How do you really get to know the place that you are travelling in? How to REALLY get to know New Zealand.
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All too often travellers wish to deepen their experience of a place they are visiting, yet struggle to do so, how do you really get to know New Zealand’s culture, history and environment and deepen your understanding of this unique and special place in the world?
This desire to know where you go goes beyond life age or stage, students, study abroad, retired travellers, families and solo travellers all express their desire to me to get to know NZ more deeply, to not wander around without understanding, but to wonder while travelling around!
Because New Zealand is uniquely special, and that is why you have dreamed of travelling here for so long, and why you have made such an effort to get here.
So what is it that makes New Zealand so special?
Quite simply it’s BEAUTIFUL!
The people! He Tangata! The people are relaxed, easy going, friendly, welcoming.
Aotearoa New Zealand history is rich and unique, yet a very familiar story to other colonised countries.
The unique indigenous Maori culture and language which is found throughout New Zealand’s place names and culture, with more accessible places of significance to Maori than ever before such as the best Maori historic monument in the South Island – Takapūneke.
Get to Know New Zealand Culture – Maanakitanga
Maanakitanga or hospitality is central tenant of New Zealand culture, sharing of kai or food, sharing of stories, becoming friends so that you as a guest leave better. Such as the sharing of homemade scones and homemade jam in one of the most beautiful picnic spots in the world, speaking of generosity, here is the special secret scone recipe for the scones I share on my tours: New Zealand Scones Recipe, but you have to pack them in a beautiful picnic basket!
Get to Know New Zealand History
Turangawaewae, or knowing where you connect to the earth, where you belong, and your stories is another central cultural difference of New Zealand, whether you are Maori or Pakeha (European descent), or from another heritage, it is important for kiwis (New Zealanders) to know where they have come from, their story, and to have time to connect to the natural environment. That is why there are so many walking tracks, fishing spots and baches (holiday homes) in New Zealand!
New Zealand is the last major landmass in the world to be settled only 700-800 years ago, it is also a dynamic and young landmass with a completely different biota (plants and animals) with so many found nowhere else in the world, this makes our history unique, and that environment has shaped our people.
The Maori people are from Polynesia and were some of the greatest ocean navigators the world has seen, they quickly evolved into a unique Maori culture adapting their Polynesian culture to the plants and animals found here for survival. As Europeans discovered New Zealand they bought their own technologies to this land and used the landscape in their own way, sealing, trading, whaling, and eventually farming the landscape.
This clash of two cultures bought both positive outcomes of interracial marriage and technological advancement and the negative outcomes of loss of indigenous land ownership, deforestation and loss of species to extinction. Intertribal warfare escalated with guns available for the first time and colonisation and the change of sovereignty to the British government under the Treaty of Waitangi, changed the lore of the land to the law of the land.
Pastoral farming and breaking in the land for the mass migration and settlement of new Europeans created a new culture in New Zealand, as did the movement to cities of rural folk in the great urbanisation that continues today.
We are a young country, in geology, people and culture, still finding our way and what makes us unique, at times we lead the world being the first country in the world to give women the right to vote, banning nuclear power and standing up for what is right.
All of this makes us special, but this uniqueness ultimately comes from the ground beneath our feet our turangawaewae, literally meaning dig toes, where we bury our toes, where we connect to the earth and find space to breathe, it is who we are.
Get to Know New Zealand Nature, Native Plants and Wildlife
Kaitiakitanga is the act of guardianship, I like to put it more simply, it is love. Love of place, love of our natural world, connection to the plants and animals, rivers and rocks. To put it more ephemerally, to all our brothers and sisters.
This is an act of protection, to protect the stories that make this place unique and magical, to pass those on for the seven generations to come after us, mindful of those who came before – The Seventh Generation Principle this is deep sustainability, regenerative in nature and that is how I run all of my life, my regenerative farm and regenerative tours.
But how as a tourist do you connect to this very different landscape quickly? I would say slow down, take your time to breath, to look at the leaves on the plants, the sound of the birds, try to name them so that you can call out to them and say hello, our birds are not afraid of you, they are intelligent and many of them will look you in the eye, if you are willing to connect.
Get to Know New Zealand Geology
What a young place in which we live, many continents in the world are 100’s of millions of years old, Zealandia Continent upon which New Zealand surfs has broken away from Gondwana much more recently some 80 million years ago and is a submerged continent with the land you see protruding above the ocean surface.
