New Zealand has some of the most varied and dramatic terrain in the world, from glaciers and fjords and beaches to mountains and meadows and rain forests. You can admire the breathtaking scenery while skiing, surfing, horseback riding, mountain climbing, hiking or kayaking. You can also try some of the sports the New Zealanders have invented: bungee jump off cliffs or bridges; paddle through white-water rapids; rocket through narrow caverns on jet boats; or strap yourself inside a giant plastic ball and roll down a hillside.
The Maori arrived sometimes between AD 900 and 1400 and called their new home “Aotearoa” (Land of the Long White Cloud), and their oral history recounts how they took a large fleet of canoes from a place called “Hawaiiki” (perhaps a set of islands in French Polynesia) to sail to what is now New Zealand. For hundreds of years, Maori life went untouched by the outside world.
In 1642, when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted the land and called it “Niuew Zeeland.” He charted part of the coastline but left without officially claiming it. Some 130 years later, Capt. James Cook claimed the islands for the British crown. He circumnavigated both main islands, which he mapped with an accuracy that is still admired and used today. From the 1850s to the 1890s, gold fever drew thousands of prospectors to New Zealand. About the same time, large sheep farms began to be established on land cleared from the native forests. The country became autonomous in 1907 and is today an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
New Zealand consists of two large islands (called the North Island and the South Island), as well as numerous small islands. Both major islands are mountainous with coastal plains. The North Island is more populated and has a warmer, temperate climate. The South Island has a more open, spacious feel with spectacular fjords, glaciers, agricultural plains, and hundreds of streams and lakes.
In New Zealand, July to September are the coldest months, while December to March are the warmest. Overall, the climate is fairly mild with few extremes of temperatures. The average temperature ranges from 60 F/15 C in the upper regions of the North Island to 50 F/10 C near the bottom of the South Island. The best months to visit are mid-October through November, when the flowers and trees are in bloom.