North Island, New Zealand
New Zealand brings out the inner explorer in all of us. From the moment you arrive, you can’t help but want to hike it, kayak it… anything that allows you to be absorbed by its majestic landscape. But it’s not just the vistas that makes this place special—it’s the people, too. Kiwis work hard to preserve what is so unique about their culture, and their land. See why the Central North Island of New Zealand is a place to love.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
A heated discussion, New Zealand style
New Zealand is famous for its extreme landscapes and even more extreme sports. This is the country where bungee jumping was invented, and everyone wants to try it… except me! I prefer to spectate, and kayaking the Taupo River was the perfect place to do just that. In addition to a pit stop watching adrenaline seekers jump from a 154-foot high bungee platform, guide Rob Hetavaka of Taupo Kayak Adventures helped me navigate the river’s brisk current. This astonishingly clear river is sacred to the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand—it’s what provided them with everything needed for life when they arrived to New Zealand.
A serious rush at Huka Falls
It takes a lot of time to get to New Zealand, but once you are here, one natural phenomenon seems to be walking distance from another! I met up with Logan Devine, founder of Go Explore NZ. This eco tour and adventure business was created out of a pure love for New Zealand and a desire to share it with others. You can read about this place online, but there’s nothing like a bit of local knowledge to paint the whole picture.
Logan brought me to Huka Falls, where more than 220,000 litres of water barrel over a 11-meter high waterfall every second. The effect is nature’s large-scale equivalent of a fire hose feeding into a very fine nozzle.
Ancient Art in a Modern World
There’s a place that displays both New Zealand’s incredible forces of earth and culture: Te Puia. It’s here you’ll find the National School of Māori Arts and Crafts, as well as the Pōhutu Geyser, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. The relationship between the two is symbiotic, with the Māori harnessing the geothermic forces for cooking and heating their homes.
For more insight to Māori culture, I met with Katz—a teacher and artist who specializes in traditional Māori artistry. From wood carvings to tattoos and painting, these art forms weren’t just about beauty—they served as a sort of written language, telling stories about people and nature. Students are currently crafting two massive wood pieces that will soon be shipped to Belgium as a World War I memorial.
IF YOU GO
Pōhutu (‘poor-hoo-too’) geyser is the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. It erupts once or twice every hour and sometimes reaches heights of 100 feet. Pōhutu means ‘constant splashing’ in Māori.
Whakarewarewa, Rotorua 3010
A Vibrant ecosystem, Unspoiled
Ever wonder what the world looked like before humans started building stuff? Enter Waimangu. This is the only geothermal system in the world created within written history. The Tarawera volcano erupted in 1886, leaving the landscape significantly altered and extinguishing all life. What resulted is a nine-mile rift, creating 22 craters as well as a brand new ecosystem. The valley has been protected from development, and thus is virtually untouched by humans.
You may explore this area on foot or by boat. I say sign up for a tour that allows you to do both! David Blackmore, Waimangu’s General Manager, showed me around the hills, geysers, lakes and craters that make this place one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Samantha Versus the Volcano
There’s evidence of volcanoes everywhere in New Zealand, but I wanted to see an active one. What could be more epic than visiting a living, breathing volcano by helicopter? Matthew William Coles of Volcanic Air specializes in not only flying in these conditions, but landing on the actual White Island Volcano.
Outfitted with a gas mask and a hard hat, walking across the active crater floor is an adventure of a lifetime. You’ll can explore volcanic vents, hot streams, abandoned mining ruins and the active crater lake— all with your very seasoned pilot/guide.
Accessible Kiwi Conservation
There’s a local bird that’s so adorable, so unique, so special that New Zealanders have named themselves after it. Yes, I’m talking about the kiwi. The kiwi is a one-of-a-kind bird: it is flightless, with spikey hair-like feathers, digs burrows with its strong legs, and is active mostly at night. Kiwi are unique to New Zealand and found nowhere else in the world.
To see this highly endangered Kiwi in the wild, you usually have to hike great distance. However, in the town of Whakatani, this species happens to live in people’s backyards. Laura Morgan, a volunteer with the Whakatani Kiwi Trust, led me on a specific walk to safely interact with a kiwi. They are incredibly cute, and it doesn’t take long to fall in love with this quirky bird.
GOOD TO KNOW
An average of 27 kiwi are killed by predators every week. That’s a population decline of around 2% annually. 100 years ago, kiwi numbered in the millions.
Learn more about the Whakatane Kiwi Trust here.
Bags that tell a story
There’s no place like home, and that’s apparently true for actual houses. Let me explain. The Māori people typically gather in a house called a marae. This traditional meeting house serves as a community hub, showcasing Māori culture: it’s arts, language and songs.
During the mid-1800s, the Māori were overtaken by the British Crown. Tribal Chiefs decided to build the Mataatua maraeto preserve Māori pride in their crafts, traditions and ancestral history. As a gesture of peace towards the ruling British Government, the chiefs dedicated the house to Queen Victoria… whose authorities promptly had it disassembled and shipped overseas.
The house wasn’t returned until 1996, where it underwent 15 years of arduous restoration and then was place back in its exact same spot. Today, you may tour this sacred building, learning all about the Māori traditions, rituals and history.
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IF YOU GO
Sign up for the Know Mataatua Cultural Immersion Experience. custom-tailored for international travelers who would rather live the culture, than have it performed to them. Following a guided tour and interactive cultural workshops, guests enjoy a traditional feast, called a hāngī, comprising a selection of local delicacies and indigenous cuisine.
Mataatua Te Mānuka Tūtahi
105 Muriwai Drive