Destination: New Zealand

New Zealand Introduction

Back in 1979, New Zealand cartoonist and satirist Tom Scott, writing in NZ Listener magazine, had this to say about New Zealand: “Terrible tragedy in the South Seas. Three million people trapped alive.” The big news in 2003 was that we hit the four million population mark, and more than half of that increase was due to immigration. Given that we have around 44 million sheep, one New Zealander still equates to a whole lot of fresh lamb. Look beyond the farm gate, though, and you’ll find we’ve caught up with the rest of the world. We may bob about at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, but it would be unfair to consider the country a backwater.

New Zealand has notched up a record year in tourism, welcoming more than two million visitors a year for the first time, despite international upheavals like terrorist attacks and SARS. Visitors contributed more than NZ$5 billion to the country’s economy, making tourism one of New Zealand’s biggest overseas income earners. And we’re better equipped for tourists. Efficient visitor centers abound, and accommodations range from budget to exclusive. You can shop 7 days a week, whoop it up at clubs and bars 24 hours a day, or savor a glass of internationally recognized New Zealand wine in an inexpensive cafe. You can get real coffee in as many variations as you can imagine, and New Zealand’s fresh, innovative cuisine will leave you breathless and begging for more.

Even provincial New Zealand has pulled up its socks without losing its heart. Small-town pride is beaming, and farmers are turning their hands to boutique tour operations and gorgeous restored B&Bs to supplement farm incomes, changing the whole nature of many backwater rural districts. Yet you’ll still find, at its core, the very Kiwi hospitality that has made this country famous.

You may have heard that New Zealanders are born wearing wet suits and carrying paddles, such is their appetite for the outdoors and adventure. No part of the country is more than 128km (79 miles) from the sea, and a coastline spread with splendid beaches dishes up thousands of beautiful coastal walks and chances to surf and soak in the sun.

New Zealand is also a winter magnet for international skiers and is the white-knuckle capital of the world. This is where you can push it to the limits, pit yourself against your fears and limitations, take risk by the throat, and go for it — leaping off bridges into surging river gorges attached to a giant rubber band, or taking a stab at luging, zorbing, sky diving, paragliding, kayaking, white-water rafting, and jet-boating. There’s no lack of invention when it comes to adrenaline-pumping activities in this country.

But you don’t have to be an extreme athlete to enjoy New Zealand. There are just as many ways to be laid-back and indulgent — tour wineries that have stampeded their way to the top of world ratings in record time; take in the wealth of Polynesian and Maori culture that forms the backbone of an increasingly multicultural society; or check out the strong historic and architectural reminders of a colonial past. There are lush gardens, art galleries, museums, and plenty of one-off reminders that New Zealand is like no other place.

New Zealand Best Dining Bets

  • White (Auckland; tel. 09/978-2000): Named for its stunning minimal all-white interior, White is the handiwork of celebrated consulting chef Luke Mangan, who owns the award-winning restaurant Salt in Sydney. Its best feature is The Table, a big informal table for diners who like the idea of mixing with others over an outstanding meal.
  • Otto’s (Auckland; tel. 09/300-9595): This is posh-plush, professionalism-plus. Located in the delicious Ascott Metropolis Hotel, Otto’s emphasizes the “fine” in fine dining and has staff that delivers the goods in terms of service and style. Just make sure you’ve swallowed your last mouthful before you catch your breath at the bill.
  • Dine by Peter Gordon (Auckland; tel. 09/363-7030): The latest rave on the Auckland culinary scene, this lush little spot is the new playground of London/New Zealand celebrity chef Peter Gordon. Set in the new SKYCITY Grand Hotel, it’s bound to stimulate every taste bud you own.
  • Café Bastille (Wellington; tel. 04/382-9559): This cute little French bistro-style den is a winner if you’re after a smart but casual ambience with terrific food. A winner in the Best Restaurant of New Zealand stakes, it shouldn’t be bypassed.
  • Herzog (Blenheim; tel. 03/572-8770): Expect the very best from this winery and restaurant that has been held up by New York’s Wine Spectator for its impressive stock of around 3,200 of the world’s best wines. It’s a fine dining experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
  • Rotherams (Christchurch; tel. 03/341-5142): Swiss-born chef Martin Weiss has mastered the art of stunning his hungry patrons. In an interior that’s all about romance and special occasions, he presents meals that excel in both presentation and taste. Not to be missed — likewise the extensive wine list.
  • The Bunker (Queenstown; tel. 03/441-8030): Don’t start celebrating until you’ve actually found it and are sitting at one of its tables! Notoriously hard to find (that’s part of its charm), and expensive when you get there, this hidden culinary jewel delivers on all the superlatives it receives. Make sure you hunt it down.
  • New Zealand The Best Offbeat Travel Experiences

  • Visit the World’s Biggest Polynesian Market: Why go all around the Pacific Islands when you can get the best of it in the comfort of an Otara parking lot? Go hungry and feast on island goodies, smell the smells, and buy beautiful tapa cloth and top-notch Polynesian weaving.
  • Swim with Sharks: You’ve got to be keen, I admit, but this can be done in perfect safety. Along with those charming, perfectly harmless tropical fish in the Poor Knights Maritime Reserve, you can come face to face with Jaws‘s South Seas cousins in a tough metal cage. Gisborne offers a similar knuckle-biting thrill.
  • Visit a Maori Marae: Experience the hongi (the formal nose-to-nose Maori greeting), see deeply moving song and dance performances, and eat from a traditional underground hangi (oven). Do this in Rotorua as part of an organized tour experience, or seek permission to visit one of the dozens of East Cape marae (village common).
  • Take the East Cape Road: Journey back in time as you travel the last remote outreaches of the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a feast of living Maori culture, stunning coastline, empty beaches, stockmen herding sheep on horseback, wild horses, and roaming stock (drive carefully) — and it’s the first place in the world to see the morning sun.
  • Do the Eastern Bays Scenic Mail Run: Get a feel for real rural New Zealand as you whiz around lonely, unpaved roads delivering mail to far-flung farming families. Hear all the latest community news firsthand and see some stunning landscapes in the bargain.
  • Whale-Watch in Kaikoura: When a mighty sperm whale flaps its tail at you, you won’t forget it in a hurry. These big sea monsters come to this particular stretch of water for a marine habitat rich in their kind of plankton. Don’t be surprised to see dolphins aplenty, too.
  • Eat Bugs and Beetles at the Wildfoods Festival: Prime yourself! You’ll need culinary fortitude for this mind-boggling event — you could be served up anything from wriggling grubs to the unmentionable body parts of a number of wild and not-so-wild animals. The West Coast at its most rugged best.
  • Drive into Skippers Canyon: Relive the pioneer days as you make your way into one of the hottest old gold-mining areas via a treacherous road guaranteed to take your mind off any other troubles you thought you had! Take a bungy jump while you’re here — if you dare. One thing’s for sure — it couldn’t be any worse than the road.
  • Stalk Kiwis at Night: And I mean the birds! Get ready for surprises on this little southern adventure. It’s the only place in the country where you can creep about lonely beaches at night with flashlights and stealth and not get arrested! At the same time, you’ll be one of the lucky few who get to see a wild kiwi foraging for its supper among the seaweed.
  • New Zealand The Best Active Vacations

