica, to top quality barista prepared and perfectly presented coffee at Georgia's on Tennyson, you really can't go wrong with eating in Napier. Not only is there a meal for every taste palette, but it is likely to really exceed all expectations.
For those looking for something a little natural, while Napier and Hawkes Bay may struggle to keep up with the rest of New Zealand's exceptional standards, there are some wonderful hidden gems to discover. Te Mata Peak looks over the whole region and provides unbeatable views of both the sunrise and the sunset, as well as a plethora of small walking trails to suit all abilities, and also offers the option to drive to the top for those who are feeling a little more casual. To the north of the town there are walking tracks at Tongoio Beach and Tongoio Falls, and slightly further away you can easily access Shine Falls in the Boundary Stream Reserve. There is also a particularly good lookout at Bluff Hill which can be accessed from walking from the town centre or by driving which overlooks the busy container port and towards the north of the bay,
The architecture of the town is particularly unique as it is in the Art Deco style, in fact it is the second largest collection of art deco buildings in the world after Los Angeles. There are multiple tours where the guides will describe the history of the unusual and interesting buildings and will show you all of the highlights of the town. Every year, around the anniversary of the earthquake in February, the whole town celebrates with Art Deco Weekend, where everybody dresses up in vintage fashion and celebrates everything about Napier that makes it what it is. Vintage cars take to the streets, bi-planes decorate the sky, and the whole town is bursting with vintage jazz music, food and wine.
If you're looking to add a unique flavour to your New Zealand experience, and to dig a little deeper than most tourists who follow the geothermal route down the middle of the North Island, a stop in Napier is well worth considering. While a little out of the way, it is filled with surprises waiting to be unearthed.

 

New Zealand Slang

  

New Zealand Slang

New Zealand is very unique in that there are two national languages - English and Maori, the indigenous language of the islanders who lived in New Zealand before it was colonised. There are only a few countries around the world with more than one national language, such as Ecuador where they speak Quechua and Spanish, and Switzerland where they speak Italian, German and French. Evidence of the Maori language can be seen all over the country, particularly dominant in difficult to pronounce place names such as Whangarei and Whakapapa, and even the longest place name in the world - Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, a small hill in Hawkes Bay, is written in the Maori language (good luck getting your tongue around that one).
Although Maori language and culture have a huge part in the culture, New Zealand is very much an English speaking country, and if you happen to stumble across some people having a legitimate conversation in Maori, you will be very privileged, as most of the people of indigenous decent just communicate in English. And yes, while it technically is the same language as the settlers from England, and indeed our neighbours in Australia, there are a few words and phrases that have worked their way into everyday communication that leave some visitors and tourists completely stumped, even when English is their first language. So here are a few phrases it helps to know when you visit Aoteoroa - the land of the long white cloud.
Jandals - this is one of the first words you will probably hear that you don't understand. The Australians call them “thongs”, and are not speaking about e revealing undergarment. Jandals is the abbreviation of “Japanese Sandals”, and to the rest of the world, this describes “Flip Flops”. Kiwis love their jandals, and will wear them at any convenient moment.
Kiwis - Kiwis are a type of fruit that you eat. It is also the word that is used to describe New Zealanders. It is also a type of rare an endangered bird that can only be found in New Zealand. Be careful to listen to the context so that you don't get confused with this ambiguous and commonly used word.
Ka Pai - Actually this is a Maori phrase that means, good, or well done. This is also used by the westernised population in New Zealand and often gets mixed in with English, for example, “Everything is ka pai”, meaning “everything is good”.
Kia Ora - This is another example of Maori language that has been adapted by the westernised Kiwis and is used in everyday communication. This is how Kiwis say hello to each other, and it is not unusual to be greeted at a restaurant with “Kia Ora” instead of “Good evening”.
The Wops - “He lives way out in the wops”. This is only really heard when you speak with the true locals, but it means “the middle of nowhere”.
Yeah nah/nah yeah - So “yeah” means “yes” and “nah” means “no”, “Yeah nah” means no and “nah yeah” means yes. “Yeah nah yeah” means “yes” and “nah yeah nah” means no… If ever you find yourself on the receiving end of a string of “yeah”s and “nah”s, just take the last word they say and presume that that is what they mean. If they still look at you slightly befuddled, it is possible that they have managed to even confuse themselves with the concept.
Sweet as - There is never any need to wait for a Kiwi to define exactly what their experience was as sweet as, because you will never get an answer. This is a response that Kiwis use to express their excitement or positive feelings, much like the word “awesome” or “cool”. This is potentially the most overused phrase in New Zealand, often followed by the word “bro” (short for “brother” but used in a friendly way) which is also overused, and you will notice that the “a” sound is drawn out because of the Kiwi accent. It's sweet as bro!
Not Even - This is a response to express surprise and disbelief, much like “no way” or “far out”. Although instead of “far out” a Kiwi would probably just say “faaa”.
Eh - The true mark of a Kiwi is this little noise they insert anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes you will hear it at the end of a phrase with an upwards intonation to imply a question. “You're going out, eh?”. Sometimes you will hear it as a response to a question, usually inviting repetition of the question. Sometimes it is used to express disbelief. Sometimes it is used to invite agreement.
This really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kiwi slang, but these phrases will help you to blend in with the locals when you first arrive. Grab some cold brews, slip on your Jandals, and everything will be ka pai. Haere ra!

