Louisiana: What to do in the US state that offers the most 'unique and authentic' American holiday possible

Louisiana: What to do in the US state that offers the most 'unique and authentic' American holiday to travellers.
"Louisiana truly is a melting pot of many different cultures that make it unique." Photo credit: Getty Images / supplied

New Zealanders travelling to the United States now have multiple options for direct flights to New York, which come in addition to the ever popular nonstop routes to California.

But those aren't the only places in the country to get to easily from Aotearoa and one of them is a state that boasts a more "unique and authentic" American holiday than any other: Louisiana.

Doug Bourgeois is the assistant secretary at Louisiana's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and recently visited New Zealand to recommend Kiwi tourists head to the American South on their next visit rather than the popular coastal areas.

"In the US there are three main areas to visit: the 13 original colonies everyone goes to in the East; then California, which dominates the West; and then there is the American South. The South is the most unique and authentic place you can go to if you're interested in that true Americana experience," Bourgeois told Newshub.

"If the US is a family then the South is sort of like that crazy cousin everyone talks about but they'll never miss their parties. They might whisper about us and say 'they have too much fun, they love food too much, they have too much music'; but they'll never miss an invitation if we give it time."

Louisiana's tourism slogan is 'Feed Your Soul', which draws on the state's key attractions including a vibrant music scene, Cajun and Creole cuisine, the Mississippi River, historic plantations, diverse architecture and, of course, New Orleans.

With its jazz festivals and the Mardi Gras, the city has been iconic for many reasons for a very long time - in Gone With the Wind, Rhett and Scarlet had their honeymoon in New Orleans.

People come from around the world for the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
People come from around the world for the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Photo credit: supplied

But for many, the best thing about the state is its people.

"Louisiana truly is a melting pot of many different cultures that make it unique," Bourgeois said. 

"We're sort of America's foreign country in many ways. We have our Cajun culture from the Acadians, we maintain our traditions of our African heritage, our Caribbean heritage, our French heritage, our Spanish heritage, our German heritage - it's all very strong. 

"We are a people that really love life. We love to share our stories and share our culture, never sugarcoating it, telling people exactly who we are and what we are. Everywhere in the US has a special thing to offer visitors, but we think ours is more of a feeling. We jokingly say Louisiana is not for spectators - you just have to be a part of it."

What to do and where to go on your first Louisiana holiday 

Departing Auckland you can get to Houston on a direct flight with Air New Zealand. From there, New Orleans is a one hour flight or a six hour drive away - but ideally you want to make that a three or four day drive, Bourgeois said.

Here's how he recommends you do it.

"After getting a rental car and driving out of  Houston, within one hour you hit the state line of Louisiana at the Lake Charles area. There you'll find a wonderful place called the Creole Nature Trail - an all-American road with alligators and other wildlife that showcases some of the most iconic landscapes of Louisiana," Bourgeois said.

"From there, drive south and along the Gulf of Mexico along the I-10 which is a very driveable, major interstate, then you get to the area of Lacassine. There you'll see sugar cane fields and distilleries you can stop at and try the rum we make from the sugar cane there.

Lacassine tourism.
Folks enjoying nature in Lacassine. Photo credit: supplied

"It's also on the North American flyways, so the bird life - especially during the migration season - is incredible. People from around the world come to see the yellow rail, which is this elusive bird and on every serious birdwatchers checklist. The roseate spoonbill bird is also incredible.

"Past Lacassine you can stop at the Gator Chateau where you can hold baby gators that are rescued and eventually returned to the wild. All of this is right off that main corridor you're driving along and stopping at these places allows you to get to know the really authentic people that live there.

Gator Lodge and rum distilleries are among the fun things to do in Louisiana.
Stopping at a rum distillery and Gator Lodge are musts. Photo credit: supplied

"Continuing down you'll get into the area where we grow rice - and we grow rice and crawfish in the same field, so it's an interesting place to visit.

"That area is truly Cajun country where the people are the friendliest. You hear stories about the Acadians, their music and how the accordion was very much a part of everyone's life. Music is found in every restaurant there and the food is of course incredible.

True Cajun country - Gatorville.
True Cajun country. Photo credit: supplied

"Continue just a little further and you can visit the Tabasco factory. The famous hot sauce is a Louisiana product and the family that started it is still there producing it.

"Then you get to the Atchafalaya where you can take one of the airboat tours through the swamps there. The Atchafalaya is America's largest water swamp with a truly unique ecosystem that's very worth seeing. Then you continue on to Baton Rouge, the capital and home of LSU [Louisiana State University]. Of course, football is king in Louisiana and LSU is one of those schools where football truly is a way of life.

Louisiana African American heritage.
The state's African American heritage is celebrated. Photo credit: supplied

"Then you hit the river road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and this is really the corridor of history. There you see the great mansions, many of which were built by the enslaved people. You will hear the stories of the fortunes developed by the people who owned these sugarcane fields - the English, French, Acadian and Creole peoples. But you'll also hear the story of the enslaved peoples and how they were a very important part of this culture.

"Slavery was a terrible time, but those people left an important mark on Louisiana. And the state being Creole meant it had a different code - Le Code Noir - the French code which said slavery is wrong, no matter where it is. So things were different in Louisiana in how they educated people of all races.

Louisiana is home to many glorious antebellum mansions.
Louisiana is home to many glorious antebellum mansions. Photo credit: supplied

"Then, of course, you end up in New Orleans - the crown jewel of the Mississippi. Music lives there every day. The food and culture is iconic. You visit the French Quarter and hear the stories of the people there, and it's truly a bucket list story.

"Once you're in New Orleans, you need at least three days there to really see the city, learn about the culture and experience the food and music."

Bourbon Street, New Orleans.
The infamous Bourbon Street. Photo credit: Getty Images

People may associate New Orleans with wild party culture - but there is much more to it than that.

"Think of that joie de vivre, that love of life that the people have throughout the city and the whole state," Bourgeois said. 

"Outside of the Bourbon Street party, it's a different kind of party. It's more getting together to enjoy friendship and family with the good food and good music that lives everyday in Louisiana - especially in the South at the places along the Mississippi River. 

"Bourbon Street is one street - you've got to see it, it's a bucket list thing; but the party continues in a different way outside of that street."