“If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.”

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Cape Reinga, the northern-most point of the North Island
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View in the North Island taken from the coach

New Zealand is winning at life, friends. It was the first in the world to recognize unconditional female suffrage in 1893, almost three decades before the US grudgingly recognized women’s right to check the ballot box. New Zealand maintains consistent, sensible policies that actively protect their natural resources: flora and fauna. After a handful of years fighting with the native and fierce Maoris, the first Europeans to New Zealand signed binding treaties with the tribes that both parties honor to this day. Maori and English are both official languages of the country. Both cultures are so respected that the national rugby team, the All Blacks, perform the haka, the traditional Maori war chant before games, not as a caricature or parody but as a shared demonstration of unity and badassery. And the European influence means you can get really good savoury pie.

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Savoury Pie! This one is Butter Chicken
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Savoury Pie! This one is Steak, Bacon & Cheese
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The Remarkables Mountains & Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown in the South Island
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Franz Josef – a glacier and a town in the South Island
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One view of Wellington from Mt. Victoria
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View in the Bay of Islands
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Auckland, New Zealand

And it’s not like New Zealand is an ugly country so they decided to have a good personality. Every landscape is breathtaking from the top of the country to the bottom. It’s overwhelming actually. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has said many times New Zealand is Middle Earth, and he’s not wrong – both in the landscapes and ideals.

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Kiwi statues are everywhere – even if the nocturnal birds themselves are scarce
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Even our tour bus had Kiwis on the back
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New Zealand currency has native birds on one side
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New Zealand currency has famous New Zealanders on the other side… and the Queen. It is a member of the Commonwealth

New Zealanders are called Kiwis – not for their adorable national bird but for the brand of Australian-made boot black the New Zealand soldiers used during World War I in Europe. Though to be fair, the boot black was probably named for the bird. The nickname stuck and is broadly and proudly used.

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View in the North Island taken from the coach
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Wellsford, another little lunch stop
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The pōhutukawa or New Zealand Christmas Tree blooms red right around Christmas – they were everywhere on the North Island

New Zealand is also known as an adventure destination. I have heard this is because they are a non-litigious society, so liability is not a concern. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of high places off which to jump, rapids to run, caves to explore, and dunes down which to slide, and those are just the summer pursuits. I did some of those things and have no regrets.

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Whangarei, a town where we stopped for lunch on our first day
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View in the North Island taken from the coach

For my holiday break between Austria and Thailand, I opted to do a 15-day Contiki tour through the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Contiki specializes in tours for 18-35-year-olds, and this will be my fourth tour with them. They handle all the logistics, and I make 50 new friends, so it’s a good deal. The following posts will detail those adventures.  I will probably break up the New Zealand posts with occasional updates from Thailand where I am safely arrived and now studying.

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View in the Bay of Islands
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View in the North Island taken from the coach
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View in the North Island taken from the coach

Though I’ve been to 30-something countries and all 50 U.S. states so far, New Zealand marks the furthest from home I’ve ever wandered. And I’m so thrilled I did.

Title quote: J.R.R. Tolkien as Samwise Gamgee, The Fellowship of the Ring

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View in the North Island taken from the coach
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View in the North Island taken from the coach

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