Awe-inspiring wilderness, centuries of Māori traditions, fine wine and coastal cities – there’s no shortage of epic adventure in New Zealand, despite its pint-size packaging. Located in the South Pacific Ocean off the coast of Australia, its more than 600 islands span a mere 103,000 square miles (roughly the size of Colorado), yet feels like a whole world unto itself. Its largest islands, named simply North and South Island, are absolute showstoppers whether you’re looking to soak in geothermal hot springs, kayak crystal waters, or simply kick back and admire the views over a glass of wine.
New Zealand’s diverse landscapes range from jagged coastlines, to lush green valleys and forests, to towering glaciers. Explore the country’s laidback, yet refined cities – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Napier, to name but a few – where you can venture out for excursions to the famed wine regions (Hawke’s Bay), trek mountains, surf, or learn about the rich Polynesian culture near Rotorua. With over 1,000 years of history on the islands, Māori culture has deeply shaped the Kiwi identity. Experience first-hand the zeal of a Māori haka (war dance), learn about intricate tribal tattoo designs and traditions, and participate in a pōwhiri (welcome ceremony) where songs are performed.
If you are ready to escape city life altogether, explore the awe-inspiring Fiordland of South Island and kayak through Milford Sound, renowned for the towering Mitre Peak, plummeting waterfalls, lush forests, and unique black coral. If you prefer to keep your feet planted, overnight on one of the ‘Great Walks of New Zealand’ in established campgrounds with numerous tented options. These walks range from lake and forest landscapes to mountains, open coastline, and volcanic deserts. While most are considered moderate to challenging, easier treks are also available. Bonus: If you’re trekking the Milford Track, make your way to Sutherland Falls, ranked among the world’s highest with a total drop of 1,904 feet! Alternately, take to the skies and admire this famed waterfall by helicopter.
Whatever you do, there’s no shortage of activities in New Zealand, and just when you think you have seen the most beautiful place on earth, there’s more. With so many options, we suggest focusing on North or South Island, or spending a full 3 weeks (or as much time as you can muster) exploring both areas. Although the temptation is to combine a trip to New Zealand with Australia, you will find that you’ve barely scratched the surface of either place if you try to cram them into one trip. Trust us, you will be back for a second trip!
It is hard to choose one area of New Zealand when the country is chockfull of beautiful sights. South Island’s Fiordland offers exciting outdoor options and iconic photographic opportunities. Spend a little longer than you might think is necessary in Queenstown itself, or venture directly to the heart of Fiordland to truly lose yourself in South Island’s most spectacular landscapes. For a more laidback, luxury culinary vacation, North Island’s Hawke’s Bay is a must (and one of EJ’s Sales Director Jamie’s favorite areas).
If you love the great outdoors, you are bound to like New Zealand. There are abundant opportunities to trek, day hike, cycle, surf, and much more. But you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy a trip to New Zealand. Foodies and wine lovers will delight in the country’s robust culinary scene as well as the Polynesian culture, which adds unique layers of depth and history. If you aren’t active but love a good view, New Zealand provides an outstanding backdrop for the ultimate road trip.
While we really enjoy the laidback and charming city scene in New Zealand, it’s not necessarily a ‘big city’ experience. In addition, if you are looking for major wildlife encounters or if you don’t like spending time outdoors, New Zealand isn’t for you.
Good news: New Zealand is a relatively temperate destination year-round. Winter (May through to August) is cooler and can be snowy (and sunny) in the mountains, with highs ranging from 40-60˚F. Summer (November/December through February) is busier because the weather is ideal for treks, hikes, and beaches with temperatures ranging from 70-80˚F. To minimize crowds while maximizing warmer weather, shoulder seasons are ideal with temperatures in the mid 60s.
There is no bad time to visit New Zealand but summer is best for camping and trekking while winter lends itself to cold-weather activities like skiing.
New Zealand is not a cheap destination. With high quality accommodation and abundant activities on offer, a two-week trip could run you around $10,000 per person using a mixture of small boutique hotels and top-end luxury lodges.
We suggest completing a self-driving circuit on one (or both) of the islands depending on time. Note: you should be comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road if opting to self-drive. There is no wrong way to experience New Zealand as long as you’re getting out and about: Forest walks, mountain treks, cycling through vineyards, lounging in hot springs, helicopter trips, fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, jet-boating, or glacier trekking... the list goes on.
New Zealand is not a great destination for wildlife, though you may encounter penguins, marine mammals and a lot of fascinating birdlife.
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