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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in New Zealand.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in New Zealand.
It’s a wild, wild world out there – especially in the northern fringes of New Zealand. Filled with magnificent beaches, geothermal wonders and mysterious landscapes, the Northern Bay is brimming with great nature and even greater adventure. Start with a relaxing flight on Air New Zealand before heading to the iconic Bay of Plenty in Tauranga; grab a taste of the land’s bounty with lunch at the Mills Reef Winery, and gear up for a Waimarino Evening Glow Worm Kayak Tour, which will see you paddling through a moonlit cave filled with these luminescent critters. Hike the summit of Mauao or explore its base track through archaeological landmarks before unwinding with a relaxing dip in Mt Manuganui’s hot salt water pools.
En route to Whakatane, explore the world of honey bees, step into the enchanting forest of Tane Mahuta, or stop to savour the fruits of many a berry farm along the way. 49km offshore is White Island, a volcano that spews vivid hues of sulphur, which can be explored through scenic flight or helicopter. A Maori Cultural Tour will have you learning all about Maori legends, history and customs, complete with traditional hangi feast. In Taupo, aquatic activities await; take an adrenaline-pumping jet boat ride down Huka Falls or go prawn fishing at Huka Prawn Park. Rotorua, a popular tourist destination, is a geothermal wonderland renowned for its therapeutic mud baths; go on a magical tree-top adventure with Rotorua Canopy Tours, visit a unique farm experience at Agrodome, or relax with an indulgent spa therapy at Polynesian Spa or Hell’s Gate.
Then, of course, is the famed Matamata, the site of the Hobbiton Movie Set. Explore the remnants of the original Hobbiton village that appeared in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit with a 2-hour guided tour. A short drive away, the sprawling Hamilton Gardens, a collection of 21 themed gardens ranging from Italian Renaissance and Tudor to the exotic Taj Mahal-inspired Char Bagh, beckons for that picture perfect shot.
Central New Zealand – After a luxurious flight on Air New Zealand, start your tour of New Zealand’s boutique cities at the international Art Deco icon of Napier, which rose to fame after a massive earthquake in 1931. Indulge in great local produce such as Manuka honey from Arataki Honey, luxurious lambskins from Classic Sheepskins, and fresh fruit from Pernei Orchard, before driving up to Te Mata Peak for a spectacular sunset view.
Wellington, dubbed ‘the world’s coolest little capital’, is famed for its vibrant arts and gastronomy and quaint harbour front setting. Here, a plethora of activities await – take a cable car up to Carter Observatory to visit planetariums and multimedia galleries; join a Zest Food Tour for some of the best-tasting produce in town; visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa for culture galore; and visit the Weta Cave Workshop for a behind-the-scenes peek into the world of blockbuster design and effects. As dusk falls, uncover the nocturnal world of glow worms, kiwis, and other birds with the Zealandia Night Tour.
Foodie adventures continue in Blenheim; taste New Zealand’s most awarded wines at Villa Maria or enjoy a sumptuous lunch with the world’s first Sauvignon Blanc in Brancott Estate. Marvel at Sir Peter Jackson’s personal collection of WWI aircraft and artefacts at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, or head down to unique Nelson to visit the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum, the latter boasting one of Australasia’s largest private collection of classic cars. End off with a beautiful picnic at the Abel Tasman National Park, filled with golden beaches and sculptured granite cliffs. The park’s world-famous track will see you hiking through ancient Maori sites to discover wild natives such as cormorants, gannets, and even fur seals as they sunbathe and swim the day away.
Money: NZ dollar
Health: Excellent facilities. Beware changing weather and strong sun
Get orientated. Rising magnificently from deep within New Zealand’s Southern Alps, the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is located at the centre of the South Island’s humped glacial spine. Taking its name from 3,754m high Mount Cook (first ascended 120 years ago in 2014), the park contains 19 peaks over 3,000m, and covers a whopping 700 sq km. Around 40% is covered by glaciers, including New Zealand’s longest, the 27km-long, 3km-wide Tasman Glacier.
Getting there. The easiest way to get to the national park, which is located off State Highway 80, is to hire a car; it’s a four-hour drive west of Christchurch and a three-hour drive north of Queenstown.
Intercity Coachlines runs daily services from Christchurch and Queenstown to the park . Alternatively, catch a public bus to the towns of Twizel or Lake Tekapo; from there, Cook Connection runs shuttlebuses to and from Mt Cook (Oct-May).
