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Natural World

The majestic beauty of New Zealand's landscape has long been appreciated by global travellers, but they often struggled to find words to do proper justice to it. Their task has become easier since the Lord of the Rings trilogy successfully captured New Zealand's mythic scale and grandeur.

By using his homeland to represent Middle-Earth, director Peter Jackson demonstrated conclusively the mythic scale and grandeur of New Zealand; and now visiting 'Lord of the Rings' locations has become something of an industry. The New Zealand landscape also plays its part in number of other recent box-office successes, such as 'The Chronicles of Narnia', 'Whale Rider', and 'The World's Fastest Indian'. Each has the effect of drawing new audiences to New Zealand itself.

National Parks

New Zealand has preserved areas of outstanding natural beauty in fourteen National Parks, plus numerous other parks and reserves; together they account for almost a third of New Zealand's surface area. The National Parks have well-organised facilities for visitors, including long-distance hiking trails (some designated as 'Great Walks'), equipped with hikers' huts for overnight stays. See the website of the New Zealand Department of Conservation: www.doc.govt.nz

NATIONAL PARKS IN THE NORTH ISLAND

Te Urewera: Lakes and native forests, with many of New Zealand's unique native birds; Maori heritage walks. Whanganui: Famed for its canoe/kayaking 'Great Walk'; plus jet boating and the mysterious 'Bridge to Nowhere'. Tongariro: Forests, turquoise lakes and a trio of volcanoes (including Ruapehu, or 'Mount Doom' in 'The Lord of the Rings'); also famous for its one-day hike called the Tongariro Crossing.

NATIONAL PARKS IN THE SOUTH ISLAND

Abel Tasman: Coastal tracks and sand beaches. Paparoa: Famous for its 'Pancake Rocks' on Dolomite Point: eroded limestone that puts on an impressive display of spouting blowholes during high seas. Westland: Contains the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, dropping down from the Southern Alps to temperate rainforest. Aoraki/Mount Cook: Set around New Zealand's highest mountain, and 18 other peaks. Fiordland: Home of the famed Milford Track (see Top Ten Things to Do). Rakiura: On Stewart Island (New Zealand's third island, in the far south): wetlands, mountains and rainforests, where you stand a fair chance seeing a kiwi.

Other Wonders

Waipoua Kauri Forest: In the Northlands, in the far north of the North Island, this magnificent forest contains Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), a kauri tree 1,250 years old. For more on the kauri tree, visit the Kauri Museum at Matakohe.

Waitomo Caves: Millions of glow-worms in their magical cave setting (see Top Ten Things to Do).

Rotorua: Geothermal wonders (see Top Ten Things to Do).

Kaikoura whale watching: The only place where you are likely to see a whale at any time of the year (see Top Ten Things to Do).

Mackenzie Country, central South Island: An area of outstanding natural beauty. It’s the setting for the Battle of Pelennor Fields in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King', filmed near the town of Twizel.

Moeraki Boulders: Mysterious giant spherical rocks, which still leave geologists baffled; lying on the beach some 70 km (45 miles) north of Dunedin.

Royal Albatross Centre, Dunedin: Site of the world's only mainland breeding colony of the royal albatross (see Towns and Cities).

Unique wildlife

Before the arrival of human settlers, New Zealand had only one kind of land-based mammal species: bats. A number of flightless birds evolved, as they had few natural predators to fly away from. These include not only the nocturnal kiwi (symbol of New Zealand), but also the takahe, the weka, and the kakapo parrot. Another famous New Zealand bird is the cheeky kea, a parrot that likes to strip windscreen wipers off cars. New Zealand also has a 'living dinosaur', the small, lizard-like tuatara, which has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, and is now found only on offshore islands. Marine life includes not only whales and dolphins, but also seals and penguins. New Zealand also has a unique set of native trees, such the giant kauri, and the rimu, totara, kowhai and pohutukawa.