Which country did you name the greatest on Earth?
The greatest country on Earth? According to the 87,220 readers who voted in this year’s Telegraph Travel Awards, it’s a reassuringly familiar place where sheep graze on rolling green hills, there are cricket pitches and rugby posts, sandy beaches and Victorian cathedrals. It’s New Zealand.
The British love affair with the country continues – indeed, it’s the fifth year in succession our readers have named it their favourite travel destination. New Zealand’s staggering consistency is matched by that of its nearest rivals. For the fourth Telegraph Travel Awards on the bounce the top three countries have been identical: 1) New Zealand, 2) Maldives, 3) South Africa.
One must go back to 2012 to find some variety on the podium, when Myanmar took third place.
At a glance | your three favourite countries:
|2017||New Zealand||Maldives||South Africa|
|2015/16||New Zealand||Maldives||South Africa|
|2014||New Zealand||Maldives||South Africa|
|2013||New Zealand||Maldives||South Africa|
That’s not to say there haven’t been some significant changes further down the rankings.
Canada, which has been celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, stormed to eighth place, up from 16th in 2016. Italy climbed four places to 10th, making it comfortably your favorite European country (ahead of Iceland, another rising destination, leaping from 21st to 17th overall). India jumped 11 places to 15th, with last year’s tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as well as the recent untangling of its complex visa application process, no doubt boosting its popularity.
Your 10 favorite countries
- New Zealand
- South Africa
The biggest rise overall was for Lebanon, which soared 34 places to 44th overall on the back of the Foreign Office relaxing its travel advice.
Big gains were also made by Fiji (up 18 places to 36th), Malaysia (up 12 places to 45th), Russia (up 14 places to 63rd), and Morocco (up 16 places to 74th). Portugal, Dubai, Norway, Mexico, Kenya and Croatia are also on the up.
Conversely, several countries have slipped down the rankings. Among the most significant is the US. True, it still makes your top 20, taking 18th overall. But in 2011 it took the top spot, and two years ago it was 10th. Its decline, to 13th in 2016, hastened in 2017, a year that saw the polarising Donald Trump enter the White House.
The fall from seventh to 24th for the Seychelles is hard to explain – perhaps that will be reversed next year, when BA launches direct flights.
Remarkably, France, the most visited nation on the planet, failed to make the top 50 overall, dropping five places to 55th.
What makes New Zealand so special?
New Zealand produces just 1 percent of the world’s wines – but punches way above its weight with its top-quality sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs. Most of the wineries are in the Marlborough region (wine-marlborough.co.nz) and offer great cellar door experiences (tours, tastings and blendings).
Thrills and spills
Commercial bungee jumping started here and Queenstown is the undisputed capital (bungy.co.nz) though you can also do an urban jump from Auckland’s Sky Tower (skywalk.co.nz). Other adrenaline-inducing activities include jet boating, e.g. on the Shotover River near Queenstown, and skydiving.
As anyone who has seen The Lord of the Rings film triology will know, New Zealand is a place of majestic landscapes, from the Bay of Islands in the north to Fiordland National Park in the south. In between you have the volcanoes and lakes of Tongariro NP, the many waterways of Marlborough Sounds and the snow-dusted peaks of the Southern Alps.
Enabling you to fully access all that beauty there’s an infinite variety of hiking options – most spectacularly the nine Great Walks (doc.govt.nz/great-walks) which pass through some of the finest coastal and mountain wilderness and feature accommodation huts along the way (booking essential).
To really understand the place Maori call Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, you need to know about the indigenous people. Rotorua is a center of Maori culture while the political history is explained on a full-day tour of Auckland (timeunlimited.co.nz). Auckland Museum (aucklandmuseum.com) puts on daily cultural performances.
The lack of nasty creatures is something Kiwis are proud of as it’s a metaphor for the generally benign nature of the place. People really are that friendly, crime and pollution levels are low – and catching a domestic flight is a refreshingly unstressful experience.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
This collection of vintage aircraft in Marlborough is owned by the film director Sir Peter Jackson. The exhibits – including the world’s largest private collection of First World War planes – are outstanding but they are really brought to life by the sets, built by the designers who worked with Jackson on The Lord of the Rings films. omaka.org.nz.
Not only is the weather generally temperate, with mild winters, warm summers and plenty of sunshine, but this is the southern hemisphere – which means when it’s cold and miserable here (Dec-Feb), it’s gorgeous there.
It may be a long way away (11,500 miles from the UK) and take a long time to fly there (don’t ask) but many people will have an existing connection through family or friends and, once you’re there, a Brit accent bestows honorary Kiwi status – except for the duration of rugby matches involving the All Blacks and the home nations.
Sunday roast – especially lamb – and fish and chips are still popular but Kiwi cuisine has been taken to another level with the kind of native herbs, seasonal produce and fusion recipes pioneered by Peter Gordon, whose Sugar Club in Auckland (skycityauckland.co.nz / restaurants / the-sugar-club) still cuts the mustard.