It won’t take much coercing to convince you that New Zealand is one of the most spectacular places on earth. Whether you decide to become mesmerized by the unique volcanic landscapes of North Island or the magical mountains & crystallines lakes of South Island, New Zealand is bound to find a spot on the bucket lists of even the pickiest of travellers.
Although most are familiar with the country’s Anglo-Saxon heritage, it’s the indigenous Maori culture that gives New Zealand’s its unique flavour among former British outposts. Travelling throughout New Zealand, the Maori influences are ever-present whether its in hearing the language echo on the streets or watching its world-famous national rugby team, the All Blacks, challenge their competitors with a traditional haka dance.
Not sure where to begin planning your trip to this fascinating country? Get some ideas with this New Zealand travel guide…
When to visit New Zealand
Despite being just a few hours from Australia by plane, New Zealand boasts a mostly temperate climate with four distinct seasons and all of the “fun” weather swings that go along with. Kiwis often joke that you can experience all four seasons in one day in New Zealand; it’s not so far off the truth!
Choosing the best to visit New Zealand depends on what you’re planning to do. For most travellers, the summer months between December and February present the best weather the country has to offer. This, of course, also brings thicker tourist crowds, higher prices, and strained availability in the New Zealand’s most popular destinations.
Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to August) are also fantastic times to go to New Zealand. In each of these seasons, you’ll avoid the heavy summer crowds while still experiencing enjoyable temperatures.
Where to go in New Zealand: Top destinations & best places to visit
It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly what you’ll find when travelling in New Zealand. One thing’s for certain: For experiencing nature, this is one of the finest destinations on the planet!
While South Island—with its fjords, glaciers, lakes, and mountains—gets most of the attention, the scenes of North Island are as unique and enchanting. Whether you’re looking to walk through volcanic landscapes, relax to fine glass of wine in an pristine vineyard, paddle along ragged coastlines in a sea-kayak or tramp (the Kiwi term for hiking) through the most divine mountainscapes on earth, have at it in one of the these top New Zealand travel destinations…
Few cities in the world can stake claim to a more beautiful piece of real estate than Auckland. Wedged on an isthmus between the Tasman Sea, South Pacific Ocean and a liberal sprinkling of volcanic mountains, the views from every corner of New Zealand’s biggest city are nothing short of spectacular.
While many travellers set their sights elsewhere in New Zealand (and, perhaps, with good conscience), Auckland isn’t a city you’ll want to miss either. It’s a superb base for tackling some of North Island’s finest scenery—whether it’s lush rainforests, sea-swept beaches, bubbling geothermal parks or small family-run wineries.
Ready to plan your trip to Auckland? Here are a few travel resources…
- One Day in Auckland: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Auckland
- Where to Stay in Auckland: The Best Hotels & Areas
The largest and most cosmopolitan city in New Zealand’s south, Christchurch finds its way onto most South Island itineraries. Although it was once the most important showcase of English heritage in New Zealand, Christchurch suffered through two earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 that left much of its historical heart all but destroyed.
These days, Christchurch is on the mend, welcoming guests once again to discover its strides in rebuilding the historic city. In its post-quake restoration, Christchurch has sprouted up with hip modern architecture, cool boutique hotels, and forward-thinking artistic projects.
Not only a Christchurch the perfect gateway to South Island, it makes for a great base to explore its surrounding Canterbury region. Dotted with small resort towns and blissful natural scenery, Canterbury combines everything New Zealand is famous for—from relaxing hot springs to stunning mountainscapes to picture-perfect vineyards.
Ready to plan your trip to Christchurch? Here are a few travel resources…
Although it’s the second-biggest city on South Island, Dunedin is often overshadowed by the south’s more famous adventure- and nature-focused destinations. It’s a shame. Dubbed the “Edinburgh of the South,” Dunedin is the breadbasket of Scottish culture in New Zealand and one of the most youthful & energetic cities in the country.
From its handsome Victorian and Edwardian buildings to its quirky bar & restaurant scene, there’s plenty to do in Dunedin itself. For many travellers though, the true reason for a stay in Dunedin is its natural attractions. The city is an excellent base for exploring the beautiful Otago Peninsula and all its natural goodness including its penguin colonies and rugged seascapes.