 

Alternative-electro music scene

  

The Naked and Famous music bands in NZ

New Zealand has a very rich music scene with artists in every genre trying to become popular, and with such a small population, it is considerably easier to be noticed than in larger countries. While there is music to satisfy every ear, there seems to be a large amount of electronic music coming from New Zealand of excellent standards, and from a few artists who are becoming fairly well established worldwide.
Focusing more on the alternative side of the electronic scene which tends to take it's structures and instrumentation from rock, pop and indie music, emerging out of Auckland is a two-piece called She's So Rad. This group has a strong local following but are largely unheard of overseas. 2015's album Tango see's the group at the top of their game, with dreamy synth pop vibes and strong vocal lines, drowning in reverb creating very a very atmospheric vibe. Highlights from the album include “Confetti” with it's driving drum beat, and “Cool It” with it's emotional lyrics and piercing guitar solo.
Perhaps one of the most interesting groups to follow from New Zealand is Nelson's brother and sister duo Broods from Nelson. Often seen supporting larger artists such as Tove Lo, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and Haim, their electro-pop has been heard all over the world. Their first single, “Bridges” reached number 8 in the New Zealand Single Chart which appears on their first album Evergreen. Their stripped back style is comparable to Lorde's first album “Pure Heroine”, perhaps due to producer Joel Little who worked on both the albums, making a minimalist electronic pop sound which really enhances and boosts the focus on the strong vocal lines. Their second album “Conscious” has a similar vibe, but in much darker and more developed tones, with more live instrumentation and a slightly more industrial feel. Notable singles from the band are “Free” and “L.A.F”, and something a little more experimental is the title track of their second album “Conscious” with it's massive chorus and well developed ending.
Formed in 2007, The Naked and Famous from Auckland have become a very big name for the New Zealand music scene. Born out of a musical collaboration between Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith, this group became especially popular after their single “Young Blood” debuted on the New Zealand Single Charts at number 1, and became popular worldwide, seeing a lot of airtime on advertisements in the UK and used in several Hollywood movies such as the 2013 adaptation of Steven King's “Carrie” and the American Comedy film “21&Over”. Their first album, “Passive Me, Aggressive You” picked up multiple awards in New Zealand. The band have since released two more studio albums, “In Rolling Waves” and “Simple Forms” which showcase a mixture of deep, electronic sounds, driving guitar, and their iconic vocal sounds. Aside from “Young Blood”, notable singles include “Hearts like Ours”, “Girls like you” and “Higher”, although those who like something a little different a more developed might prefer the energetic “Backslide” or the atmospheric “We Are Leaving” which has one of the most amazing drum lines once the beat kicks in.
The biggest name in New Zealand music is probably Lorde from Devonport, Auckland, also known as Ella Maria Lani Yelich O'Connor. In 2013, at the age of only 17, her debut single “Royals” gained international recognition and reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, and later went on to receive two Grammy Awards for “Best Pop Solo Performance” and also “Song of the Year”. Her first studio album Pure Heroine topped the charts in New Zealand and Australia and reached number three in America. Her music has featured on “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1”, and she has become an extremely popular artist worldwide. “Pure Heroine” has a raw, stripped back sound, largely composed of synthesiser and electronic drums, whereas her second album, “Melodrama”, sees some more musical development and live instrumentation. Her lyrics are very deep and emotional and tackle a lot of the issues we face when we are growing up. Notable singles include “Team” and “Perfect Places”, and more electronic pieces include the disquieting “Biting Down” and the slightly industrial feeling “Glory and Gore”. In 2017, her album “Melodrama” became the first album from a New Zealand artist to top the US chart.

