New Zealand offers something for everyone. Compact enough to see in three weeks, diverse enough to spend six months and still not see everything, it is a treasure trove of things to see, do, experience and explore. Like Canada, this will be a two parter.
If you are going to visit New Zealand and want to do it over two trips, start with the North Island. Auckland is the main gateway in ( but not the capital city) and the North Island is beautiful in its own right. At the top of the island the land stretches into the Pacific Ocean with countless beaches and bays and abundant birdlife. Most tourists will go as far as the Bay of Islands, known for the Hole in the Rock cruise, dolphin spotting and some very classy getaway homes. It is also home to the Waitangi treaty grounds where white settlers and Maori people forged an alliance to settle the land and to lovely Russell a ferry ride from Paihia great views and some fabulous craft shops.
The coastline will keep surfers happy and walkers fit. Try Ninety Mile Beach!
Auckland is set on two bays and is as much about water activities as it is about city living. Known as the City of Sails you can go for a sail aboard an America’s Cup boat or take the regular ferries to waterside suburbs for a look around the craft shops and a coffee at one of the many cafes. If you are a thrill seeker have a go at the bungy jump in downtown Auckland. New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world.
Rotorua is famous the world over for its geothermal activity, hot springs and thermal mud pools. Soak is natural hot water, have a mud pack or massage at one of the spas, and take in the geysers and mud pools at one of the many areas around town. This is also where you will experience Maori heritage – sample the hangi feast cooked in the ground as it has been for thousands of years – and delicious.
If you want an authentic and less touristy experience of Maori culture the Eastlands area is 50% Maori and a great place to find Maori art.
Within a 90 minute drive of Rotorua you will find Mata Mata, home to the setting and filming of The Hobbit and the Hobbiton area for The Lord of the Rings films. Take a tour and a ride on Gandalf the bus to the filming area and see the period vege patches, the hobbit holes (doorways anyway) and the tree they tied thousands of leaves to, and marvel at the magic of film.
About the same distance away is Waitomo and its glowworm caves. There are in fact three caves to explore. South of Rotorua is Lake Taupo and dominating the landscape Ruapehu /Mt Tongariro. Walks abound here in this world heritage area, the impressive Huka Falls are worth a look and the activities on the lake are endless.
If you head across to the East Coast from Lake Taupo make sure you fill your tank as there are no fuel stations on the two hour drive across. Napier on the coast is world renowned for its Art Deco architecture, built after the massive earthquake of 1931 and do take the walking tour which is the best way to see the city. Birdwatchers will enjoy the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and Hawke’s Bay nearby has wineries specialising in cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot.
More wineries further south in the area around Martinborough, but if you take the first road signed to Martinborough from the north you will miss the vineyards. You will however come across a quirky New Zealand landmark – a southern hemisphere version of Stonehenge Aotearoa. Oddly enough it is worth the modest entry fee to see the rest of the site and explore the connections to Egyptian, Babylonian and Indus valley astronomy, Polynesian navigation and Maori Star lore.
The wineries are well worth exploring. Surfers will want to visit Taranaki and Surf Highway 45 with 100 kilometres of beach and great breaks. WOMAD is held in March in New Plymouth along with garden festivals and sporting events. Check out the galleries and the Te Rewa Bridge.
South again to the capital city of New Zealand Wellington. Known affectionately as the windy city, it is home to the Te Papa Museum – absolutely a must see to learn about the seismic activity of the islands as well as its natural history. Take the cable car ride to the top of Mount Victoria for great views over the city and to visit the Botanic Gardens. The Zoo is small enough to enjoy in two to three hours and big enough to keep you interested. You will be able to see endemic fauna here. The Beehive building is the New Zealand parliament, and close by is the gorgeous Old St Paul’s church, Gothic revival in style with some beautiful stained glass windows. Like all capital cities Wellington has arts and culture, sporting venues and a waterfront best explored by bike or on foot.
In keeping with the film culture WETA Cave is the New Zealand’s Hollywood, a must see. And check out the World of Wearable Art festival that has been running for 25 years.
So much more is on offer in the North Island but that would take another entry. Get out and enjoy it, and if you need help planning and booking your holiday, I am an email or phone call away.