New Zealand is an unforgettable journey of serene beauty. It really is one of the best nature destinations on the planet.
It stretches 1,600km over 29 distinct regions on two islands, North Island and South Island. Unbelievably, these two had never been given official names until the New Zealand Geographic Board decided in 2013 that they would be known as Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu. Most of New Zealand’s population, 77%, live on the smaller North Island. There are plenty of activities to experience all year round. Since June 2016, Air New Zealand has opened seasonal flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Auckland. Book a flight, watch a movie, get some sleep and wake up in New Zealand. For those who want more flexibility in their schedule, make your way down to Singapore, and from there fly to Auckland and Christchurch all year. Starting from September, you will be able to fly to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, from Singapore.
Anyone into nature, animals, adventure sports, historic towns, art and aquatic life is sure to come away with memories that last a lifetime. New Zealand’s cosmopolitan cities also offer plenty of vibrant nightlife for visitors: the capital city, Wellington, has more bars and restaurants per capita than New York. Let’s explore some awesome things to do in New Zealand.
Noteworthy destinations of North Island (from North to South) include:
At the top end of North Island is a peninsula called Northland. It starts about 80km north of Auckland. The largest town here is Kerikeri, where you’ll find great eats, local chocolate, small vineyards, cafes, art galleries and more. There are also several gardens of national significance, where you can find plants not found anywhere else in the world.
Close by, the Puketi Forest is a 37,000 acre government protected reserve, housing magnificent kauri trees, endangered birds and hundreds of plant species. Off the coast to the east you’ll love the Bay of Islands. This was the first British settlement in the country and comprises 144 islands, renowned for their pristine white and golden sand beaches, fantastic big-game fishing, scuba diving, peaceful rural towns, sailing and much more. There are many museums and attractions of historical significance. At its heart is Paihia, a seaside town full of activities. A hub for the rest of the islands, here you can go sailing, kayaking, dolphin watching, or simply relax on the golden sand beach. The historic town of Russell has great waterfront restaurants that overlook the bay, and is a tranquil sunset-watching spot.
At the heart of the Bay of Plenty you’ll find White Island, or Whakaari, to give it its Maori name. It is one of the few active volcanoes in the world that are open to tourism. Here, travellers journey by catamaran to the crater of the volcano. It can be best described as an elemental experience, with bubbling pools, smoking sulphur vents and giant boulders abound. The crater lake is an acidic, bubbling body of water that averages about 50°C.
Rotorua is just about 40km in from the shore of the Bay of Plenty, and all that volcanic activity manifests itself in one of the most interesting towns in the country. Rotorua is literally a hotbed of activity. On the shores of the lake of the same name, Rotorua is a big draw for both domestic and international tourism. It is world renowned for its geysers, most notably the Pohutu Geyser in the Whakarewarewa area of the city, and many hot mud pools.
Located at the north of Hawke’s Bay, it takes a bit of time to get here, but the ride is worth it. Full of distinct beaches, from rock strewn shores to serene, sheltered stretches; this is an excellent pocket of calm to stroll through on a cool day. The Mahia Peninsula Scenic Reserve is a 3.5km lowland coastal forest reserve full of local flora, and an excellent picnic location. The site will soon be the launchpad for rockets made by Rocket Lab, and will help satellites launch into orbit. A nice contrast of hi-tech innovation and natural beauty.
To the south of Hawke’s Bay this is one of the more unusual cities in New Zealand. Napier was utterly devastated by an earthquake in 1931 and totally rebuilt in a 1930’s art deco style. It is one of the prettiest places imaginable. Strolling down the high street is like being on a film set and it is a very popular tourist attraction.
Sitting at the southern tip of the North Island, New Zealand’s capital city was recently named “the coolest little capital in the world” by Lonely Planet. Snugly fitted between a shimmering coast and lush hills, there is plenty to do in this city. Do yourself a favour and see Zealandia, the “world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary”, totalling 225 hectares. It has reintroduced 18 species back into the wildlife (six have been absent from New Zealand’s mainland for over 100 years), with an overall mission to restore the island-like area to its pre-human state. Cuba Street is another must-visit. The most diverse and eclectic street in the city, you can find everyone from corporate suits to Rastafarians chilling out here. With its hipster street houses, great eateries and cafes, there is always something going on.
Noteworthy destinations of South Island (from North to South) include:
Wine lovers must make their mecca to Marlborough, the country’s largest wine growing region. The main town here is Blenheim, a delightful seaside place with glorious golden beaches fringed with Norfolk Island Palm Trees.
Moving south, this coastal town on South Island is the albatross capital of the world, although it’s well-known as one of the best places in the world to whale and dolphin watch. Magnificent sperm whales can be seen year round. Albatross tours are abundant and more spectacular than they initially sound. After all, you’re coming within arms-length of the largest wingspan in the world (2.5m to 3.5m). You can also find Hector’s Dolphins here, the smallest and rarest dolphin species in the world.
A two hour flight south from Kaikoura will get you to Queenstown. If you’re an avid fan of adventure, this is one of the best places on planet for all sorts of extreme activities. The town is surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and winds around the calm waters of Lake Wakatipu. The picturesque views make this town perfect for hiking, biking, skiing, paragliding and more.
We are now right at the southern tip of the South Island and it is here that the town of Bluff is found. Bluff oysters are among the finest you’ll ever eat. You can also enjoy excellent cycling and mountain biking routes with beautiful wildlife. The main city in Southland is Invercargill. The southernmost and westernmost city in New Zealand.
From the coast you can catch a ferry for the 30km sail across the Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island, a haven for New Zealand’s colourful variety of birds; The flightless Stewart Island kiwi, weka, kaka, albatross, silvereyes, fantails, and kereru are among the many intriguing species found here. This is the best place in the country to witness the staggeringly beautiful phenomenon of the Aurora australis.
New Zealand is one of the most amazing holiday destinations in the world. It just about has everything, hot glorious beaches, great skiing locations, incredible scenery and amazing cities and towns. With direct flights from Tan Son Nhat, it is a lot closer than you think.
Want to read more from this author? Keith is a travelling writer and lover of all things Southeast Asian. Check out his other articles for more of his travelling tales