General Thoughts About New Zealand
New Zealand was absolutely stunning in terms of natural beauty. The mountains just come right up out of the sea and that contrast is what makes it amazing. Most of the lakes are crystal clear and there were so many places where I could fill my water bottle because I could SEE the entire path of the water starting from the actual glacier the water was coming off of, down a nearby waterfall and through the valley that brought the water down to me. I could see for myself that there were no cows, no factories, no chance of any kind of pollution... THAT was an incredible feeling. The rainforests are lush and (for the most part) incredibly diverse with countless species all around you. There has been some logging, so in some areas the diversity is lower. Just the same, if you've seen the Lord of the Rings movies you have gotten a taste of how beautiful this country is... but even though those movies were beautifully filmed, they still didn't capture all of the beauty in this country... Anyway, the country felt like one huge national park... there were so many moments where I didn't know which direction to look because from one spot I could see snow-capped mountains in one direction, a gorgeous beach in another, a lake mirroring foothills in another, a sunset of pinks and oranges in yet another... I doubt there is any photographer who could come close to capturing that experience in any photograph or series of photographs... I know MY photos certainly don't do the country justice...
Also, the people of New Zealand (kiwis) are very nice and laid back. They are not about money and consumerism. They are about enjoying what they do and living very simply. I didn't see many new or large houses. Most people wear fleece and Tevas... (Although Auckland was an isolated exception. Folks were much more trendy there and more interested in 'being seen'.) I met so many gracious, polite kiwis.
I had the usual feeling that American foreign policy isn't very popular around the world... I've had this feeling on all my international trips. The Kiwis were particularly polite about it, but the feeling was still there. There also seems to be a sort of friendly competition... I asked a few kiwis what they were most proud of, and they didn't hesitate at all - "Oh, Lord of the Rings, definitely." When I asked why, they replied something along the lines of "because we kicked Hollywood's butt." I also had a few very interesting political discussions... and not just with Kiwis... there were people from all over the world there. I met a few Americans, but also people from Britain, Switzerland, Germany, and Canada. The discussions were always very polite and respectful, which was nice, but the honest ones eventually included expressions of frustration over American policies...
Traveling alone was so easy in New Zealand because tourism is second only to agriculture (sheep and cows mostly) in their economy. Even though I can't remember ever feeling unsafe, I still couldn't stop watching my back... which I guess is a good thing.