The vast and diverse terrain of New Zealand makes it a logical choice for those seeking nature-oriented vacations. From stunning beaches to dense forests to inactive volcanoes where you can ski, this country offers so many eco-systems that you’ll never want for a new and different activity while you’re touring New Zealand.
Like many volcanic islands, the climate of New Zealand is dominated by two major geographical features – the sea and the mountains. Most of the country lies close to the coast. Temperatures along the coastline tend to be quite moderate, with little fluctuation despite the seasons. Rainfall, which is actually quite plentiful, is also less along the sea than it is in the inland regions. At the coast, sunshine is quite abundant year round.
For those who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the climate of New Zealand can be confusing. Just think opposite! As you travel further south in this island country, it gets colder. The far northern sections of the North Island boast an annual temperature of about 15 ° C (59 ° F) while the southernmost portions of the South Island – nearing the Antarctic – have a median temperature of about 9 ° C (48 ° F). January and February are the warmest months, July the coldest.
Rainfall is spread pretty evenly throughout the year, contributing to the ongoing lush green-ness of the island. Summer and autumn offer the best months for water sports and hiking, skiing can be found in the mountain ranges during the winter months, and colorful spring presents the perfect time for activities like white-water rafting, thanks to melting snow and quick flows.
Technically speaking, the islands of New Zealand straddle two tectonic plates: the Atlantic and the Pacific. It’s also situated in the Pacific “ring of fire.” Native Kiwi’s know that means there’s plenty of geological action here in the form of potential earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
However, its unique position also affords plenty of advantages. A visit to geothermal areas, like Rotorua on the North Island, provides fascinating geysers and warm hot springs, the latter known for their curative properties.
The ever-shifting plates are also responsible for the spine of mountains that runs down the center of both islands. Head to the “Southern Alps” on the South Island and you can go glacier hiking on some of the largest glaciers in the hemisphere.
The submerging of New Zealand’s landscape – a process which has been happening for thousands of years - has aided in forming gorgeous fjords and sounds, providing yet more diverse scenery and offering an opportunity for avid sea kayakers to enjoy the rugged coastline.
Again, the diversity of the islands of New Zealand allow for a number of interesting species. As a matter of fact, the country boasts the highest number of creatures that can be found nowhere else in the world.
The birds are by far the most interesting. Due to the lack of natural predators for centuries and the process of natural adaptation, many birds in New Zealand became flightless, including the kiwi, the kakapo parrot, the takahe, and the now-extinct moa.
However, the introduction of animals by the European settlers, such as rats, led to the endangerment or extinction of several variety of birds.
The kiwi is the national bird, difficult to see in the wild but visible at many zoos or bird sanctuaries. The kea, another native bird is easier to find, as it eagerly steals rubber windshield wipers and other objects from automobiles!
Another interesting animal specimen is the tuatara, a small reptile with links to the dinosaur. The only beak-headed reptile remaining in the world, most of its relatives died off millions of years ago.
Thanks to the country’s plentiful rainfall, the flora in New Zealand is dense and lush and naturalists report that more than 80% of the country’s trees, flowers, and fern are native. The opportunity to view examples of local flora, like the giant kauri tree or the red-flowering pohutukawa tree (New Zealand’s Christmas tree) are plentiful as New Zealand is ripe with national parks and reserves. Hiking the trails of these areas provide plenty of opportunity to photograph New Zealand’s unique offerings. Many of the trails offer signage that helps visitors identify local flora and nature-oriented guidebooks are available to assist you as well.