New Zealand’s landscape is nothing short of remarkable; its natural features so astonishing that it has even stood in for fantasy settings such as Middle Earth, Narnia, and has inspired Avatar.
It’s not surprising that in recent years, an increasing number of film directors have chosen New Zealand’s outstanding landscape as a backdrop – a diverse range of natural features make it a popular choice with location scouts. The perfect cone of Mt Taranaki became Japan’s Mt Fuji in The Last Samurai and the Southern Alps became the Himalayas for Vertical Limit. The Coromandel’s beautiful Cathedral Cove made a perfect setting for Cair Paravel in Prince Caspian, and dare we say that the Kiwi landscape might have done its bit to make Avatar the biggest movie of all time. For visitors, this diversity means you can stroll along a beach in the morning, stop at a winery for lunch and then be hiking along an alpine trail by the afternoon.
A WEALTH OF FAUNA
Straddling the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and situated at a point where tropical and polar currents meet, the surrounding waters of this island nation are home to a wealth of marine species including seals, dolphins and whales. And in New Zealand you can experience a close encounter with these remarkable marine mammals – swimming with dolphins, kayaking with seals or whale watching. Walkers flock to Abel Tasman National Park to hike through forest that grows right down to sandy coves. Fiordland National Park offers a very different experience – hiking in a rugged landscape of waterfalls, rainforest-clad cliffs and deep fiords, a landscape so precious that it is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Area. Further to the north are two of the Southern Hemisphere’s most accessible temperate-zone glaciers – rivers of ice fringed by lush green rainforest. There are more glaciers in Mt Cook National Park, lorded over by New Zealand’s highest peak – Mt Cook – and the Southern Alps.
THE EARTH’S FORCES
In the North Island, too, iconic mountains dominate the landscape. Mt Taranaki is an almost perfect cone rising from rolling hills, while in the central North Island the ‘Desert Road’ crosses a bleak landscape overlooked by a forbidding triad of volcanoes. Two of these, Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe, were used as sites for Mt Doom in The Lord of the Rings. North of Ruapehu is further evidence of the powerful geothermal forces that shaped the landscape. Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, owes its existence to a long-ago volcanic eruption. These days, the region from Lake Taupo north to Rotorua is popular with visitors wanting to glimpse a remarkable array of geothermal features from bubbling mud pools to steam vents and thermal pools. From the North to the South Island and beyond, to the more than 700 offshore islands that make up this archipelago, New Zealand offers a diversity of geology, climate, flora and fauna that is, quite simply, astonishing. There is no other place on Earth quite like it.