New Zealand is constantly changing, and is very dynamic as we see by the earthquakes (Christchurch) and volcanic eruptions (Ruhapahu) which in turns shapes the natural environment, a young isolated dynamic biota of plants and animals, and the people who are also young and isolated from the worlds major populations.
It is this young and dynamic geological processes which make New Zealand so beautiful and wild, as the land has not had time to weather and age, soften and smooth.
So what are the 9 TOP Super Authentic Ways to Get to Know New Zealand? (In the opinion of a seventh generation local!)
- Take is slowly. This might sound like cliche travel advice, but in the case of New Zealand it is true. New Zealand is abundant in natural quiet (here’s a link to some suggested Quiet Parks to visit). Natural quiet has a unique way of grounding you in place, listen to where you are, what is it telling you? What birds can you hear? How does it sound different to home? This is a super special way to connect to place… close your eyes, breathe, listen.
- Understand the history of New Zealand, take your time to understand the stories of this place, for some people this is reading the history, but the best way to do it really is to listen to a local tell the stories, there are excellent travel guides in New Zealand, go with a local, small, independent operator to really get a deeper understanding of how New Zealand unfolded. Obviously I am going to recommend Marie Haley at The Seventh Generation
- Connect to the culture, share kai (food) with locals, talk to the locals of a place, ask them questions, most of them love nothing more than to talk to travellers and share what makes their town absolutely unique. Ask them how long they’ve lived there, it takes a while to get to know a place.
- Look up! Make the most of the Southern Hemispheres dark sky’s, it’s Dark Sky Reserves, the Southern Lights.
- Travel like a local, kiwis (New Zealanders) love to stop for an icecream or a pie, especially at groovy coffee carts like this one in Bruce Bay Coffee Cart in South Westland, that’s where you get to meet a local, have a chat, stop and take in the scenery, slow down.
- Take the short walks, yes the Great Walks are great, but there are so many gems found on the short walks of less than two hours, my favourite one is Ships Creek near Haast, I think the thing I like about short walks is you get to sit down a lot and soak in the surroundings, take time to identify things and read the information panels which help you learn about where you are, New Zealand birds are shy, it takes a while and some quiet to spot them.
- Visit at least one predator free sanctuary while in New Zealand, these are the places without pests that eat our native birds, and where you will really see native wildlife up close and personal as it should be in great abundance and beauty. Zealandia in Wellington is perhaps the easiest to get to and one of the oldest with a great range of wildlife.
- Understand nature conservation with an expert, especially visit Hinewai Reserve to understand how ones mans vision has transformed nature conservation in New Zealand. You can read what it’s been like for me as a neighbour of this project.
- Take the back roads, I don’t mean the difficult shingle ones, but the tourist routes, the scenic drives, especially the Southern Scenic Route Dunedin to Te Anau via Invercargill and Manapouri. AND the Great Coast Road between Westport and Greymouth – you cannot get more essentially New Zealand experiences.
THE Super Authentic South Island Road Trip
Here’s my suggestions as a South Islander who has access to a camper van and has done MANY road trips around the South Island, all my favourite spots, please take care of them for me.
Starting in Christchurch, head out to Akaroa for the evening and unwind, this is a peaceful and beautiful settlement and a great place to start your trip.
Take the Ultimate Akaroa Nature and History Tour – the reason you do this first is so that you get to know New Zealand History, Culture, Natural Environment and geology all in one tour, before you start to travel around, this will help you see New Zealand in a different way.
Cromwell Old Town and Sanga Pies YUMMY! And I hope that doesn’t change as they get more popular! And if you are in Cromwell at the right time of year (around December) pick your own cherries Yum Yum Yum and run by a very nice man.
But don’t miss Clyde! The most beautiful small historic town (other than Akaroa) and then make your way out to the Central Otago Railtrail and Ophir and Nasbey – now you are talking for authentic New Zealand.
Dunedin, do not miss it! Monarch Wildlife Cruises, Albatross, penguins, sea lions, art, literature, food, it’s all there in this snug university town. Did I say, really great people! Use the phrase Good as Gold!
Then the Southern Scenic Route – The Catlins, OMG, wildlife, nature, waterfalls, beauty, beaches take a few days to do this bit. Resupply in Invercargill then onto Manapouri via beautiful Fiordland. Stop in Manapouri it is a cute wee (NZ for small) town, walk the Kepler Track visit the “Bookstore at the End of the World”, do the Doubtful Sound Cruise, it’s extraordinary, and much more authentic than the Milford buzz. But do both if you can.
Te Anau Pizza! Paradiso Pizzeria, I’d go back to Te Anau for that alone.