 

Wanaka vs Queenstown

  

Queenstown nz

Located just forty minutes from each other (depending on just how many beautiful landscape photos you decide to stop and take as you pass over the Cardrona, of which you will want to take a lot), these two small South Island towns are often likened and compared to each other. Both located in the Central Otago region, they both attract a large number of visitors during both the winter and summer months, and have become the tourism central of the South Island.

Queenstown is widely renowned as the “adventure capital” of New Zealand. With an urban population of just over 14,000 residents, this town usually accommodates 80,000 people at a time due to the large number of tourists and travellers it draws in. It has become one of the most expensive places to live because of this, with one of the lowest average incomes per capita as most of the work is in tourism. There is no real “low season” in Queenstown as it sees large numbers flocking to the area for hiking, swimming, water sports, jet boating and canyoning, and in winter it is a very popular ski and snowboard resort. New Zealand offers a whole plethora of weird, extreme, unusual and adrenaline pumping activities, and while they can be enjoyed all over the country, absolutely any activity you can do anywhere else, apart from Glacier tours, you can also do from Queenstown in one form or another.
Some of the more adverse activities in Queenstown include the luge - a downhill go-kart style activity, using only the power of gravity to power your cart as you admire the postcard perfect view from Bob's peak while trying not to fall off the road, and bungy-jumping, which was first commercially available from the historic Kawarau Bridge, just a short drive from the city centre, and there is an option to bungy-jump above the town itself at Bob's Peak from The Ledge Bungy.
Queenstown always has a vibrant and iridescent young crowd which drives the economy there. Because of this, there is the possibility to go out and party until 5.00am every single night of the week, with a large number of pubs, clubs and bars of every variety to accomodate for everybody. While there are a lot of hotels, there are also a lot of hostels to support the younger travelling community, and as a result it is a “city that never sleeps”.
One of the biggest draws to Wanaka over Queenstown is that it is so much more peaceful and quiet. While there is still a large party scene, most of the people who want to indulge in the carefree party lifestyle will opt for Queenstown, allowing the residents of Wanaka to have a more peaceful night's sleep. Wanaka also attracts a large number of visitors in every season and has access to some top quality ski and snowboard slopes, but has somewhat less adventure activities in summer as Queenstown takes the spotlight and the majority of the crowd with it.
While there are much less adventure activities, Wanaka is in a fantastic location for hiking and walking. Queenstown is also good, but Wanaka has such iconic spots as Roy's Peak (which appears on many New Zealand postcards and travel pages) and Mt Iron, and it doesn't take long to leave behind the city lights and immerse yourself in the countryside, even without a car. Accomodation can often be a little more expensive in Wanaka as the focus is on quality over quantity to adhere to the needs of the more mature crowd, and there are a number of high quality and luxurious restaurants all over the town.
Both towns are located next to big and beautiful lakes and amongst some jaw dropping Otago landscapes. If you're looking for the young crowds, the party life and the daring adventurous activities, Queenstown is probably the best option if you have to decide between the two locations. If you prefer a quieter, more relaxed and laid back stay with more hiking trails and less chance of a hangover, Wanaka is probably a better place for you, although both towns will surely accomodate your every need and desire, and as they are located so close to each other, there really is no need to choose at all.

 

The Tongariro Crossing

  

Tongariro crossing

The Lord of the Rings franchise has inspired many tourists to visit New Zealand so that they may grace the mystical lands of middle earth with their own footsteps, and as a result the tourism industry in New Zealand has seen a rise since the release of the movies.One of the most iconic spots for fans of the films to visit is the Tongariro Crossing, located just to the south of Lake Taupo. While this is extremely popular among hikers, scramblers, and nature lovers alike, it also attracts those who want to visit the movie setting for Mordor, and those who wish to scale the side of Mount Doom.