  • Scuba Diving in the Poor Knights: Jacques Yves Cousteau rated this among the best diving spots in the world. This unique marine reserve has the best of tropical currents sweeping in to make it warm and inviting for a wide variety of tropical species that aren’t found anywhere else in New Zealand’s waters.
  • Blackwater Rafting in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves: Daredevils can now go underground to leap off waterfalls; slink through dark, damp, underground waterways; abseil off Lost World rock faces; and do other things in the dark.
  • Trout Fishing in Taupo: They say the fish in Lake Taupo are so big that when you catch one, the lake level drops. The dozens of other rivers (especially world-renowned Tongariro) and streams in the region also have rich pickings for the fisherman.
  • Sea Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park: It takes a lot to beat this balmy little paddle into the best-preserved and most beautiful coastline of New Zealand. Keep company with nosy seal pups and dolphins; call into pristine, deserted beaches; and explore rocky headlands.
  • Walking the Glaciers: Dig out those snow boots and walking poles, add a dash of nerve and daring, and take the walk of a lifetime down Fox or Franz Josef glaciers in the deep south. And don’t forget your camera so you can bring home those unforgettable views into the snow caves.
  • Getting Wild in Queenstown: This is New Zealand’s adrenaline capital, where you get more than one chance to show how crazy you really are. There are more daredevil stunts per square inch here than anywhere else in the country. An international skiing mecca in winter, it readily transforms itself into summer madness as well.
  • Walking the Fiordland Tracks: If you fancy yourself as a multiday tramper, there’s plenty to keep you out of mischief in Fiordland. This is where you get some of the best walks in the world — the Milford, the Hollyford, the Kepler, and the Routeburn tracks.
  • New Zealand The Best Beaches

  • Waiheke Island’s Onetangi Bay: Stand on the bay’s wide stretch of golden sand, and you can see for miles. On a clear day, throw yourself down into the sand and gaze at the steep pinnacles of Great Barrier Island and Little Barrier, off in the hazy distance. There might even be a few glimpses of the Coromandel in between deliciously warm swims.
  • Karikari Peninsula’s Beaches: This is the Far North at its subtropical best — endless sweeps of sparkling white sand lapped by crystal-clear, azure-blue waters. And from Tokerau Beach to Rangiputa to Matai Bay, you could have miles of it to yourself for beachcombing, sunbathing, and swimming (with care).
  • Coopers Beach: Partly shaded by a bank of red-emblazoned pohutukawa trees, how could you not be content to stretch out here? Exercise? A walk to the water should do it!
  • Hot Water Beach: Don’t ask me why, or how, but if you get here 2 hours before or after low tide, you can hollow out a spot on the beach for yourself, then wait for natural hot water to seep up through the sand. A natural spa experience without paying a cent!
  • Mount Maunganui’s Ocean Beach: Surf, sand, and sun — some people never want more than that. Throw on a bit of suntan lotion, a pair of sunglasses, and a skimpy swimsuit, and you’ll be able to mix it with the best of the bronzed bodies that make an annual pilgrimage to this perennial beach and surf favorite.
  • Kaiteriteri Beach: Half of Canterbury makes a beeline for these blissful shores every summer. It’s not expansive — in fact it’s quite small, but perfectly formed nonetheless, and there’s a busy vacation atmosphere with packed campgrounds and holiday houses. And with Nelson’s endless hours of sunshine, who could complain about size?
  • Abel Tasman National Park’s Beaches: Bush-wrapped and locked between rocky headlands, these idyllic golden patches from Marahau north to Totaranui are accessible by sea only. That’s what makes them so special. Gliding through the turquoise waters in your sea kayak, with curious seals to keep you company, you can take your pick of isolated havens.
  • New Zealand The Best Hikes

  • Tongariro Crossing: Often described as one of the best 1-day walks in New Zealand, this high-altitude hike across volcanic terrain will give you cold mountain springs, lava flows, an active crater, emerald-colored crater lakes, and unforgettable views. Be fit and enthusiastic.
  • The Abel Tasman Coastal Track: This is another easy 3- to 5-day walk where the guided option gives you the choice of ditching those hefty packs. From start to finish, 52km (32 miles) later, it winds in and out of gorgeous sheltered coves, golden beaches, rocky headlands, and natural unspoiled bush.
  • The Heaphy Track: No softy guided options here: You go it alone for 4 to 6 days from the junction of the Brown and Aorere rivers, across tussock-covered flats to the wild seas of Karamea on the West Coast.
  • The Milford Track: The mother of them all, the Milford is one of the world’s best and most loved multiday tramps. Stretching through the best of Fiordland, this 54km (33-mile) trail follows the Clinton and Arthur valleys and crosses McKinnon Pass with views you’ll never forget.
  • The Routeburn Track: Like the Milford and the Hollyford before it, this track makes its way into virgin rainforest and the sort of wild fairyland scenery where you’d expect to see elves and gnomes prancing around.
  • The North West Circuit: This is a real test for experienced trampers who think they can face 10 to 12 days walking 125km (78 miles) through bird-filled native bush, big beaches, and long stretches knee-deep in mud. I’m told the rewards are plenty.
  • New Zealand The Best Views

  • Sky Tower: The paramount city view in not only New Zealand, but also the entire Southern Hemisphere. Once you get out of that glass-faced lift 328m (1,076 ft.) above the city, you’ll know just what I mean. Fabulous 360-degree views of Auckland unfold below, and you can test your courage by walking over glass floors!
  • Hicks Bay: Stop at the high point above Hicks Bay before you descend into Te Araroa to see New Zealand’s largest pohutukawa tree and the East Cape Lighthouse. Resting awhile, high up between the two bays, see if you can imagine Captain Cook’s expression when he first sighted the area, and his relief to be leaving again after a tragic Maori massacre in which one European was killed and eaten on his wedding night.
  • Hastings’s Te Mata Peak: A big “sleeping giant” of a hill, 393m (1,289-ft.) Te Mata affords big views of endless green and brown undulations, reaching all the way to the coast. Havelock North, Hastings, and Napier all blend together below.
  • Wellington’s Kelburn Cable Car: Not so far above the capital’s busy shopping streets, you’ll be rewarded with postcard-perfect vistas of glass-faced high-rises silhouetted against the harbor. Step off the cute red cable car into the verdant acres of the Botanical Gardens and look seaward. No matter what the weather, the view is always memorable.
  • Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola: It’s everybody’s aim to get high in Queenstown one way or another. Make yours by way of a smooth gondola ride to the top of Bob’s Peak. Step out into the cool, crisp, exceedingly fresh air with New Zealand’s playground spread out at your feet. The Remarkables will keep the view in check, and Lake Wakatipu will be a big blue basin below.
  • Nugget Point: You may not have seen another human being for hours by the time you make your way to the lookout above Nugget Point. And once you’ve experienced the blissful solitude of standing on this wild, windswept Catlins promontory, you probably won’t care if you don’t see anyone for several more. Thick, swirling masses of kelp, seals, penguins, and seabirds galore — they’re all here by the hundreds.
  • New Zealand The Best Natural Attractions

  • Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga: From the spiritual tip of the North Island where, Maori say, the souls of the dead depart, to mountainous sand dunes, quicksand, and the broad flat stretch of Ninety Mile Beach, this is a must-see area filled with the unexpected.
  • Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland: The earth’s molten core hints at its artistic potential in a veritable rainbow of color and steamy chaos manifested in geysers, mud pools, hot bubbling lakes, steamy terraces, and more. A photographer’s paradise, but tread carefully.
  • Tongariro National Park: Three major volcanoes dominate a rugged central plateau landscape: Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe. An indomitable threesome, they’re rife with Maori legend and rich in a few modern stories as well. Great for skiers, trampers, and anyone else wanting a physical challenge.
  • Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers: This is one of the very few places on earth where you’ll find full-fledged glaciers this close to the ocean. In a slow, ever-onward creep, they make their way from the heights of the Southern Alps down into untouched rainforest.
  • Fiordland: Come here on a wet day (and that’s easy because this place gets the most rainfall in New Zealand), and you’ll think you’ve stepped into the living set of The Lord of the Rings. This place defies all superlatives. It is the ultimate must-see.
  • The Catlins Coast: This is wild, natural New Zealand at its unspoiled best. From unique fossil forests to all manner of seabirds and mammals, native bush, waterfalls, wild beaches, unforgettable tangles of driftwood, and a frustratingly changeable climate — the area takes a lot of beating, but the resulting dramatic impact is unforgettable.
  • Ulva Island: Tucked into Stewart Island’s Paterson Inlet, tiny Ulva Island will leave you speechless with its incredible native bird life. It’s wall-to-wall feathers here — and what’s more, they’re not afraid of humans. Don’t go without your camera; you’ll need evidence once you start telling friends back home about it.
  • New Zealand The Best Maori Experiences

  • Auckland Museum: This is the perfect place for an early lesson in things Maori. The recently revamped museum has the largest collection of Maori artifacts in the world. Large war canoes, meetinghouses, greenstone weapons, and feather cloaks are here. On top of that, the Manaia Maori Performance Group puts on a stunning show three times a day.
  • Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute: Maori guides will lead you through the thermal reserve, explaining the significance of the area to the Maori people. There’s also a live song-and-dance performance, a tour of a replica Maori village, and the chance to watch working weavers and carvers in the Arts & Crafts Institute, which was set up in 1963 to foster traditional craft skills.
  • Tamaki Maori Village: This re-created ancient Maori village was the New Zealand Tourism Awards Supreme winner in 1998. It presents Maori life as it used to be pre-European settlement. You’ll tour the village with a Maori elder, learn the ancient myths, watch a traditional performance, and eat from a traditional hangi.
  • Royal Lakeside Novotel: Here you’ll find the best Maori hangi and performance in Rotorua. It includes a steam-cooked hangi, poi dance, haka dance, traditional songs and games, and an excellent audiovisual presentation spanning 150 years of Rotorua’s history.
  • East Cape: This is a remote enclave of Maori culture — one of the last places in New Zealand where the Maori language is part of everyday life. You’ll find more than 100 marae scattered along the length of the East Cape Road, and if you ask permission, in most cases you’ll be allowed to enter. There are numerous Maori settlements and highly decorative Maori churches.
  • New Zealand The Best Scenic Drives

  • Auckland City to Mission Bay: This is the stuff of a weekend afternoon spin to see how the other half lives. Best done in a Ferrari, a BMW, an Audi, or an equally cool classic if you want to leave a lasting impression. Tight shorts and in-line skates do the trick just as well if you want a cheaper set of wheels. Do the cafe crawl; join the walkers, the runners, and the dog strollers; or just drool over million-dollar real estate.
  • Rotorua’s Blue and Green Lakes: From the stately redwood forest on the edge of town, all the way past the Blue and Green lakes to the Buried Village and Lake Tarawera and back again, you’ll squeal with delight at a dozen different things. There are lots of picnic spots on the way, but the Landing Café at Lake Tarawera is a good bet if you forget the hamper.
  • The Capital to Mellow Martinborough: Once you’ve left the motorways behind, you’ll be up and over the winding Rimutaka Hill Road in little more than 40 minutes. Then it’s downhill all the way to Martinborough’s enchanting pocket of prize-winning wineries. Surrender to hedonism and squander time in idyllic vineyard settings. Make the only exercise you do raising your glass, or at most a wee stroll through pretty little Martinborough Village, where cute shops await.
  • Queen Charlotte Sound: Take the scenic loop from Picton to the little fishing village of Havelock and back to Picton on the main highway. Stop and admire the bush-clad sounds and the boats, and indulge in fresh green-lipped mussels grown in these very waters at The Mussel Boys restaurant, in Havelock. It’s a narrow winding road around the Sounds, so take it quietly.
  • Greymouth to Westport: Pretty, pretty, pretty! Nikau palms, native bush, tree ferns, jagged rocks, roaring surf, and the big blue Tasman Sea combine to make this a lovely half-day outing. Be sure to stop at the famous Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, where blowholes have a spectacular hissy fit as the ocean roars into, under, and around rocky caverns on the coast.
  • The Famous Milford Road: Even the Wanaka-Haast road can’t match the splendor of this one. It’s been called one of the best drives in the world, and no amount of raving can do it justice. You really have to experience it. Virgin rainforest, mirrorlike lakes, astounding waterfalls (especially during rain), beech forest, mountains of moss, bright orange lichens, and sheer mountain faces thousands of feet high contribute to the overall picture — not to mention the slightly daunting Homer Tunnel.
  • New Zealand The Best Museums

  • Auckland Museum: After a very significant internal revamp, this museum is everything you’d want in a city’s storehouse of treasures: fun, interactive, attractive, informative, and filled with interesting collections. Its Maori and Polynesian section, the biggest in the world, sends shivers down your spine; if you’ve got kids, let them loose in the Discovery Centre, where they can legally stick their fingers into just about anything.
  • New Zealand National Maritime Museum: At the pinnacle of New Zealand’s boating history — with the America’s Cup Challenge right in our backyard — the Maritime Museum is booming. Look for KZ1 outside, and inside discover 1,000 years of the country’s maritime history. See sail makers, boat builders, and wood-turners at work and take a cruise on one of the vessels.
  • Museum of New Zealand-Te Papa Tongarewa: One of the largest national museums in the world, this giant new edifice on Wellington’s waterfront is said to be 5 years ahead of anything else like it. Truly bicultural, it’s a magical place where art and artifacts meet technological brilliance, creating riveting displays and interactive playthings for all ages. You’ll find everything from a whale skeleton and a working Maori marae to art collections and virtual-reality diversions.
  • Canterbury Museum and the International Antarctic Centre: Although these two museums are completely separate entities located miles apart, together they present a terrific overview of life and history in Antarctica. Nowhere else in the world will you find this much gathered information about the great icy continent. There’s everything from wildlife displays to human exploration accounts and a real ice chamber so you can get the feel of life in subzero temperatures.
  • New Zealand Regions in Brief


    The North Island


    Auckland — Far too often overlooked as little more than a landing port, Auckland has first-rate attractions, quality accommodations, and diverse leisure opportunities. It is without doubt the most cosmopolitan of the cities, and its balmy climate has a special appeal. Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf offer some of the world’s finest sailing, boating, and fishing, and in the aftermath of the 2002-2003 America’s Cup yachting challenge, many quality hotels, bars, and restaurants are thriving. Cultural offerings abound in museums, galleries, and performing arts centers; and shopping is the most diverse in the country. There are more than 1,000 restaurants and a wild nightlife scene, and if you’re into a beach lifestyle, there are numerous choices within easy reach. You may think it’s just another big city, but Auckland has a Polynesian backbone that makes it quite unique. If you’re touring only the North Island, Auckland is a perfect base.

    Northland & Coromandel — Both are within easy reach of Auckland and can be tackled as a day trip if you’re short on time. However, each warrants at least a couple of days’ exploration; if you have to choose between the two, I’d definitely swing up to the far north.

