September 2015 issue

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Kiwi dreaming

With compelling, unspoilt scenery and vibrant, cultural cities, New Zealand is a force to be reckoned with as an international study destination. Georgina Deacon takes a trip down, ready to attach the bungy jump rope and dive into this spectacular and magical country where urbanisation meets tradition head-on.

Combining two large islands, the North and South, as well as other smaller islands, New Zealand is a country rich with a ruggedly handsome landscape begging to be explored. So for students with a sense of adventure, studying here may be the ideal study abroad destination for them. “It’s great to have a variety of nature in a small area: beach, volcano, snow, mountains, rivers, etc.,” enthuses Fernanda Lassala at S7 Study in Brazil. “Students shouldn’t stay only in one place – they should visit and travel as much as they can.” At Töchter und Söhne in Germany, Dr Detlef Kulessa says the exotic flair and breathtaking natural scenery are what his student clients love most about New Zealand. “Students should enjoy the manifold outdoor situations and what they offer. Make yourself part of it.”

May Maytawee at K&M Education Centre in Thailand notes that her student clients feel safe in New Zealand and that the “clean and green” atmosphere helps with this. “Students enjoy going out on the weekend to explore New Zealand,” she says. “They travel around the island near the town where they are living for sightseeing and tracking.” As a relatively small country with good public and private transport, students will be able to traverse from coast to coast, from city to hamlet, and from lake to peak with ease.
North Island

Both islands boast many scenic treats, but the North Island is more cosmopolitan with larger cities and a warmer climate. New Zealand Language Centres (NZLC) has centres in the country’s two largest cities: Auckland and Wellington, both on the North Island. “Auckland is surrounded by islands, mountains, beaches and bush which make it the perfect balance of city and nature,” says Laura Wilson at the school. “Wellington has been named ‘The Coolest Little Capital in the World’ and is known as the home of cafés, museums, politics and movies.” Rosie Austin at Wanganui Collegiate School in Whanganui recommends going to see an All Blacks game, the country’s national men’s rugby team.

Much of the Maori culture can also be found on the North Island, and Chris Leckie, Principal at Rotorua English Language Academy (RELA), describes Rotorua as “the heart of Maori culture” with many welcoming villages and experiences. The city itself is known for geothermal activity which is said to give it a distinctive smell, although visitors can benefit from this in many ways. “Rotorua is located in the centre of a nature wonderland in the North Island,” says Chris. “We have 17 lakes within 40 minutes’ drive of the city, forests with long and short walking tracks, world-class mountain biking tracks and thermal areas with hot springs, mud pools, geysers and coloured rock.”

With “beach and city living”, Geoff Butler at Mount Maunganui Language Centre says that Mount Maunganui is an increasingly popular destination choice. “The atmosphere during summer has been variously described as a mini Miami, little Waikiki or California in the South Pacific.”

South Island
The differences between the two islands are subtle, but it can be said that the South Island is much wilder with the Southern Alps, Fiordland National Park and fewer people. At ABC College of English, based in Queenstown in the South Island, Tricia Lund-Jackson notes that the town is “New Zealand’s premier ski and snowboard destination” with a whole host of other activities available for students to enjoy thanks to the dramatic landscape. Tricia says students are drawn to Queenstown due to the “exciting and dramatic lifestyle” but adds, “Students also say they enjoy the warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere of Queenstown.” May at K&M Education Centre highlights that her favourite place in the country is Queenstown and adds, “It’s just like a dream living in that beautiful scenery with blue skies, big mountains, clear water and so much more.”

Education New Zealand recently reported that the number of international students in the country in 2014 had surpassed the level recorded pre-Christchurch earthquake showing the growing appeal of the country. “Christchurch is an ever-evolving city that students find to be a dynamic and exciting place to study,” says Beth Knowles at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT).

Other popular destinations on the South Island are Invercargill (the most southern city in New Zealand and one of the most southern in the world), Nelson and Dunedin. The latter is the South Island’s second largest city after Christchurch and is where some of the native little blue and yellow-eyed penguins can be spotted on the beach.

Travelling around New Zealand couldn’t be easier with hop-on hop-off bus companies being de rigueur for backpackers, offering cheap and flexible travel. “There are lots of hostels and backpacker accommodation throughout NZ and travelling with bus companies is a popular way for students to travel and explore the unique countryside and towns,” says Tricia at ABC College of English.

For students who want a little extra freedom to get off the beaten track, one of the best ways to see the country is via renting your own vehicle, says Guy Hughes at Language Schools New Zealand (LSNZ). “The best way is by rental car or camper van, although they are a bit expensive.” Geoff at Mount Maunganui Language Centre agrees. “Hiring a car [with new friends] means you can be independent, save on travel costs, and also access some more remote areas that public transport doesn’t cover,” he says.

A quicker trip is possible, especially if students want to go from one island to another. Air New Zealand currently offers 22 domestic flights and Knowles at CPIT recommends Air New Zealand’s ‘Grab a Seat’ for cheap airfares. Rosie at Wanganui Collegiate School suggests trying out the country’s rail system. “We recommend students take the trans-rail scenic tour from Palmerston North to Auckland as it travels through the Tongariro National Park and its three majestic mountains,” she says. georgina@studytravel.network

Food recommendations
Surrounded by the sea, Kiwis love their seafood which is popular throughout the country, particularly the local speciality: Marlborough green-lipped mussels. Other traditional dishes include roast lamb on a Sunday evening followed by a pavlova, a cake-sized meringue filled with fruit and cream. To go with this, visitors will be spoilt for choice by New Zealand’s wine offering. Visitors should also experience the hangi, a traditional Maori way of cooking using an earth oven.