The land of Mordor is actually part of the Tongariro National Park (sometimes referred to as just “National Park” as this was the first national park to be established in New Zealand), and Mount Doom is really an active stratovolcano which goes by the name of Mount Ngauruhoe, which is quite difficult to pronounce for those unfamiliar with the Maori language. Maori legend says that it was named after Ngatoro-i-rangi's slave, who died from the cold before the fire that Ngatoro-i-rangi summoned from his homeland arrived in the form of Ngauruhoe.
The crossing itself is a 19.4km trek through the national park which typically starts at the Mangatepopo car park and finishes at the Ketetahi car park. It is possible to complete the walk in reverse, however this requires a little more time as there is a overall greater altitude incline as the Mangetepopo car park is considerably higher than the Ketetahi car park. If you pay for private transport from Taupo, you will always find that the tour companies drop you off at the Mangetepopo end and pick you up at the other.
The first half of the walk, if started from Mangetepopo, will see you scrambling over the dramatic volcanic landscapes that represent the land of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. As you ascend up “The Devil's Staircase” you will notice the vegetation drop away until you are walking across great plains of exposed rock between the Tongariro peak and the Ngauruhoe peak. You will then ascend even higher until you emerge at a breathtaking viewpoint overlooking the green sulphur lakes and the Red Crater. This is a good point to stop for a break, to admire the view.
From this point, the walk is largely all downhill, descending down the volcanic landscape and entering into thick, lush rainforest, and taking you past some steamy sulphur outputs and trickling streams. The landscape diversity on the walk is really amazing, and it feels like several different walks all in the same place.
The scramble up Ngauruhoe is a difficult 2-3 hour return that you can add onto the walk if you wish, and you will feel like it is two steps up, one step down as you are constantly scaling loose gravel which slips underfoot. Many people who attack this mountain are underprepared and encounter lots of problems, so make sure that you only take on the mountain if you are physically fit and feeling capable. Ensure you have sturdy footwear, which you should for the walk anyway, and plenty of water, sunscreen, and protective clothing.
Conditions in the mountains can change very quickly, and you should always be prepared for every weather condition imaginable. Start the walk with warm clothing, waterproofs, light clothing, and a first aid kit in case of any small emergencies. Also ensure you have plenty of water and food as the recommended walk time is seven hours (without the Ngauruhoe side trip), although this ranges between roughly five hours and eight depending on your physical fitness. Walking through Mordor was never supposed to be easy, so do ensure you have decent footwear that will support you in tough terrain. In winter, you may also need snow shoes and ice axes, and you should check with the local DOC office before you start for updates on weather and the equipment you require. Lastly, it is well worth checking the DOC websites on the day that you decide to do the walk to see that they haven't closed it due to bad weather or due to volcanic activity, and also make sure you take the time to read the signs in regard to the safe evacuation zones which are dotted along the walk.
The Tongariro crossing is an absolute must for anybody who is into nature or is visiting New Zealand to visit the movie set. Add this to your itinerary and you won't be disappointed.

Taranaki

  

Taranaki

For a lot of visitors, the Taranaki region is a little too far out of the way to include on their itineraries. With places such as National Park and Taupo taking the spotlight and all located conveniently in a line down the middle of the North Island, most people will simply drive by the entire region on their trip down the Thermal Explorer Highway and beyond to Wellington. What the locals know, that perhaps the visitors don't, is that they are really missing out.

