New Zealand Travel Guide
For such a small island, New Zealand is packed with things to do. The diverse landscape offers up a little of everything, from hiking through the vast wilderness, exploring natural wonders, taking a tour of Hobbiton and wine tasting in beautiful countryside vineyards that are spread throughout the country.
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WHEN TO go
Keep in mind that the seasons are different than in North America. The hottest months in New Zealand are December and January, while the coldest is July. However, the temperatures are fairly moderate throughout the country, with the exception of the far north and inland mountain regions of the South experiencing colder temperatures. This moderate temperature range (from 50 degrees in winter to 90 degrees in summer) means New Zealand is a great place to visit year round. Rain tends to be spread throughout the year, so there’s also no rainy season to avoid. The weather can change quickly and is often unpredictable, so be prepared for fluctuations.
Avoiding the high season, between December-January and June-July, will be worth your while for the monetary savings, but also to avoid the crowds. Traveling on the shoulder season, from late-January through February can save you a bundle since companies are discounting tours and hotels due to lower demand, and the weather is still very nice through February. If you do go during those months, be sure to book far in advance for the best selection.
WHERE TO GO
The majority of flights go into and out of Auckland, so that’s a good place to start your New Zealand adventure. Many airlines, especially Air New Zealand, also offer the ability to tack on a free stopover in Fiji, Tahiti or the Cook Islands on the way, which is a great way to hit up another destination without the extra airfare to get there.
Since the country is divided into two distinct parts — the North Island and the South Island — you may have to limit your visit to one or the other if you’re short on time. There is plenty to see and do on each Island, so I would recommend splitting it into two trips, but you can also easily fly between the islands if you want to explore both.
What to Do
For such a small island, New Zealand is packed with things to do. The diverse landscape offers up a little of everything, from hiking through the vast wilderness, exploring natural wonders, taking a tour of Hobbiton and wine tasting in some of the world’s most beautiful vineyards.
Since the country is divided into two distinct parts, the North Island and the South Island, you may have to limit your visit to one or the other if you’re short on time. There is plenty to see and do on each Island, that I would recommend splitting it into two trips, but you can also easily fly between the islands if you want to explore both.
On the North Island, you’ll want to start in Auckland, the largest city in Polynesia. View the city from the Sky Tower, take a ferry out to Waiheke Island for wine tasting and amazing views of the city, walk along the waterfront and hang out in a local pub.
Rent a car, or a camper van to save money on hotels, and drive south to Hobbiton in Matamata (because you can’t go to New Zealand and not go there!).
Take a tour through the hobbit village and see where the films The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were filmed. Continue your drive over to Rotorua, known for its geothermal activity and adventure tourism.
Here you can take a look at thermal fields with spouting geysers, roll down a hill in an Orb and ride a luge down a mountain. Next, float through a cavern filled with glowworms at Waitomo Caves and explore the underground labyrinth of nearby Aranui Caves.
For wine tasting, there are some fantastic locations throughout the North Island to visit. The largest is and most prolific is Hawke’s Bay on the east coast. It’s known for its Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Auckland has more than 100 wineries, including the picturesque Waiheke Island wineries, which are known for rich Bordeaux style blends. Gisbourne is another wine-producing region on the east coast of the North Island that produces rich, buttery Chardonnays.
On the South Island:
- A good place to start is Christ Church, the South Island’s largest city. Spend a day exploring the historic, yet contemporary city and all its quirky charm. What you do next depends on your intended goal.
- Traverse the Great Alpine Highway to see incredible mountain scenery. You can get there by car or by train, which may prove to be the more relaxing.
- Take a drive north through the country’s fastest-growing wine region of Canterbury, passing through rolling hillsides and vineyards, where there are dozens of places to stop for some wine tasting or a picnic lunch. Then continue on to Hanmer Springs, which is situation at the base of the Southern Alps and is a mecca for alpine activities like soaking in thermal pools, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
- Another option is to fly into Queenstown and journey north toward Christ Church, passing by the South’s biggest lake Te Anau, and enjoying a cruise on Milford Sound to experience the area’s abundant wildlife
Wine tourism is a bid draw for New Zealand, and for good reason. Vineyards spread throughout the country, so wine is a major industry, and it’s relatively easy to visit the wineries and sample their wines.
The biggest and most well-known wine region in New Zealand is Marlborough, in the northern part of the South Island, which produces more than half of all the wine in the country.
Some of the best Sauvignon Blancs come out of Marlborough. Nelson and Canterbury are also fantastic regions to visit with smaller, idyllic wineries.
Where to stay
If you rent a camper van, you won’t have to worry about where to stay, just where to park for the night. But for everyone else, there are plenty of great options throughout the regions mentioned above.
- In Auckland, pick a hotel near the Sky Tower (SKYCITY Hotel or Heritage Auckland) or in Viaduct Harbour area (Hilton Auckland Hotel).
- In Rotorua, opt for a luxury lodge or B&B for the most unique experience. There are some great lodges just outside of town that offer packages to enhance your stay, like Treetop Lodge’s food and wine packages. If you’d rather stay in town, check out the Regent of Rotorua or the Novotel Rotorua Lakeside for affordable luxury accommodations.
- Get the full experience of Hobbiton by booking a Farm Stay directly on the Hobbiton website. Thier farm stay package includes a three-course dinner, accommodation at a nearby farm with a hot breakfast.
- Farm stays and luxury lodges are also a good pick while in Christchurch and Canterbury. Check out Silverstream Lodge or stay among the vines at Dry Paddocks Country Retreat.
- The Heritage Hanmer Springs is a great place to stay while enjoying the hot springs and various activities in that area.
What to Eat
New Zealand cuisine is a mix of native Maori and European influences, but you’ll find a few more than a few products and foods that are unique to the island or at least the South Pacific. Marmite is one of those products. Made from yeast extract, it’s thick, salty and somewhat bitter, and is used most often as a breakfast spread for toast.
You may also find there to be a heavy Asian influence to the foods in the bigger cities. Lamb and Mutton are used in a lot of dishes — no surprise there as New Zealand has a large sheep population.
Nothing pairs better with those delicious New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs than a plate of freshly shucked oysters. Being that the whole country is surrounded by ocean, there’s an abundance of fresh seafood, like green-lipped muscles, whitebait and scallops. Since the country has a heavy British influence, you’ll find freshly caught fish and chips in any pub you come across.
For dessert, try hokey pokey ice cream — vanilla ice cream with bits of honeycomb mixed in — or pavlova — a meringue topped with cream and fruit.