New Zealand

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Special thanks to Peter Fields, Sarah Shugar, and Esther Schorr for the recommendations and pictures.

There’s a reason New Zealand is on everyone’s bucket list. Flying in over snow-capped peaks, winding through picturesque mountains, then looking up at constellations you’ve never seen before make this island an unforgettable experience. It’s not an exaggeration or overly romanticized notion, it’s truly the gem of the Southern Hemisphere.  

What many people don't know is that the North and South Islands of New Zealand each have their own unique appeal.  The North Island is more of a "tropical wonderland" while the South Island is majestic and grand with soaring peaks and turquoise glacial lakes. Each island has an incredible number of things to see and do, great food, and amazing places to stay, with options for all budgets and tastes.  To top it off, the people are wonderful - friendly and accommodating  - and an benefit is that there are no spiders and snakes!

 

Queenstown

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Coastal Walk 

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Piha Beach

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North Island Coast

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Waiheke Island

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Stanmore Bay

Stanmore Bay

AUCKLAND

Things to Do

Mt Eden Volcano walk: Just a short drive from downtown is Auckland's highest volcano, Mt Eden. Walk to the top and you'll get a 360° view of the Auckland skyline and harbor.  It's an easy walk from the parking lot inside a lovely city park.

Parnell Rose Gardens:  If you are looking to take a peaceful stroll and enjoy floral beauty, the rose gardens are a must. Parking is available or you can walk from the CBD. Bring a picnic.

Auckland Harbor: Also called the Waitemata Harbour, is the main access by sea to the city of Auckland.  Along with tons of shops and restaurants on the waterfront there are booking offices for the many adventure and sightseeing tours activities that originate in Auckland.  (Think Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco)

Bungy jump off the Auckland Sky Tower:  Located right in the heart Auckland’s Central Business District is New Zealand’s tallest building. Standing 328m high, the Sky Tower is an icon of Auckland’s sky line and is the adrenaline hub of the city.  It’s up to you whether to look or leap off this high tower!  For those who decide to look only, you can walk the rim of the tower, too.

Piha and Bethells beaches: Get out of the city a bit and head to some gorgeous west coast beaches. Both are gorgeous - each with some soaring rock formations and crazy wave action.  Not the best for leisurely swimming but lovely for long walks and some hiking up to high vista's looking out and the water.

Places to Eat

Dear Jervois: Really terrific breakfast spot not far from the Auckland waterfront.  Loads of gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian options and excellent coffee drinks.  Open for breakfast and lunch.

WAIHEKE ISLAND

Waiheke is a chock full of beautiful vineyards, olive groves and beaches - only a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.  There are white sandy beaches at Oneroa, Palm Beach and Onetangi that are perfect for swimming, kayaking, or having a picnic. To stay overnight, you can rent a beach house or if you’re on a budget, you can go to a friendly backpacker hostel.  Many hiking and biking trails , too.

 

Things to Do

Waiheke island wine tours:  This family-run tour company give you the royal treatment on a one-day tour that includes visits to at least three local wineries that includes a bit of learning about each winery's history, tastings, and touring the beautiful terrain that is this lush island.

 

Places to Eat

Fenice Café Italia:  In the heart of Oneroa (Waiheke Island’s main village), this little Italian restaurant has reasonably-priced pizza, pasta, risotto etc and a laid back atmosphere.  

HAHEI

The Coromandel Peninsula extends 85 kilometres north from the western end of the Bay of Plenty, forming a natural barrier to protect the Hauraki Gulf and the Firth of Thames in the west from the Pacific Ocean to the east. It is 40 kilometres wide at its broadest point. It’s only 1.5 hour drive from Auckland.

Things to Do

Cathedral Cove:  Probably the most spectacular beach on the North Island.  Rock formations tower above the surf line, an open ended cavern that takes you from one pristine beach to another - get out your camera!  You do have to park in town, take shuttle, and then walk about 45 minutes from downtown Hahei on a paved path to get to the beach area, but well worth taking a picnic and enjoying the day once you arrive.

