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New Zealand - Country Information
 
New Zealand - General Information

New Zealand, Land of the Long White Cloud, is a small, sparsely populated country consisting of two major islands, North and South Island, and a scattering of smaller ones. Despite its size it is crammed with magnificent natural beauty and has an incredible amount to offer; the only complaint travellers have is that they hadn’t allowed enough time in the country. Fresh air, breathtaking scenery and outdoor activities are the main attractions of New Zealand, with a tremendously friendly, honest and helpful population, colloquially nicknamed after their country's distinct symbol, the unusual but amiable flightless kiwi bird.

The two islands have surprisingly different characters. The North Island has dramatic volcanic landscapes and highly active thermal areas, long stretches of beautiful beaches and excellent sailing, ancient indigenous forests and a strong Maori cultural influence. The South Island has a slower pace of life dominated by a magnificent spine of mountains, the snow-covered Southern Alps, and the spectacular scenery of the southern waterways of the fjordlands, with glaciers, deep lakes and verdant forests.

The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was New Zealand’s founding document, an attempt to settle disputes between the European settlers and the Maoris, conceding the country to British rule while guaranteeing the Maori people possession of their land and cultural identity. Today, integration has been replaced by a policy of upholding two different cultures alongside each other. Their shared love of sport, most notably the revered national sport of rugby union, and their enthusiasm for adventure and the outdoors is the unifying factor among the whole population.

New Zealand offers a huge variety of action-packed and laid back activities, from bungy jumping to skiing, swimming with dolphins, scenic flights and boat cruises on the fjords, as well as several world famous walking trails with unrivalled scenery. Alternatively visitors can immerse themselves in culture at the museums and galleries of the country’s main cities - Auckland and the capital Wellington in the North, and Christ Church in the south.

New Zealand is an easy and compact place in which to travel and its spectacularly dramatic landscape alone, famous for its setting for the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, makes the long trip to these southern islands more than worthwhile.

THE BASICS

Time Local time is GMT +12 (GMT +13 from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March).
Electricity: Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Oblique flat blade plugs are standard.
Language: The official languages are English and Maori, but English is the everyday language most widely spoken.


Health There are no health risks associated with travel to New Zealand. A reciprocal health agreement exists with the UK, which entitles nationals, with proof of residence, to free emergency hospital treatment, but health insurance is recommended to cover any additional charges and for those not entitled to free emergency treatment. Those intending to participate in adventure activities, such as bungee jumping, white water rafting, etc should ensure that their travel insurance covers these types of activities.

Tipping Gratuities are not expected and service charges are not applied to bills.
Safety: New Zealand has a reputation as one of the safest destinations in the world, however sensible precautions against petty theft are still advised.


Customs Quarantine procedures mean that strict bio-security regulations are in place at immigration points into the country. It is illegal to import most foodstuffs, and care should be taken when importing wood products, golf clubs and shoes (may have soil and dirt attached), and items made from animal skin (eg crocodile handbags). The immigration arrivals card has full details.

Communications The international access code for New Zealand is +64. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0061 for Australia). City codes are also required. Vodafone offers GSM coverage in and around the main cities and popular holiday areas.  Internet cafes are widely available.

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AIRPORTS

Auckland International Airport (AKL)

Location The airport is situated 14 miles (22km) south of Auckland. Time: Local time is GMT +12 (GMT +13 from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March). Contacts: Tel: +64 (0)9 275 0789 Transfer between terminals: A free bus runs between the International Terminal and the Air New Zealand and Qantas NZ Domestic Terminals from 6am until 10:30pm. Transfer to the city: An Airbus bus service leaves regularly (every 20 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes at night) for the city centre and costs NZ$15 for a single ticket. Shuttle buses also offer economical transportation between the airport and city or suburbs on a 'shared ride' basis.