Personal recommendations:
“During the summer months, we have a Gourmet Night Market every Friday evening in Mount Maunganui, which is hugely popular. One of our former students has a German sausage food truck located near the school, you can get delicious German sausages to take away or eat in their garden area. For those wanting to cook outdoors, Mount Maunganui offers free gas BBQ stations at various parks and beach locations – all you need to do is bring your food and you’re ready to go!” Geoff Butler, Mount Maunganui Language Centre

“If you are lucky enough, you may experience a Maori hangi and most students attending Wanganui Collegiate School would be invited by a NZ family for a typical NZ roast lamb or barbeque and the famous NZ pavlova with kiwifruit.” Rosie Austin, Wanganui Collegiate School

“LSNZ Queenstown is in the O’Connells Shopping Centre. On the ground floor is a food court which is very convenient. Also, Fergburger is very famous around the world!” Guy Hughes, Language Schools New Zealand

“In Christchurch, we suggest students go to Riccarton Road where they will find an array of different cuisines at very reasonable prices. Christchurch also has some of the best ethnic restaurants in New Zealand.” Beth Knowles, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology

“The top areas in Auckland for eating are Britomart, Vulcan Lanes, Ponsonby, Mission Bay and Dominian Road. In Wellington, we recommend Cuba Street, the Waterfront, Tory Street, Willis Street and Thorndon.” Laura Wilson, New Zealand Language Centres

“Rotorua has dozens of eating places representing many different countries. Visitors can eat at Eat Streat, a covered restaurant area which often features live music and a vibrant atmosphere.” Chris Leckie, Rotorua English Language Academy

1.Tongariro Crossing
It’s difficult to talk about New Zealand without mentioning its many impressive natural wonders. Tongariro Crossing is one of those, and certainly worth a visit. As the country’s oldest national park, the 19.4km crossing can be trekked in one day, although it is very steep in places, offering hikers stunning views across jagged peaks, volcanic craters and turquoise sulphuric pools. “It is one of the best one-day walks in the world,” says Geoff Butler at Mount Maunganui Language Centre. Fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of books will recognise parts of the trek as the eerily impressive wasteland of Mordor.

2. Hobbiton
Speaking of Mordor, it is perhaps impossible to visit New Zealand without dipping your toes into the awesome scenic settings of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which was filmed entirely in the country. Hobbiton specifically is a purpose-built film set in Matamata on the North Island where The Shire scenes were filmed. Visitors can get up-close-and-personal with Bag End and other hobbit holes, as well as The Green Dragon Inn!

3. Bungy jumping
Many believe that New Zealand’s spectacular scenery is best experienced from up high and for many adrenaline hunters, a trip to the country wouldn’t be complete with a bungy jump. Options are available across the country, from bridges, rail viaducts and platforms on cliff edges. The first bungy jumping spot in New Zealand was opened at Kawarau Bridge, just outside of Queenstown, in 1988.

4. Milford Sound
“Having seen the Milford Sound, your view on nature will be changed forever,” says Dr Detlef Kulessa from Töchter und Söhne. Located within Fiordland National Park, the Milford Sound – or Piopiotahi in Maori – is one of the most beautiful and best-known fjords in New Zealand. Overshadowed by the great Mitre Peak, the fjord is a spectacular experience and incredibly peaceful despite its popularity.

5. Maori culture
An important part of life in New Zealand, Maori culture of the indigenous people can be seen and experienced in a number of different ways. Tours allow visitors to visit a native forest to discover more about how the Maori people used plants for food and medicine, as well as learning how to weave with harakeke (flax leaves), witnessing kapa haka (the traditional Maori dance) and perhaps even an overnight stay in a marae, a complex of buildings belonging to a particular tribe.

6. Wai-O-Tapu
A natural geothermal area based just outside of Rotorua on the North Island, Wai-O-Tapu was formed over thousands of years of volcanic activity. These days, visitors can walk around and admire the vibrantly coloured hot springs, erupting geysers and bubbling mud pools.

7. Auckland
Although it is not the capital of the country, Auckland is by far the largest urban area and home to more people than the whole of the South Island. “It is known as ‘The City of Sails’ due to its many boats and sailing culture and has a vibrant sports and culture scene too,” says Laura Wilson at New Zealand Language Centres.

8. Waitomo Caves
A true natural wonder, the caves at Waitomo are filled with glowworms which shine a brilliant turquoise in the darkness of the cavern creating a spectacle overhead reminiscent of billions of galaxies in the night sky. Small boats cruise through the caves which were under the ocean until 30 million years ago and small fossils of seashells and fish skeletons can still be seen today.

9. Wine tasting
New Zealand wine is of a very good standard due to the long ripening period of its grapes, and many wine regions are situated in fantastic locations such as Waiheke Island, north of Auckland, home to a haven of wineries and vineyards.

10. Spot a kiwi
The native bird of New Zealand, and the informal name of people from New Zealand, the humble flightless kiwi bird can be spotted up and down the country.
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University College Cork Language Centre  

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International School of the Algarve  
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