Hot Water Beach:   Show up within two hours either side of low tide to find hot water bubbling through the golden sand.  Dig your own spa pool in the sand and relax in the natural springs. Often rated as one of the world's most renowned beaches - a truly unique Kiwi experience. 

Places to Eat

Eggsentric Café and Restaurant:  In nearby Cook's Beach, this funky house-converted-to-restaurant has really good food and loads of local art displayed.  It sits on a lovely hillside with picnic bench seating cascading down the slope for a sunny day meal.

 

The Pour House:  IPA's abound here - the owners brew their own and tap into loads of other local tasties.  Very casual pub/café with good food and a friendly vibe.

 

The Church Bistro: Housed in an original church building from the early 1900’s, and relocated from its original home, Taumarunui,  expect a gourmet meal with a European flair. On the pricier side but good for a special night out.

Places to Stay

Orchard House, Private Rural Retreat: We cannot recommend this listing enough. This slice of paradise is perfect to enjoy the gorgeous coromandel. With kayaks for use on the property, a private beach, and a exclusive access trail to cathedral cove just a few blocks away is what makes this haven a true winner. 

BAY OF ISLANDS 

Paihia

Paihia is a relaxed beach town on the eastern coast of the North Island. It’s known as a gateway to the dive sites and sandy beaches of the Bay of Islands.

Things To Do

Scuba diving and Snorkeling: Highly recommend Paihia Dive - this outfit is well-organized with very knowledgeable guides and full on equipment is provided as needed.  There are wreck dives as well as recreational dives and snorkeling trips - lots of sea life and beautiful, clear water!

Lots of inexpensive and "treat yourself" outdoor activities: Check out this Backpackers Guide for details. Also, you can take a helicopter tour, do parasailing, even take a cruise on a tall ship.  Check out Must Do New Zealand's Paihia site.

Places to Stay

Airbnb will be your best bet. With over 300 listings in town, there is sure to be something for everyone. If you can, snag a spot close to town -parking is a bit hectic.

SOUTH OF BAY OF ISLANDS

Things to Do

Kawiti Glow Worm CavesWhy pay the high price for seeing glow worms in action elsewhere?  For a very nominal fee, this family-owned cave is chock full of the little critters, and the guides are super informed about the history of the cave, the life and tribulations of the worms, and much more.

Places to Eat

Salt n' Pepper Cafe: In Waipu, still heading toward Auckland.  This place has amazing food and bakery goods - locally grown and prepared in-house.  Worth a stop.

ROTORUA

Things to Do

Tamaki Maori Village:  When in New Zealand, you shouldn’t miss learning a bit about the Maori tribes.  The evening experience is a tour through an authentic Maori village and includes traditional interactive ceremonies, games, and song, along with a feast cooked underground as the tribes still do today for special occasions.  Touristy?  A bit. Worth it?  You bet!

Rotorua Redwoods: Just 5 minutes' drive from downtown Rotorua, the "tree walk" is a spectacular wander through a redwood forest not unlike what you'd experience in Northern California. You can just spend an hour walking through redwood trees and meditating, or do the entire walk that includes 28 suspension bridges.  The walkway has been specifically designed and constructed to preserve the trees, plants, and the surrounding natural environment by using a uniquely constructed New Zealand-first technologically designed sling, which is suspended from the Redwood trees.  

Kerosene spring: Relax and enjoy in the naturally heated spring of Kerosene Creek. Hot springs and fresh water meet here for an incredible experience. Thirty five minutes south of Rotorua.

Places to Stay

Pandora BnB: This Airbnb is close to town and extremely comfortable for all types of travelers.  Adjacent to owner's house but very private.

WELLINGTON

Things to Do

Cuba Street: Absurd amounts of coffee shops, book stores, boutiques, thrift stores, bars, tattoo shops and restaurants. Could spend days at a time on this street checking all the venues. 

Matiu/Somes Island: Short ferry ride off the main island, home to beautiful scenery and you get to explore an island full of indigenous plants and animals. You can even pet the sheep!

Mount Victoria Overlook: Picturesque hike through the wood, leading to a scenic overlook of the city & harbor. 

Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa: Engaging museum downtown with local contemporary art & sculptures. 

New Zealand All Blacks or Hurricanes Rugby Match: There is no atmosphere like a rugby match in New Zealand. Even if you have no idea what is going on, go for the experience. Fans are die-hard, the stadium is electric, and they're always serving cheap beer.

Parliament Building: Usually offers guided tours to learn about rich history of new Zealand law making -- interesting if you want to learn about how indigenous people in New Zealand are adequately represented, unlike in the United States. Across the street from an interactive and informative Maori museum. 

Wellington Harbour/Farmers Market: Open on weekends, serving freshest and cheapest produce, groceries, meats, etc. Best shopping value compared to groceries and have a great selection.

Places to Eat

Best Ugly Bagel: Large bagel selection, quick service, strong coffee. Prepare to stand or get to-go, there's minimal seating.

Burger Liquor: Best burgers in Wellington, central downtown location. Grab a picture with their shark mural.

Dragonfly: Asian-fusion, great atmosphere, quality cocktails. 

Havana Bar: Retro-chic atmosphere, tapas plates & drinks. 

Pizza Express$7 large personal pizza, ideal late-night drunk spot. 

Taco QueenStreet tacos, burritos, quesadillas etc. Literally hidden on the side of a building, but has the best homemade salsa & deep fried tortilla chips in the city.

Places to Drink

Counter Culture: Craft beer and board game bar. Huge selection of board games -- classics like Trouble, Sorry, Connect 4, Operation, mixed with newer strategy games like Catan. Really laid-back atmosphere. Also, great burgers and fries. 

Dakota: If you want a cheesy, American bar with a mechanical bull, $4 double shots of whiskey, and free hot dogs go here. You'll regret it, but love every second of it. 

Danger Danger: 90's nights on Fridays, always popping at 1:00 a.m. Cheap drink specials and young crowd. Best bang for your buck if you want to get sloshed for cheap.

J J Murphy & Co: Quality Irish pub. If you want a pint of Guinness, a shot of Jameson or catch the rugby match, look no further.

The Arborist: Rooftop bar, great lighting with plenty of seating and relaxed atmosphere. Serves quality cocktails, not too pricey, best rooftop bar in the city.

The Churchill: A 15 minute walk from center city towards Parliament, but well worth it. Olde-English atmosphere, generous prices on pints, complete with full bar service up and downstairs. Could easily lose hours in here if your intention is to drink. 

The Establishment: Dual floors with casual scene. Don't remember much after the night got rolling, so that's a good sign.

The Library: Best kept secret in Wellington! Literary inspired drinks and decor. The cocktails are strong and the conversation is always stimulating. 

The Residence: Pool tables, fair deals on shots and pitchers. Great place to start the night.

Vinyl Bar: Fun atmosphere, cool interior. Has a very "band/rock" inspired theme.

Places to Stay

Trek Global: In center city, close to everything, long-term stay, good floor deals if you have a big group. Not the nicest by any means, but stay long enough and it begins to feel like home.

YHA Wellington Backpackers: Within walking distance to heaps of bars and resturants on the nicer side of town. Prime location, nice rooms, clean kitchen & facilities.

Transportation 

Jucy rentals and Spaceships Campervans are a common choice by travelers and will be seen all over the winding roads of NZ! If you feel comfortable driving, this is definitely your best option. 

 

Lots of people opt for hop on hop off bus options to avoid the stress of driving on the left side of the roads. We like Kiwi Experience and Intercity Bus Pass - most of them have tours all around the two islands. 

WHANGAPARAOA PENINSULA

Things to Do

Beach walks/hikes and vistas:  This peninsula has some of the most incredible beach fronts for hiking and strolling or just taking a picnic and enjoying the spectacular views. 

Big Manly and Little Manly beaches:  Long open stretches of beach with great sheltered bay swimming. 

Shakespear Regional Park: Yep - no "e" on the end of this park's famous name. It is described as an “open sanctuary integrating conservation, recreation and farming….providing a pest free habitat and a safe home for wildlife.”  The views from the top of the hiking trials that run all through this huge reserve are breathtaking.