    Northland is served by a far better infrastructure in terms of transportation, hotels, and restaurants, and its beach attractions (on the east coast) are too numerous to itemize. That said, you’ll find far more tourists here, too, at least in the Bay of Islands area. Head north, though, and a whole world of unpopulated beaches awaits. Fishing, diving, boating, and camping are all big draws. The area’s rich Maori culture is also an excellent introduction to New Zealand’s history.

    The Coromandel Peninsula is a slightly more rugged version of Northland, to the south of Auckland. It has a craggier coastline, a more remote landscape, and sections with very poor roads. Accommodations are middling to say the least (with a few exceptions). Still, there’s color and character here, and it’s long been a favorite with New Zealand campers and beach bunnies — especially the eastern side of the peninsula, where you’ll find some top surf beaches.

    Waikato & Bay of Plenty — I spent my childhood in the Waikato region, but I find little to recommend for the visitor. Hamilton is trying its hardest, and it would be fair to say that it suffers from being in Auckland’s shadow. The Waitomo Caves have traditionally been the area’s biggest attraction, and although their natural splendor is undeniable, I find Waitomo a rather depressing place — a strange hive of tourist buses, darting in and out of otherwise undisturbed farmland.

    The Bay of Plenty, on the other hand, has come of age. Tauranga and Mount Maunganui have always been hot spots. Again, the emphasis is on a beach lifestyle — boating, fishing, surfing, sunbathing, and golf are the main attractions — and some stunning accommodations are available. If you’ve been to Australia’s Gold Coast, you’ll sense a hint of that style here.

    Rotorua, Taupo & Tongariro National Park — Rotorua is on almost every visitor’s hit list. Some would say that makes the area objectionably touristy. I don’t agree. Rotorua has spent millions refining its attractions and accommodations, of which there are many, and it offers a unique geographic and Maori cultural slice of New Zealand life. In terms of adventure tourism, it is biting at the heels of Queenstown.

    Taupo and Tongariro National Park, in combination with Rotorua, make the whole central region an unbeatable value in terms of volcanic landscape and adventure variety. And the area is plenty big enough to avoid being bothered by others. (It’s away from key attractions.) Come here for volcanic and Maori attractions, the world’s best trout fishing, mountaineering, skiing (water and snow), mountain biking, and tramping.

    Gisborne & Hawkes Bay — This is one of the most underrated areas of the country. East Cape and Gisborne offer a rare insight into Maori culture, free of tourist hype. The area has amazing beaches and world-class surfing conditions, and, in combination with Hawkes Bay, is probably the country’s most important wine-producing region. In terms of accommodations, Gisborne is definitely lacking, and its laid-back rural approach doesn’t always find favor with visitors. Hawkes Bay, on the other hand, has the best range of boutique B&Bs and cottages in the country. Napier’s Art Deco charms are legendary and definitely worthy of inspection.

    Taranaki & Wanganui — Let’s put it this way — if you want the best of small-town, provincial New Zealand, this is it. I’m most drawn to Taranaki. New Plymouth is surprisingly vibrant in its own right, and you can’t help but feel that, stuck out here on its own western limb, it couldn’t care less about the rest of the country. Mount Egmont and the sea are big attractions for trampers and surfers, and the region’s gardens are stunning. And Tom Cruise seemed to like the area when he was filming The Last Samurai. Wanganui has a major asset in its river, but it needs to spruce up accommodations.

    Wellington — The capital has come alive in almost every aspect. The Museum of New Zealand-Te Papa Tongarewa is, of course, a major attraction and has been built with style and flair. Once you have explored it, you will understand more clearly much of what you have seen, or are about to see, throughout the country. Wellington is also home to several national cultural companies, so you’ll find a rich performing arts program. In addition, its restaurant, nightlife, and shopping opportunities are many and varied.

    And don’t overlook the vineyard and craft delights of the Wairarapa, where you’ll find the biggest selection of stunning rural cottages in New Zealand.

    The South Island


    Nelson & Marlboroguh — The best year-round climate in New Zealand can be found here. Characterized by three stunning national parks and gorgeous beaches, Nelson is often talked about with a mix of derision and envy for its alternative, slightly hippie/artsy communities. A top region to visit if you’re into arts and crafts and outdoor pursuits. And for oenophiles, there’s a growing pocket of wineries that, in combination with the Marlborough wine region, make it a must-see destination. Both areas have some superb B&Bs, homestays, and backpacker accommodations.

    Christchurch & Canterbury — After Auckland, Christchurch is the second major destination for overseas tourists. Quite apart from the fact that it’s the primary starting point for South Island exploration, Christchurch is loved for its fine Victorian-Gothic architecture, its hints of old England, and its increasingly vibrant city lifestyle. It has several ski fields within a 2-hour drive, good surfing beaches, and over 40 wineries. Day trips to Hanmer, Kaikoura, Akaroa, and Methven are all popular, but each of them warrants a longer stay.

    West Coast & The Glaciers — The top of the West Coast, from Westport north to Karamea, and the south, from Haast to the glaciers, are quite remarkable. It’s just a pity about the middle bit. Apart from greenstone shopping and the crazy Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, I can never find much to recommend in the central part of the West Coast. But I will concede that it has played a vigorous and important role in shaping New Zealand’s history and economy, and you certainly won’t find anything quite like it elsewhere.

    Queenstown & Environs — For sheer physical impact, this southwestern portion of New Zealand is utterly unbeatable. It’s easy to understand why everyone flocks here at least once. Don’t be put off by this nonsense about Queenstown being “too touristy.” It’s a recognized international tourist resort, for goodness sake, so of course there will be lots of tourists! It has a long-standing reputation for being a work-hard, play-hard, party-hard sort of a place, and as far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier.

    Milford Sound is another matter entirely. It is simply stunning, but the excessive number of buses (over 50 a day) is quite disgusting and should be reduced to make it a better experience for everyone. It is a remote wilderness area, but it’s hard to sense that with 3,000 other people standing around looking at the same mountain peak!

    Wanaka has a much more low-key personality than Queenstown. It makes a beautiful stopover between Queenstown and the West Coast. You’ll find some stunning lodges and B&Bs here.

    Dunedin, Southland & Stewart Island — Invercargill and Southland are sleepy, slow, incredibly friendly, and very, very green, but not that well prepared for the visitor. Dunedin is simply gorgeous, very Gothic, and in winter, very grim. But as a summer destination, it’s lovely and has lots to offer the wildlife lover. Get out onto Otago Peninsula and be prepared to have your breath taken away. It also has some handsome B&B and lodge-style accommodations in the most amazing old houses.

    Farther south, the Catlins Coast and Stewart Island are remarkably unspoiled by anything — especially tourism. I’m almost loath to mention either for fear of instigating a mass influx of visitors, but good old Kiwi pride gets in the way, and I can’t help boasting about these two truly magical destinations.

    New Zealand Fast Facts


    American Express — The office is at 105 Queen St., Auckland (tel. 09/367-4422). Other offices are located in Christchurch, Hamilton, Nelson, Porirua, Pukekohe, Queenstown, Rotorua, Wellington, and Whangarei. They accept mail for clients, forward mail for a small fee, issue and change traveler’s checks, and replace lost or stolen traveler’s checks and American Express cards.

    Business Hours — Banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4:30pm. Shops are usually open Monday through Thursday from 9am (sometimes 8am) to 5:30pm, and until 9pm on either Thursday or Friday. Increasingly, shops are open all day Saturday; many shops are also open all day Sunday, with others closing between noon and 4pm.

