New Zealand is a remote country — unless, like me, you live in Melbourne. Then, it’s just a short 3-hour flight over the Pacific Ocean. This remoteness preserves the land’s unique nature and culture. Carved by volcanoes and shaped into a home by the Māori for more than 700 years, it’s a land of beauty and tradition. Their reverence for the environment and, notably, their profound respect for elders resonated deeply with me. As a promoter of positive aging, witnessing a culture that values and respects its older generations was heartwarming. Travel, for me, is about gaining new perspectives on life and humanity. It’s about returning with a fresh outlook on your own journey. So, if these values resonate with you, then buckle up. We’re about to explore the edge of the world and the beauty of being human together.
My journey kicks off in Auckland, the bustling capital 34% of Kiwis call home. The city, with its picturesque waterfront, offers a perfect blend of urban vibes and natural beauty. The Auckland Art Gallery, with a beautiful colonnade inspired by New Zealand’s Pōhutukawa trees, provided a stunning introduction to Māori art, setting the tone for the cultural exploration ahead. It houses beautiful work from Dame Robin White, one of New Zealand’s most prominent contemporary artists. I took a minute to enjoy a cup of coffee at the gallery’s café with open views to the botanical garden.
Auckland offers a perfect blend of urban vibes and natural beauty
Auckland Museum is also a must-visit. I chose to skip the European exhibits and jump straight into Māori and Pacific treasures. I was particularly impressed by the carved houses and structures, including a Māori war canoe carved from a giant totara tree. It’s a culture that embraces art in everyday life, from detailed carvings on meeting houses to expressive dance and tattoos.
The city’s vibrant port served as a launchpad for a ferry ride to Waiheke, an island paradise just 45 minutes away. Accompanied by newfound hiking companions, I took the Matiatia Headland Track, which revealed breathtaking properties and cliffs, vineyards, and hidden beaches. The day culminated with a well-deserved glass of New Zealand cider.
Making my way south from Auckland, I made a quick stop at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. These caves form a unique ecosystem illuminated by millions of glow worms hanging from the ceiling. We traveled through the flooded caves on a paddle boat, silently gliding our way through. Floating through the darkness, I lost sense of distance and space and felt surrounded by millions of shimmering stars. Each glow worm reflected on the water multiplied the beauty of that place.
Walking through this cinematic place felt like stepping into a different world
The magic continued at Hobbiton, the ‘made-up town’ from Lord of the Rings. My next destination initially seemed like an odd choice, and I was a bit embarrassed to go. As I arrived, the green, blue skies, hilly landscape combined with beautiful ‘hobbit’ architecture created a truly magical experience that made it seem as if hobbits exist and live there. What an incredible place! Walking through this cinematic place felt like stepping into a different world; a journey worth taking, especially for fans of the trilogy.
With all the walking, this became one of my most tiring days on the trip. Thankfully, the place I chose to spend the night couldn’t have been more perfect. My hotel in Rotorua turned out to be a surprise gem, featuring a massive natural hot pool all to myself. I spent the following day exploring this charming town, situated at the heart of the Pacific Ring of Fire and dotted with Māori temples and carved structures. Every corner seemed to hold a sweet surprise, from the numerous hot pools at the public Kuirau park to the stunning Māori buildings set against the backdrop of Lake Rotorua, formed from the crater of a large volcano. Unable to resist, I wrapped up my day in the warm embrace of a hot pool at the Polynesian Spa, sipping chilled Pinot Grigio and soaking in the beauty of Rotorua under the clear blue skies.
As the North Island chapter concluded, my eyes turned to the South Island — an adventure that promised more tales of breathtaking landscapes and cultural revelations. Stories for another AGEIST newsletter…
www.so50.org / @so50.fun
Magno, founder of So50.org, curates travel experiences for those 50 and above. As a positive-aging advocate, he’s passionate about helping people find purpose and seek out new experiences.