New Zealand is just about as far away as you can get from New England, which is maybe why it seems such an enticing destination. I’ve heard from people who’ve been there that it’s one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, with amazing hiking trails zigzagged across the country. And it has a long history of environmental stewardship, and thus is a prime eco-travel destination.
The whole country is only about the size of Colorado, but it stretches from subantarctic regions in the south to subtropic in the north. It’s divided into two main islands, called simply enough North and South Island, separated by Cook Strait and a three-hour ferry ride. An assortment of smaller islands are scattered nearby. The country is pretty isolated… people tend to think it’s right next door to Australia, but it’s actually about 1,400 miles away! The west coast faces the Tasman Sea, and the east coast is on the South Pacific.
The rugged mountains along the country’s spine plus the long jagged coastline create a diverse array of habitats for lots of wildlife. “Off North Island’s Pacific coast, warmed by the Auckland current, divers move amid colorful maomao and black angelfish at Poor Knights. Along South Island’s sea coast, little yellow-eyed penguins feed in coastal waters by day, then waddle across the beach at dusk to reach their burrows,” says Sally McKinney, author of “Adventures in Nature – New Zealand,” at planeta.com.
Here are a few of McKinney’s favorite places:
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At the Tree House Backpackers Lodge on the North Island, you can stay in rustic cabins or a housebus, or share a room in the homestead. Tent sites are also available. Close to the Hokianga Car Ferry and to the 19th century colonial settlements of Kohukohu and Rawene, The Tree House is also a base to explore west coast forests and beaches and an hour’s drive to the Bay of Islands.
On the South Island, Awaroa Lodge offers luxury accommodation at the quiet northern end of Abel Tasman National Park. It’s a popular base to explore the famous Abel Tasman Coastal Track – among the most beautiful of New Zealand’s famous ‘Great Walks’. They’ll fix you organic cuisine from their own garden, take you sea kayaking or sailing, or birdwatching on Farewell Spit, and they promise to carefully recycle and minimize their environmental impact.
McKinney also recommends Wilderness Lodges of New Zealand. They’re located in the most wild and natural parts of the South Island — at Lake Moeraki in the rainforest and the Tasman sea coast, and at Arthur’s Pass in the heart of the Southern Alps. The lodges are owned by ecologists Dr Gerry McSweeney and Anne Saunders, Each Lodge provides luxurious comfort, great food and wines, and warm hospitality. And every two days they shear some of their 5,000 sheep and invite you to lend a hand.
Going to a beautiful place and looking around is great, but if you’d like to get more involved, The NZ Trust for Conservation Volunteers might have a slot for you. You can take part in projects from trail building to wildlife preservation to ecology education. EcoQuest offers study-abroad field programs in ecology, via the University of New Hampshire.