It takes 12 minutes to walk across Auckland at its narrowest point. Let me elaborate. The North Island of New Zealand, of which Auckland is the largest city, looks like a fish with its head pointing south. At roughly the base of the fish’s tail, two decent-size bites have been taken out of each flank, leaving two harbours. Central Auckland fills the isthmus in between. Maori dragged their canoes across the isthmus here, on what is now known as Portage Road. At an intersection, a weathered plaque informs passers-by that this kilometre-long connection “must be surely the shortest road between two seas anywhere in the world.” There’s a volcano nearby, and I climb it. Auckland is a city of volcanoes.
Fifty of them lie within a 19-kilometre radius of downtown. They have been erupting for a quarter of a million years. The most recent—and the biggest—was Rangitoto, an island on Auckland’s front doorstep. The volcanoes blew’ up, and then they went extinct. Not one of them has erupted twice, but the magma field beneath the city is still alive. Between a hundred and a thousand years from now, say the volcanologists, it will give fiery birth again. Fourteen of the city’s volcanic cones have been returned to Maori ownership. I’m not Maori, but it matters to me that the people of the land have been given back their ancestral peaks. Maori named and knew all these volcanoes.
They terraced them for gardens, built redoubts on them, fought bloody battles to defend them. When they recount the history of Auckland (which they know as Tamaki Makaurau—Tamaki of a hundred lovers), their words swoop like seabirds across the many summits as they name the cardinal points of their tribal geography. I envy their connection to place. I have lived 54 of my 57 years in this city, but I seem to have occupied it without really inhabiting it. Kentuckian author Wendell Berry says you can’t know who you are until you know where you are. What seems important to me now is not just to be aware of my place but to be alive to it. So I stand on a cattle-cropped summit and pay my respects to a 30,000-year-old mountain.
This time of year—July—sees the rising of the star cluster, Pleiades in the night sky. To Maori it is Matariki, the pivot of each year. The old people often die at Matariki. They see it as a time for the changing of the guard. The old net is put away, they say, and the new net goes fishing. I head west to the mountainous rim of the city, the Waitakere Ranges. Logged for its prime timber a century ago, this 24-kilometre stretch of rugged forest is now a heritage area, criss-crossed with trails, a green rampart between the city and the coast. I cycle the ridge road through thin drifts of cloud, the forest s exhalations. It would be easy to get a crick in the neck on this road, self-evidently named Scenic Drive, where tree ferns lean into the roadway and forest birds soar overhead.
A short walking track takes me to a solitary kauri. If I had a totem tree, the kauri would be it. Kauris have trunks like stone columns and crowns that spread like worshipping arms. In those crowns live multitudes. Perching plants build miniature forests in the forks of the branches. No one knows how many creatures live in these islands in the sky. I’ve climbed into these crowns and felt I was in a foreign country.
Beyond the western range lies an even wilder side to Auckland. Here the mountains fall sharply into the Tasman Sea. Powerful surf pounds this coast incessantly. Most of the beaches have black iron sand, which heats up in summer to almost untreadable temperatures. But it’s winter, and on a windy Saturday afternoon at Te Henga, the surf is too big for swimming, the undertow too strong. I wade in as far as I dare. I grin wildly as the water sucks at my legs. I’m drawn to these city fringes—the harbours, mountains, islands, and coasts—but I’ve also learned to look for the wild in the cracks of the tame. Jogging distance from my suburban home, there’s a creek that runs in a deep valley between a commuter road and a sprawling university campus. Few Aucklanders know it exists, but it’s become the place I go to be stitched into the fabric of the world.
A century ago, Englishman Rudyard Kipling commemorated Auckland in a poem. It was the first poem I learned at school, and, even to a child, the first line struck a plangent chord: Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart. Auckland’s a grown-up city now. Like any city its size, Auckland has money on its mind. As if 50 volcanoes weren’t a sufficient visual signature, the city fathers decided 20 years ago to erect a 1,000-foot-high tower in the heart of the commercial district. But down by the creek, or in the forest, or on a wind-lashed shore, Kipling’s words still hold true. These are places of loneliness and loveliness, places apart. These are the places that hold me.