    Drugstores — Pharmacies observe regular shop hours, but most localities have an Urgent Pharmacy, which remains open until about 11pm every day except Sunday, when there are two periods during the day when it’s open, usually one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

    Electricity — The voltage is 230 volts in New Zealand, and plugs are the three-prong type. If you bring a hair dryer, it should be a dual-voltage one, and you’ll need an adapter plug. Most motels and some B&Bs have built-in wall transformers for 110-volt, two-prong razors, but if you’re going to be staying in hostels, cabins, homestays, or guesthouses, bring dual-voltage appliances.

    Embassies & Consulates — In Wellington, the capital city, you’ll find the United States Embassy, the Canadian High Commission, and the British High Commission. In Auckland, you’ll find consulates for the United States, Canada, and Ireland.

    Emergencies — Dial tel. 111 to contact the police, call an ambulance, or report a fire.

    Film — Film is expensive in New Zealand, so if you’re not using a digital camera, carry a lot of it from home. Most brands are available in larger cities.

    Internet Access — Internet facilities are available in all major cities and in many smaller towns. Consult visitor centers for specifics, or go to Many establishments now offer broadband and wireless connections.

    Language — English is spoken by all New Zealanders. You’ll hear Maori spoken on some TV and radio programs and in some Maori settlements.

    Liquor Laws — The minimum drinking age is 18 in pubs. Children are allowed in pubs with their parents.

    Lost & Found — Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa’s emergency number is tel. 0508/600-300 in NZ. American Express cardholders and traveler’s check holders should call collect to the U.S. at tel. 715/343-7977 715/343-7977. MasterCard holders should call tel. 0800/44-9140 in NZ.

    If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 0800/005-253 in NZ;

    Identity theft and fraud are potential complications of losing your wallet, especially if you’ve lost your driver’s license along with your cash and credit cards. Notify the major credit-reporting bureaus immediately; placing a fraud alert on your records may protect you against liability for criminal activity. The three major U.S. credit-reporting agencies are Equifax (tel. 800/766-0008 800/766-0008;, Experian (tel. 888/397-3742 888/397-3742;, and TransUnion (tel. 800/680-7289 800/680-7289; Finally, if you’ve lost all forms of photo ID, call your airline and explain the situation; they might allow you to board the plane if you have a copy of your passport or birth certificate and a copy of the police report you’ve filed.

    Mail — New Zealand post offices will receive mail and hold it for you for 1 month. Have the parcel addressed to you c/o Poste Restante at the Chief Post Office of the town you’ll be visiting. It costs NZ$2.50 (US$1.80/90p) to send an airmail letter to the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, or Europe. Overseas postcards cost NZ$2 (US$1.40/70p).

    Maps — Get free maps from Automobile Association offices around the country by showing your home-country membership card. Rental-car firms also furnish maps with rentals.

    PassportsFor Residents of the United States: Whether you’re applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at For general information, call the National Passport Agency (tel. 202/647-0518 202/647-0518). To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center (tel. 900/225-5674); the fee is 55¢ per minute for automated information and $1.50 per minute for operator-assisted calls.

    Restrooms — There are “public conveniences” strategically located in all cities and many towns. Local Plunket Rooms come with a “Mother’s Room,” where you can change your child’s diapers. The Plunket Society is a state-subsidized organization that provides free baby care to all New Zealand families.

    Taxes — There is a national 12.5% Goods and Services Tax (GST) that’s applicable to everything. A departure tax of NZ$25 (US$18/£9) is assessed and can be paid by credit card or in cash in New Zealand currency.

    Telephone — The country code for New Zealand is 64. When calling New Zealand from outside the country, you must first dial the country code, then the city code (for example, 03, 09, or 06), but without the zero. The telephone area code in New Zealand is known as the STD (subscriber toll dialing). To call long distance within New Zealand, dial the STD — 09 for Auckland and Northland, 07 for the Thames Valley, 06 for the east coast and Wanganui, 04 for Wellington, or 03 for the South Island — and then the local number. (If you’re calling from outside New Zealand, omit the zero.) For operator assistance within New Zealand, dial 010; for directory assistance, 018. There are three main kinds of public telephones in New Zealand: card phones, credit card phones, and coin phones. Magnetic strip phone cards for public phones can be purchased from supermarkets, post offices, dairies, and service stations.

    The most economical way to make international phone calls from New Zealand is to charge them to an international calling card (available free from your long-distance company at home). All calls, even international ones, can be made from public phone booths. (Long-distance calls made from your hotel or motel often have hefty surcharges added.) To reach an international operator, dial tel. 0170; for directory assistance for an international call, dial tel. 0172. You can also call home using Country Direct numbers. They are 000-911 for the U.S.; 000-944 for British Telecom (operator); 000-912 for British Telecom (automatic); 000-940 for UK Mercury; 000-919 for Canada; 000-996 for Australia-Optus; and 000-961 for Australia-Telstra.

    Time Zone — New Zealand is located just west of the international dateline, and its standard time is 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Thus, when it’s noon in New Zealand, it’s 7:30am in Singapore, 9am in Tokyo, 10am in Sydney; and — all the previous day — 4pm in San Francisco, 7pm in New York, and midnight in London. In New Zealand, daylight saving time starts the first weekend in October and ends in mid-March.

    Tipping — Most New Zealanders don’t tip waitstaff unless they’ve received extraordinary service — and then only 5% to 10%. Taxi drivers and porters are rarely tipped in this country.

    Water — New Zealand tap water is pollution free and safe to drink. In the bush, you should boil, filter, or chemically treat water from rivers and lakes to avoid contracting Giardia (a waterborne parasite that causes diarrhea).

    New Zealand When to Go

    New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere; therefore, all seasons are the opposite of those in North America, Europe, and other Northern Hemisphere locations.

    There really isn’t a bad time to travel to New Zealand. Keep in mind, though, that most Kiwi families take their main annual holidays between mid-December and the end of January, which puts enormous pressure on accommodations in major summer beach destinations. During the Easter break and school holidays in April, June to July, and September to October, it also pays to reserve well in advance.

    Remember, too, that accommodations at ski destinations, especially Queenstown, fill up quickly — reserve early and be prepared to pay higher winter rates. In most other areas, though, you’ll be paying lower rates during the winter months (Apr-Aug). In some summer-peak areas, the winter also means that tour, lodge, and adventure operators may take advantage of lower tourist numbers and take their own holiday breaks, closing their businesses for 1- to 3-month periods.

    The Weather


    New Zealand’s climate, especially by Northern Hemisphere standards, is pretty mellow for much of the year. You’ll find a far greater seasonal difference in the South Island than in the subtropical North, and don’t believe anyone who says it never gets cold here or that there are no extremes. In Central Otago, winter temperatures are often 14°F (-10°C) and sometimes as low as -4°F (-20°C), with summers up to 100°F to 104°F (38°C-40°C). By comparison, the northern part of the North Island is subtropical. That means lots of winter/spring rain, often daily light showers.

    The west coast of the South Island can get up to 100 inches or more of rain a year on its side of the Southern Alps, while just over the mountains to the east, rainfall is a moderate 20 to 30 inches annually. Rain is also heavier on the west coast of the North Island, averaging 40 to 70 inches annually. Milford Sound, though, beats the lot; it’s the wettest place in the country, with a phenomenal 365 inches of rain a year.

    Dialing the Weather — In New Zealand, call Metfax at tel. 0900/77-999 to hear the current and expected weather conditions in all major towns and cities. Calls cost around NZ$5.50 (US$3.90/£2) for the first minute and NZ$1 (US70¢/35p) per minute thereafter. For further information, call Metservice toll-free at tel. 0800/932-843.


