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New Zealand
Discover the Real New Zealand

By Greg Scowen

One of the major attractions of visiting New Zealand is the possibility of losing yourself in its rugged and wild countryside. The desire to be alone and at one with nature frequently leads New Zealand tourists to buy travel guides in hopes of finding advice on ‘getting off the beaten track’. To get off the beaten track, however, you need to throw away your travel guide… and discover the real New Zealand.

Where is the real New Zealand?

You certainly don’t find the real New Zealand by buying a travel guide that thousands of other tourists already own. If you do that, you will end up on a supposed unbeaten track with hundreds of other ‘bulk produced tourist guide’ readers. The real New Zealand is not a tangible location, it is not a hidden village in the mountains or by the sea, it is not a beach, nor a farm, nor a quiet city corner. You will find the real New Zealand in the people of the land and their rich culture. Discover the real New Zealand by fishing with a Maori (an indigenous New Zealander), or shearing sheep with a Pakeha (a European White New Zealander), or singing karaoke with one of the countries broad range of immigrants. While they come in a variety of shapes, colours, and sizes, all New Zealanders are proud to communally call themselves ‘Kiwis’. It is through the eyes of these Kiwis that you will discover the real New Zealand!

How do you find the real New Zealand?

Just ask. I am serious, all you need to do is ask. New Zealanders are known worldwide for their friendly and open personality. It isn’t just a rumour; the further into New Zealand you go the friendlier the locals become. Admittedly, Auckland is not the friendliest part of the country, but then big cities never are. But even in Auckland you will normally find at least one local who is happy to give you sound advice on what to see, where to visit, and how to get there. Leave Auckland behind (after a good visit to the cities wonderful attractions) and you will quickly find yourself surrounded by good-natured Kiwis, ready to show you what New Zealand is all about.

Tips for getting the conversation started

  1. 1.Look lost. Trust me on this, Kiwis always feel sorry for someone who looks lost, and because we love to show how well we know our land, chances are we will walk over and offer help.
  2. 2.Go into the nearest open store and ask for directions, making sure the shopkeeper hears your accent. This is particularly effective if English is your second language.
  3. 3.Be honest. Simply walk up to someone, tell him or her you are a foreign tourist, and you would like to discover the real New Zealand. They will probably call in some assistance from friends and family and plan the rest of your New Zealand holiday with you.

Good places to find the real New Zealand

Northland

Do not confuse Northland with the North Island. Northland is basically comprised of all of the land north of Auckland. Northland stretches from Orewa, a popular beach village 20 minutes north of Auckland, to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand. Northland offers many beautiful unspoilt beaches, wonderful diving, and some of New Zealand’s most important history. Add to this that Northland embodies a full Maori culture and you have discovered an open doorway to the Real New Zealand.

East Cape

Getting off the beaten track is easy to do on the East Cape. Driving the road that leads from Whakatane, in the sunny Bay of Plenty, around the easternmost tip of New Zealand to Gisborne is one trip not to miss. This lonely and rugged land is home to hardened farmers and fishing families who have worked this land and water throughout New Zealand’s history. I will never forget driving this road in 2002 over a three-day weekend and experiencing a more real New Zealand than I ever knew. It is crazy for me to say this because I was raised in Whakatane and never really discovered this treasure before. The people are amazing, the scenery and landscape is incredible, and our experience there, on the whole, was just perfect. It was the real New Zealand.

Southland

Again, this can be a tricky one. Do not confuse Southland with the South Island. Southland is the southernmost part of mainland New Zealand. Boasting the southernmost cinema in the world and various other interesting claims to fame, Southland is perhaps best known throughout the world for ‘Bluff Oysters’. But my main reason for loving Southland is the people. ‘Southlanders’ are without a doubt the friendliest and most welcoming of all New Zealanders. They also talk a little different to the rest of us, but that is ok, we love them all the same. The high country sheep farms of Southland are a perfect place to discover the real New Zealand.

Drive north from Invercargill to the towns of Winton or Gore, ask a local farmer questions about farming or sheep, and do not be at all alarmed if you are invited for dinner or a ‘cuppa’. The real New Zealand is definitely in abundance here.

Taking the real New Zealand home

Remember these key points, and you will not only discover the real New Zealand, you will also have the trip of a lifetime. Yes, you can lose yourself in the rugged and wild New Zealand countryside, and yes you can find ‘not so beaten tracks’ in guidebooks, but the real New Zealand is more than that. You deserve to discover the real New Zealand (especially after surviving that long flight), and it wont cost you anything. The real New Zealand is available through the people, ‘Kiwis’; just talk to them and you will find the real New Zealand. Chances are, you will take a lot of it home with you.

About the author:
Greg Scowen in a freelance travel journalist and website developer rolled into one. From his base in Switzerland, Greg maintains the 'New Zealand Focus' website, to share the wonders of New Zealand with the world.