Taxis are also available; the airport to city fare is approximately NZ$40. Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz and National. Facilities: Facilities at the airport include left luggage, business facilities, a medical centre, banks and ATMs, bars, restaurants and shops, a crèche, a post office, tourist information and hotel reservations desks. Disabled facilities are good, those with special needs should inform their airline or travel agent in advance. Parking: There is main and long-term parking available. Departure tax: A $NZ25 departure fee must be paid by every international passenger, other than children under 12 years of age and transit passengers in Auckland for less than 24 hours. Website:
www.auckland-airport.co.nz

Christchurch International Airport (CHC)

Location The airport is situated 8 miles (12km) from Christchurch. Time: Local time is GMT +12 (GMT +13 from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March). Contacts: Tel: +64 (0)3 358 5029. Transfer to the city: Shared shuttle buses (NZ$12-18), public buses (NZ$5) and taxis (NZ$30) all go to the city centre. Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz and Thrifty. Facilities: There are shops, bars and restaurants, banks, ATMs and bureaux de change at the airport. Other facilities include left luggage, a business centre, a post office, and a hotel reservations desk. Disabled facilities are good, those with special needs should inform their travel agent or airline in advance. Parking: Short and long-term car parking is available. Departure tax: Airport tax is NZ$25, security tax is NZ$5. Website: www.christchurch-airport.co.nz

Wellington International Airport (WLG)

Location The airport is situated 5 miles (8km) east of Wellington. Time: Local time is GMT +12 (GMT +13 from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March). Contacts: Tel: +64 (0)4 385 5100 (24 hours). Transfer to the city: Stagecoach Flyer bus, a shuttle service and taxis all go to the city centre. Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz and Thrifty. Facilities: Facilities at the airport include left luggage, bureaux de change, ATMs, bars, shops and restaurants, a parents room, post office and a tourist information and hotel reservations desk. Disabled facilities are good, those with special needs are advised to inform their airline or travel agent in advance. Parking: Long-term parking is available. Departure tax: Airport tax is NZ$25 (adults) and NZ$10 (children); security tax is NZ$5. Website: www.wellington-airport.co.nz

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New Zealand Climate and Weather


 
The weather is changeable throughout the year. The North Island has mild winters and warm and humid summers, the South Island has lower temperatures with cold winters and extensive snowfields and glaciers. Snow falls on all the mountains in winter. The west coast receives the most rain. Summer months are from November to April.
North Island

The North Island has many superb physical features as well as New Zealand’s two major cities, Auckland, the "City of Sails" and the capital, Wellington. From island-studded bays and sailing, to volcanic activity and geothermal wonders, wild rugged coastlines and fascinating Maori culture and history, the North Island of New Zealand has much to offer visitors.

The beautiful region in the far north is known as Northland and includes the picturesque Coromandel Peninsula, reaching into the sea between Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, with magnificent kauri forests of enormous 3,000-year-old trees, stunning coastal scenery, beaches and scenic bays, quaint seaside townships and mountain ranges.

The Bay of Islands is the most popular destination with opportunities for sailing, diving, snorkelling and kayaking on the clear blue waters around the islands. The top of the island tails off into a rugged desolate finger of land with sand dunes and the long white sandy stretch of Ninety Mile Beach along its west coast.

At the heart of the North Island is the Central Plateau, the centre of the country’s volcanic activity. Volcanoes, bubbling mud pools, hot springs, spouting geysers, steaming lakes and rivers are strewn across the landscape. Rotorua, the Maori cultural heartland, sits at the edge of the most concentrated area of activity and is characterised by the unmistakable smell of sulphur.

Lake Taupo, formed by one of the greatest eruptions ever recorded, has beautiful views across to the volcanic peaks of Tongariro National Park, with excellent hiking, and is regarded as the trout fishing capital of the world.

At the southern tip of the island lies the capital in a striking setting around a harbour and surrounded by mountains. It is the centre of the country and a major travel crossroads between North and South Island.

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AUCKLAND
Auckland is situated on a narrow strip of land, flanked by two magnificent harbours to the east and west. The shallow Manukau Harbour opens out to the Tasman Sea to the west , while the Waitemata Harbour lies at the heart of the city centre and is Auckland’s deepwater port. It has a vibrant waterfront that has flourished with the successful hosting of the 2002/2003 America’s Cup, the international yachting event of the year, and the trendy restaurants and waterside cafes are a constant hive of activity.