Places to Eat

Dear Coasties: Great café atmosphere with incredible healthy stuff like avocado smash and soba noodle salad…but you can get a great burger and fries there, too.

 

Countdown: This is the leading grocery chain in New Zealand and it's got all the edible things and general road trip stuff you might need. Other name of place we ate by water? Not sure…was it The Good Home? Ice cream place?

NORTH ISLAND HOTSPOTS

Lake Taupo: How about some adventure in this happening lake town? Or some relaxation at the Plum House Aibnb? You really cannot go wrong. This walkable city with gorgeous lake views and tons of activities is sure to quickly steal your heart. Check out white water rafting, parasailing, or Huka falls

Raglan: This charming little beach town is not to be missed when road tripping the north island. Whether you want to surf, kayak, or stay in an EPIC treehouse

Queenstown

Queenstown

Queenstown

Queenstown

Queenstown

Milford Sound

Wellington Habour 

Downtown Wellington

Wainui Beach

Island Bay

Arokai/ Mount Cook National Park

Queenstown

Mount Aspiring National Park

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Milford Sound

 

QUEENSTOWN

Things to Do

Cardrona Mountain: Skiing/snowboarding. Rent a pair and send it.​

 

Bungee Jumping: You can’t visit Queenstown, aka the adventure capital of the world, without doing something adrenaline pumping and utterly terrifying. We recommend this company.

Gondola: Take a scenic gondola ride up Bob’s Peak to see spectacular views of the mountains, lake, and quaint town below.​

NZone Skydiving: Launch yourself from the top and feel the rush as you race to the bottom.

Kjet the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers: These guys know how to drive...FAST and FURIOUS and so much fun.  Skim over the water in these hydroplaning wonders - and hold onto your hat!

Skippers Canyon Jetboat: Located on Skippers Canyon Rd, great way to experience the water and awe at the vast canyons.

Take a hike in Glenorchy:  Glenorchy is about 45km from Queenstown and worth a drive out.  Small town with a great general store chock full of local crafts and excellent pre-prepared foods to take-away for a hike and picnic.  You can do part of the famous Routeburn Track or a lovely stroll through deep forest to Lake Sylvan.

Places to Eat

Bella CucinaFamily style, comfort Italian dishes. Great for a casual and quick meal in downtown Queenstown. 

Caribe: Mexican & Latin American eats with spicy homemade sauces. This Latin-inspired space is an experience worth checking.  

Fergburger: Most famous restaurant in Queenstown because of their amazing burgers. Usually a line but worth the wait. If you are in Queenstown in the winter, make sure to try the hard apple cider.  

The Winery: Amazing atmosphere, perfect for a glass or bottle of wine and savory charcuterie plate. 

Rehab: Sure, go ahead and tell your friends you are going into Rehab…but you will be feeding your addition to super health food and delightful smoothies.  Small, inexpensive, delicious.

Vudu Cafe: A rotationg, sasonal menu, enjoy New Zealand's freshest ingredients.  Sandwiches and sweets are the specialty. 

World Bar: Flavorful and strong cocktails with high-end bar food and signature teapot drinks. 

Places to Drink

Bungalow: Chill vibe. Grab a pint and unwind. 

Loco: Deep-house night once a week, popular dance club.

The London: Industrial, underground vibe with fantastic pizza.

Winnies: Casual bar with great atmosphere and patrons. Look up which night has events online.

Places to Stay

 

Absoloot Value Accommodation: Great budget hostel 

The Black Sheep Backpackers: Affordable and accomodating. Will be sure to meet fellow travelers.

AirBnBs, although scarce, are a safe option as well. 

Transportation 

Jucy rentals and Spaceships Campervans are a common choice by travelers and will be seen all over the winding roads of NZ! If you feel comfortable driving, this is definitely your best option. 

 

Lots of people opt for hop on hop off bus options to avoid the stress of driving on the left side of the roads. We like Kiwi Experience and Intercity Bus Pass - most of them have tours all around the two islands. 
 

