New Zealand – By Paul Bloomfield
New Zealand should come with a warning: couch potatoes need not apply. Here, you can be hiking, biking or skiing on the slopes of an active volcano in the morning, surfing, kayaking or rafting in the afternoon, then sipping a fine Sauvignon Blanc among the vines as the sun sets. It’s a land of fiords and islands, mountains and glaciers, dramatic coastlines and sweeping beaches, hot water springs and whitewater rivers. There’s also lip-smacking seafood and fascinating Maori culture, as well as glowworms, whales and much more. New Zealand is the very definition of adventure.
Language: English is spoken throughout. Maori is the official language, used (in addition to English) on many official signs.
Currency: New Zealand Dollar (NZ$). ATMs are ubiquitous and major credit cards are widely accepted.
Getting To New Zealand:
- International airports at Auckland and Christchurch are the two primary points of entry for intercontinental travellers. Flights from Europe involve a stop in the Far East, Middle East or USA.
- New Zealand’s capital city Wellington and adventure hub Queenstown are also served by flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast in Australia, and Dunedin is linked with Brisbane. A stopover in the South Pacific (in Tahiti, Fiji or the Cook Islands, for example) en route from the USA is a popular option.
- Cruise ships also visit New Zealand, generally from Australian ports.
Getting Around New Zealand:
- Low cost domestic flights with Air New Zealand and Jetstar serve key hubs.
- Rail journeys are scenic treats, rather than rapid transport options, though the TranzAlpine between Christchurch and Greymouth offers a worthwhile shortcut.
- Many travellers hire a car or campervan for flexibility. Outside of hectic Auckland, roads are quiet and well maintained, and fuel is a little cheaper than in the UK. Roads are occasionally closed for repairs following earthquakes and other natural incidents. Check the current status here…
- Interislander and BlueBridge ferries link Wellington on North Island with Picton on South Island. Check with your rental firm whether you can cross with your hire car or camper.
When to Go To New Zealand:
- Summer (December to March) is the warmest season but also the busiest, when prices for accommodation and vehicle hire rise, and advance bookings are essential.
- Ski season on Ruapehu (North Island) is roughly June to October.
- The shoulder seasons can be wonderful times to explore, with lower prices and better availability; campervans can be half the price of the high season.
- Autumn (late March to May) has more reliable weather and wine festivals. Spring (September to November) offers blooming wildflowers.
Festivals/Events in New Zealand:
- Rhythm and Vines is the country’s biggest music festival, with dozens of local and international artists and DJs playing to 30,000-strong crowds at Gisborne around New Year’s Eve.
- Auckland becomes even more multicultural in late March during the Pasifika Festival when 11 villages representing Pacific island groups stage performances and offer traditional food and crafts.
- In February, Napier welcomes the Tremain Art Deco Festival, celebrating the North Island city’s architectural heritage with parades, picnics and jazz concerts.
Food & Drink in New Zealand:
- Unsurprisingly for an island nation, fish and seafood are spectacular. Don’t miss the crayfish in Kaikoura, Bluff oysters in autumn, scallops (best on the Coromandel Peninsula in spring), Mt Cook king salmon and West Coast whitebait fritters (September to mid-November).
- Lamb, of course, is terrific throughout, as are wines. Best known are the Sauvignon Blancs of the Marlborough region on South Island and the Syrahs and Chardonnays of Hawke’s Bay on North Island.
- More of a cultural experience is a hangi, the traditional Maori ‘roast dinner, which is typically meat or fish with sweet potato and other root vegetables, slow-cooked in a pit oven with hot rocks.
Top 5 things to do in New Zealand:
- Hike the Routeburn Track
- Tour the vineyards of the Marlborough Region
- Swim with fur seals in Kaikoura
- Visit Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand
- Work your adrenaline gland in Queenstown
For more information check out our Top 10 Things to do in New Zealand
Ultimate Luxury Experience:
- The peaks, waterfalls and fractal shoreline of South Island’s Fiordland National Park are fantastic for hiking, but arguably even more photogenic when viewed above.
