Things to see and do in New Zealand
Tourism New Zealand in the USAAddress: Santa Monica, Suite 300, 501 Santa Monica Boulevard, California 90401,
Telephone: +1 310 395 7480 or 1 866 639 9325.
Tourism New Zealand in the UKAddress: 80 Haymarket, Level 7, New Zealand House, London, SW1Y 4TQ
Telephone: +44 207 930 1662.
Attractions in New Zealand
Head up to Auckland
A good starting point when exploring New Zealand’s largest, most multicultural city, is the distinctive Sky Tower (www.skycityauckland.co.nz) – a syringe-shaped tower that offers fantastic views of the city, its beaches and the coast. It’s also possible for the particularly brave tourist to abseil down the side of the building to the street (a drop of over 100m/328ft). Additionally, explore the waterfront and harbour area; visit the National Maritime Museum (www.nzmaritime.org) and Auckland Museum (www.aucklandmuseum.com); or walk through The Domain, an old volcanic cone, to find the Winter Garden. Alternatively, sail across to North Shore to visit the pretty bays and eastern suburbs, or explore the islands dotting the Hauraki Gulf.
Discover Maori culture
Auckland Museum (www.aucklandmuseum.com) is filled with Maori and Pacific Island collections and the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (www.tepapa.govt.nz) in Wellington has a heavy emphasis on Maori heritage, treasures and biculturalism. In Rotorua's cultural centres, see how young Maori learn the skills of traditional bone, wood and greenstone carving. Visit a marae (a Maori meeting house) and enjoy a concert of traditional songs and the haka (a Maori challenge usually witnessed before All Blacks rugby matches) and sit down to a hangi (a delicious feast cooked in an earth oven).
The bubbling mud pools, colourful thermal lakes and performing geyser at Wai-O-Tapu (www.waiotapu.co.nz), and the boiling whirlpools, steam jets and sulphur pools of Hell’s Gate are among the best of Rotorua's thermal attractions. Visitors can also check out the volcanoes at nearby Tongariro to see the explosive aftermath of previous eruptions.
Check out Christchurch
The 'Garden City' of Christchurch was rocked by a devastating earthquake in February 2011, which killed 181 people and badly damaged the centre of town. However, the resilient city has largely returned to normal. The centre is filled with neo-gothic architecture reminiscent of an old English university town. Visit the Christchurch Art Gallery (www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz), which is home to an impressive collection of local, home-grown art, punt along the River Avon, visit the earthquake-damaged Anglican cathedral, or soak up the atmosphere from one of the city’s bustling cafés.
Go east to Napier
Razed by an earthquake in 1931 and subsequently rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the time, the laid-back coastal town of Napier now boasts one of the world's finest collections of lovingly preserved Art Deco buildings. Walk along the two central streets, Emerson and Tennyson, to see some of the finest examples, or head to the National Tobacco Company building to admire the intricately detailed interior; visit at night to see it imaginatively lit.
See stunning wildlife
Good bird-watching spots include Taiaroa Head (near Dunedin) – known for colonies of royal albatross – and Stewart Island, which represents your best chance to see an elusive kiwi in the wild. Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay is home to the only gannet colony in the world. In Dunedin, in the Otago Peninsula, you may see rare yellow-eyed penguins and fur seals. Some of the world's oldest trees are in the forests of the Northland Forest Park, including the famous kauri, many of which date back centuries. Offshore island reserves, such as Tiritiri Matangi Island north of Auckland and Kapiti Island north of Wellington, protect a number of endangered species that no longer survive on the mainland.
Whilst not New Zealand’s largest city, the capital is its cultural centre. The spectacular Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (www.tepapa.govt.nz), on the city's pretty waterfront, is Wellington's star attraction. Window shop and people watch on 'alternative' Cuba Street or the more upmarket Courtenay Place; stroll through the Botanic Gardens (www.wellington.govt.nz); tramp up to the top of Mt Victoria for panoramic views; or cruise around the harbour or hire a kayak. There’s also an enormous number of good quality cafés and restaurants to sample.