    The Seasons


    Spring (Sept, Oct, Nov) — This is a beautiful time to visit — the countryside is flush with new green grass, baby lambs, and blooming trees. Christchurch in the spring means blossoms, bluebells, and daffodils in abundance; Dunedin is a splurge of rhododendron color. The weather can still be very changeable right up to mid-October, so come prepared with light rain gear. In the South Island, it’s still perfectly normal to get late snowfalls in September.

    Summer (Dec, Jan, Feb) — This is peak tourist season, so you’ll pay top dollar for accommodations and airfares. Book early to avoid disappointment — this also applies to the major walking tracks, such as Milford, for which you should make bookings 6 months ahead. Beaches all over the country come alive, and boaties flock to the water. Fresh fruits are falling off the trees. (You must try Central Otago cherries and apricots; the apple district is Hawkes Bay.) And everyone should see Central Otago when the lupines are flowering, with brilliant colors etched against blue skies and golden tussock.

    Autumn (Mar, Apr, May) — Personally, I think the best time to visit is February through April. The temperatures are pleasant (still hot in Feb in most parts), and even in April you’ll be wearing summer clothes in the upper North Island. The most spectacular autumn colors are found in Queenstown, Central Otago, and Christchurch. Keep Easter and April school holidays in mind, though, when accommodations may be tight in some areas.

    Winter (June, July, Aug) — If you’re a skier, you’ll be heading to Queenstown, Mount Hutt, Canterbury, or the Central Plateau in the North Island — and paying top dollar for the privilege. Otherwise, if you travel elsewhere during this period, you won’t need to prebook much at all (except during the July school holidays). You’ll find some excellent rates — just don’t expect great things from the weather.



    National public holidays include New Year’s Day (Jan 1), New Year’s Holiday (Jan 2), Waitangi Day (Feb 6), Good Friday (varies), Easter and Easter Monday (varies), ANZAC Day (Apr 25), Queen’s Birthday (first Mon in June), Labour Day (last Mon in Oct), Christmas Day (Dec 25), and Boxing Day (Dec 26).

    Regional holidays include Wellington (Jan 22), Auckland (Jan 29), Northland (Jan 29), Nelson Region (Feb 1), Otago (Mar 23), Southland (Mar 23), Taranaki (Mar 31), Hawkes Bay (Nov 1), Marlborough (Nov 1), Westland (Dec 1), and Canterbury (Dec 16). Regional holidays are always observed on a Monday. If the date lands on a Friday or weekend, the holiday is observed on the following Monday. If it falls earlier in the week, it is observed on the preceding Monday.

    School holidays consist of three midterm breaks — in April, June to July, and September to October — that last for 2 weeks each, plus 6 weeks for the December holidays. Kiwi families do much of their traveling during these periods, so be sure to reserve early.

    New Zealand Entry Requirements & Customs




    A passport is required for all entering visitors, and it must be valid for at least 3 months beyond your departure date from New Zealand. If you lose yours, visit the nearest consulate of your native country as soon as possible for a replacement.

    Visas are not required for stays shorter than 3 months (as long as you don’t plan to study, work, or undergo medical treatment) if you’re a citizen of one of the following countries: Argentina, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong (if you’re traveling with a Special Administrative passport or if you hold a British national passport), Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Nauru, the Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Portugal (Portuguese passport holders must have the right to live permanently in Portugal), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United States, and Uruguay. British citizens are allowed a 6-month stay without a visa.

    If you’re planning to visit for longer than is stated above, or if your country of origin is not listed, contact the nearest New Zealand embassy, consulate, or High Commission for information on the appropriate visa and an application. If you’d like to work or live in New Zealand, you can inquire at an embassy or consulate, or write to the New Zealand Immigration Service, P.O. Box 27-149, Wellington, NZ (

    You must also have the following items before entering New Zealand: a confirmed round-trip or outward-bound ticket; enough money for your designated stay (NZ$1,000/US$710/£360 per person per month; credit cards are accepted); and the necessary documents to enter the country from which you came or the next country on your itinerary.



    What You Can Bring into New ZealandDo not bring any fruit or plants into New Zealand. Because of the importance of agriculture and horticulture to the economy, animal products, fruit, plant material, and foodstuffs that may contain plant or animal pests and diseases will not be allowed into the country. Heavy fines may be imposed on people caught carrying these prohibited materials. If in doubt, place all questionable items, especially fruit, into the marked bins before approaching the immigration area upon arrival at a New Zealand airport.

    Firearms and weapons, unless a permit is obtained from the New Zealand police upon arrival at the airport, are not allowed. Note: This includes firearms intended for sporting purposes. Other prohibited items include ivory, in any form; tortoise- or turtle-shell jewelry and ornaments; medicines that incorporate musk, rhinoceros, or tiger derivatives; carvings or anything made from whale bone or bone from any other marine animal; and cat skins or coats. Certain drugs (diuretics, tranquilizers, depressants, stimulants, cardiac drugs, and sleeping pills) may not be allowed unless they are covered by a doctor’s prescription.

    Customs duties are not assessed on personal items you bring into the country and plan to take with you. New Zealand’s duty-free allowances are 200 cigarettes or 250 grams (about 8 oz.) of tobacco or 50 cigars; 4.5 liters of wine or beer (equivalent to six 750ml bottles); one bottle of spirits or liqueur (up to 1,125ml/about 2 1/2 pints); and goods totaling NZ$700 (US$496/£253) that were purchased for your own use or for a gift. If you plan to take in anything beyond those limits, contact the embassy or consulate office nearest you before you arrive or check

    What You Can Bring Home — Returning United States citizens who have been away for 48 hours or more are allowed to bring back, once every 30 days, $800 worth of merchandise duty-free. You’ll be charged a flat rate of 4% duty on the next $1,000 worth of purchases. Be sure to have your receipts handy. On mailed gifts, the duty-free limit is $200. You cannot bring fresh foodstuffs into the United States; tinned foods, however, are allowed. For more information, contact the U.S. Customs Service, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20229 (tel. 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 877/287-8867 ), and request the free pamphlet Know Before You Go. It’s also available online at

    New Zealand Suggested Itineraries


    Making your way around New Zealand is simple, and many tourists find renting a car the cheapest and most flexible option. But if you’re short on time, fly between major destinations and pick up a rental car for short journeys.

    Many of you will find the roads “virtually empty” compared to those in your own countries. That said, don’t be mislead by the seemingly short distances between places. Most roads are only two lanes — except near bigger cities, where they become four-lane highways — and in some places they’re steep, winding, and narrow as they negotiate river gorges and mountain tracts. Allow much more time than you would for a similar length journey at home.

    New Zealand For Food and Wine Lovers


    New Zealand has come of age as a producer of internationally acclaimed wines and the great thing about the country’s six major grape-growing regions is that they’re packed into some of the most stunning landscapes. They’re often close to gourmet food producers, many have terrific restaurants, some offer boutique lodgings, and impressive architecture is to the fore. In an ideal world, you could easily spend 2 to 3 weeks “soaking” in a New Zealand wine tour because it offers so much more than just wine and vineyards, but the following itinerary outlines a more realistic (for most travelers) 10-day tour of highlights.

    Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

    The greater Auckland region (including Waiheke Island) has over 100 vineyards and wineries. In the interests of early research, head for the New Zealand Winemakers Centre in Central City to sample your first New Zealand wines and to pick up information on New Zealand wine tourism. Have dinner at Vinnies Restaurant.

