Alright, let's just get this out of the way.  Lord of the Rings rules.  You may not think so, but you'd be wrong and I forgive you.  The point of the matter is that I was one of the many young folk that was fairly unaware of New Zealand until I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001.  From that moment on I was endeared to the Kiwi landscape, and I knew that I would absolutely have to visit someday - not simply because the country was used in Lord of the Rings, but because it has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.  I've had quite a few people ask me to pick my favorite country, which is pretty impossible.  However, I do know which countries I most want to visit again, and behind Iceland New Zealand is definitely near the top of the list.  

I take notes on all my trips to help me remember small moments and to keep a journal of my thoughts as I go.  By the end of this trip, many of my notes began to show a pattern.  First, New Zealand feels and looks like a fantasy world, not even considering Tolkien lore and films.  I found myself imagining dragons flying and battles raging in the valleys around me, and not even intentionally: it was like I had my 8-year-old imagination back in a place where anything seemed possible.  I was also continuously mesmerized by just how foreign everything seemed: many of the local animals are unique to New Zealand, the impeccable arrangement of hills and forests seemed designed by hand, and even the cloud formations were fascinating, as if I had never seen clouds before.  After all of that and having a killer time getting to know the locals I came to this conclusion: so far for me, if there is something close to a perfect country, it's New Zealand.

Top experiences:  Hiking and camping along the famous Routeburn trek, taking my first piloting lesson, seeing the world's smallest and rarest penguins, being taught the Haka by some Maori guys, summiting an active volcano (Ngauruhoe - Mount Doom in the LotR movies),  and of course visiting Hobbiton - yes, it looks exactly like the movies, with actual vegetable gardens and their own ales.  

Alright, I'm done geeking out.  Here are a few photos from my time there: