We get asked ALL the time about how to best travel New Zealand…what are the highlights of the country?
We have been fortunate enough to travel most of the country, multiple times. Evan and I have our definite favourites and are happy to share them with you. YES, we DID take all these photos ourselves…NZ really IS that beautiful! Here is an in depth guide of (what we feel) are the country’s highlights.
Time of Year:
October-March is the best time of the year, by far, to travel New Zealand. This is New Zealand’s spring and summer. Not only is it warmer and all-around more pleasant, but the days are MUCH longer, so you have a lot more time to tick things off your ‘to-do’ list. It tends to rain less in the summer, too (unless you’re in Fiordland, then it rains all year round). If you are tramping (hiking), the trails and huts are in full-swing, with no snow/ice/avalanche hazards. Near the longest days of the year, the sun can rise before 5:00am and twilight can last beyond 10pm. Keep in mind, twilight lasts longer the further south you go.
Is is worth noting though, that Dec-Jan is the most expensive time of year to travel here, especially around Christmas and New Years. Really touristy towns, like Queenstown, will be much more crowded around this time of year too, so book accommodation months in advance if you will be in Queenstown/Wanaka on these days, or work your trip to avoid these places if you don’t like crowds.
I will, however, give winter one shout-out: the snow on the Alps on the southern island is absolutely stunning! Skiing is amazing, too. So, if you do come in winter, it isn’t a complete wash!
You won’t be able to predict the weather-anytime of year. It is a small island country so weather can change in a moment’s notice. Always bring layers no matter what time of year. Use the Metservice website to get up-to-date weather info, but take it with a grain of salt. We find it to be accurate (even a day before) only 50-60% of the time.
Good to Know:
The website www.bookme.co.nz usually has wonderful discounts on major tourist attractions. Try to book a day or two in advance in order to make sure the deal is available for the day you want to travel. *Make sure you change the region to match where you are.
Air New Zealand has cheap and easy domestic and international flights found at www.grabaseat.co.nz. If you are here for a while and can plan a few weeks in advance, you may also find this option useful.
Whenever you enter a new town, go immediately to the nearest ‘i’ site, marked by a green, lower-case ‘i’. The people in these sites are very helpful and often have webcams atop mountains to look for weather conditions, or can point you in the right direction for what would be worthwhile for your fitness level and time frame.
Traveling the Islands:
We recommend you spend 2/3 of your time on the South Island (or the “Main Land”), and 1/3 of your time on the North. If you only have a week, we would recommend sticking to just the South Island.
If you are traveling with a buddy or in a group, we recommend hiring (renting) your own car. Driving on the left side of the road isn’t as scary as you would think. It just takes a little practice. Here are key things to remember though:
-Unlike making a right-hand turn in the States, in NZ you can NOT turn left at a red light.
-When entering a round-about, always indicate the direction you intend to drive and look to the RIGHT.
-There are many one-lane bridges: look for the sign before the bridge with two arrows going opposite directions. The car coming from the direction of the bigger arrow has the right-of-way.
You can get a camper van (cheap backpacker version of touring where you sleep and eat in your van) through Jucy, or just a regular car through many of the providers listed on google. Keep an eye out for “relocation deals”. Sometimes car companies will allow you to rent a car for $1 a day if you drive it to a particular location for them, within a pre-determined time frame.
If you are traveling alone or just don’t want to drive, try a few different bus companies: the Kiwi Experience and Naked Bus take you to most cities in NZ, and they usually have buses leaving every day.
The South Island was created by mountains and glaciers carving valleys through the landscape.
We think that the South Island is by FAR the most beautiful-which is why we have chosen to live in Christchurch. The picturesque mountains that are often seen on postcards are taken on the South Island. I’ve provided two options for traveling the South Island. Each is based on the amount of time you have available.
———–Option 1 (Limited Time-1 week ish)———–
We begin in Christchurch, which is usually the hub of the South Island. You will most likely find cheapest flights to Christchurch from any other New Zealand city. It also contains an International airport so it can receive flights from other countries.
Trip Path: Christchurch (1-2 days) > Arthur’s Pass (1 day) > Greymouth (Punakaiki) > Fox Glacier (1 day) > Wanaka (1 day) > Queenstown (2-3 days) > Lake Tekapo (1 day) > back to CHCH
*Places in bold would be easy places to spend the night.
Try not to plan all your driving at night…road trips in this country are absolutely stunning, especially from Fox Glacier to Queenstown, in and around Fiordland, and from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo. Also, one of my all time favorite drives in the country is from Greymouth to Punakaiki. Every corner opens to gorgeous view after gorgeous view.
What to do in Christchurch?
-You can visit us! We can take you to yummy local spots and pockets of hidden treasures around the city.
-Walk the Port Hills: Sign of the Kiwi, Victoria Park, Crater Rim Walkway (photo left).
-Walk through the Botanical Gardens, Hagley Park, the Cantebury Museum (FREE!), REStart Mall, Cathedral Square, or go punting on the Avon River.
-Visit the coast at Brighton Pier (photo right, at sunrise), or travel to Sumner to see the surfers at Taylor’s Mistake Beach. Walk the Godley Head trail to see amazing views of the coast, WW2 relics, and Lyttelton Harbour
-Visit Willowbank Wildlife Sanctuary or the Antarctic Centre
*In the summer months, the day is long enough for you to do a “sunrise to sunset” adventure. This is where you watch the sunrise on the eastern coast in Christchurch and travel through Arthur’s Pass (you’ll have time to explore and hike some along the way) and then finish the same day on the western coast of the country by watching the sun set in Greymouth or Punakaiki. It’s a fun feat…there’s not many countries that you can travel from coast to coast, following the same sun, in one day!
What to do in Arthur’s Pass?
-Visit Castle Hill (photo top left) This is the filming location for the Narnia battle scene in the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. The best part is that it’s FREE.
-Stop by Cave Stream (in the summer), also FREE. If you have good footwear and a torch (flashlight), you can go through the cave (about 45 minutes). I usually wear Chaco sandals, a warm long-sleeve thermal top, and a bathing suit under work-out, quick-dry shorts, with a headlamp. Bring a towel and change of clothes too. There are changing stations near the car park. Only go through the cave if it has NOT been raining in the last day or two…you don’t want to be stuck underground in a flood! You start against the flow of the water. Check the DOC website for updates beforehand. I was scared the first time I went through, but it’s totally worth it.
-Grab a bite in Arthur’s Pass Village. Look out for keas-the only alpine parrot in the world, but be careful, they are cheeky!
-In the mood for hiking? There are many options around Arthur’s Pass: Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall (1 hour-moderate), Bealey Valley (2-3 hours-easy/moderate), Temple Basin (3 hours-moderate/difficult), Avalanche Peak (both photos right, 6-8 hours-difficult). Again check the DOC website.
What to do on the West Coast?
-You can stay in Greymouth, but to be honest, there isn’t much there besides breweries. Think about traveling 30-45 minutes north (on the most GORGEOUS ocean road-photo bottom right) to Punakaiki (photo top right). The pancake rocks are stunning at sunset. Or, try to be there during high tide when the blowholes are erupting. You’ll want to check the tides before you arrive. Absolutely stunning!
We usually drop our stuff off at a cheap hotel or hostel in Greymouth and hit the road towards Punakaiki before the sun sets, and then drive back to Greymouth in the dark.
-There are also a few fun hikes, kayak tours, and glowworm cave tours around Westport, which is just a bit farther north of Punakaiki, if you are interested. I’ve really never spent that much time in Westport though. There are probably better glow worm caves up on the North Island in the Waitomo area, or there are even some on the South Island near Te Anau.
What to do in Fox Glacier?
Two of the three glaciers that descend into rain forests (in the whole world) are found in New Zealand: Fox Glacier (both photos) and Frans Josef Glacier.
-Hike on the glacier, heli hike, or climb the ice!
You’ll need to check both the glaciers’ websites for updates. Because the glaciers are receding rapidly, you may or may not be able to take guided walks along the rainforest to get on the ice by foot (like you used to a few years ago). Some companies now only allow access on the ice via helicopter, which is $$$, but also incredible.
-Visit Lake Matheson to see a gorgeous reflection of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman (FREE). Bring your bug repellent if visiting in warmer months…those sandflies are nasty.
What to do in Wanaka?
Wanaka’s beauty rivals that of Queenstown: a beautiful, clear lake surrounded by mountains. Wanaka is more of a quiet, family-orientated or holiday-maker town, when compared to the touristy/party scene of Queenstown.
-There are plenty of hikes around Wanaka: Rob Roy Glacier Hike (3-4 hours, moderate); Roy’s Peak Track (5-6 hours, moderate-difficult) Diamond Lake Track (2 hours, easy-moderate); Mt. Iron hike (1 hour-easy; photo left). Always check the ‘i’ site in town for alerts and updates before going on these hikes (for example, I know Roy’s Peak closes for a brief time in the spring due to lambing season!)
-Rent ski gear in town and access Treble Cone or Cardrona ski fields (30 minutes-1 hour from Wanaka)-only available in late June(ish)-September(ish).
-Rent a kayak or canoe, and enjoy Lake Wanaka
-Cinema Paradiso- a cool movie theatre with old sofas and cars to sit in to enjoy your movie…in case it’s rainy
–Skydive Lake Wanaka (photo right)
What to do in Queenstown?
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the country! It is also the hub for access into Fiordland. It is a MUST-do!
-Take the Gondola up Bob’s Peak for panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu (photo left) and ride the luge! make sure you buy at least 2 rides on the luge as they’ll make you take the slower, easy track first before you’re allowed to try the faster, more exciting track. If you only buy one ride ticket, you’ll only get to ride the easy track.
-Walk the Lake Front to experience the -5 Ice Bar, see or ride the TS Earnslaw boat, eat ice cream or fish n’ chips, sit outside on the porch at one of the nearby restaurants/bars etc…
-Hike Queenstown Hill (2-3 hours-moderate-photo right) *We prefer the Queenstown Hill over the gondola on Bob’s Peak because you can see down both the “arms” of Lake Wakatipu, and you see more mountains in a 360 view on Queenstown Hill. Although if you’re lazy and don’t want to hike, you’ll have to take the gondola up to Bob’s Peak as there is no other way up the Queenstown Hill than to hike.
–Kuwarau or Nevis Bungy The Kuwarau Bridge was the first commercial bungy jump in the world, but the Nevis is about 3 times higher (as well as more expensive and slightly more time consuming).
–Shotover Jet, Thunder Jet, K Jet (we liked Thunder Jet the most because the ride lasts for an hour vs the more iconic and touristy 20-30min Shotover experience)
-Travel to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound (photo top left) to cruise through the fiord to Tasman Sea and back. Each will be a whole day tour. They are beautiful rain or shine, so don’t let the weather deter you from seeing the fiords! You can also kayak on Milford Sound. The photo to the right is the start of the Milford Track (Great Walk), which finishes in Milford Sound. Milford Sound is more dramatic than Doubtful, and is accessible by road. Doubtful Sound can only be accessed by boat through a tour company.
-Eat at Fergburger-best burgers in New Zealand. The line/cue will be out the door, but it moves fast and is worth the wait!
If you have extra time, visit Glenorchy (photo left). It’s about a 45-minute drive from Queenstown. You could blink and miss the actual town of Glenorchy, but the scenery surrounding it will leave your jaw dropped. It also hosts one of the entrances to the Routeburn Track. LOTR fans should keep their eyes peeled for the location where Peter Jackson shot scenes of Isengard in this area.
Interested in Tramping?
If you have days to spare, some of the most beautiful NZ Great Walks start/end near Queenstown and Te Anau. Outdoor junkies must do at least one of the Great Walks!
In Fiordland, we have done the Routeburn Track (photos bottom right), Kepler Track (photos left), and Milford Track. All are equally unique and equally beautiful. We loved the Kepler Track so much and had so many wonderful memories on it that we named our firstborn son Kepler, so that speaks volumes about NZ’s Great Walks. Because these are in Fiordland, there’s a decent chance you’ll run into rain, so consider renting wet weather gear if you don’t have any. Waterproof hiking boots are a MUST! You don’t want to hike 30+ miles with wet shoes. These can also be rented.
If you don’t have multiple days, you can try to walk to the first hut (that affords a lookout view) and back in one day, but you’ll be hauling it and utterly exhausted by the day’s end. Having that said, we did it with all four of our parents on the Routeburn Track, and if they can make it, you can too. Alternatively, you can walk most tracks in their entirety in 3-4 days. Again, you will need sufficient gear, packs, sleeping bags, etc… if you plan to do the multiple day hikes.
Some hikes give you flexibility in deciding how many nights you want to be on the track, choosing which huts you want to stay in, and which direction you want to hike the track. Others, like the Milford, require you to stay at each hut sequentially, and you can only hike the track in one direction. However, you can spend a pretty penny and pay to stay in the nicest accommodation along the Milford track (hot showers and meals prepared for you), and have people carry your packs…but prepare to pay big time.
Keep in mind that these walks can be really dangerous during the winter. In winter, the huts don’t have gas for cooking and the plumbing is turned off. Also, wardens are not stationed at huts (so trampers are often encouraged to bring there own satellite radio/walk-talkie for emergencies) . You often need crampons or ice gear to get over mountain passes and bridges are removed in the winter due to avalanche risk. Fording partially frozen rivers without these bridges can be treacherous, and people have died trying. Go to the Department of Conservation website before you go to check weather conditions and make sure you are fully prepared.
If staying in the DOC huts in the summer season, you’ll need to reserve a space ahead of time…sometimes months!
What to do ON THE WAY to Lake Tekapo?
-See Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki, OR detour for a couple hours (or days) to Mt. Cook Village. If you’re adventurous, hike up to Mueller Hut on Mt Olliver and stay one night (photo top left and right). Mueller Hut has about 2,000 steps before attempting to climb a loose-gravel scree slope, for a total 1,000-meter elevation change. It isn’t for the faint-hearted but if you make it to the top, you’ll see cascading glaciers, avalanches collapsing, and cliffs. If this doesn’t sound like your thing, there are plenty of shorter, easier-grade hikes around the base as well. Mueller Hut is an excellent overnight hike option if you want to experience rugged NZ hiking but don’t have time to do an entire 3-4 day Great Walk.
-Take a detour to the clay cliffs outside Omarama (photo bottom left). This 1-2 hour detour is a $5 donation fee on Private property. It is like stepping into a desert-nothing like any of the other scenery in New Zealand.
What to do in Lake Tekapo?
-Hike up Mt John in the day to see panoramic views of Lake Tekapo and eat at the Astro cafe (photos left-one in summer and another in winter)
-Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd-I think you can even attend the Sunday morning service if you plan your schedule to do so.
-Rent bikes for half a day and mountain bike alongside Lake Tekapo; trails are easy to moderate and are stunning in the Autumn. You don’t have to be a mountain biker to enjoy these trails.
-Visit the hot pools at the foot of Mt John
-Visit the ice skating rink in the winter.
-Visit the observatory atop Mt. John at night (photo right) – check the weather in advance. You want a clear night, and one with a new moon (full moon nights cast a lot more light pollution on the sky, hiding the stars and Milky Way dust). Winter typically affords better views than the summer time.
———–Option 2 (Extended Time-about 2+ weeks)———–
Trip Path: Christchurch (1-2 days) > Lake Tekapo (1 day) > Queenstown (2-3+ days) > Wanaka (1 day) > Fox Glacier (1 day) > Greymouth (Punakaiki) > Nelson (1 day…unless you scoot over to Abel Tasman for a few extra days) > Picton (1 day..unless you want to spend extra few days in the sounds and hiking the Queen Charlotte Track) > Kaikoura (1/2 day)> CHCH
*Places in bold would be easy places to spend the night.
Instead of cutting through Arthur’s Pass across the country (as seen in the limited time option), complete a greater loop of the South Island to see the Marlborough wine country and sounds. If you’re sad that you’ve missed out on Arthur’s Pass, you can still do it as a day trip from CHCH, if you give yourself enough time.
-Hike to the exact centre the country
-Gateway to Abel Tasman National Park: kayak, boat, hike through bays (photo right) You can get a water taxi to take you to most bays.
-Enjoy the wineries and breweries in the region
-Visit Kaiteriteri, one the of the local’s favourite beach destinations
-Gateway to the Golden Bay, NZ’s sunniest place, receiving the most days of sun all-year.
-Hike/Bike the Queen Charlotte Track (photo left) in the Marlborough Sounds. You can take a boat out to drop you off at one point, hike for a couple hours, and pick you back up from a different spot. Alternatively, you can hike/bike the whole track over multiple days, staying in the huts and lodges scattered along the trail. We did this, and just to be clear, the mountain biking is TOUGH for non-experienced mountain bikers, like myself. I have an orange-sized scar on my bottom to prove it.
-If you prefer not to hike, you can also spend a day boating through the bays.
-Take the Inter-islander Ferry to the North Island
-You have also entered WINE country! If you enjoy wineries, you can surely find tours and tastings scattered along the Marlborough region.
What to do in Kaikoura?
-Swim with the seals or dolphins…wet suits provided…and you’ll need them ALL year round!
-Visit the coastline at Point Kean to see all the seals
-Hike to Whaler’s Bay (photo left) from the Kean Point car park
-Hike Ohau Stream (photo right)-see hundreds of seal pups in winter months.
-Drive (or walk) to the Kaikoura Lookout to see the Kaikoura Seaward range meet the ocean. Truly picturesque!
Or, venture further off the beaten track (from the above loop):
You can take take additional time while in Southern New Zealand to see the following:
What to do in The Catlins?
If you have time to kill on the South Island, check out the Catlins Reserve.
The Catlins are a windswept and rugged region of the country, with many short hikes to waterfalls, lighthouses, beaches/bays, and the Southern most point of the South Island.
-Visit Nugget Point (photo left). It is one of the Otago Coast’s most iconic landforms and lighthouses. Dozens of rocky islets (the Nuggets) dot the waters below, and are home to many seabirds and marine life.
-Visit Purakaunui Falls and McLean Falls (both 30 to 1 -hour return hikes following an a gentle grade slope).
-Visit the Cathedral Caves (photo right). These can only be accessed at low tide and there is a small fee to walk through private land. Also, come prepared to get wet! You must walk through the ocean waves to get to the entrance of the caves, and often times waves catch you off-guard! Bring a backpack and plastic bag to wrap up/carry your electronics and valuables!
-Visit Porpoise Bay & Curio Bay (photos left). In Porpoise Bay, there are about 20 resident dolphins that often swim within 20 meters from the shore. If you want to brave the 14-degree C ( 57-degree F) water, you can swim with them for FREE! Or, try your luck at surfing. Curio Bay has a petrified forest dating back to the Jurassic Period. It is also home to about 8 (4 pairs) of the shy, rare yellow-eyed penguins. If you go at dusk, you may be lucky to see these penguins come in from the ocean, after a long day of scavenging for food, to waddle to their nests in the bush.
The North Island formed from erupting volcanoes, so its geography and views are much different than those of the South Island. We recommend you start in Wellington and work your way north. This would take you an additional 1-2 weeks on top of the South Island route. Ten days could probably cover the highlights on the North Island.
Trip Path: Wellington (2 days) > Tongariro National Park (2 days-especially if you want to do the Tongariro Crossing) > Taupo (1 day) > Rotorua (2 days) > Waitomo Glow Worm Caves (1/2 day) > Hobbiton (1/2 day) > Tauranga ( 1 day) > Auckland (2 days) > Bay of Islands (2-3 days)
*Places in bold would be easy places to spend the night.
What to do in Wellington?
-Shops/Cafes/Bars/Performers on Cuba Street
-Ride the Wellington Cable Car to the top of Mt Kelburn.
-View exhibits at Te Papa Museum. I’m not much of a museum girl, but this one is interactive and pretty cool.
-Climb Mt Victoria
-Visit the Weta Cave: the studios and mini-museum where Peter Jackson made Lord of the Rings and more!
-Experience one of the MANY Lord of the Rings Tours around the city
-Walk along Oriental Bay
What to do in Tongariro National Park?
-Complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing: a 1-2 day hike amidst volcanoes; the Tongariro Crossing can be done in one long, full day; the whole Tongariro Northern Circuit can take 3ish days
-Ski Mt Ruapehu in the winter OR take the ski lifts to hike to the summit of the volcano during summer months
-See all 3 major volcanoes: Mt Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu, and Mt Ngauruhoe. By seeing Mt Ngauruhoe, you can effectively say you’ve visited Mt Doom for LOTR
-There are many other small walks, such as the Taranaki Falls hike, worth exploring in the area
What to do in Lake Taupo?
-Lake Taupo Hole in One Lake Challenge
–Skydive Lake Taupo- My dad did this at 55 years old, so you can muster up the courage too.
-Rent kayaks, boats, or go parasailing on the largest lake (formed from a volcanic crater) in the Southern Hemisphere! (photo left-sunset on Lake Taupo with volcanoes in distance)
-Visit Huka Falls-either by jet boat or by walking along the river/waterfall to a viewing lookout point
–Bungy Jumping, but honestly, if you want to bungy, save it for Queenstown…it’s better there.
-DeBretts Hoot pools ($$) or visit Otumuheke Stream in Spa Park (FREE). Also called Hot Water Stream, this natural thermal stream meets the Waikato River to form a perfect warm blend of cold river water with very hot thermal water.
What to do in Rotorua?
Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity, which you can smell the minute you arrive. There are many places to experience the geothermal nature of the city. The most popular (and expensive) is the Polynesian Spa. However, many locals prefer the cheaper Waikiti Valley Hot Pools, about 45 minutes outside Rotorua, towards Taupo. It’s up to you!
-Visit Wai-O-Tapu (both photos right). This is one of the best geothermal parks in the area (there are many). It has a geyser (that erupts in the morning daily so plan your day to arrive in the morning), mud pools, neon coloured lakes and more. Pretty interesting! Other thermal parks are Kuirau Park (FREE), Hell’s Gate, and Whakarewarewa.
-Mountain Bike through the Redwood Forests. There are heaps of rental places all over town. Some of the trails are quite easy to moderate skill level, while others are quite difficult and steep
-Visit some of the many lakes in the area, usually filled-in craters after previous eruptions: Blue Lake, Tarawera Lakes, Lake Okareka & Bayes Beach, and Green Lake. *Green Lake is considered tapu (sacred) so don’t go down to the beach and swim! The warmest and most picturesque lake is Okareka. Lastly, be careful of the sudden drop-off if swimming in Lake Tarawera.
-Visit local thermal streams: Hot & Cold stream and Kerosene Creek. But swim at your own risk!
-Enjoy the Rotorua Lake front with cafes and shops
-Visit the Buried Village: Learn all about the history of the Mt Tarawera eruption, and the destruction it left behind. We thought it was a little pricy for what it was worth, but if you are into history and culture, you may find it worth it.
-Visit the Rotorua Museum, Government Gardens, and Blue Baths
What to do in Waitomo?
The caves, of course! The Waitomo Cave system is extensive, and there are MANY companies that operate tours through the caves. Just search for a company that suits your budget and preference. There are wet and dry tours, some that are more adventurous with abseiling (repelling) and rock climbing, and others that are more gentle with tubing or riding in a boat. You pick!
*You can easily visit Hobbiton and Tauranga in one day!
What to do in Hobbiton?
Hobbiton is the filming location for the hobbits’ shire in Lord of the Rings. It is located in the small town of Matamata. Though it is pricy, it is still pretty cool to see how an area is transformed into a set, even for non-LOTR fans (my mother enjoyed it and hasn’t seen any of the movies). Take our advice in getting the earliest tour (the first of the day)…Your photos turn out much nicer when there are not seven 30-person tour groups in front of you, in all of your photos. The tour comes with a pint from the iconic Green Dragon pub too!
What to do in Tauranga?