    Day 2: Henderson Valley

    Drive 30 minutes from the city to New Zealand’s oldest grape-growing region, where there are a bundle of wineries along Henderson Valley Road and Lincoln Road. Seek out Soljans Estate’s winery and cafe for lunch and then drive on to Kumeu River and Nobilo. If you don’t want to drive yourself, contact Phil Parker’s Fine Wine Tours to get a comprehensive overview in a short time. Stay at Vineyard Cottages, which are surrounded by Matua Valley Wines vineyards. If you return to the city, dine at The French Café.

    Day 3: Waiheke Island

    Catch the ferry to Waiheke Island. Pick up a rental and visit some of the 45 vineyards on the island. Fullers and Ananda Tours both offer wine tours. If you’d rather be independent, make sure you visit Te Whau Vineyard, which has more than 500 cellared wines. It’s highly rated by Wine Spectator and has an impressive menu. You can’t really get lost on this little paradise, and if you did, would you care? Splurge on a stay at Te Whau Lodge, where you’ll wine and dine in style overlooking vineyards.

    Day 4: Fly to Hawke’s Bay

    Head back to the mainland (reluctantly, I’d guess) and fly to Napier — a twin heaven of endless grapes and oh-so-pretty Art Deco architecture, not to mention gorgeous boutique vineyard accommodations, a dazzling array of restaurants, and some of the best wines in the country. Spend the afternoon at The National Aquarium of New Zealand for a change of pace and drink afternoon champagne at The County Hotel’s bar.

    Day 5: The Wine Trail

    Do a fun bicycle tour of a handful of vineyards with On Yer Bike Winery Tours, passing olive groves, orchards, wineries, and ostrich farms. Take your camera, as well as bottled water, a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect against the hot sun. Switch back to your car in the evening and splash out on dinner at the unforgettable Terroir at Craggy Range Winery in the Havelock North area. Get there in daylight so you can look through the fabulous winery and tasting gallery. Try their classy vineyard stay, or plant yourself at nearby Mangapapa Lodge.

    Day 6: More Tasting at Maraekakaho Road

    If you haven’t been there yet, head for the vineyards in the Maraekakaho Road area, finishing up at Sileni Estates Winery & Epicurean Centre in time for a drawn-out lunch at their classy restaurant. Head back into Napier for a 2-hour, self-guided afternoon Art Deco Walk (tel. 06/835-0022; Make sure you stop at Ujazi for coffee and cake, and right next door, loosen your purse strings on fabulous New Zealand arts and crafts at Statements Gallery.

    Day 7: The Marlborough Wine Region

    Rise early and drive the 4 hours to Wellington, where you’ll catch the Interislander to Picton. You’ll find world-class vineyards here as far as the eye can see. Take plenty of film and stamina, along with a wine map from the visitor center, which lists all the wineries open for meals and tastings, plus the wines they produce. There are over 50 cellar doors open to you, so make a day of it. Splurge on dinner at Herzog, an Epicurean and wine lovers’ heaven with top European chefs, and stay in the heart of the Renwick wine area at Vintners Retreat Resort Villas.

    Day 8: Waipara Valley

    Hire a car and drive the 4 hours south to Waipara Valley. Look out for Omihi School on your left, just north of Waipara (about 1 hr. south of Kaikoura) and turn there for Daniel Schuster Wines. Danny is an internationally recognized wine consultant with a boundless knowledge and one of the prettiest vineyards and tasting rooms around. Call in at Waipara Springs Winery for coffee and save yourself for lunch at award-winning Pegasus Bay just down the road. Visit other local wineries and call in at Athena Olive Groves for a different taste sensation. Drive 45 minutes south to Christchurch and catch a flight to Queenstown.

    Day 9: Queenstown

    Hire a car and call first on Johann Small-Smith at Wine Deli for all the advice you’ll need on local wines — and to send some wine home via his international packing service. Pick up a wine map from the visitor center and head out to Amisfield Winery overlooking Lake Hayes. Be impressed by Peregrine Wines‘s unique architecture and make an extended stop at Gibbston Valley Wines. Explore their wine tunnel, the great gift shop, and the cheesery. When you get back, hunt down The Bunker for perfectly matched wine and gourmet food.

    Day 10: Cromwell & Bannockburn

    Take a scenic drive through Kawarau Gorge. Near Cromwell stop at fruit stalls and The Big Picture for an excellent film, a tasting auditorium, a selection of wines and gourmet foods, and a cafe. Set your sights on Felton Road, the Mt. Difficulty Wines cafe, and Olssen’s Garden Vineyard. If you’d rather take a tour of this area, contact Queenstown Wine Trail or Appellation Central Wine Tours. Try the degustation menu at The Spire dining room for dinner if you have time, or catch a late flight to Christchurch to meet your international connection.

    New Zealand In One Week


    I hear it all the time: “This is such a small country, but we never realized there would be so much to see; we wish we’d allowed more time.” Seeing New Zealand in 1 week is possible, but it will require early starts and long days. Personally, I’d ditch the car idea and fly between four major stops — Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown — to save time. There are regular internal flights between all major towns and cities, and if you shop around some of the smaller airlines, you can get good deals. Otherwise, you’ll spend 90% of your time in a vehicle suffering from jet lag, with little left over for the sights.

    Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

    Try to arrive early and focus your attention on Viaduct Basin, a great introduction to New Zealand’s passion for boats. Go for a sail on NZL 40, which is moored here. The New Zealand National Maritime Museum is also here and gives a great overview of our maritime history and short cruises on the historic scow Ted Ashby. In between, join the crowds lazing about over good coffee and fine food. There are at least a dozen restaurants to choose from. Stay at Hilton Auckland, perched on the end of the wharf.

    Day 2: Waiheke Island

    Catch a ferry across to Waiheke Island for a day of laid-back wine tasting and beach walking. Factor in lunch at Te Whau Vineyard, where you can gaze over staggering views and one of the best wine cellars in the country. Visit Connells Bay Waiheke Sculpture Park with work by leading New Zealand artists and swim in the clear warm waters of Onetangi Bay. Return to Auckland late afternoon, visit Auckland Museum, and eat at The French Café.

    Day 3: Wellington

    Get up early and fly to Wellington. For the definitive overview of New Zealand, go straight to Te Papa. Don’t miss the Passports and Manu Whenua displays. Walk along the waterfront, down the Lambton Quay shopping precinct, and catch the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens. Go down the other side to Tinakori Village for lunch. Walk back down Bowen Street, past the Beehive and Parliament. After unwinding at Caffe Astoria, enjoy dinner at Café Bastille.

    Day 4: Christchurch

    Take an early flight to Christchurch, hire a car at the airport, skip the city, and drive 1 hour to pretty Akaroa, admiring rural landscapes along the way. For interesting art and great coffee, stop at Little River Gallery. Take another break at the hilltop for great camera shots. Over the hills, try tasty Barry’s Bay Cheese. In Akaroa, take a nature cruise with dolphin-watching, or saunter along the promenade taking in quaint architecture and dinky shops. When you return to Christchurch, stay at Clearwater Resort, which is close to the airport.

    Day 5: Arrive in Queenstown

    Sleep in and wake up to ducks floating on the lake outside your window. Ease yourself into a late breakfast before flying to Queenstown. Once there, at the airport, take a memorable helicopter ride with Over The Top and land high on a mountain peak for lunch in total solitude. You’ll remember this forever. Back on the ground, spoil yourself at the Sofitel.

