New Zealand Travel Guide

Emerald Lakes seen from Red Crater, Tongariro, North Island, New Zealand

Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing Track, 19 kilometres in one day on the North Island. Photo by Blueromulan.

Why holiday in New Zealand?

Kayaking around Abel Tasman, South Island, New Zealand

Kayaking around Abel Tasman NP on the north coast of the South Island. Photo by Tobias Thiere.

The Kiwi islands are activity heaven, especially for hikers and hyperactive backpackers, with a superb variety and splendour of landscapes from glaciers to subtropical forests hosting – unlike neighbouring Australia – no deadly creatures at all.

NZ is also home to some of the safest, prettiest, best-organized hiking and cycling trails on the planet as the government has supported eco-friendly track development throughout the country, replacing some rail tracks with cycle routes and focusing on spectacular landscapes – this is, of course, home to Lord of the Rings panoramas.
The views are sensational and the roads mostly free of traffic (including buses! ) though not of sheep, so consider a rental car/van for a time-saving way to tour New Zealand easily, stopping off for a stroll or drink or b&b whenever the mood takes you.

The place is also terrific for many lunatic adrenalin activities – much loved by young travellers – but also has many miles of excellent beaches for kayaking, sailing, swimming, fishing, whale watching and more. Beaches on the North Island offer the warmest waters.

New Zealand tourism is easy, safe, inexpensive, English speaking, there’s a lot of budget accommodation available and local people are relaxed and friendly.

New Zealand Downsides

– In terms of exotic culture there’s not much happening (why do you think locals started throwing themselves off bridges attached to a rubber band? ), though Rotorua offers varied Maori experiences in addition to geothermal stimulation.
– Public transport is in short supply so most visitors rent their own vehicle (camper vans are popular) or join a tour.
– Getting there is a long haul for just about anyone except Australians.
– Sand flies (wicked bloodsucking midges aka No-see-ums) are omnipresent, and not just in sand.

Length of stay: Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: 1 week – 4 weeks (if you like walking! )

New Zealand Weather

Best season: December – February (summer)

Generally temperatures are mild with plenty of both sunshine and rain throughout the islands. Mountainous areas of the South Island can drop to -10C (14F) in winter but otherwise averages are 10C-15C (50F- 59F) in winter and 20C-30C (68F-86F) in summer.
The sunniest region in the country is the wine district in the east of the North Island around Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay.
Pretty Good Time: Autumn (March-May), cooler but can be fine; Spring (September-November) a pretty time but temperatures are unpredictable.
Worst Time: June-October (cold, erratically wet, windy), though this season is good for skiing. School holidays are from December 20 to the end of January, a busy time, so book your vacation or hotel well in advance.

Best Destinations

North Island

***Bay of Islands up in far north New Zealand for superb, sub-tropical sheltered marine activities and panoramic walks.

**90 Mile Beach, for driving, biking, land-yachting, fishing, horse riding, surfing and sand surfing on the monster dunes.

*** Coromandel Peninsula for forest walks, bird watching and excellent beaches.

** Auckland, New Zealand’s largest urban area, ‘Sail City’, has two packed and pretty harbours, a couple of fine museums and markets and some Polynesian influence; it’s a good hub for exploring the North Island’s Coromandel, walks, and other activities, Hawke’s Bay wineries, Rotorua’s geothermal weirdness and Maori culture.

*** Napier, a stylish art deco town with Hawke’s Bay wineries and tastings in the vicinity.

Rotorua Photo, New Zealand

Visiting Champagne Pool, Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua geothermal region, North Island. Photo by Christian Mehlfuhrer.

*Waitomo glow worm caves and black water rafting (underground on a rubber ring)

***Rotorua for geysers, mad colours, wispy wafts of steam, traditional Maori shows and villages, thermal spas, mud baths.

***Tongariro National Park is the place to hike around active volcanoes, with sensationally scenic, long or short walks available. The Tongariro Crossing is the most famous trek.

*Wellington, the capital city. Culture capital too, with festivals, shows, ethnic restaurants, some great buildings and museums but not home to any classic New Zealand sights.

South Island

**Nelson, sunny, pleasant and near some excellent beaches as well as the superb hiking trails of Abel Tasman Park.

**Kaikoura for penguin or whale watching.

**Christchurch was severely damaged by a 2011 earthquake and recovery is slow.

***Queenstown lake/mountain region is the tourist action core of not only the South Island but also the country, with eye-popping panoramas and every mad activity imaginable.

***Milford Sound, a magnificent fiord and the terminus of a world famous Great Walk.

**Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers for ice cliffs and slippery but fascinating glacier walks.

*Otago peninsula for more walks and much wildlife – birds, penguin and seals in particular.

New Zealand, Franz Josef Glacier photo, South Island

Having a guided tour over Franz Josef Glacier, South Island.

Things to Do

Walks/hikes: The country’s raison d’etre, many spectacular tracks and walks, ranging from half a day to a week or longer, mostly on the South Island but Tongariro and Coromandel in the north are also popular.

Scuba Diving: Poor Knight’s Islands Marine Reserve off the North Island is famously colourful.

Game fishing: around the Bay of Islands (North Island)

Driving: easy, safe, on the left and a gorgeous place to wander on your own wheels. Camper vans are popular, rent or buy, along with bikes and cars.

Kayaking, sailing, fishing: Bay of Islands (North Island) and Milford Sound (South) both offer lovely, protected action, though the first is warmer and the second is more spectacular.

Adrenalin activities especially around Queenstown (South Island): jet boating, white-water rafting, black water (cave) rafting, river surfing, canyoning, paragliding, bungy (bungee) jumping, gumboot throwing, horse riding, /mountain cycling, mountain climbing, sky diving, abseiling and of course great snow sports.

New Zealand, Lake Wanaka photo, South Island

Mirror Lake , Milford Sound, South Island.

Visas

You apply for your visa when you arrive in New Zealand by completing an arrival card, which you’ll be given on the flight to New Zealand.

The length of stay is complicated but as a basic non-working visitor 9 months stay is possible.

But, they say, ‘you can be refused entry permission if you don’t meet character requirements; you refuse to let them take your photo, provide them with fingerprints or an iris scan; you’re unable to provide evidence of any onward travel or funds required by the conditions of your visa.

Check visas for yourself here, as we said, it’s complicated!