-The most iconic thing to do in Tauranga is climbing Mt. Maunganui, also known as “The Mount”. This is an extinct volcano overlooking the town. It is gorgeous in daytime and during sunset. It is quite a climb, but there are two pathways-steep and faster, or steady and longer. Look out for tui birds and tropical flora. (photo left-view from halfway up the Mount, looking onto the main beach)
-The white sandy beach under ‘The Mount’ is also a great way to spend an afternoon. Recently, the town installed an artificial reef to create better surf along the beach. You could try your hand in surf school for first-timers!
-Visit the Hot Salt Water Pools at the foot of the Mount. This area is lit up beautifully at night.
-Grab some tasty ice cream at Copenhagen Cones
What to do in Auckland?
-The waterfront is always bustling with restaurants, sailboats, bars, and nightlife
-Although we have never been, we hear the Bird Sanctuary on Tiritiri Matangi Island is interesting for bird/animal lovers; this can only be visited by ferry
-Hike Rangitoto Island (NZ’s youngest volcano). The hike to the summit winds through a pohutukawa forest and affords spectacular panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf from the top
-Climb the Auckland sky tower: dare devils can walk around the sky tower or even jump off it! Or, you could also walk over/bungy from the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
-Climb Mt Eden to see great views of the city and harbour.
-Visit the Auckland Museum on a rainy day, or the Auckland Zoo
-Queen Street is always in a bustle and has many shops and restaurants.
What to do in the Bay of Islands?
The main towns to stay in the Bay of Islands are Russell and Pahia. We have heard that Russell is a more relaxed, quiet town, while Pahia has more nightlife. We stayed in Russell (photo left) with our family and absolutely loved it. You’ll need to take the car ferry across the bay to get to Russell. It’s about $10-$15 NZD.
-While in Russell, walk to Long Beach-grab a spot in the shade..NZ sun is intense!
-Walk along the wharf with ice cream-keep an eye out for fish, turtles, and stingray in the water.
-Fish off the wharf.
-Sail through Bay of Islands. There are many companies; we chose the Vigilant sailboat and were not disappointed! We anchored in a bay and could kayak, snorkel, sunbathe, or walk the nearest island during our free time. Lunch is usually provided on the boat.
-Charter a fishing boat (photo right) for some deep sea fish-snapper, king fish, and more!
-Drive to see the location where the Treaty of Waitangi (the closest thing NZ has to a Constitution) was signed, if you are interested in history and culture.
If you have more time, you should tour further afield, once you arrive in Tauranga, to explore the Coromandel Peninsula.
What to do on the Coromandel Peninsula?
This Peninsula is home to some of the most remote and beautiful beaches in the country. In fact, New Chums Beach (photo right) is often ranked among the world’s top most beautiful remote beaches.
-Visit New Chums Beach. This can only be accessed within a couple hours on either side of low tide. Wear shoes that can cross rocks easily, and that can also get wet. Before dropping down the path to the beach, there is a steep “path” off to the right. After a 20-minute climb, you’ll find awesome lookout views of the beach below, like the photo to the right.
-Visit Otama Beach. This was one of Evan’s favourite beaches. It had everything: shade under pohutakawa trees, a swing, a shark sighting along the shore, and virtually no other people!
-Visit Hot Water Beach (photo left). Hot Springs that lie under the sand bubble up along a small section of the beach. Bring (or hire) a shovel to dig where the bubbling occurs. Once mixed with the cool sea water, you can create a your own personal hot tub! But be careful! The spring water can get up to 60 C (140 F) and can burn you! Because the section of beach that has the springs is quite small, it is often crowded, and it can only be accessed at low tide.
-Visit Cathedral Cove (photo right). Made famous by its appearance in the Narnia movie, Prince Caspian, this beach is reached after a 45-minute walk along a gorgeous coastline. You can stop along various bays along the way, like Gemstone Bay or Stingray Bay, before arriving at Cathedral Cove, to snorkel. Gemstone Bay is part of the Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve, and even has buoys that outline a ‘snorkel path’. Bring your own snorkel and mask (and fins if you have them). There aren’t any to hire nearby.
*Some other places we hear are worth a look, but have not yet been ourselves: Stewart Island, Whanganui Journey (5-day canoe trip), Mt Taranaki, Whangarei, Cape Reinga, Golden Bay & Kaiteriteri Beach