Although many people think that Australia and New Zealand are the same, the island nations coexist in the South Pacific as close neighbors with completely different personalities. Aussies and Kiwis enjoy a healthy sibling rivalry on the sporting field, but New Zealand has its own distinct offerings that cannot be compared to Australia's. The Maori culture is one of the strongest in all of Polynesia, and if you've seen the breathtaking, sweeping vistas portrayed in blockbuster movies like "Lord of the Rings," you won't be disappointed; this is where they were filmed.
The early Polynesian inhabitants called New Zealand "Aotearoa," which means "The Land of the Long White Cloud." Ever since European traders and whalers arrived in the late eighteenth century, it has retained a reputation for being ruggedly beautiful and mysterious, a land of geysers and glaciers that's a fusion of Maori and British.
The country is neatly packaged up in two halves. The North and South islands are separated by the Cook Strait, which is just more than 19 kilometers wide at its narrowest point. The North Island is more heavily populated, featuring bigger cities that include Auckland and the nation's capital, Wellington. The South Island is the true star of the show, with its wide-open spaces, spectacular mountains, lakes and glaciers.
From the Bay of Islands at the top of the North Island to dramatic Fiordland in the far south, cruising New Zealand opens up a world of natural wonders and reveals a vibrant culture. It's also one of the safest countries in which to travel, with efficient airline networks, generally good roads, and excellent healthcare, and emergency and hospital facilities.