So this is my first diversion into travel. I just can’t help it – I want this country to be on everyone’s wish list. After a post-university year in New Zealand I have never gotten over that country. I suspect I will never find anywhere else in the world that I love so much, although I’m very happy to keep looking. I’m heading back at the end of 2018 for a month and during the planning of that trip can’t help but think about what I would want others to see if they went as well.
So, for a rundown of some of the best points to see keep on reading. This post will focus on the main cities and towns. There are so many things that I could mention. These are just some of my highlights.
- There are i-Sites everywhere – tourist information centres offering great deals from extremely helpful staff.
- Making a trip like this can be logistically complicated. Tripit is amazing for organising everything – flights, trains, accommodation, activities etc (no sponsorship – just a genuinely brilliant tool).
- The national airline, Air New Zealand, consistently achieves excellent ratings. Travelling by road can take a long time and trains are more scenic than high speed so consider booking internal flights.
Coffee – New Zealanders (also known as Kiwis) have very high standards for coffee. A flat white is common but is smaller and stronger than the weaker, more latte like version that is now being added to the menus of chains in the UK and US. Try a proper one, the way it was intended.
Wine – New Zealand is famous mostly for the Sauvignon Blancs produced in Marlborough. There are a lot of wines produced in areas that are less widely exported and harded to find away from New Zealand. Try some Pinot Noir from the Central Otago region as well as wines produced on the North Island.
Extreme Sports – Queenstown is known for this and boasts the original bungy jump, but activities like paragliding, bungy jumping and skydiving are available in various locations. It’s not for everyone but they can be incredible experiences if done with the experts.
Chances are that you will fly in to Auckland on the North Island. It’s the main airport in New Zealand and the largest city (although not the capital). There is a huge amount to do in Auckland and here are some of my favourites…
Sky Tower – The focal point of the Auckland Skyline. Just like the Toronto CN tower and the Seattle Space Needle it offers great views and a revolving restaurant. Unlike those two you can also ‘jump’ off the Skytower – it offers a controlled descent in the grand tradition of Kiwi extreme sports.
Waiheke Island – a ferry trip over to Waiheke island opens up to a beautiful location that offers some great restaurants and a variety of wineries. Worth a visit if you have a few days in Auckland.
Eden Park -if you have the opportunity, go and see the All Blacks at Eden Park. One of the things I regret not having done yet, this is an opportunity to see one of, if not the, best rugby teams in the world.
Harbour tour – Auckland is nicknamed the City of Sails for the number of marinas and boats in the area. There are lots of harbour tours you can do, including whale and dolphin watching. The town of Kaikoura on the South Island is the most famous place for this, but tours are also available in Auckland.
Māori culture -one of the best places to experience some of Māori traditions and food. There are a number of places that do experiences that include a cultural performance with dancing, singing and the all important haka. You will also usually get to try a hangi – a traditional feast slow cooked in a pit, producing beautifully tender meat.
Geothermal activity – it takes a while to get used to Rotorua’s ‘unique’ smell. The area is renowned for geysers, hot springs and geothermal pools. The sulphur produced by these natural wonders gives the town a slightly pungent aroma, but it also allows for some beautifully coloured mud pools.
The nation’s capital, also on the North Island but smaller than Auckland. Wellington is vibrant,arty and generally brilliant. It’s a great place for wandering around, sitting in cafes and relaxing.
Te Papa – New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa house a wide variety of exhibitions and is well worth visits.
Botanic Gardens – take a cable car up to the top and walk down through the gardens ending at the rose garden.
Wellywood – New Zealand has its own film industry which significantly grew after Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The country offers an incredible variety of landscapes, and in the Miramar peninsula a variety of companies have developed to specialise in film production. The Weta Workshop which is renowned for special effects has opened the Weta Cave which gives some insight into the work that is done at Weta with some displays of its more famous creations.
Now to the South Island. I visited Christchurch both before and after the 2011 earthquake that caused a huge amount of damage to the city and surrounding areas. The city has not fully recovered but it still has the Kiwi spirit and there is lots to see.
International Antarctic Centre – Christchurch is the base from which many expeditions to Antarctica launch. This centre shares some of what it is like to be part of those expeditions. It includes a storm rooms which is generally kept at a below freezing temperature between hourly ‘storms’ that increase the wind factor and drop the temperatures. Fun for all. It also houses a small group of Little Blue Penguins, the worlds smallest (and cutest) penguin species.
Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral – one of the main landmarks in Christchurch before the 2011 earthquake was Christchurch Cathedral. The building was severely damaged and what was initially conceived and designed as a temporary alternative became a permanent cardboard cathedral.
Botanic Gardens – if you enjoy a stroll through nature then the Botanic Gardens should be your next stop. When I visited after the earthquake I was glad to see that the gardens seem to be untouched. Although I am by no means an expert, these gardens are a significant part of the city and to see them in perfect condition in stark contrast to the cathedral made me feel that the city had retained its beauty.
The adventure capital of the world – this place has definitely earned it’s nickname. Surrounded by mountains for skiing, rivers and jet boating and incredible scenery to fall through by sky diving, Queenstown has everything an adrenaline junkie could want. It’s so popular in fact that in the peak seasons tourists can outnumber locals 3 to 1. Don’t let that put you off though – it is a must see on any trip to New Zealand.
Food and wine – For those of you less inclined towards death defying thrills, it also has some incredible wineries, wonderful food and is just a generally gorgeous place to be. Gibbston Vallery Winery is one of my favourites.
Arrowtown – a short distance from Queenstown is Arrowtown, an unusual reminder of New Zealand’s very own gold rush. Filled with historic buildings and interesting shops, it seems like a world away from the bustle of Queenstown.
Dolphin and whale watching – the primary attraction of this town is the possibility to see various dolphins and whales in the wild. There are several places in New Zealand that you can do this, but Kaikoura is the most famous.
I really could talk about New Zealand all day long, and am counting down the days until I go back (literally – I have a countdown app on my phone). I’ll keep adding more information, places and activities.
It’s a long way from pretty much everywhere – even Australia is a few hours on a plane, and from London it is 24 hours of travel. I promise you it is worth it though.