Climb Aoraki/Mt Cook
The effort in making the steep climb up Aoraki/Mt Cook is repaid with outstanding views over alpine glaciers, snow-capped peaks and crystal-clear lakes. Standing 3,754m (12,316ft) tall, Aoraki/Mt Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. The mountain, which attracts climbers from all over the world, stands in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (www.doc.govt.nz), on New Zealand's South Island. If using your feet seems like too much effort, take the TranzAlpine (www.tranzscenic.co.nz) train and enjoy one of the world's finest rail trips, journeying coast to coast through the Southern Alps.
Get active in Queenstown
New Zealand's main centre for outdoor sports lies on the shore of stunning Lake Wakatipu, beneath giant craggy mountains. Vibrant and bursting with energy, this is the perfect year-round base for testing your nerves on any of the many adrenaline-fuelled activities on offer. Try bungee jumping, caving, rafting, jetboating, skydiving, skiing and much more before returning to the atmospheric food and nightlife scene.
Fjords and Milford Sound
Breathtaking fjords indent the lower west coast of the South Island. Cruise around Milford Sound in the shadow of iconic Mitre Peak or dive into its icy-cold waters to see red and black corals. Kayak around Doubtful Sound to escape the crowds and discover cascading waterfalls.
Pump up the adrenaline
This is the world's prime destination for bungee jumping, where daredevil participants dive off a tall bridge or other structure with an elastic cord strapped to their ankles. Famous jump-off points include the Kawarau River Bridge, the Nevis, the Pipeline, and the Ledge (all near Queenstown), Taupo and Mangaweka (North Island) and Hanmer Springs (South Island). Alternatively, try bridge swinging: falling then swinging along a gorge whilst harnessed to a cable. New Zealand is also the birthplace of zorbing, which involves being strapped into or diving into a zorb (an inflatable transparent plastic ball) with a bucket of water, which is then rolled down a grassy hill or onto a river.
Go white-water rafting
Popular rivers for this thrilling sport include the Wairora (near Tauranga), the Mohaka (in Hawke's Bay) and the Kaituna (near Rotorua), which features the world's highest commercially rafted waterfall at 7m (23ft). Black-water rafting through underground caves is a rare opportunity to experience. Alternatively, tackle the three- to five-day canoe journey on the Whanganui River to see some of the North Island's finest scenery.
Engage with the marine life
The Poor Knights Islands (near Whangarei) are particularly renowned among divers for their marine life, geology and clear waters; there are also a number of wrecks deliberately sunk here for divers to explore – for other dive sites, contact New Zealand Underwater (www.nzunderwater.org.nz). Swim with dolphins in the Bay of Islands (north of Auckland), the Coromandel Peninsula, Kaikoura (South Island), Curio Bay in the Catlins and Whakatane. Stay dry but witness giants of the deep when whale watching on the eastern coast of South Island – whales are attracted to a deep ocean trench just off the coast of Kaikoura. Most sightings occur from April to August. For more information, contact Whale Watch (www.whalewatch.co.nz).
Set sail in the harbour or jetboat down the river
Auckland, dubbed 'the city of sails', is a perfect spot for sailing and yachting. Cruise the harbour in tall ships or sailboats, visit vineyards on neighbouring islands, or go further afield on an excursion to the remote maritime reserves in the Bay of Islands, Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds. Or for a faster pace, take a high-speed jetboat trip, which is guaranteed to leave you breathless and soaked as these high-powered craft hurtle down rivers at dizzying speeds. Trips run on many of the country's best-known rivers, including Queenstown's Shotover River and on the Waikato River beneath the Huka Falls.
Surf along the coast
New Zealand surf is truly spectacular. Some of the best breaks are located at Mahia Peninsula (near Gisborne), Muriwai, Palliser Bay (near Wellington) and Piha. You can also ride one of the best left-hand breaks in the world at Raglan. Beginners should start by bodysurfing or by riding boogie boards. For more information visit Surf.co.nz (www.surf.co.nz).
