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You're winding your way along a valley etched into the earth by an ancient, industrious glacier, continually crisscrossing a broad, pebble-bottomed river that couldn't look fresher if it had just splashed its way out of a cloud, and drinking in views of variegated rock-hills, the knotted greenery of unkempt arboretums, and snow-dipped peaks crowding before an expansive blue backdrop...Such memory-filling vistas are commonplace in New Zealand, but truth be told, overblown descriptions don't do the country justice - this is one of those rare places where superlatives fight a losing battle to match the actual stature of the land, not the other way around.
And it's not just the living landscapes of New Zealand that conquer the expectations of contemporary explorers. Desires are also fulfilled (and fuelled) by restaurant plates decorated with home-grown edibles, glasses spilling over with fine local wines, entrancing Maori stories, and an overwhelming choice of inventive activities ranging from the impossible-made-easy allure of bungy jumping to the panoramic excitement of a river-skimming jetboat ride.
The wild, rough-cut beauty of this faraway country, where travelers tread paths of ice, lava, sand and rimu-sheltered dirt on their way around the pairing of main islands and across pristine satellite islets, has fittingly gained cult status as the celluloid setting for one of the most inspired stories ever told. But unlike Lord of the Rings, New Zealand is real - this is not Middle-earth, so forget the fictional comparisons and confront the country's magnificent geography, as well as its ever-evolving culture, on its own authentic terms.
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