New Zealand travel: The best tourist destination in the world?

As an Australian, there are certain things that are hard to admit.

One: Vegemite doesn't taste very nice. It's true. It's horrible. I don't know what all you Vegemite lovers are thinking but this whole fascination is a bit strange.

Two: AFL will never be an international sport. Time to give up the pretense now everyone. It's a solely Australian pastime and will forever remain thus. Have you even seen a game of International Rules? It's ridiculous.

And three: New Zealand is… Awesome. Incredible. Beautiful. In fact for travellers looking for an overseas experience, it might just be the best destination in the world. 

There. I said it.

It's hard to admit this because we've already given the Kiwis so much. We're gracious enough to let them beat us in rugby all the time (because it just means so much more to them). We were good enough to take Russell Crowe off their hands. We grit our teeth and sit through their hakas, we drink their wine, we eat their cheese and we even admit that that Sonny Bill Williams fella is probably a pretty decent bloke after all.

So it can hurt to concede that the country those Kiwis all come from is also spine-tinglingly, eye-poppingly amazing.

For some reason this is something that I tend to forget. You can push to the back of your mind that just a three-hour flight away lies an alpine paradise, a place of almost unfairly beautiful scenery, of snow-capped peaks, azure lakes, rolling green hills and clear mountain streams.

You can concentrate on our sibling rivalry and forget that Kiwis are actually some of the friendliest people that a traveller could hope to come across. You can ignore the fact that they've embraced their indigenous culture while also building something unique and new. You can dismiss the fact that it's such an easy country to get around, and that the food is so good, and that it's relatively cheap, and so on and so on. 

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New Zealand is awesome. It's tough to admit, but true. I was there a few weeks ago, on a very quick trip to Queenstown, and the group I was with spent most of their time wandering around in a daze saying things like, "What is this place?"

They were referring to the Switzerland-like qualities of the Queenstown landscape, the mix of mountains and lakes, blue sky and green grass. And this place is three hours away from home? Then we went and drank a whole lot of local pinot noir and everything seemed just that bit better again. 

I'm pretty certain New Zealand shot me with its travelling Cupid's arrow the first time I visited, back when I was 15. It was a family holiday to Christchurch and Queenstown during which, in between laughing at the accents, my brother and I had the time of our lives in a perfectly safe children's paradise.

I can remember the plane taking off at the end of our holiday, watching the green pastures disappear past the wingtip and thinking to myself, "I'm definitely coming back here."

And I have been back, plenty of times. To Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Dunedin, Lake Tekapo, Mt Cook and Queenstown. Each time I'm struck by a country that does tourism right, that welcomes visitors with friendly faces, funny accents and an accessible country.

Everyone is nice to you. Even the immigration guys have a sense of humour. My cousin, in a fairly ill-advised attempt at jocularity, once wrote his profession down on a New Zealand arrivals card as "ninja". The immigration official read over the card, then looked my cousin up and down.

"Where are your nunchucks and throwing stars, bro?" 

People are that nice. There's a refreshing honesty to Kiwis, a lack of cynicism. Yeah, they like to talk about the rugby a lot and they used to bang on about netball, but it's always good-natured.  

Perhaps the best thing about our little neighbour, however, is just that: it's little. You can see it all in a couple of weeks. You can ski in the morning and go wine tasting in the afternoon. You can be in a place like Auckland for lunch and Waiheke Island for dinner. You can climb a mountain and then eat a mountain of oysters. 

And all of those experiences are affordable enough to actually do (although if you plan to buy wine somewhere like Central Otago, you may want to take a few credit cards). 

You get a strange juxtaposition in New Zealand: you get a culture and a people that have so many similarities to ours and you find them in a country that couldn't look any more different. 

It's a traveller's paradise. You have to admit it.

b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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