From sublime landscapes and glistening lakes; to adventurous activities and challenging hikes; to the remarkable Maori culture and friendliness of New Zealanders wherever you go. Discover these and many more reasons as to why New Zealand should be at the top of your travel list!
If you do decide to holiday in New Zealand, it’s important to know that North Americans will generally need a visitor visa, which is a relatively new requirement, pay a conservation tax, and bring only clean (no dirt) hiking gear into the country. If your flight touches down in Australia, you will need a visa for that country, too. Book transportation and lodging as early as possible. Some venues are reserved months in advance.
For travelers deciding to visit this gorgeous country, be ready to have your expectations far surpassed! You will be amply rewarded for making the long journey, with unique and astounding attractions and local treasures. If you need some more convincing, Canadian Karen McCleave, an avid travel enthusiast, had the opportunity to visit New Zealand earlier this year and quickly fell in love with the country. There are many reasons why visiting New Zealand was a travel priority for her. “The country has a rich history, breathtaking views and rich culture”, Karen said, “The people are fantastic. And why not? They live in a paradise! Truly amazing.”
Geographically, New Zealand can be found in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1,300 miles southeast of Australia. The island-country predominantly consists of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, which are separated by the Cook Strait. While Karen decided to travel there as directly as possible, give thought to whether you want to punctuate the journey with lay-overs. San Francisco? Fiji? Australia? There are many choices.
The trip began with flying from Canada in mid-February, enroute for a month-long stay to catch the late summer and early fall seasons. The timing avoided the peak tourist season and yet offered good weather for outdoor adventures.
“A great place to relax after the flights was Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland on the north island. Plenty of vineyards, unspoiled beaches and lovely cafes provided some r and r before we started our travels south” said Karen, adding “You will have access to quality wines that you are unlikely to enjoy anywhere else. Remember that, unlike North America, the weather becomes cooler as you travel south.”
The country has several active volcanoes, unspoiled sandy beaches, deep glacial lakes, and the spectacular snowcapped peaks of the Southern Alps. There is a wide range of vegetation and animal life. The kiwi bird is held in high regard by the Maori people, and New Zealand citizens are affectionately referred to as Kiwis.
The full itinerary included some of New Zealand’s most treasured offerings. While spending about a week on the north island, they sought out bed and breakfast lodging where the hosts were fantastically hospitable and informative: “These locations offered great jumping off points for nearby hikes and touring. The hosts’ tips really improved our experience. For example, we were steered to a less busy, but no less impressive, location to view the geothermal springs of Rotorua” said Karen.
Leave room for unplanned exploring. The town of Napier was an unexpected delight. Populated with Art Deco buildings, they “lucked into a gathering of vintage cars whose owners were dressed in period costume”.
From Wellington, they took a ferry to the South Island. Karen recommends a night in Havelock, “a charming town with delicious dining choices. Try the best greenshell mussels in the world!”
“In between touring the North Island on our own and beginning a private tour, we were fortunate to be able to meet and stay for three days with friends of friends who live in this blissful area called Pelorus Sound, a scenic, unspoiled and sparsely populated area. We got there on the Pelorus Mail Boat, which does double duty in delivering mail and supplies to the Sound’s residents while giving visitors a tour that will be a trip highlight. Highly recommended!”
The next phase of the McCleave’s trip was done through a private tour guide, “who added spots we might never have known about”, said Karen, “with little known hikes and scenery. Make sure to “Connect with a Kiwi.” Even if you hire a guide for just a few hours, it is well worth it to discover those ‘off-the-beaten path’ treasures.
As someone who is passionate about the arts, Karen says the Motueka Art Trail along Golden Bay is a must stop. The sunny Nelson region is renowned for its awesome scenery and artwork.
“If you’re an artsy person, Nelson is brimming with some of the country’s finest crafts and artists. Two hours north is Takaka, a quirky and colourful town where you will find eclectic cafés, painters, sculptors and distilleries,” she says.
Continuing to the Abel Tasman National Park, there are many choices to explore by boat or on foot. The Nelson Lakes National Park has rugged peaks, stunning lakes and dense forests. This west coast drive has a variety of scenery, from rainforests to glaciers. Truly deserving of Lonely Planet’s inclusion of it on the “top ten” drives in the world!
You will find a choice of glow-worm cave tours; Karen McCleave recommends the one at Norwest Underworld Adventures in Charleston: “It was fabulous! A little train took us to the site. The calcite formations were beautiful. There were only a few others in the entire cave. Our guide was so knowledgeable and entertaining.”
The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks are well-named! Located with a backdrop of pounding surf and mountainous terrain, you will enjoy the short walk through them, suggests Karen: “Another good choice is the Hokitika Gorge, with turquoise waters and picturesque cliffs.”
“One of our best activities was the Waiatoto River Safari, where you jet-boat on a back-country river into a World Heritage area,” Karen described: “It is an unspoiled jewel! A short wilderness hike involved dense flora and fauna. We had the area to ourselves. Memorable.”
Karen suggests that you will “Wanna go to Wanaka. If you are a pinot noir aficionado, indulge in some of the world’s best in central Otago. How can you go wrong with exploring Mount Aspiring, a World Heritage National Park?” After an exciting, short flight you are dropped off for a three-hour hike before being picked up by a jet boat to return. Lake Te Anau is a large glacial lake with fiords. The scenery is the inspiration for postcards.”
As another highlight, “We further explored Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, where skyscraping peaks and permanent snow fields are awe-inspiring. From hiking to serious mountain-climbing, your choice of experiences is vast. We were fortunate to thread the weather needle and take helicopter ride to the Tasman Glacier. Star-gazers will enjoy the spectacular night sky.”
The locals will tell you that you can make repeated visits to New Zealand and have different trips every time. Karen believes it and intends to prove it correct!