Known as the ‘City of Sails’, with a larger boat-to-person ratio than anywhere else on earth, it is a paradise for sailing enthusiasts and every weekend the waters of the Hauraki Gulf come alive with a flotilla of colourful sails. The best way to experience the city is from the water, sailing around the attractive harbour or on a ferry cruise to one of the many stunning islands dotted about the Gulf.

Auckland is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in New Zealand and a major gateway to the rest of the country. Yet it is also one of the least densely populated in the world, covering an area twice the size of London but with barely a million inhabitants. It has a friendly small-town atmosphere and a deliberate pace of life.

Beyond the bustling downtown area, dominated by the southern hemisphere's tallest building, the Sky Tower, the city sprawls outwards, with low-slung buildings and wooden houses among leafy parks and walking tracks. The suburbs wind their way around picturesque bays and harbours and between volcanic hills that provide panoramic views over the city and mountains, encompassing numerous green urban parklands that are dotted with sheep.


Hauraki Gulf Islands
The Hauraki Gulf is studded with numerous islands such as Rangitoto, Waiheke and Great Barrier Island and those close to the mainland make a good day trip. Some are recreation retreats, and others are conservation islands with restricted access, reserves for the protection of rare bird, animal and plant life. Waiheke is the most popular of the gulf islands, with picturesque bays and white sandy beaches, rolling farmlands and hills cloaked with vineyards and fine wineries. The town enjoys the slow and relaxed pace of island life, along with chic little restaurants and cafes, and is home to many art galleries and craft shops.

The nearest island to the city is the uninhabited Rangitoto, a large volcanic cone with an unusual landscape of black distorted lava shapes that governs the view over the harbour. It is possible to hike up to the crater rim and explore the lava caves on the slopes. Each island has a different character with different things to do, whether it is to explore natural geological features or to enjoy the isolation, relax on white beaches or wander about the galleries and cafes. Some visitors prefer simply to sail around the islands on a yacht or ferry cruise and enjoy the scenery from on board. Transport: Frequent ferries leave from the wharves around the Ferry Building

Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is famous for its beautiful coastal scenery and it is one of North Island's major attractions. The bay is interspersed with numerous little coves and inlets and sandy beaches, and the historical townships of Paihia, Waitangi and Russell are the central hubs of the area, from where an unbelievable array of activities and tours can be arranged.

Sailing and boat cruises around the islands are the main attraction, but the natural surroundings and warm waters of the bay make it an ideal place for kayaking, swimming, diving and fishing. The bay is also of historical significance as the place where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between the European settlers and Maori chiefs in 1840. For more information visit www.bay-of-islands.co.nz

Rotorua
Rotorua has the most energetic thermal activity in the country. It is a town permeated with the smell of sulphur and surrounded by towering volcanoes. Steam rises from between the pavement cracks and along pathways. There is a plethora of hot springs and thermal baths, the basis for its fast-growing fame as 'Nature's Spa of the South Pacific'. Situated on the Volcanic Plateau of Central North Island, the continuous volcanic activity has formed the landscape around Rotorua and the main attractions are based around its natural resources, the 12 crater lakes and numerous geothermal features. The crystal lakes offer activities such as trout fishing and water sports, and nearby geothermal fields feature bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers and steaming rivers. Rotorua is also the Maori cultural heartland and visitors can experience the spirit of their culture in one of the many performances, featuring stories relayed through song and dance, and a 'hangi' feast, the traditional Maori method of cooking in an earthen pit. For more information visit www.rotoruanz.com

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Reserve
Wai-O-Tapu, meaning ‘Sacred Waters’, is a diverse and colourful geothermal sightseeing experience. The area has been active for more than 100,000 years and features thick pools of boiling mud that bubble and belch, geysers, sulphuric mineral terraces and steaming pools that create a kaleidoscope of colour. Walkways around the area allow visitors to admire the display of some of the most incredible earth forces in the world. Some of the best features include the spectacular Champagne Pool, a large steaming and bubbling pool fringed by red, ochre and yellow deposits; the evil looking Devil’s Bath, with a high concentration of arsenic creating the vivid green colour of the water; and the erupting Lady Knox Geyser that shoots steam up to 64 ft (20m) into the air in a majestic daily display.