    Day 6: Queenstown Adventures

    Rise early, meet the locals for breakfast at Joe’s Garage, and then have the quintessential adventure experience on Shotover Jet. Move on to Arrowtown, explore the quaint old Chinese gold mining area, and have lunch at Saffron. If you’re ready for more action, do the Kawarau Bungy (or watch others) and then visit Gibbston Valley Wines. Alternatively, use this day to enjoy a scenic flight to Milford Sound, a cruise, and return flight.

    Day 7: Back to Christchurch

    Fly back to Christchurch to connect with your international flight. If you have time between flights, visit the nearby International Antarctic Centre, Orana Park, or Willowbank Wildlife Reserve — where you’re sure to see a kiwi. Alternatively, unwind with a round of golf at Clearwater Resort.

    New Zealand In Two Weeks


    Two weeks in New Zealand gives you more opportunities to drive between destinations and take in the color of the provinces. Still, don’t underestimate the time your journey will take. New Zealand has good roads, but 20km (12 miles) in some parts of the country could be narrow, steep, and winding — which means it might take you twice as long to negotiate them as it would back home. In general, roads are well maintained and all major roads are paved. Drive with care on narrow, unpaved roads if you venture in to more remote areas. What I’ve suggested here gives you a taste of both main islands, sticking to main centers with the greatest concentration of activities.

    Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

    Arrive in Auckland and rest for a whole day, doing nothing more taxing than eating and drinking at Viaduct Basin. At night, go to the top of Sky Tower for the big daddy of views and a meal in the revolving restaurant.

    Day 2: Auckland’s Major Sights

    Prepare to sightsee until you drop. Get on the Explorer Bus — the cheapest and easiest way to see as much as possible in 1 day. You’ll set eyes on Mission Bay’s pretty beach promenade, visit Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World, and get a taste of Maori culture at Auckland Museum. The bus drives through the leafy Botanic Gardens and through Parnell village. It stops at the SKYCITY complex, the Victoria Park Market, and much more.

    Day 3: Waiheke Island

    Rise early and catch a ferry to Waiheke Island. Hire a car and drive around the island, visiting wineries, olive groves, artists’ studios, and unspoilt beaches. Some of the best surprises are in the little bays away from Oneroa township. Following visits to Whittakers Musical Museum and Te Whau Garden, have lunch at Mudbrick Vineyard. Later in the day, sit in Onetangi Beach and watch the sunset. Stay at The Boatshed.

    Day 4: Rotorua

    Arrive back in Auckland by midday and fly to Rotorua. Hire a car. If you want a day of complete rest and solitude in unabashed luxury, head for Treetops Lodge. If you want to see the sights, go straight to Rotorua Museum for an excellent overview of geothermal and volcanic history. Spend the rest of the afternoon at Te Puia to see bubbling mud and Maori cultural performances. Watch the sun set over the lake and relax in a hot rock pool at Polynesian Spa.

    Day 5: The Thermal Attractions

    Drive 30 minutes south to see the wonders of Waimangu and Waiotapu. Waimangu has more spectacular sights in a shorter walk. If you’re back in town by early afternoon you could take a guided tour of Ohinemutu, the original Maori village on the lakefront, followed by a walk among the Whakarewarewa Forest redwoods. Finish the night with a tour and cultural performance at Tamaki Maori Village.

    Day 6: Drive to Wellington

    Rise early for a day of driving, but be careful, as roads in the Rotorua region are busy with huge logging trucks. A 5-hour journey will take you around Lake Taupo, where there are plenty of lake-edge stops for photographs, through the stark beauty of Tongariro National Park, and through heartland farming provinces. You could stop off for a night in the Wairarapa — or at least stop to eat in one of Greytown’s cute cafes — or drive the last taxing, winding, uphill leg over the Rimutaka Hills to Wellington. Alternatively, go the coastal route along the Kapiti Coast.

    Day 7: Wellington

    Te Papa is a must-visit. Spend 2 to 3 hours there and don’t miss the gift shop for top-quality crafts. And you can’t visit the capital without a ride up the cable car, a wander through the Botanic Gardens at the top, and a sit-in at a session of Parliament. Art lovers should see City Gallery Wellington and if you like the funky side of life, wander up Cuba Street. Late afternoon, amble around the waterfront to Oriental Parade. Have dinner at Logan Brown or Café Bastille.

    Day 8: A Ferry Crossing

    Rise early and catch one of the first ferries to Picton on the Interislander. The 3-hour trip is an experience in its own right and if the weather’s good you’ll have a picturesque passage through Queen Charlotte Sound. Catch the 1:40pm TranzCoastal. This rail journey is a scenic feast through vineyards and along a rugged coastline hugged by steep mountains. You might want to get out at Kaikoura and go whale-watching, or continue on to Christchurch, arriving around 7pm.

    Day 9: Christchurch

    Get up early and head up Dyers Pass Road (in a hired car) to the top of the Port Hills. My favorite drive is along the top, heading east, stopping for the fabulous views down into Lyttelton Harbour on your right. Drop down into the trendy seaside village of Sumner, have coffee at Coffee Culture, and walk along the white sands of Sumner Beach. Back in town, the swanky new architectural wonder that is Christchurch Art Gallery is bound to impress — don’t leave without visiting their shop and Form Gallery. Wander down the boulevard to Canterbury Museum, the Arts Centre, and the Botanic Gardens.

    Day 10: Drive to Queenstown

    Prepare to be impressed by the landscapes on this 5- to 6-hour journey. You’ll pass by the unbelievably turquoise Lake Tekapo — look out for the stop at the south end of the lake, which affords picture-perfect views of Mount Cook — and through the grand beauty of Lindis Pass. The lupins will be flowering along the summer roadsides of the Mackenzie Country and you won’t be able to resist pulling out your camera. Stop on the Queenstown side of Cromwell at The Big Picture for refreshments, wine tastings, and an overview of the region’s vineyards and wineries. Don’t miss stops at the fresh summer fruit stalls along the way. Apricots are near perfect here.

    Day 11: Queenstown

    Sleep in and breakfast late at Joe’s Garage before taking an early cruise across Lake Wakatipu on the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw. You’ll be back in plenty of time to take the gondola up to Bob’s Peak for breathtaking views over Queenstown. Leap off the bungy if you dare, or descend on the gondola and wander into the Kiwi & Birdlife Park. Dine on seafood at Boardwalk.

    Day 12: The Wineries

    Hire a car (or take a guided tour) and drive yourself around the best of Central Otago’s wineries. The top four closest to Queenstown are Gibbston Valley Wines, Peregrine, Amisfield, and Chard Farm. Don’t miss Gibbston’s wine cave, its cheesery, and its excellent lunches under a canopy of vines. Alternatively, wander around central Queenstown stores for excellent duty-free shopping and have lunch at Eichardt’s, or take in a round of golf at Millbrook Resort and eat in one of its restaurants, finishing off with a soothing massage in the splendid spa. Have dinner at The Bunker.

    Day 13: Fly to Milford Sound

    Be up early for a memorable scenic flight or helicopter ride to Milford Sound. Take a boat cruise and make sure you include the Underwater Observatory. Flying is by far the best option if you’re short on time, although it is weather dependent. Bus trips can take around 12 hours — including the return. When you’re back in Queenstown at the end of the day, take a drive through Deer Park Heights and watch the sun set over the lake. Dine at Saffron in Arrowtown.

    Day 14: Back to Christchurch

    Enjoy a lazy morning in Queenstown before flying to Christchurch to connect with your international flight. If you have time between the two flights, go to the International Antarctic Centre near the airport, or, if you’ve yet to see a live kiwi, check out the nearby Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. If you fancy big cats, visit the cheetahs at Orana Park.