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Our ultimate guide to New Zealand

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Visiting New Zealand is what most of us would call a ‘Big Trip’. Way over on the other side of the world and with so many sublime landscapes to explore, travel to New Zealand demands time. This is the kind of place where wanderers come to visit, then end up sticking around (you have been warned). Drop into a Wellington coffee shop or Auckland bar, and you’ll likely be served by a backpacker who couldn’t quite bring themselves to leave just yet. Whether shortened to NZ or called by its Māori name, Aotearoa, meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, this is a country that will wow you with its natural splendour and beguile you with a unique cultural mix. The North and South Islands offer very different experiences, and ideally, you’ll have time enough to explore both. Discover our ultimate guide to New Zealand and get ready for adventure.

Queenstown, New Zealand, aerial view of the coastline

Black, gold or silver: New Zealand’s bountiful beaches

Ask any New Zealander for their favourite beach and you will likely elicit a scratch of the head or a different answer each time. There are that many stretches of glorious sand circling these blessed isles. North Island is closer to the equator, so its shores are milder than its southern sister. Maitai Bay is a summer favourite, as is the surf town of Maunganui Beach. Serious surfers are stoked by the big waves at Piha Beach near Auckland, so it’s a great place to watch the pros (or join in if you’re one yourself). If you’d like to catch a wave but haven’t yet taken the plunge, bodyboarding at Ninety Mile Beach is a gentler way to dip a toe in.

Down on the South Island, the wild Tasman Sea beaches offer exhilarating hiking and cooler dips. Horse riding is a popular way to explore beaches such as Wharariki, or head to the many splendid bays in Abel Tasman National Park.

Maitai Bay, New Zealand, a must see on our ultimate guide

Sup wines in New Zealand’s many vineyards

New Zealand’s main islands are blessed with fertile soils and prime wine-growing climates. There are vineyards from top to tip, but some of the most well-known stretch out under the sunshine of Hawke’s Bay and Waiheke Island just off of North Island. On South Island, the Waipara Valley, Central Otago and Nelson are some of the best spots. Not forgetting Marlborough, where every Sauvignon Blanc enthusiast will want to station themselves for a while. There are many ways to revel in the vines, including wine tastings and cellar tours, gourmet experiences and bicycle forays – steady as you go now.

Blenheim Vineyard, New Zealand

Feel the thrill of an adrenaline-charged adventure

Queenstown on the South Island is the unofficial capital of adventure sports in New Zealand. Wrapped around the shores of Lake Wakatipu and with a backdrop of the Southern Alps, the city draws adrenaline junkies with the promise of jet-boating, bungee-jumping (invented in Queenstown), and skydiving. There’s also skiing in winter and river surfing, kayaking, rafting, hiking, and mountain biking in summer.

If all of this sounds a bit much, don’t skip it, there are plenty of more sedate ways to enjoy the exuberant nature around Queenstown in our ultimate guide. Tour a local vineyard, kick back on a lake cruise or take a scenic road trip. Along the way, you’re sure to spot a few of those aforementioned thrill-seekers doing their thing.

New-Zealand, Queenstown, someone paragliding over Lake Wakaitipu

Get your haka on with a Māori cultural experience

The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, arriving on its shores from Polynesia in the 13th century. They are known for their striking full-body and facial tattoos and their rugby team’s fearsome haka.

The town of Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island is a centre for Māori culture. Here you can experience their traditions of intricate woodcarving, song, dance, feasting and, of course, the haka. The more reserved are welcome to spectate, but participating in this fiery, foot-stomping, eye-rolling ceremonial dance is an exhilarating experience. You’ll feel ready to take on the world afterwards, or perhaps that bungee jump?

New Zealand, Maori carving at Lake Taupo

Hotfoot it to New Zealand’s geothermal centre

Set on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Rotorua is also the centre of New Zealand’s geothermal activity. Bubbling mud pots, shooting geysers and steamy pools join forces in a dramatic show. There are inviting natural hot spring pools and luxurious spas to soak in, too.

New Zealand, North Island, Rotorua Geothermal Reserve, a must see on our ultimate guide

Hike one (or several) of New Zealand’s Great Walks

Experiencing its wild places and big-sky landscapes is one of the main reasons for travelling to New Zealand. Hiking, or ‘tramping’, as it’s locally known, is a national pastime in NZ. But that doesn’t mean that the trails get overly busy.

The Department of Conservation have a booking system in place for what they have named New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’, and they cap visitor numbers. This is both to protect these precious places and to ensure that everyone gets an authentic wilderness experience. Don’t worry if you miss out on a Great Walk slot, as there are hundreds more hiking trails across the country.

2 hikers on Routeburn Track, New Zealand

Venture south to Stewart Island/Rakiura in search of the real kiwis

Stewart Island/Rakiura is New Zealand’s third-largest island and lies off the chilly southern tip of South Island. Rakiura National Park protects over 80% of the land here, consisting of cool, dense forests and untouched sandy shores. The island and its surrounding islets are a haven for birdlife, including penguins and the southern brown kiwi. The latter can often be spotted around dusk, foraging on the beaches or rooting around in woodland glades. With only around 400 people living there, humans are well outnumbered by kiwis on Rakiura.

Rakiura Stewart Island, New Zealand

Revel in the pristine beauty and stillness of Fiordland

The snow-capped Southern Alps dominate New Zealand’s vast Fiordland National Park. This is the big-hitter when it comes to emblematic New Zealand landscapes. Sheer cliffs soar skyward, distant craggy peaks loom large, and mirror-like lakes and fjords reflect gently-rippled images of forest and sky.

Road trips in this corrugated landscape are long but devastatingly beautiful, and the hiking is sublime. But perhaps the best way to experience this vivid beauty is by boat – either cruising along the magnificent Milford Sound on a larger vessel or better still, powering your own adventure by kayak. As you glide quietly onto the water and immerse yourself in the grandeur of this special place, you might just pinch yourself.

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Make it happen

Inspired by our ultimate guide to New Zealand? Plan your perfect adventure with a local expert today. Together you’ll put together a trip to get jump-up-and-down excited about.

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