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Soak up New Zealand's mystique

By Ashley Strickland, Special to CNN
  • New Zealand is a visual paradise of stunning beauty and natural adventure
  • Skydiving, glacier hiking, bungee jumping and whitewater rafting are just a few of the adventures
  • Renting a car and driving across the country is the best way to see New Zealand

Editor's note: CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at travel locations for the explorer at heart. This week, we're taking a look at New Zealand. We'll feature favorite regional foods, secrets from the locals and the best photos and stories from readers. Next week, we'll venture to South Africa. Have you ever been? Share your story with CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- New Zealand is a visual paradise of stunning beauty, natural adventure and a built-in escapism. Visitors call it otherworldly because New Zealand is unlike any other place on Earth.

"New Zealand is a magical place -- a place where you can be in the middle of nowhere but surrounded by everything," iReporter Jessica Wolkoff said. "The most extraordinary elements of nature have found their way into every corner of the country to form a uniquely beautiful landscape."

This island nation south of the equator is considered to be the "adventure capital of the world," and rightfully so. Skydiving, glacier hiking, bungee jumping, swing bridge trekking, skiing, mountain climbing and whitewater rafting are just some of the possible escapades.

New Zealand's natural landscape also provides a nicely contrasting serenity for those seeking a calm escape.

"New Zealand is a landscape country," iReporter Peter Kurdulija said. "Take it easy and make sure you give yourself enough time to explore it. Daily life has a very easy, no-rushed feel, especially in rural areas. Tune into it, and enjoy."

Below, iReporters share their tips for making the most of your New Zealand trek.

New Zealand: A thrill-seeker's dream

By land, air and sea

New Zealand's landscape is varied, so you'll need to travel in a variety of ways to fully experience it.

"Go everywhere you can -- by foot, by bike, by car, by campervan, by bus, by boat, by plane," Wolkoff said.

While driving in another country may seem intimidating, New Zealand's roads are friendly. iReporter Tab Hauser recommends renting a car, bringing a GPS and purchasing a chip for New Zealand. "The roads are in perfect shape, the signage is excellent and drivers are polite," he said.

Naked Bus, an intercity bus operator, is also an option if you're traveling between cities, iReporter Gareth Burghes said.

Driving can also provide sightseeing opportunities you might otherwise miss. Many of the roads in New Zealand are long and winding, unlike major highways, and cut through dramatic landscapes.

"The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound alone is worth the trip," iReporter Brett Line said. "You don't want to be limited to bus routes. There are so many places off the beaten path that you can't really get to unless you have a car."

When to travel

It's important to keep in mind that you'll be traveling below the equator.

"Come in November or February," Line said. "New Zealand's summer is the United States' winter, and December-January can get a bit crowded. November and February don't have the crowds but still the great weather."

Visiting New Zealand during the summer also opens you up to more adventure.

"You can do a lot more activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, diving and snorkeling," iReporter Trishna Patel said.

Line also recommends packing sunscreen with SPF 30 or 50, because the sun "feels more intense" in New Zealand, and he had the sunburn to prove it.

Where to go

New Zealand's travel opportunities are split between two islands, so remember that both the North and South islands have their own unique personality and climate.

"The northern end of the North Island is tropical, while the southern end of the South Island is alpine and mountainous," iReporter Russell Smith said. "If you can only visit once, give yourself plenty of time and don't linger too long in one place."

The biggest problem many tourists encounter exploring New Zealand? A lack of time.

"Try to go there for at least two weeks," Line said. "If you want to see both the North and the South islands, then I'd say at least three weeks. This is not the kind of place to rush through."

Each visitor has favorite cities and sights in New Zealand.

iReporter Burghes was quick to exclaim that "All first timers should go to Fiordland!" Another iReporter, Peter Kurdulija, swears by Manapouri, a small town on the edge of Fiordland National Park.

iReporter Leah Villanueva went skiing for the first time at Whakapapa Ski Field and listed Taranaki, Mount Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park as must-see spots.

Line loved every minute of his time in New Zealand.

"When I touched down in Auckland, I was on cloud nine. Auckland felt like the entrance to a giant amusement park. After a few days in the city, I was eager to leave and explore.

"The trip brought us to other jaw-dropping locations, such as Rotorua, Mount Cook, Abel Tasman National Park and Milford Sound. Milford Sound was the most incredible place I'd ever been to. Its skyscraping mountains with tall, needle-thin waterfalls pouring from them looked like nothing I'd ever seen back home. Wellington was my favorite city in the country. This country is a gem of positivity, and it quickly rubs off on you."