Get orientated – Westland/Tai Poutini National Park is the ideal space to let your inner explorer off the leash. The park stretches from the top of the Southern Alps in the east to the Tasman Sea in the west, and its dramatic glaciers, dense rainforest, coastal lagoons and vast lakes make it a haven for walkers and climbers. One of its highlights – the Roberts Point Track – is set to reopen by March 2015; it has been closed since sustaining severe flood-damage in 2013. Starting at Douglas Bridge, the route meanders through Waiho Valley, across ice-carved rock, glacial outcrops and a vertigo-inducing suspension bridge, rewarding visitors with panoramic vistas of peaks and ice caps, including Franz Josef Glacier.
Getting there – Emirates flies London Gatwick-Christchurch from £826 return; flight time 30 hours with stopovers. The easiest way to reach the national park is by car. Located off State Highway Six, Westland/ Tai Poutini is a 5.5-hour drive from Christchurch. Alternatively catch an internal flight from Christchurch to Hokitika and then drive (90mins). The Roberts Point Track is accessible via the Douglas Walk from Franz Josef Glacier car park.
The visit – The park’s biggest draws are its 60 staggering glaciers, in particular Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers – the largest. For glacier views without having to step on the ice, the Roberts Point Track is your best bet. You can buy trail maps and find the latest weather forecasts at the DOC Westland/Tai Poutini National Park visitor centre. Beware of changing conditions; the weather can worsen suddenly so organise your trip wisely and make someone aware of your plans. Checkwww.doc. govt.nz for opening updates. There’s more to the park than glaciers, though. Also explore its lowland rainforests and coastal wetlands and lakes, such as the calm, reflective waters of Lake Matheson. These areas are perfect for wading birds: see threatened great-crested grebe at Lake Mapourika, elusive white heron at Okarito Lagoon and endangered rowi – the country’s rarest kiwi – in the forests.
I wiggled my toes on the rock, its cool, smooth surface chilling the soles of my feet. I thought, if I don’t jump now I never will… So, one big step forward and I plunged beneath the water, emerging with a gasp, a shudder – and a massive smile. I swam towards the waterfall at the far end of my private swimming pool’, stroking through the ice melt, feeling its cold embrace. I looked up at the ribbon of water plunging over the sharp edge of the rocky escarpment in front, and wondered at its power.
This clear, crisp water was, until recently, frozen in the lake above; now it would make its way down through the Southern Alps, following the same path as the glaciers that formed this dramatic alpine landscape thousands of years ago. It seemed unbelievable that this water, currently falling as mere droplets and collecting in a small placid pool, could be stronger than the rock it was cradled by. I was blown away by its strength – and yet, almost more unbelievable was the fact that I had this landscape all to myself.
I was at the end of day two of my walk along the 32km Routeburn Track, which links Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. The three-day tramp through meadows and forest, past lakes and tarns, is one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’, a series of nine well-maintained tracks through some of the country’s most dramatic scenery – and yet it is largely quiet. Maintained by the Department of Conservation, the Routeburn Track is well-defined and easy to follow, making it perfect for independent hikers. It is even carved up into manageable sections, bookended by huts that have toilets, running water and cooking facilities. So why had I only seen a handful of people all day? Why don’t more people hike this trail?
The answer lies a few clicks west: the Milford Track. Another of the Great Walks, this 53km hike through Fiordland National Park is said to be one of the finest in the world; it steals all the headlines and tops all the ticklists. Given its proximity to the Routeburn, most trampers who come to the area opt to walk Milford instead. But to me, this seemed foolish. Not only do some believe the Routeburn to be more beautiful that Milford, its location is ideal for those wanting to link two of South Islands big hitters. Starting just 68km north-west of adventure-capital Queenstown, and finishing close to Milford Sound, the Routeburn offers a tranquil conduit between them.
ON THE TOWN – There was less tranquility in Queenstown. For years travellers intent on getting away from it all in New Zealand’s sublime South Island have congregated here, filling the bars with tales of adventure – and complaints about how too many people have followed their trail. It’s a common gripe as popularity turns into commercial success. But although Queenstown has embraced its status as New’ Zealand’s all-action hub it remains a small town at heart and there is a strong sense of community – albeit a transient one.