General Tips

Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. Its the perfect place for snow adventures in the winter and water/outdoor activities in the summer. ​

New Zealand’s official website is an awesome resource - everything you ever wanted to know is right in one place.

Department of Conservation is great for checking the condition of trails and download maps. 


CamperMate is a fantastic app to help you find campsites, public toilets,
freedom camping sites, and more.

CHRISTCHURCH

Things to Do

Hagley Park: This has been Christchurch’s main outdoor gathering spot since the 1850s.  It's 407 acres of lush parkland that includes a botanic garden and the Canterbury Museum.  Tons of outdoor concerts, competitions, festivals and community events happen in the park throughout the year.

Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail: You can start this incredible biking route from Christchurch that will take you through flat lake lands, into the glacial canyons near Mt Cook, and through scenic farmland where there are more sheep than people.  There are many tour groups that will guide you through if you want - we recommend Adventure South NZ from personal experience.  If you get to ride this trail - be sure to stop in…

Elderslie at  Burnside Homestead:  This country lodge is a really unique historic home that has been converted to an incredible B & B.  Even the horse stable can now accommodate a half dozen guests in a cozy setting with its own kitchen!  The breakfast spread is not to be missed.

Places to Eat

Spice Paragon: Thai fusion food, very relaxed pub and restaurant atmosphere.

Procope Coffee House: Great breakfasts and coffee, just outside the CBD and walking distance to Hadley Park.

Places to Stay

 

Tuscana Motor Lodge:  Not expensive, just outside CBD, very clean and comfortable, laundry on site.

Tongariro Crossing 

Shakespear Park

Raglan Treehouse 

Christchurch

Walkway to Cathedral Cove

View from Raglan Treehouse 

Scubadiving in Bay of Islands

Big Manly Beach 

HIKES / NATIONAL PARKS

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Hooker Valley Track: A 3 hour return hike with swinging suspension bridges, blue alpine streams and glacier lakes, and the Southern Alps reaching high above in every direction. Begin your walk at the White Horse Hill campground/carpark.

Dark Sky Reserve: All we have to say is pull off the road, kill the headlights, and look up.

Fjordlands National Park

Many tours on the way to Milford sound drive through this park - we highly recommend a route that does so!

 

Lake Tekapo

Church of the Good Shepherd: Sitting on the shore of the stunning turquoise lake with mountains in the backdrop - come at sunset.

Tekapo Springs: Relax in hot springs while enjoying the breathtaking surrounds. More info here.

Mount John Earth & Sky Observatory: Book a tour (here) to see the southern night sky through powerful telescopes at the top of Mt. John, New Zealand’s premier astronomical research observatory. Dress warmly.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound Cruise: Coined the eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling - so you know you can't miss it. Mitre Peak tours offering incredible sites and history of the kiwis.

 

Kayak Milford Sound:  See this incredible water and peaks landscape from the water!  Real Journeys runs half and full-day trips that are unforgettable - and you don't need to be an expert kayaker (just be able to swim).

Mount Aspiring National Park

 

Hike Rob Roy Glacier Track: seriously a life changing trail. After driving for an hour on a gravel road through streams and passing by sheep, you’ll arrive at a carpark with a green pasture and cows wandering around. Shortly you’ll arrive at a suspension bridge and cross over into a different world. The hike is difficult but eventually you’ll get to the top where you’re surrounded my active, hanging glaciers. Be quiet and listen to the avalanches.

Tongariro National Park

 

Most famous for the one day trek the Tongariro Alpine crossing. If you are up for this all day adventure make sure to pack in plenty of snacks and water, a sun hat, and layers depending on time of year. You can find more details here. For a less time consuming adventure, check out many of the other hikes, walks, waterfalls.

Wanaka

Blue Pools: Short walk through beech forest with glacier pools.

That Wanaka Tree: Located near the center of town is the lake with a weird shrub-like tree growing close to the shore, which is strangly insta famous.

 

Church of Good Shepherd

Arokai/ Mount Cook National Park

Queenstown

Tongariro National Park

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