Address: 17 miles (27km) south of Rotorua on SH5 (Rotorua Taupo Highway); Telephone: (0)7 366 6333; Website:
www.geyserland.co.nz Opening time: Daily from 8.30am to 5pm; Admission: NZ$18.50 (adults), NZ$6 (children). Family concessions are available

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WELLINGTON
The capital city of New Zealand, Wellington is located at the southern tip of the North Island. It is situated on a splendid harbour and hemmed in by steep hills, creating a compact inner city centre with a mix of historic and modern buildings. It is the second largest city in the country, the energetic centre for culture and arts, and is the entertainment, commercial and political capital of New Zealand, with an air of pronounced sophistication and vibrancy. Apart from its importance as the capital, it is the main departure point for the South Island.

Also called ‘Windy Wellington’, it lives up to its name especially in winter when the lashing winds from the Cook Strait whistle through the wind funnels created by the high-rise buildings of the central business district. The bustling, pretty waterfront area is a sheltered refuge with a graceful promenade, featuring shops, restaurants and various leisure activities. Brightly coloured sails scud across the harbour, the reliable wind providing excellent sailing and windsurfing opportunities. The ferry to the picturesque Days Bay, one of Wellington's best swimming beaches, affords excellent views of the city from the water. Dominating the waterfront is the Te Papa Museum, the pride and joy of the nation that embodies the quintessence of New Zealand and its people.

In the city centre the Parliamentary District is the architectural masterpiece of Wellington, including the Old Government Building, the second largest wooden building in the world; the unmistakable modernist Beehive, the executive offices of Parliament; Parliament House and the Victorian Gothic National Library.

The cable car takes people up to the Botanic Gardens for vistas of the city centre and across the harbour to the Hutt Valley, one of the scenic locations used in the filming of "Lord of the Rings". Another film site is Mt Victoria, offering sweeping panoramic views of the city and its suburbs, the surrounding hills and bays, and the harbour.

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THE SOUTH ISLAND
The South Island is less populated than the North and appears to have a slower pace of life, with rural scenes of sheep-filled pastures and remote farm settlements backed by rugged snow-covered mountains. The scenery is magnificent, and with its alpine mountains, fjords, glaciers, lakes and forests it is possibly even more spectacular than the North Island. Often arrogantly referred to as ‘the mainland’by South Islanders, the South is the main destination of New Zealand tourism.

Canterbury is the hub of the South Island containing the largest city, Christchurch, an English epitome, with punting on the River Avon and a grand Anglican cathedral dominating the central square. The Queenstown region is the capital for adrenalin-inducing activities and the home of the bungy jump, with a history of gold in the hills and rivers and set on a beautiful lake at the foot of the Remarkables Mountains.

The southwest holds some of New Zealand’s finest scenery and natural wonders, including its highest mountain, Mt Cook or Aoraki, ‘cloud piercer’; the Frans Josef and Fox Glaciers stretching down to within a few kilometres of the coast, the magnificent Fjordland National Park with beautiful fjords, waterfalls and forests, and several world-famous walking tracks.

The South offers an abundance of activities and attractions set in wondrous surroundings, with a huge diversity of things to see and do.

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CHRISTCHURCH
The largest city on South Island, Christchurch is the most English of New Zealand’s cities, named after an Oxford college. The atmosphere is reminiscent of an English university town, with school boys in striped blazers and punting on the River Avon, a grand Anglican cathedral dominating the central square, little stone-walled bridges, elegant Victorian architecture and numerous parks and exquisite gardens.

Dubbed the ‘Garden City’, it is the lively capital of the Canterbury region, priding itself on its green areas, arts and history as well as its sports. The surrounds offer beach suburbs, protected bays and dolphin swimming, green valleys and snow-capped mountain ranges for skiing, hiking, mountain biking and climbing. The city itself has a relaxed and cosmopolitan centre with historic trams rattling along the streets of the bustling downtown area, a lively pub and restaurant scene, theatres, street buskers, museums and art galleries.

Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island and offers the visitor an appealing mixture of historic charm and vibrant city life, a pleasing balance between urban pursuits and outdoor activities. With the least rainfall of any of the other cities and plenty of sunshine it is a perfect base for a Canterbury experience.