Here I met effusive travellers who waxed lyrical about lakes and forests, and I gathered advice on everything from rucksack size to sock brand from hardened hikers. I also picked up information on the Routeburn from the Department of Conservation office, where you must book tickets and accommodation for the track. I was itching to get out on the trail but there is something seductive about Queenstown; something in the air that makes you do mad-cap things you wouldn’t usually contemplate.
New Zealand is best known for stunning untouched natural landscapes – so get out there and embrace them. You’ll find that our mountains, forests and coastlines are all surprisingly accessible.
Underground volcanic and tectonic activity have been shaping our land for thousands of years. As a result, our natural hot pools – particularly around Rotorua – are popular with locals and visitors alike; a soak in the waters of Kerosene Creek or Waiotapu Stream is uniquely relaxing. Hell’s Gate has the only geothermal mud baths in New Zealand, while Polynesia Spa is world-famous for its lakefront mineral springs. In the Coromandel, head to Hot Water Beach at low tide to dig your own natural warm spa in the sand. Thermal pool complexes are also found at the likes of Waiwera in the north and Hanmer Springs in the south.
New Zealand’s zoos and wildlife parks offer both native and exotic animal encounters. A visit to one is your best chance of spotting the elusive kiwi! New Zealand boasts some of the most unique birdlife in the world – a quarter of our birds are found nowhere else on the planet. We have three species of penguin, all found in the South Island. You may encounter them in their natural habitats, or in zoos or wildlife parks and sanctuaries. This is also a fantastic country for whale and dolphin spotting – the rare Hector’s dolphin is a South Island exclusive. There are sightseeing cruises available wherever these astonishing creatures are found; you can even swim alongside them in the right conditions.
There are lots of family friendly activities that still have the thrill factor! Jetboating is suitable for youngsters; even bungy jumping is open to those 10 and over. The minimum age for zorbing – hurtling around in a giant transparent ball – is 6. For something a little more gentle, try the aerial adventure that is ziplining or the part go-kart, part toboggan fun of luging.
Whether they’re fascinatingly informative or thrilling and scary, New Zealand’s theme and leisure parks offer conveniently concentrated fun. Farm parks, wildlife sanctuaries and underwater centres bring the natural wonders of New Zealand so close you can touch them. Feed, ride, watch and learn all about our farm animals and native wildlife. Roller coasters, castles, water worlds and hair-raising rides offer hours of adrenalin-filled entertainment for the young and the young-at-heart. Adventure seekers will enjoy our downhill luges, car and motorbike races, jet boat sprints, and realistic simulator rides. Many of these experiences are found in Rotorua and are in close proximity to each other.
New Zealand offers a wide selection of activities for families ranging from animal and wildlife experiences to nature-based activities and thrill-seeking adventures. Few must try experience one should try when in New Zealand:
Whale Watching or Wildlife experience – You can spot whales throughout New Zealand, including Auckland’s beautiful Hauraki Gulf and the wonderful Kaikoura. Kaikoura, on the east coast of the South Island, is one of the only places in the world where you can easily see sperm whales.
Hobbiton – Experience the real Middle-earth with a visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set, featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films.
This modest luxury lodge would surprise a discerning traveler anywhere; in Papua New Guinea, it astounds. Nestled at an altitude of 7,000 feet in the Southern Highlands, it offers a bird’s-eye view of the lush rain forest of the Tari Valley, a secluded Ireland-green region that has only recently opened to the outside world.
Built with natural materials, decorated with local Sepik carvings, and sporting large picture windows everywhere to take in the sweeping view, the Ambua is the ultimate luxury wilderness accommodation, offering fine dining, excellent Australian wines, and, to take off the highlands chill, open fireplaces in the lounge and electric mattress pads and fluffy down comforters in each of the thatched, round bungalow units. Just a few minutes down the road from all this civilization live the Huli people, only a few years removed from the Stone Age and known as the Wigmen for their flamboyant headdresses.
There is a good chance of encountering a sing-sing – a show of hopping, vocalizing, and drumming that reenacts the courtship of the male bird of paradise so revered in these parts.
Thirteen species of the bird inhabit these lush green jungles, together with hundreds of species of high-altitude orchids and miniature tree kangaroos. The Ambua’s network of nature trails will lead you to all these and more.
