New Zealand is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The only downside is that it’s so far away from pretty much every other country in the world that it will always take quite some time (and money) to get there. On the other hand, that might be its charm as well. One thing I know for sure is that the people are very kind and generous, the cities are laidback and the nature is beautiful!
I spent most of my time on the North Island. As most intercontinental travelers, I landed on Auckland, the biggest city of the country. Auckland is a great city to spend your first couple of days, stroll around the city and get used to the friendly mentality of the new Zealanders.
In Auckland you’ll find the Auckland museum which tells you more about the Maori Culture. More a nature fan? Don’t worry; Auckland has 50 (!) volcanoes. The highest is Mt Eden, although it’s more a grassy hill nowadays, it offers great views of the city.
Great food options in Auckland include the Ponsonby Food Court. Don’t judge it by its looks, the food in this International food court tastes really good! Closeby is Thai House, a delicious Thai restaurant with very friendly staff.
From Auckland you can take the ferry to Waiheke Island. An island that’s mostly known for its vineyards. There are several places where you can do wine tastings (optionally with other activities). I’ve visited Wild on Waiheke and tried Waiheken rose wine and ginger beer. You’ll also find nice beaches here like Palm Beach, Onetanga beach and Little Oneroa beach. From this last one you can enjoy a nice sunset and order your pizza at the beach from Dragonfired. They serve pizzas, calzones, pocketbreads and polenta boxes. Their pizzas have an organic wholemeal base and they have vegetarian and gluten free options as well. You can take the ferry back in the evening or stay for a night.
Do you have a rental car? I recommend going to Piha for a (two) day trip. Piha is a little beach town. In the water at the beach you’ll find ‘Lions Rock’, you can probably guess which shape this giant rock has. There’s a walking path leading to a lookout point for great views of Lion’s Rock and you can also climb the Lion itself.
Got some extra time to spend in the North? I recommend Mount Maunganui and the Coromandel Peninsula. Mount Maunganui is named after a big mountain that you can climb up to (it’s a 40 minute walk) for beautiful views. On the Coromandel Peninsula you can go to Hahei, from their it’s a beautiful one hour walk to Cathedral Cove. A big white rock that is shaped like a gate, where you can walk through and take beautiful pictures of.
From Auckland I went to National Park Village, from where you can visit Tongariro National Park. With its 3 volcanoes it’s a great park for a hike. You can do a multiple day hike or go on a 1 day hike. Most accommodations in National Park Village will offer a transfer to and from the park. I did a 1 day hike around Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe (better known as Mordors Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings). The first two hours are a pleasant walk in a nice valley, after that you’ll start your climb up to the mountains where it can get really windy. Some parts are really steep, so dress accordingly. Up on the mountain you can also see the red crater and the emerald lakes. It’s amazingly beautiful what nature can do.
You’ll find several thermal baths in the area and a beautiful lake (Lake Taupo), so there are also plenty options to relax after a day of hiking. You can also do a more relaxing hike around the Taranaki Falls.
On the North Island you’ll also find Rotorua, a small town in the middle of a geothermal area. From here you can visit mud pools, the Lady Knox Geyser and Wai-O-Tapu. The latter is known as a thermal wonderland and there are several beautiful sights. This is really an unique landscape. The champagne pool has orange and blue colors and the Devils bath has yellow/green water. I’ve never seen nature look so artificial!
In the south of the North Island you’ll find Wellington, the capital city. It’s a relatively small city but has a great atmosphere. You can go shopping in lively Cuba St, visit the Te Papa museum or take the old Cable Car up to the Botanical Gardens for great views over the city. If you have a rental car, there are some great little beach towns around the city that are worth visiting. If not for the beach walks or ice creams, then just for the names like Paraparaumu or Paekakariki.
From Wellington you can take the ferry to Picton on the South Island. From there I took a bus to Nelson, a very small town where shops close early, but the most convenient town before my trip to Abel Tasman National Park. It’s a beautiful park to walk around in. I’ve hiked for about 4 hours to the bay of Anchorage, here I was picked up by a small rubber boat to go to my hostel. My hostel was a boat! The owners provide a delicious barbecue on the deck and the warm showers are very welcome after your hike. After my breakfast the following day I walked around the park some more, visited a beautiful lookout and walked to Watering Cove. There I was being picked up for a kayak tour. This 3 hour tour (with a delicious packed lunch including carrot cake) includes a closer look at Adele Island where you’ll see many sea lions.
I continued my trip to Christchurch. A city that has suffered a lot from the (year) earthquake. It was quite intense to see all the damaged buildings and empty spots where buildings used to be (I was there in 2013). Considering ‘only’ 185 people died, the damage is enormous. You can take a bus tour through the Red Zone, the area that has been damaged the most. Luckily, you’ll also find many creative ideas like a cardboard Cathedral and a shopping mall from sea containers.
The area around the city is beautiful, perfect for a road trip with great views of the hills of Banks Peninsula and several wine tasting options. I’ve visited Hamner Springs thermal pools and spa. They’ve got several pools and bubble baths, you can book a massage or have lunch at the poolside.