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12th Oct 2011 1:53am | By Damian Hall
TNT takes a look at some of the highlights of New Zealand, easily one of the most picturesque countries on earth.
In a nutshell Maori culture, cosmopolitan cities and volcanic splendour.
Did you know? Auckland has more than 50 volcanic cones in the region.
Top spots Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga, Rotorua, Taupo, Tongariro National Park, Napier, Wellington.
New Zealand's two main islands are distinctly different. The North offers subtropical rainforest and beaches, hissing and bubbling volcanic regions, accessible Maori culture, cosmopolitan cityscapes and, it goes without saying, some superlative-defying scenery.
Auckland is New Zealand's largest urban sprawl and most travellers start here. Set between two large harbours, the City of Sails is fat on culture from all different walks of life. As well as a lively nocturnal scene and a vast selection of multicultural eateries, it's not shy on scare-yourself-stupid adrenaline activities. The 328m Sky Tower allows great views over the city, as well as the opportunity to perform the 192m 'Sky Jump', while you can both climb and bungee from the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Heading into Northland, the Bay of Islands attracts plenty of visitors. With quiet coves, soft sandy beaches, sparkling waters, boisterous dolphins and an interesting history, you can see why. From Paihia, you can swim with dolphins, tour the islands by boat or indulge in many a water sport. Further up, at Matauri Bay, you can dive on the bombed Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. Ninety Mile Beach offers good walking tracks and campsites, as well as stunning beach views edged by the pine forest that covers most of the western side of the peninsula.
At Cape Reinga, the country's northernmost point, you can watch the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide before sand-boarding on the giant dunes.
South and east of Auckland, the Coromandel boasts dense scenic bushland, superb unspoilt beaches, great surf and some pretty, placid townships. As well as the opportunity to make your own bone carving and the Coromandel coastal walk, the famous Hot Water Beach has visitors dig their own hole in the sand to sit in a deliciously warm personalised bath.
Heading south, the Waitomo Caves are one of New Zealand's natural marvels, offering a variety of adventure, from some serious caving, climbing and abseiling to black-water rafting and caverns endlessly twinkling with glowworms. The oh-so English rolling hills of Matamata are home to the only piece of The Lord Of The Rings set still standing, the idyllic Hobbiton.
The heavy sulphur smell of Rotorua is unavoidable, but quick to get used to at the North Island's tourist capital. The drawcards are its famous Maori interactive cultural performances, its lake and geothermal attractions, including bubbling mud pools and geysers, plus natural hot springs and mud baths. The famous Pohutu geyser ejaculates hot water 30m up into the air.
Taupo has ample beauty and bare-knuckle rides in equal measure. Nestled amid the mountains and by a stunning, serene lake, the town has the country's most picturesque bungee, over an idyllic river, plus jet-boating and skydiving facilities.
The World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park has action aplenty year-round. As well as two snowfields operating in winter, in summer the Tongariro Crossing is rightly billed as the country's best day walk. Through the lavic moonscapes and the heart of Mordor, it's like being on another planet.
The more adventurous can climb Mt Ruapehu, a live volcano otherwise known as Mt Doom. It's an exhausting scramble to the summit, but the 360° views are incredible. Out east, it's possible to climb Mt Taranaki, another live volcano, and return to civilisation in one challenging day.
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