Comparable in size and/or shape to Great Britain, Colorado or Japan, New Zealand has a population of only 4 million - making it one of the least crowded countries in the world. A haven for those seeking peace, rejuvenation and relaxation, as well as a playground for thrill seekers and adventurers, a temperate climate with relatively small seasonal variation makes it an ideal year-round holiday destination. It is thought that only the birds lived here before around 1400 AD so all of our human history is fairly recent. The Maori heritage in particular is as much about the here and now as it is about the past.

Get a true taste of Kiwi Life by these 4 "Only in New Zealand" experiences:

"New Zealand: Maori Culture 005" by Steve Evans via Flickr Creative Commons

Maori People

Yes, you can learn a lot about this amazing culture by visiting museums and art galleries but you can also do so simply by pulling up a chair and sharing a quiet moment with someone who will quite likely be able to trace their lineage (whakapapa) back to the very first canoes to ever land here. Maori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people, of New Zealand. They came here over 1000 years ago from their mythical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. Today Maori make up 14% of the population and their culture and language sit at the heart of New Zealand life and society.

You’ll notice that most of the place names are Maori and you’re bound to hear te reo – the Maori language. There would be few New Zealanders who do not recognize – and use – common Maori terms and phrases. You’ll probably pick a few up yourself. Start with ‘kia ora’ – hello, and you won’t go wrong. And you’re bound to have seen the haka probably performed by the All Blacks, New Zealand’s rugby team, before a match. Like most things in Maori culture there is a mana and significance to the haka that is much deeper than outside appearances. In Rotorua, there are organized tours that will give you a traditional welcome onto a marae where you will then be introduced to traditional Maori song, dance and haka and be given a feed of kai moana from the men who’ve gone out fishing.

Hot, Hot Heat

When you’re in New Zealand you cannot help but notice that the powerful forces churning away under the earth’s crust are never far away. Much of the landscape, particularly in the North Island is volcanic. Auckland is a city of volcanic cones. Lake Taupo is a caldera, a collapsed volcano. 26,500 years ago it was one of the biggest eruptions in the world and covered the central North Island in ash up to 200 meters deep. The lake is quiet (fingers crossed) but the volcanic zone is still there in the mountains of Ruapehu, Ngauruahoe and Tongariro. Ruaphehu actually has New Zealands’s largest ski/snowboard resorts in the country. When’s the last time you can say you went skiing down a volcano?

In Rotorua you can watch mud boiling in pools and landscapes that hiss with steam while geysers tower above you and know that this has been going on for thousands of years. New Zealanders, being New Zealanders, have found a use for this geothermal force of nature. In Rotorua, the Maori people use it to cook their hangi (underground steam-cooked feast). You can also relax in the hot springs to unwind. And at Wairakei, near Taupo, the steam and heat is used to produce power, a natural source of renewable energy.

"20 12 2014" by Eddy Milfort via Flickr Creative Commons

Take a “Walk”

New Zealand hiking experiences range from leisurely hour long beach walks to week-long excursions through rain forests and mountains. About 30 percent of the country is protected land and National Parks offer plenty of tracks to choose from. You can easily access every park and every terrain; from lush native rainforest and rugged coastal walks, through high country farmland and up spectacular glaciers.

New Zealand has nine famous Great Walks. These hikes take you to the most magnificent places in the country. The most well known of these is the Milford Track in Fiordland. The 33-mile journey takes you through pristine lakes, sky-scraping mountain peaks, enormous valley views and the cascade of the tallest waterfall in New Zealand. The other Great Walks include Abel Tasman Coast, Heaphy Track, Kepler Track, Lake Waikaremoana, Rakiura Track, Routeburn Track, Tongariro Northern Circuit, and Whanganui Journey. If you’re feeling extra ambitions, Te Araroa is a new national walkway project, which runs the entire length of the country.

Explore the Sound

Milford Sound is a place of enchantment that will stun you with its dramatic splendor. The journey itself is a scene stealing revelation. Drive from Queenstown, along the shores of Lake Te Anau and you reach the Homer Tunnel, which leads you down to the tiny settlement of Milford Sound. Head to the wharf because this is where the real adventure starts.

From here you can take boat cruises along the Sound, head out sea kayaking or, for an aerial view, flightseeing. Whichever way you go you will see sights that you have never seen before – huge peaks, precipitous waterfalls and sheer rock faces tumbling into the depths of the fiord. For a different view, visit the underwater observatory and marvel at the black coral, 11-legged sea stars and delicate anemones.