When it comes to flora, we have diverse vegetation - everything from coastal grasses, moss-covered rainforests, and dense primeval forests of ancient podocarp trees to palms, lush ferns, orchids, Norfolk pines, bougainvillea, flame trees, and hibiscus. In the far north, the Waipoua Forest is home to our giant kauri trees, which are one of the oldest species in the world. Tane Mahuta, the largest of the kauri trees, is said to be over 2,000 years old. In the central North Island and throughout the mountainous regions of the South, there are tortured-looking alpine plants, brilliant lichens, beech forests, and gigantic tree ferns. Because of that same geographic isolation that shaped our bird life, 84% of New Zealand's flowering plants are found nowhere else in the world.

New Zealand is a highly productive agricultural country, and during early settlement, much of the land was developed at the expense of our unique native forests. Lush pastoral lowlands have been coaxed out of swampland; and many high country farmlands are littered with the rotting tree stumps that attest to once thriving forests.

That, inevitably, is the cost of human progress. In all, around one-third of the country's total land area has been cleared since the arrival of European settlers. In more recent decades, though, New Zealand has taken a very proactive stance toward the protection of what remains. We have 13 national parks that can never be destroyed, and these are the places you should explore to get a feel for New Zealand the way it once was. But as I will mention many times throughout this guide, treat native forest areas with great respect and never venture into them alone, or without being extremely well-equipped with food, water, warm clothing, and some sort of communication device. Many thousands of people have been lost in the bush; many have never been found again. Don't take the warnings lightly.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.