The Milford Road, it’s worth it for the drive alone, the Homer Tunnel, amazing. It is worth taking a bus for this part, especially if you are in a camper van, you don’t have to stress while driving, the parking is expensive and you can enjoy the view above to the towering fjords with thundering waterfalls, AND try to time it for rain, the heavier the rain the better the waterfalls.
Back in Te Anau and yes yes, everyone has to visit Queenstown, there are lots of things for travellers to see and do there, as a local we skip it now, far to busy and impossible to get a park, but visit the Botanic Gardens for sure, the waterfront etc etc.
Arrowtown is sweet, but also busy, head West! Through to Haast, and slow down, again the road is amazing, the short walks are amazing, Ship Creek is amazing, go as slow as you can! And wind your way up the coast all the way to Westport.
Orakito is worth the side trip, the camp is well run and close to the beach, do an Okarito kayak trip on the lagoon, support the local family run businesses.
Stop in Hokitika for a food and craft experience, or take fish and chips down to the river mouth to watch the sunset.
Drive very slowly between Greymouth and Punakaiki to see my favourite part of New Zealand. Limestone river cliffs, stunning rainforest, nikau palm trees, sandy beaches, smooth polished beach stones and driftwood, wander and wonder here!
Westport and through the Buller Gorge! Another amazing road, they abound in New Zealand. Nelson, art paradise, time it for the Saturday Market, head slowly out to Motueka and Able Tasman, don’t miss the white sand beaches and beauty, one of the best ways is to take a watertaxi and a picnic out to the more beautiful and isolated beaches or just walk the whole 3 day walk!
If you’ve got time head out to the Marlborough Sounds and Picton on your way south to Christchurch again, one of my favourite camp sites is Momorangi Bay or even out to Port Underwood and then stopping at the wineries in Blenheim.
Stopping on the coastal road at Kaikoura for seafood and whale watching, seal spotting and dolphins, take your time, stop in the cute bays like Goose Bay and have fish and chips on the beach in Kaikoura like a local.
Sounds like a lot! Well it is, if you want the best of the South Island, ideally you would have a month or more. If you don’t have that much time you could choose the south of the South Island (more wild beautiful) or the north of the South Island (more beaches and arts) and do a loop trip coming back to Christchurch via Arthurs Pass. The slower you go the more you will get out of it, don’t try to pack it all in if you don’t have the time.
Travel like a local, go slow and look about, look for the hidden secret gems, rather than the tourist must-dos’ yes they are good, but you’ll be surprised in New Zealand the delights you find absolutely for free.
Don’t stress about seeing a kiwi – most New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi, especially not in the wild. Willowbank in Christchurch is a sure way to spot them but really they are only visible in the dark. Did I forget Stewart Island, well yes, actually I missed many amazing places, you’d have to be here for months to see them all. So – come again!
Authentic New Zealand Tours – The Real NZ!
Tourist quest for the authentic experience, but it is challenging to differentiate between authentic and inauthentic experiences as almost every tourism product claims to be authentic (Enhancing regenerative tourism based on authenticity) Hussain states that for a tourism product to be authentic it needs to be beautiful, not manufactured, give an unique sense of place, ethical and sustainable, deliver an honest product, improve the consciousness level of the traveler, people-centred to connect with local people, simple and build long lasting relationships.
Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2023 is authentic!
And state “Authentic is often connected to identity, whether national or personal” how much more authentic could you get than a NZ tour that teaches NZ History, shares personal family stories and provides a shared vision for the future! How much more connected to NZ identity could you get in a tour?
Marie often jokes that her tours are not really tourism, they are educational, they are inspiring, connecting, real, the tours just don’t really feel like a ‘product’ for a ‘consumer’ rather it feels like guiding a friend, telling stories, sharing what is amazing and makes her come alive.
How to get to know New Zealand? take the most Authentic Real NZ tour that you possibly could, slow down and travel like a local, find yourself in your travels.
The Perfect Educational Experience as a Study Abroad Student
The Seventh Generation specialises in educational tours, and offers group trips for students, Marie Haley is an expert guide, historian, ecologist and storyteller, she is able to deliver special tours for almost any study group, providing an understanding of New Zealand’s bicultural history, culture and natural history, as well as taking your student group on a deep dive journey to explore a range of subject areas.
Marie works closely with New Zealand schools as well as Study Aboard programs and visiting Universities. She has a great set of reviews and always a different and practical take on a range of issues. Marie is widely read over a range of areas. Get in touch today! Can’t wait to meet you!