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New Zealand is undoubtedly a beautiful country, and its diversity of people and landscape makes it a great place to explore.
There is a well beaten trail the length of both islands that provides a great intro to New Zealand.
It has all the facilities that tour buses and 5 star travellers need whilst they skim through our main attractions, but for those who want to explore deeper into the culture and discover secret uncrowded spots, here are a few things to remember on your trails.
1. Have an ulterior motive.
A sight seeing trip alone will take you on the typical guide book experience of crowded car parks and souvenir shops. I've always found pursuing your passion or activity will set you on many new and interesting adventures.
Once you are pursuing your particular interest, be it china dolls or rock climbing, it is bound to take you to the kind of places you enjoy and put you in contact with people you can relate to.
Walking is one of my default interests and has led me on many adventures and side roads, meeting lots of good people and stumbling on incredible places.
2. Get outside your comfort zone.
This is easier said than done in many of the world's exotic destinations where crime is a constant concern and authorities recomend no “go zones” for good reason! Thankfully New Zealand is no such place.
Universally safe, it's often in the places off the main tourist trail where you will find locals with the time and interest to have a chat, give advice or even show you around.
So forgo McDonalds and the Hilton - seek out some small owner-operator businesses down a dead-end beach road and open your mind and heart for rewarding un-globalised surprises.
There is no quicker way into a local persons heart than to ask them about their unique place in the world. As a guide I've been showing people around my favourite places for 12 years, and I still get a kick from watching people light up at the view or a unique aspect of local culture.
Asking people is also courtesy and protocol when planning to explore some places, because of spiritual, practical and safety reasons.
4. Smell the flowers (or sulphur).
When you are travelling on a time frame it's tempting to rush through to tick off all the "must sees", but in my experience it's often the memory of relaxed simple moments that stay with you.
In New Zealand it could be fish and chips on the beach, or a soak in our many natural hot pools, but keeping time to enjoy the spontaneous moment is crucial.
5. What's the story?
This is a part of our ethos as guides - part of the way we learn about and interpret the areas we guide in.
Stories are everywhere you go, and there are so many ways to dig them out. I think your own imagination is the best place to start, ask yourself "how did this quiet town in the middle of nowhere come to be here?"
All of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of a story and a mystery. Somewhere nearby someone is panning for gold or fishing for eels - all of them hold some part of the story that makes up the fascinating culture of " someone elses" everyday life.
Author: Rob Franklin, founder of Walking Legends Guided Walks, has travelled extensively at home (in NZ) and abroad and would like to thank all the trusting locals right round the world who let me experience the subtle and beautiful cultures of their everyday lives.
Guided walks on the spectacular Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk Track, in remote Te Urewera National Park. Ex-Rotorua, small groups, all inclusive.