My first destination abroad in 2016 was to New Zealand and it was an amazing road trip. We rented a compact car and traveled from the north to the south island and that was the best way to see NZ. NZ is all about appreciating mother nature so there are alot of activities surrounding that including hiking, biking, skiing, skydiving, kayaking, sailing…you name it! We tried to make sure we hit all the popular hotspots including those adrenaline rushing activities NZ is known for. Many people debate over North/South on which has more attractions, activities and overall best to visit. Since Mike and I visited both main islands and had a GREAT time, I’ll selectively write about the most worthwhile or “specific in NZ” attractions/tours based on our experience. And if your next destination is NZ, then maybe this post can help you choose whether you’re team North or team South! 😀
List of cities we visited: Paihia (Bay of Islands), Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier and Queenstown.
Right off that bat, Ill just say you can go ahead and skip Auckland and Christchurch. Auckland is another major city just as any you encounter and if you made the trip all the way to NZ (I mean its WAY out there) then I’m afraid it wont be quite worth the trip unless you’re flying in and out from it. And Christchurch these days is still recovering from the earthquake back in 2011 that affected the city really badly especially tourism wise. But I hear it used to be one of the most beautiful cities in NZ otherwise.
- Paihia: Paihia is one of the islands of Bay of Islands and it’s located far north of the North Island. It is very quaint but touristy so people have plenty to do there. The major attractions in Paihia are the “Hole in the Rock”, dolphin watching boat trips, sailing, beaches and the natural beauty of all of the other islands. Its a very small island and the majority of the tours are obviously boat related and it offers some unbelievable views of turquoise waters, sandy beaches and rocky cliffs. Paihia is really made for all sort of beach activities. We decided to do a full day boat tour Explore Group – Bay of Islands which included dolphin watching and seeing up close the famous “Hole in the Rock”. The water was too unsteady for us to go through the hole but it was a really cool experience either way. After cruising around the islands we were free to spend few hours to kick it on one of the smaller island. We ended up hiking all the way to the top of the hill which gave us an incredible panoramic view of the islands. MUST! I thought the whole day guided tours were really worth it. Dont feel like you are stuck on the small island though, people are also able to take the ferry to check out nearby towns (islands) and I reccomend going to “Russell” which is NZ’s first ever capital and well worth looking at.
- Matamata: Hobbiton!! Need I say more? Oh, it’s only one hour drive away from Rotorua.
- Rotorua: As soon as you enter the city you will immediately notice somethings fishy here :). And if you’ve ever been to a hot springs before, then you’ll exactly know what that is. Rotorua is known for its natural hot springs, geothermal activities and the Maori (the indigenous Polynesian people of NZ) villages. These are very cool things to see not only in New Zealand but probably in the world! I recommend checking out the “Whakarewarewa: The Living Maori Village”, “Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland” and the “Hells Gate” hot springs. It was such an eye opening experience to see how the Maori people live and the respect they have for mother nature. They basically live in top of a hot springs and utilize it in their day to day lives. Oh, you cannot leave Rotorua without going to the “Hells Gate” hot springs. Somewhat touristy but deff a must here. The strangly colored pools, geyser eruptions and the massiveness of the forest surrounding the “Wai-O-Tapu” makes you feel like you are on an alien planet 🙂 You can easily spend more than hour there just following along the trails!
- Wellington: Mount Victoria offers an amazing 360 degree view of the city and the water. Very easy-going city. Most people here are at the Oriental Beach suntanning. Another place that’s a must here is the Weta Workshop Museum. If you love films, especially “The Lord of the Rings”, then you can get up close to some of the props and experience movie making.
- Franz Josef: One of my most beloved place because this is a very unique destination. Literally waking up and seeking lucious green rainforest and then towering behind it is a giant glacier. Whaa?? It will seem too beautiful to be true. It reminds me of Jurassic Park because its very visually SPECTACULAR. This is a tiny town on the west coast of NZ that is plentiful with waterfalls, rainforests, rivers and a glacier. One of the best thing to do here is the hiking tour that leads you all the way to the foot of the glacier where you will pass waterfalls and walk across the rainforest. The trail can get quite steep, stubly and wet but its all worth it once you reach the view point. But the helicopter tour that brings you up on TOP of the glacier is a must! The rivers run crystal clear because its glacier water and yes its freezing. One of the best time I had in NZ.
- Queenstown: This town is a favorite to a lot of travelers who visit NZ. Known as NZ’s most thrilling hotshop, there are a lot of activities to choose from. Also one of the most beautiful. You can find lots of tours and activities such as skydiving, kayaking, bunjee jumping, jetboating, hiking and skiing. Great for all seasons. My favorite was the ATV ride. Very extreme. Very! My heart was thumping the entire time we were riding (on top of the hill, through the woods, across river). Eeek scary. The dirt roads can get quite narrow w a sudden drop off of Queenstown hill but its exciting at the same time. The mountains are so massive, feels like its very close yet so far. Hehe. I know what I mean! We also went horseback riding (Dart Stables) in a nearby town Glenorchy and went up to Paradise and got a tour of some of the locations where Lord of the Rings was filmed. Queenstown is a great place if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan! I really recommend getting a guide or joining a tour because they usually have the best stories and informations.
NZ is on the bucket list to alot of people I know. They’ve all asked me for tips and I always tell them to commit to at LEAST a couple of weeks!!! Rent a car and just drive around everywhere. Thats how you will really see New Zealand.
So which city would you want to visit? Let me know and thanks for reading!