Dominating the entire West Coast is Mount Taranaki, also known as Mount Egmont. This almost perfectly symmetrical stratovolcano, on a clear day, will absolutely take your breath away. Maori legend says that Taranaki used to belong in the middle of the North Island with the other three main peaks, Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, but Tongariro and Taranaki were having a love affair and so Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe banished him to the West Coast. The Maoris also use this legend to describe the bad weather on the West Coast, as Taranaki is always crying about the loss of his lover, hence all the clouds that usually linger around the top of the mountain. What this does mean is that those who are travelling to the region often spend their entire stay without seeing the top of the mountain.
But when you do see it, it's really special. It bears a similarity to Mount Fuji in Japan, and the Tom Cruise film “The Last Samurai” was actually filmed at Taranaki and not in Japan, with Taranaki playing the role of Mount Fuji. The mountain has been declared a national park and is a great location to immerse yourself in the native bush, as well as one of your best opportunities to hear wild kiwis calling to each other after the sun has gone down.
There are a number of hikes on and around the mountain. The summit is a challenging 8-10 hour return, and should only be attempted in good weather and by competent scramblers. Always check the mountain conditions with the DOC before you start your ascent. There is also a three day hike around the circumference of the mountain, and a 3-4 hour return to the iconic reflection pool which features in a lot of promotion for New Zealand tourism.
One of the most unique features of the Taranaki region is that this rather large stratovolcano is so close to the ocean. In winter, given the right conditions, it is extremely easy to be skiing or snowboarding in the morning and surfing by lunchtime. And this is just the beginning of the diversity that the West Coast has to offer.
Just to the North of New Plymouth there are some fantastic black sand beaches that straddle a white cliff face and only emerge at low tide. When visiting these, it is important to take note of the tide times to ensure that you can actually see the beach, and also to ensure you don't get caught out or put yourself in danger.
There are also a number of reserves in the area. Towards the South is the Rotokari Scenic Reserve. This is a small space that is completely dedicated to restoring the natural world of New Zealand before colonisation, and the wildlife is extremely well protected by overground and underground fencing systems and controlled entry in and out of the park. Here, a large number of kiwi birds are protected amongst other native species such as the pukeko and the weka. Here, you can also find some gentle hiking and plenty of information on the conservation and progress of the project.
One of the greatest things about Taranaki is that it is so quiet and free from the busy crowds of tourists and vacationers that you find everywhere else on the North Island. For anybody who loves mountains, hiking, nature and conservation, this is one of the best places you can visit in New Zealand. If you do decide to visit and fall in love with the region, do a better job at keeping your love affair with Taranaki a secret than Taranaki did with his affair with Tongariro, so that not too many people swarm this stunning part of New Zealand and ruin the peace and quiet.

 

Rhythm and Vines

  

Rhythm and Vines

Rhythm and Vines is a record breaking three day international festival which is held very close to the city of Gisborne on the North Island. It occurs every year between the 29th and the 31st of December as a celebration to end off the year and also to be the first music festival in the world to witness the first sunrise of the year, and as the East Cape experiences some of the warmest and most stable weather in all of New Zealand, there are very high chances of seeing the sunrise in the middle of summer. This year it will be at Waiohika Estate, Gisborne, NZ | 28-31 December 2018

in 2010 the festival was awarded the Best Event at the New Zealand Tourism Awards, and has since been growing in popularity and size with new extensions and ideas being introduced almost every year. It has gained a lot of international recognition as the website reports that 11% of all their ticket sales are for an international audience and from people travelling from abroad to attend.
The festival started in 2003 as a small gathering of university students trying to celebrate the New Year. Three friends from the University of Otago - Hamish Pinkham, Tom Gibson and Andrew Witters - started a party on the Waiohika Estate, which was originally Witters' family home, and they set up a stage which wax headlined by The Black Seeds. The event was attended by 1,800 guests. As it was so successful, they decided to do it again in 2004, only they added a second stage and had an attendance of 5,500 people instead. In 2005 they opened a new Rhythm stage arena, and hosted New Zealand's favourite reggae group Fat Freddy's Drop. By 2007, the festival contained four music stages and an attendance of 15,000 people.
As the festival kept growing in size, the organisers decided to extend the event to three days, which helped to obtain overseas recognition from bands taking part in international touring programmes. World renowned acts such as Public Enemy and Franz Ferdinand started attending the festival, allowing it to establish itself further and to keep growing. To date, the festival entertains over 25,000 people every year.
The music on show covers a wide variety of genres and styles. Obviously there is a large focus on home grown talent, and previous talents include New Zealand electronic/indie giants The Naked and Famous who became especially popular with their hit “Young Blood” from their debut album, Fat Freddys Drop who play in an afro-cuban/reggae style, Broods with their dark and dreamy electro-pop, and Six60, who have played multiple times. There is also a lot of acts from New Zealand's neighbour, Australia, as the music of Pendulum and Chet Faker and other popular Australian artists often graces the stages. In more recent years, the festival has seen artists travelling from all over the world to perform, from Zane Lowe from the UK and Major Lazer from America. The line up for the following festival is announced around August every year on the official website (rhythmandvines.co.nz).
As the festival has been growing in size, it has started to introduce new ideas, besides adding more stages and larger artists, to give the festival an identity and to attract a more diverse crowd to the event. Since 2015, the festival has hosted Giggle and Vines, mixing some live stand up comedy into the mix. 2015 also saw some stunt motorcycle riders jumping across the main stage.
Running simultaneously to Rhythm and Vines is the partner festival Rhythm and Alps, held in the Cardrona Valley close to Wanaka and Queenstown on the South Island. This has been running since 2011 and is also growing in popularity, although still has a much smaller capacity and only runs over two days instead of three.
Rhythm and Vines is the biggest and best music festival in New Zealand, and we can only expect it to expand and extend it's horizons in years to come. It is the perfect event to immerse yourself in popular music and festival vibes, while also witnessing up and coming New Zealand artists and learning about the often suppressed New Zealand music scene. Day passes and multi-day camping passes are all available through the official website.