Mt Cook National Park
Mt Cook National Park is known for its exquisite alpine beauty and is home to the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mt Cook. Its Maori name, ‘Aoraki’means ‘cloud piercer’and at 12,016ft (3,755m) it towers above the surrounding snow-covered peaks in the park. A third of the park is covered in permanent ice and snow and the mighty Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier outside of the polar regions. Glacial melt gives the lakes their beautiful milky, turquoise colour and there are many walks in the area to take in the dramatic beauty. Mt Cook has always been the focus of climbing and mountaineering, most notably the expeditions of Sir Edmund Hillary, who went on to be the first man to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mt Everest. Website: www.mtcook.org.nz

Akaroa
The hilly Banks Peninsula is the result of two massive and violent volcanic eruptions, creating a sea-filled crater surrounded by green hills and a number of little bays that radiate out from the circular shape of land. The Maori name 'akaroa' means 'long harbour' and the little French influenced town of the same name is situated on the picturesque shores of the harbour, a long finger of water extending into the interior of the land. It is Canterbury's oldest village and its French character, due to the first European settlers, is evident in the street names, quaint historical architecture and French inspired cuisine. The pretty town is surrounded by attractive scenery; a volcanic landscape of fertile green hills scattered with woolly sheep and vineyards, and crisscrossed by walking trails and winding narrow roads. The calm waters of the harbour are perfect for water sports and boat cruises, with an opportunity to swim with dolphins. For more information visit www.akaroa.com  

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QUEENSTOWN
With a reputation as the adventure sports capital of the world, Queenstown is New Zealand’s premier tourist destination, offering visitors the chance to indulge in almost every adrenalin activity imaginable. But Queenstown has more to offer visitors than action packed activities.

Queenstown is a heavily commercialised, year round resort that is touristy, crowded and characterless, but with its magnificent scenery, set on the deep blue Lake Wakatipu and framed by the craggy Remarkables Range, it is appealing to adventurers and leisure seekers alike. The lake is the perfect setting for steamer cruises, there are many fine walking opportunities in the surrounding hills and valleys with breathtaking views, surrounding vineyards offer wine tasting, shopping at the town’s many boutiques, and the nearby historic gold mining town of Arrowtown is a fascinating days outing. Scenic flights take visitors on unforgettable excursions, such as those around the majestic peaks of Mt Aspiring and Mt Cook, or to Milford Sound.

Queenstown's popularity is also due to the fact that it is a year round resort, a renowned alpine playground for skiers and snowboarders in winter and activities such as jet boating, bungy jumping, luging, white water rafting and paragliding in the summer months.


Arrowtown
Arrowtown sits at the edge of the Otago Goldfields and was one of the country’s biggest gold towns in its day. It still has reminders of the gold rush days with little miners' cottages along the tree lined streets, historic wooden buildings, and 19th century-style shops, preserved as they were during the gold rush. There are the interesting remains of a Chinese settlement, with interpretive signs, nestled along the banks of Bush Creek where gold was panned. The Chinese diggers often worked through the remains of previous miner’s claims in search of undetected fine gold and were subjected to much prejudice by the other diggers. The Visitors Centre contains the excellent Lake District Museum that has a small display on local history and gold mining. Transport: 20 minute drive from Queenstown

The Fox and Franz Josef GlaciersNowhere else in the world, outside the polar regions, can one see glaciers so close to the sea, extending more than eight miles (13km) from the highest peaks of precipitous mountains to the valley floor and surrounded by rainforest. The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are the two most famous glaciers, a small part of the Westland National Park, and the two small townships near to each are good bases from which to explore the area, although offering an expensive range of accommodation and cafes. They each have a good Visitors Centre with displays on the formation of the glaciers, the ice movement and the history of the region.