- Take a helicopter flight from Queenstown (private charter for the most romantic adventure) to fly the length of Milford Sound and touch down for an intimate gourmet lunch either on the shores of the fiord or, for even more dramatic isolation, on Mt Tutoko Glacier to reach a mountaintop picnic spot. See here for details.
Ultimate Family Experience:
- Sailing the Bay of Islands aboard a tall ship makes for an incredibly memorable family adventure. It’s an easy three-hour drive or short flight north of Auckland to get to the 144 specks that dot the clear teal- and sapphire-hued waters of the Bay of Islands, which is ringed by historic towns. Visit Waitangi to learn about the 1840 treaty ceding sovereignty to Britain.
- On a cruise among the islands, you can spot porpoise and dolphins and, in season, orca and migrating whales. Board the R Tucker Thomson, a classic three-masted sailing ship, to thrill young, would-be Jack Sparrows.
What To Pack To Go To New Zealand:
- Bring a range of clothing to cope with the country’s diverse landscapes and climatic zones, including swimwear and sandals for beaches and natural hot springs, a waterproof jacket for inevitable rainy days and a warm fleece and layers for cooler evenings in the mountains.
- If you’re planning to hike, sturdy walking shoes or boots are a must, as are a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. A warm hat and gloves, zip-off trousers and good wool (ideally merino) socks are a boon. A headtorch and sheet sleeping back are useful for multi-day treks.
- Electrical sockets take type I plugs with three flat pins; bring an adaptor, if necessary.
Health & Safety in New Zealand:
- New Zealand is a very safe country with a low crime rate, no venomous snakes or scorpions, potable tap water and no required vaccinations. Mosquitoes and sandflies can be irritating, so bring insect repellent if camping, particularly on the west coast of South Island.
- The sun can be strong, so apply sunscreen and wear a hat on sunny days. Be aware of sea conditions, particularly on surf beaches where currents and rips can be powerful. Watch for red and yellow flags indicating safe swimming and surfing areas.
Travel Tips for New Zealand:
- Great Walks, such as the Milford and Routeburn Tracks, must be booked ahead during the high season (late October to May). Out of season, huts may be closed and trails blocked or wet. Check here for info.
- Watch your speed while driving. It’s easy to pick up a speeding ticket on New Zealand’s empty, straight roads.
- New Zealand takes biosecurity very seriously. Check what items and food you can and can’t bring into the country here and ensure footwear and outdoor clothing is clean and free of mud or seeds before arriving.
- Hotel DeBrett a colourful, art deco-inflected boutique hotel in central Auckland.
- Blanket Bay in Glenorchy, a rustic but luxurious stone-built lodge near Queenstown with views across Lake Wakatipu to mountain peaks.
- Roots in Lyttelton, near Christchurch. It’s an intimate, sleek but friendly restaurant offering degustation menus prepared with seasonal, mostly local ingredients.
- The French Café in Auckland is not particularly French and not a café (check the prices), but arguably New Zealand’s top fine-dining, tasting-menu experience, with a superb wine cellar.
You have to go to…
- Christchurch Art Gallery a shimmering, sweeping building exhibiting a suitably mind-stretching array of Kiwi and international art, particularly innovative modern pieces and installations.
Before you go to…
- Watch Whale Rider, the 2002 film about a young Maori girl in a remote coastal community, which is sunnier than Jane Campion’s NZ-set
- The Piano, more uplifting than the urban grit of Once Were Warriors and less CGI-d than The Lord Of The Rings.
Our Other Current Guides…
Paul Bloomfield is a travel writer and photographer for the likes of Lonely Planet, Wanderlust, The Telegraph, The Times and the BBC, specialising in hiking, active adventures and wildlife-watching.
Follow him on Twitter @paulbtravel