Flights to New Zealand & Travel Guide
New Zealand is like the world’s ‘best of everything’. The South Island has sky-scraping mountains, ancient fiords, glaciers, alpine lakes, braided rivers, rainforest and mile after mile of verdant farmland. The North Island is significantly different, with volcanoes (active, dormant and extinct), desert plateaus, crater lakes, geothermal areas, splendid harbours, uncrowded beaches and vast areas of native forest.
For the most part, the landscapes that make New Zealand magical have been permanently protected within a national park system. These parks aren’t just places to admire from afar; they’re places where you can walk, hike, kayak, abseil, raft, sail, ski and climb. The Kiwi passion for outdoor adventure has rubbed off on NZ tourism, so you can actively experience the most spectacular scenery in the country doing something you love.
Things to do in North Island destinations
Auckland’s islands and Sky Tower thrills
From Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, it’s easy to reach wild places in just 30 minutes by ferry, sailing trip, shuttle coach or rental car. From downtown, you can catch an Auckland cruise to the volcanic island of Rangitoto, then hike to the summit. The black rocky landscape, pohutukawa forest and 360° views are unforgettable.
Another ferry can cruise you to Waiheke Island, where you can combine zip-lining, wine tasting and a delectable vineyard lunch. Or you can arrange a personalised tour to the moody black sand surf beaches of the west coast, where towering cliffs and sand dunes confront crashing waves from the Tasman Sea.
You can wander along Bagshot Row, walk across the distinctive double-arched bridge and down a couple of pints at the Green Dragon Inn.
Back in the city, you’ll find adrenalin thrills up the Sky Tower. SkyWalk is a daredevil walk around the outside of the tower high above the city; SkyJump is a wire-controlled plummet 192 metres straight down. If you’re interested in food adventures, Sky Tower also offers The Sugar Club, a high-end eating experience designed by top chef Peter Gordon.
Fantasy landscapes in the Waikato region
In the Waikato region, two hours south from Auckland, you’ll find some awesome underground New Zealand attractions. The area is riddled with caves and sinkholes. Activities here cover the full adventure spectrum, from walks through the Waitomo Caves (including a boat trip to see glow worms) to blackwater rafting, which involves sliding through underground caverns in a wetsuit. If you want an entirely mind-blowing mission, do The Lost World Epic, which begins with an abseil into a 100-metre sinkhole.
Next, on the North Island, adventure list is a trip to Hobbiton, the village created for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. While the hobbit holes are exterior only, it’s easy to imagine you’re looking at a perfectly formed hobbit village. You can wander along Bagshot Row, walk across the distinctive double-arched bridge and down a couple of pints at the Green Dragon Inn. Every New Zealand trip demands at least one LOTR location.
From Hobbiton, it’s a quick drive to Rotorua, a geothermal city famous for boiling mud pools, hissing steam vents, brightly coloured mineral pools and roaring geysers. This city is also where you can see authentic Maori shows and discover the smoky succulence of hangi (earth oven) food. Rotorua’s other big claim to fame is thrills. On jet boats, luge rides, bungy jumps, sky swings and mountain biking trails you’ll experience every kind of exhilaration. There are also many family attractions in Rotorua, including wildlife and farm shows.
Taupo is the other North Island destination we recommend for you. Its main feature is an absolutely massive crater lake, created by an eruption about 27,000 years ago. This lake is full of fish, so a trout fishing expedition is a great idea (followed, hopefully, by trout eating!). Like Rotorua, Taupo has geothermal areas and thrill-seeker activities, including Taupo bungy. Something that’s really unique to this area is the Mine Bay kayak trip to see a huge Maori artwork carved into the cliffs.
Things to do in South Island destinations
The charm of Canterbury
With rainforest on the western side, pastoral plains on the eastern side and the awe-inspiring Southern Alps right down the middle, the South Island is built for travel satisfaction.
On the eastern side of the Alps, Canterbury tempts you with the picturesque parks and historic architecture of Christchurch. Your experiences here could include a punt-boat cruise on the River Avon and the hop-on-hop-off historic tram Christchurch tour. From the Heathcote Valley, you can catch a gondola ride that takes you high up into the Port Hills for huge views of the region.
On a Tasman Glacier tour you’ll encounter icebergs floating in the terminal lake. The ice is between 300 and 500 years old – you can touch and taste it!
North of Christchurch is the Alpine Pacific touring route, which leads you to Waipara wine tours, the hot pools and forest walks of Hanmer Springs and the chance to encounter Kaikoura whales, seals and dolphins in their own habitat. Maori legend tells how a god named Marokura shaped the area with a magical sword; he also carved the underwater canyons that are so enjoyed by whales and dolphins.
Hiking and stargazing near Mount Cook
Then it’s time to turn your attention to the total magnificence of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The road to the park takes you through farming areas to tussock-covered highlands called the Mackenzie Region. This area is named after the legendary Scottish sheep rustler Jock Mackenzie. Near Lake Tekapo is Mt John Observatory, a grand place to watch the heavens because it’s located in an International Dark Sky Reserve, one of only eight in the world.
In Mount Cook National Park there are hiking trails that let you venture into the mountains. A snowball fight could be possible, depending on the time of year you visit New Zealand. From the village, you can also arrange a Tasman Glacier tour, where you’ll encounter icebergs floating in the terminal lake. The ice is between 300 and 500 years old – you can touch and taste it!
Central Otago, Queenstown and Fiordland
If you’re interested in wine, especially high-quality pinot noir, you could pause in the Central Otago wine region on your way to Queenstown. Lunch at Mt Difficulty’s winery restaurant is a sublime way to enjoy local wines matched to delicious dishes. The views are nearly as good as the food.
When you reach Queenstown, your camera will be busier than ever. From the top of Bob’s Peak, which is immediately behind the town, you can experience the full impact of Queenstown’s extraordinary alpine location. Looking across the town and lake, you’ll see the Remarkable Range, craggy mountains that are remarkably beautiful.
Queenstown attractions are legendary. At the extreme end of the spectrum, there are bungy jumps and toe-tingling tandem paragliding flights. Milder jolts of adrenalin are provided by jet boating, luge rides, biking, horse riding and helicopter excursions. You can also try gold panning in the historic mining village of Arrowtown. The biggest adventure of them all is tandem skydiving; the town, lake and mountains look amazing from 15,000 feet.
From a food point of view, Queenstown restaurants have every flavour you could wish for. For casual places to eat you can look forward to Fergburger, Joe’s Garage and Madam Woo, while fine dining options include Roaring Meg’s, Prime on the waterfront and Wakatipu Grill at the Hilton.
The crowning moment of your New Zealand travel experience could be a scenic flight or coach tour to Fiordland, where you’ll arrive at Milford Sound. A great way to discover Fiordland’s awe-inspiring waterfalls, wildlife and mountain peak scenery is on a Milford Sound kayaking trip.
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What to pack for New Zealand sightseeing
The best time to visit New Zealand is anytime if you pack the right gear. In summer, a light jacket or sweater should be included in your luggage, in case the weather turns cool or you visit higher altitudes. At all times of the year, bring a light rainproof jacket or coat. If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand between May and September, pack lots of extra layers and a weather-proof coat or jacket.