The giant screen at Franz Josef shows the brilliant film on Glacier Country, ‘Flowing West’. The glaciers are moving at an average rate of three feet (one metre) a day, but the Frans Josef can move up to an incredible 16ft (five metres) in one day. A wide range of companies offer guided trips to explore the spectacular ice formations, taking visitors beyond the looming terminal face of the glacier and up onto the mighty rivers of ice, through the carved passageways and channels. There are also scenic flights among New Zealand’s highest peaks and over the glaciers, and snow landings, one of the best ways to appreciate the magnitude and splendour of the area; or a chance to combine a flight and ice walking on a guided heli-hike excursion.   It is an Eight hour bus journey from Queenstown.


Fjordland
The Fjordland is the most dramatic and beautiful part of New Zealand, a region of waterfalls and misty virgin forests, snow-clad mountains and towering granite peaks, crystal clear lakes, rivers and remote fjords.

The Fjordland National Park encompasses exquisite scenery and astounding natural splendour with some of the best walking tracks in the world. It is the largest national park in the country stretching along the southwestern corner of South Island, with a jagged coastline indented by numerous sounds and inlets.

Milford Sound is one of the most visited and famous sights within the national park, a spectacular glacier-carved fjord with waterfalls plummeting down the sheer granite walls into the ocean below. The walks in the park are world famous and the greatest of these is the Milford Track, considered to be the finest walk on earth.

Fjordland National Park can be explored on foot, on a boat cruise, by sea kayak or on a breathtaking scenic flight over the fjords, lakes and miles of ice and snow-covered mountains.

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Te Anau
Set on the fringes of the Fjordland’s celebrated wilderness is the attractive resort town of Te Anau. The town rests on the shores of the beautiful lake of the same name with spectacular views of mountain peaks all around. It is the hub of the region and an excellent base from which to explore the Fjordland area. Te Anau has achieved the reputation of being the ‘Sightseeing and Walking Capital of the World’having easy access to some of the most splendid Great Walks and scenery. It is also in close proximity to the fjords of Doubtful Sound, the deepest and most stunning, and Milford Sound, the most famous and more easily accessible. Lake Te Anau is the second largest in New Zealand and visitors are attracted by the wide variety of water sports available. The town also has a wonderful resource centre with information on tramping and other excursions, as well as offering aerial sightseeing or organising trips to the main attractions in the area. The beautiful Lake Manapouri, dotted with 35 pretty islands, is just nine miles (14km) away.

The Milford Sound
The 14 mile (22km) long fjord of Milford Sound is the most famous attraction in the Fjordland National Park. Hemmed in by towering granite cliffs and dominated by Mitre Peak, the calm deep waters reflect ice-covered mountain tops, waterfalls plummet from the cliff tops to the water below and Bottlenose dolphins play in the foaming wakes of the boats. Its grandeur was carved out during the ice ages and a close up or aerial view of the awesome scenery is a must.

A variety of boat cruises or popular kayaking trips are offered and these provide opportunities to see the fur seals, crested penguins and dolphins that inhabit the sound, while scenic flights give a unique perspective on the area. The road to Milford Sound is one of the finest alpine drives in the world with many points of interest along the way and view points to admire the sheer scale of the dramatic landscape. Travelling towards the sound, the road approaches a seemingly impenetrable wall of rock, and the tiny entrance of Homer Tunnel, unlit and roughly hewn out of the cliff face, suddenly appears as the way through, emerging again at the top of the stunning Cleddau Canyon before dropping into the valley below.


Milford is synonymous with rain, and although the mountaintops might not be visible through the clouds, the streams of water and waterfalls coursing down the sheer rocky cliffs is a magnificent sight worth seeing that would not be apparent if it was dry. Tiny biting sandflies are the menace of the Fjordlands, although optimists say the rain tends to keep them away. Whether raining or fine it is impossible to ignore the powerful sense of beauty and grandeur that the landscape evokes.Transport: Buses go from Te Anau (2-hour journey) and scenic flights can be taken from Te Anau or Queenstown

The Milford Track
The Milford Track is considered to be the finest walk in the world, a four-day hike ending at Milford Sound that has been attracting tourists and locals for over 100 years. Following glaciated valleys and crossing an alpine pass it traverses some fabulous scenery, past towering snow-clad peaks, rivers and waterfalls, along grassy plateaux and through dense rainforests. The number of hikers is limited and accommodation is provided in comfortable mountain huts along the way.

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