In case you weren’t aware: New Zealand’s got an adventurous side. And nowhere is that spirit stronger than in the thill-seeker’s paradise of Queenstown. Visiting this relatively small South Island staple is a right-of-passage for travellers looking to surge their adrenaline. Surrendering to its call will put all of the world’s most heart-pumping activities on your agenda from bungy-jumping to zip-lining to zorbing (if you gotta ask…)
While many of its new fans visit Queenstown to send their hearts racing, more subdued travellers will have their day as well. For its small stature (in population, not popularity), Queenstown is surprisingly hip. The city’s home to a superb food & drink scene, including over 200 vineyards within less than 40 minutes from the city centre.
And lest we forget the hiking: Queenstown’s also one of the best places in New Zealand to do just that. Ringed around Queenstown (and Lake Wakatipu upon which the city sits) are a multitude of tramping trails ranging from short & easy to long & advanced.
Even if Auckland is its most famous destination, visitors to North Island know that Rotorua is where its at. As New Zealand’s most popular geothermal area, Rotorua showcases some of the country’s most compelling and unique scenery.
Rotorua was once one of the most sacred places in Maori culture, revered for its Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters) hot springs. There’s still a large Maori contingent in Rotorua, representing a third of its population and spicing up its cultural fabric with unique events and performances.
Although you’ll discover better amenities elsewhere on North Island, the views around the town are unbeatable and must to round out your appreciation of New Zealand’s South Island.
As one of the premier adventure destinations in the north, Taupo is a favourite stop for travellers finding themselves embarking on an epic North Island itinerary. The town sits upon the shores of its namesake Lake Taupo and offers a multitude of activities for adventurers from cycling to hiking.
While not yet as popular among travellers as Rotorua, Taupo is a destination on an upward trajectory. It’s becoming one of the coolest towns on North Island for chillin’ out, thanks to a burgeoning hip eating, drinking & accommodation scene.
Although often overshadowed by Queenstown to the south, Wanaka has long been one of South Island’s up-and-coming adventure destinations. Much like its more popular rival, the lakeside town of Wanaka is primed for adventure, its surroundings bursting with blissful mountainscapes that beg to be tramped through.
While still holding onto its small-town roots, Wanaka has everything you’ll need to enjoy a stop here on your South Island adventure. As its popularity rises, Wanaka is truly coming into its own with a wide array of hip restaurants & funky watering holes that are perfect for relaxing after an adrenaline-fuelled day on the trails.
While Auckland may be New Zealand’s biggest city, the capital of Wellington might well be the country’s biggest surprise. Hemmed into the eastern fringes of a harbour-side peninsula by mountain, Wellington sports, much like Auckland, a spectacular geographic location that begs for further exploration.
As far as capital cities go, Wellington is quite small; its population that doesn’t even crack half a million denizens.
In spite of its smaller stature, Wellington punches well above weight in the hip factor. The city is chock-loaded with art galleries, microbreweries, craft beer bars, and cafés, the perfect combo for a happenin’ social scene that keeps travellers and locals alike enthralled.
Ready to plan your trip to Wellington? Here are a few travel resources…
Transportation in New Zealand
By air: For most international travellers, the best way to get to New Zealand is by air. The busiest international airport in New Zealand is Auckland Airport (AKL). It’s the main international and domestic hub for New Zealand’s national carrier, Air New Zealand, as well as a hub for other international airlines such as Virgin Australia and Jetstar Airways.
By air: If you’re on a tighter schedule, travelling around New Zealand by air might be a good option. Air New Zealand offers the largest selection of routes to major destinations around the country. Air travel, however, tends to be quite a bit more expensive than land transportation in New Zealand.
By bus: For most travellers, getting around New Zealand by bus is the best option. Overall, bus transportation in New Zealand is efficient, budget-friendly, and comfortable. There’s an added bonus when travelling by bus to get a chance to see the natural beauty of New Zealand at its best!