Hunt for fish
Fishing for brown and rainbow trout is particularly popular. Salmon fishing is best in the Rakaia, Rangitata, Waimakariri and Waitaki rivers. For further information on seasons and permits, contact the New Zealand Professional Fishing Guides Association (tel: (06) 868 4214; www.fishingguides.co.nz) or New Zealand Fish and Game (tel: (04) 499 4767; www.fishandgame.org.nz). There is also some superb sea and big-game fishing available off the coast of the North Island, where the warm Pacific waters are home to marlin and snapper. A number of charter organisations can arrange fishing trips.
Explore Waitomo Caves
Waitomo Caves are a set of more than 300 limestone caverns, where explorers can abseil into the 'lost world'; they are especially famous for their glow-worm grottos. You can also try black-water rafting or tubing, where participants float through the cave system on custom-made tyres. The more adventurous can also try canyoning and clambering up and down waterfalls whilst underground.
Hit the slopes
New Zealand is the leading ski and snowboard destination in the southern hemisphere. The best time to hit the slopes for skiing, snowboarding and winter mountaineering is from June to September. On the North Island, the biggest ski areas are on Mt Ruapehu. There are excellent ski slopes in the South Island in the Southern Lakes region and at Mt Hutt. A unique alternative is to glacier ski and glacier walk in the Southern Alps.
Hike through the countryside
Known locally as ‘tramping’, this is one of the principal pastimes for New Zealanders. Do as they do and tramp though stunning national parks and protected forest areas. Popular walks include the government-designated Great Walks, including the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, the Lake Waikaremoana Track, the world-famous Milford Track, the Routeburn Track and the remote Rakiura Track; other routes such as the Hollyford, Greenstone and Dusky tracks are just as spectacular but less well-known and so less busy. Contact the Department of Conservation (DOC) (www.doc.govt.nz) for more information.
Taste local wines
Wine is produced in areas the length and breadth of New Zealand. A great place to enjoy a tipple is the wine-growing region of Hawke's Bay. Around 70 wineries allow visitors in to sample the region's respected red wines, particularly Pinot Noir. The Marlborough province in the South Island also has world-class wineries producing white, sharp Chardonnay and crisp Sauvignon Blanc. For more information, contact New Zealand Winegrowers (www.nzwine.com). For a more potent tipple, visit the South Island's whisky distilleries, including Southern Distilleries Ltd. (tel: (03) 208 9907;www.hokonuiwhiskey.com), reputed to be the world's southernmost distillery, at Timaru.
Unearth the history of the Bay of Islands
One of New Zealand’s most historic regions, the Bay of Islands is also the setting for one of the North Island’s most popular resort areas. The main towns, Paihia, Waitangi and Russell are the hub for excursions to sail, dive, swim with dolphins and explore this picturesque part of the country. Waitangi is also home to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the historic Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between Maoris and the British Monarchy.
Admire the beauty of Coromandel Peninsula
Easily accessible from Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is an attractive holiday destination. Covered in native rainforest, it has superb white-sand beaches. Explore the beautiful west coast, walk through the scenic reserves, skydive in Whitianga or kayak off-shore before retreating to the warm pools at Hot Water Beach.
Enjoy the sun in Nelson
At the far northwest corner of the South Island stands Nelson, the sunniest region in New Zealand. The bright, bohemian city is the focal point of the region, which boasts everything from long golden beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park to tranquil twin pools in the Nelson Lakes National Park. The curving 30km-long (19-mile) sand bar, Farewell Spit, where thousands of wading and wetland birds nest in the summer, is also accessible by 4-wheel-drive.
Marvel at the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
These two breathtaking ice tongues are located at the heart of Westland National Park. They extend right down from the summits through the forest, and to the coastal zone, a unique phenomenon not found anywhere else in the world. The 12km-long (7.5-mile) Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are the two largest glaciers of the 140 or so that lie within the park’s boundaries. Take to the air in a helicopter to see the scale of the glaciers or drive or walk out to the snout of each ice wall for a closer look.
Uncover Stewart Island/Rakiura
Remote and rugged, Stewart Island has a rich Maori heritage and a mass of wilderness to explore and enjoy. With just one town and barely any roads, it has hundreds of hidden beaches, bays and sandy coves. Fishing is the lifeblood of the islands and seafood here is exceptional. Hikers tackle the 10-day circuit of the top half of the island or sections of trail, whilst wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers come to see kiwi in their natural habitat.