New Zealand promotes its splendid isolation

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The small country is located in the southwestern Pacific and is home to adventurers and flightless birds.

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The rugby-loving citizens of New Zealand, often overshadowed by Down Under and always trying to distance themselves from the boastful Australia next door, have long overcome isolation through their passion for foreign travel.

Young kiwis have crossed “the rift” – the Tasman Sea – for decades to work and play in major Australian cities like Sydney and Melbourne, and “OS” – going overseas – is a rite of passage for thousands of backpackers in the Gap- Year.

They perfected the art of the working holiday by serving fancy coffee at Covent Garden in London, pinting pints in Dublin’s pubs and outfitting skiers at Whistler / Blackcomb Resort on the west coast of British Columbia to fund a vacation that otherwise, years can drag on for months.

But like so much in the travel industry, the plague that has turned our lives upside down has greatly dampened the kiwi’s wanderlust. Although the country has successfully battled the virus, not least thanks to its isolation, low population density and strict border controls, it has been forced to turn inward and awaken the specter of a hermit kingdom Down Under as New Zealand and Australia go to zero strive for COVID guidelines.

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While the news is bad for the itchy residents, at least in the short term, it’s good news for virus-conscious vacationers eager to embrace what has driven so many New Zealanders abroad – this glorious isolation. With a population of just five million people – and around 26 million sheep – New Zealand relies on foreign visitors to boost its economy and is confident it can welcome Canadian vacationers by early 2022.

“Now, more than ever, we crave vast land, space to roam without the crowds, and time to relax mentally and physically,” says Tourism New Zealand, which sponsors several “wellness outings” as vaccinations are rampant and the health crisis subsides.

Made up of three islands, New Zealand has so far mostly attracted the adventurous – this is where bungee jumping was invented, after all – but this latest move focuses on relaxation.

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On 270,000 square kilometers – larger than Great Britain but with only a fraction of the population – there is a lot of freedom of movement (but watch out for the sheep!). And with the main urban centers of Auckland and Wellington in the North Island, organizing an itinerary that is stress relieving is a breeze.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Stewart Island

Stewart Island is by far the smallest of the three islands and takes everyday life to new heights. The 1,800 square kilometer offshore oasis with rare wildlife, rugged rainforest peaks and secluded beaches is only 30 km from the tip of the South Island – but it could just as easily be on the South Pole.

With only 400 inhabitants and 13,000 of the notoriously shy kiwi birds, the island – known in the Maori as Raikura or “Land of the Shining Sky” – is a paradise off the grid with 700 km of coastline and almost 300 km of hiking trails, 90 percent of which is now a national park are.

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In addition to being one of the best places in the country to see the flightless kiwi in the wild, Stewart is also a popular spot for viewing the Southern Lights (Aurora australis), a Down Under variant of its famous northern cousin, the Aurora borealis.

Once a stately homestead, the hillside Stewart Island Lodge offers comfortable B&B accommodation just a five-minute walk from the island’s only village and is convenient for exploring the national park and the Ulva Island bird sanctuary. (stewartislandexperience.co.nz)

South island

On the South Island, the Rainforest Retreat on the west coast, the child in all of us channels with luxurious tree house accommodation in the heart of New Zealand’s glacier country in the spectacular mountain range of the Southern Alps. It is an ideal base for exploring the Franz Josef Glacier, one of the most easily accessible in the world. (regenwald.nz)

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Not far from Christchurch, the third largest city in the country and the largest settlement on the South Island, the Annandale Estate is a working coastal farm offering “gumboot luxury” to guests along the rolling hills of the Banks Peninsula. With four luxury villas overlooking the Pacific Ocean, visitors are promised an ultra-modern retreat in the middle of a fully restored 19th century homestead. (annandale.com)

North island

New Zealand’s political center Wellington is one of the most beautiful capitals in the world and rightly proud of its environmental stewardship. One of the “jewels in the crown” of its Kapiti Island nature reserve is just an hour’s drive north. (kapitiisland.com)

The 1,965-acre nature reserve is pest and predator free and is home to many of New Zealand’s critically endangered bird species, including more than 1,200 small spotted kiwi. The only lodge on the island offers a cozy hut experience and real Maori hospitality with the option of an “overnight kiwi spotting tour” – but no guarantee of a demonstration.

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Another island hideaway just an hour from New Zealand’s “Big Smoke” Auckland is also known for protecting endangered species in their natural habitat.

But its history as a sanctuary has an unusual twist: it was once a rehab center for alcoholics. The Salvation Army treated more than 12,000 addicts on Rotoroa Island – an early model of sustainability with its working farms, sprawling orchards, and lush vegetable gardens – from 1911 to 2005 when wisdom dictated that offshore isolation was no longer in the best interests of patients . (rotoroa.org.nz)

Four years later, the “Island of Restoration” was sold to the Rotoroa Trust, which has worked hard to redesign it as a nature reserve. A museum shows its role in addiction treatment and touches on the Maori and early European influences that shaped the island.

At just 80 acres, with several enticing walks and beaches, it’s easy to explore in a day. Be on the lookout for rare bird specialties like the takahe.

РAndr̩ Ramshaw

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