 

Pounamu

  

Pounamu

The Maoris are excellent storytellers, and the stories and legends that have helped to shape the culture over time creating a fascinating world to immerse one's self in. All of the shapes and symbolism in Maori culture is very symbolic and everything has a reason.

Pounamu is the Maori name for what the New Zealanders call greenstone, and what is commonly referred to as jade. The stone has played an important part in the history and the culture of the Maori tribe, and has carved itself into modern Kiwi culture. Most New Zealanders will own a piece of pounamu, and seldom will they take it off, so much so that if you spot somebody with some greenstone around their neck abroad, chances are they will either be from New Zealand or that they have spent some time over there.
For the Maoris, it has been used to make weaponry and jewellery for centuries. The stone itself is very strong and has to be carved using diamond coated tools. As with everything, they have a story that describes it's origins. Waitaiki, a beautiful woman who was married to the Maori chief Tamaahua, caught the attention Poutini of the taniwha, which is a mythical dragon type creature that lives in the water. Poutini kidnapped Waitaiki and fled southwards from the Bay of Plenty towards the West Coast of the South Island, chased by Waitaiki's husband Tamaahua.
To keep her warm, Poutini lit fires that also left a trail for Tamaahua, in which he found a precious stone. Poutini was scared of his determined pursuer and took sanctuary on the West Coast, stopping in Milford Sound. Here, he decided that Tamaahua would not stop until he had taken back Waitaiki, and Poutini decided that the only way he could keep her was to turn her into stone, which is the pounamu that New Zealanders find on the West Coast. Poutini, upon discovering that the love of his life had been turned into stone, sang a song of sorrow, that some believe you can still hear resonating around the hills in Milford Sound if you listen very carefully.
The Maoris also believe that the stone, while absorbing some of the oils from somebody's skin, absorbs some of the person's essence. They believe that you are not supposed to buy it for yourself, but that instead you are supposed to buy it as a gift, and will usually wear the greenstone a little before giving it to the recipient to pass on some of their essence. It is considered a treasure, and the stone is actually protected by the Waitangi treaty. The most treasured stones are those with a long history of being passed down through generations, and are sometimes given as a gift when making important agreements.
The stone is usually carved into pendants of Maori symbolism. One popular example is the spiral, known as a Koru, which resembles a young silver fern about to unravel, and is lucky in new beginnings and change. Another is the little indigenous warrior, the Tiki, which is supposed to bring power and strength to those who wear it. It is also very common to see the fish hook, or Hei Matau, which also represents strength as well as safe passage across water. These symbols and shapes are also found in the indigenous buildings, in their tattoos, and in many other aspects of their culture.
The stone can only be found on the West Coast of the South Island, and is easiest to find on the rocky beaches and on the mountain stream riverbeds. As you are travelling down the West Coast there are a number of greenstone carving workshops and shops where you can find out more about the stone and it's place in Maori culture. It makes an excellent souvenir with a lot of personal meaning, and is something you can't find anywhere else in the world.
Next time you're on the West Coast, make sure to keep an eye on the stones under your feet in case you happen to come across some Pounamu, but also remember it's bad luck to hang onto your first piece and that you should pass it on as a gift.

 

  
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