Beneath that Kiwi calm and reserve must throb a vein of derangement. How else to explain why New Zealand is the recognized home of both bungee jumping and jet-boating? The former act of madness originated eons ago as a coming-of-age ritual on the islands of Vanuatu, east of Australia. You may not have realized you had a burning desire to attach a thick rubber cord around your ankles before diving headfirst off a bridge into an apocalyptic void, but Queenstown’s high-energy fun is infectious, and so far – with a 100 percent safety record – everyone has lived to tell about it, including an eighty-four-year-old grandfather.
For an added fee, you can have the escapade filmed and bring the video home to relive your fleeting moment of lunacy. The world’s first bungee site is the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, a 143-foot plunge that has hosted more than 300,000 jumps. But an alternative four-wheel drive to Skippers Canyon Bridge – a soul-shattering 229-foot descent into a rocky gorge – is just as memorable as the jump itself.
For those who’d rather be on the water than over it, the Shotover River’s steep rock walls and white – water rapids are the scene for heart-stopping jet-boat trips that fly you over the shallow waters – sometimes only inches deep – negotiating huge boulders and rushing waters. Flat-bottomed boats perform 360- degree pirouettes within inches of canyon walls.
Native New Zealander Sir William Hamilton first created a revolutionary propulsion jet that allowed navigation in shallow or difficult waters where others dared not go, and versions of Hamilton’s jet are now used around the world, though only Shotover Jet is licensed to operate here, guaranteeing a traffic-free experience.
A third of New Zealand’s most dazzling national park consists of permanent snow and ice. It boasts seventy-two named glaciers and twenty-seven mountain peaks that top 10,000 feet, including Mount Cook, which stands head and shoulders above its neighbors. It’s not quite what one expects to find in the South Pacific, on the same island that gives us groves of palm trees and hibiscus plants.
This is the place to splurge on unforgettable flightseeing in, around, and through the Southern Alps. Flights include a snow landing on the 19-mile-long Tasman Glacier, the longest river of ice outside the Himalayas; in the deep silence of the roof-of-the-world panorama, you can occasionally hear the rumble from within as the glacier shifts ever so slightly.
Skiing is the other activity of choice in this entirely alpine park, with heli-skiing, an exhilarating 8-mile-long glacier run (the southern hemisphere’s longest ski run), and downhill ski touring available. A number of guided and unguided walks take anywhere from thirty minutes to three days for the well-known Copland Track.
New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary used this high-altitude park to train before his record-setting ascent of Mount Everest. The Hermitage, one of the world’s best-sited hotels, offers this magnificent scenery from most of its picture windows.
The Australians may claim the Great Barrier Reef as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but Rudyard Kipling gave the honor to New Zealand’s Milford Sound. Kiwis disagree with both – they rank it first or second. Milford is the most famous of more than a dozen grand fjords that make up majestic Fiordland National Park on the South Island’s southwestern coast.
The 10-mile-long inlet is hemmed in by sheer granite cliffs rising up to 4,000 feet, with waterfalls cascading from the mountain ridges. Playful bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and gulls call its waters home, and crested penguins nest here in October and November before leaving for Antarctica. Mitre Peak is the centerpiece, a 5,560-foot pinnacle whose reflection in the mirror-calm water is one of the Pacific’s most photographed sites. Flightseeing here is a great option, and boats leave frequently for two-hour cruises through the quiet beauty of the sound.
On land, the Milford Track was once called by a flushed hiker “the finest walk in the world,” a description that has deservedly stuck. It is a four-day, 32-mile trek most serious hikers around the world dream of undertaking, despite the sand flies, at least an inch of daily rainfall, and strenuous stretches demanding as much attention as the awesome scenery. (And don’t miss the scenic 75-mile Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound.)
Getting farther into Fiordland National Park requires four modes of transportation, culminating in your arrival by boat at Doubtful Sound, the deepest and, some say, most beautiful of New Zealand’s fjords. The engines are turned off and you are enveloped in the centuries-old silence of one of the world’s most remote and magical places. Captain Cook wasn’t even sure these waters were a sound, hence its name.
Ten times larger than Milford Sound and less known, Doubtful Sound retains an element of mystery and is void of the aerial tours and boat traffic that can mar a visit to Milford.
Just two boats operate on the sound, at opposite ends and out of each other’s line of sight, giving visitors the sensation of being alone in this exquisite pocket of primeval nature. Rainfall is 300 inches a year and up, but even a rainy day has its beauty, as spontaneous waterfalls sprout out of nowhere, their sound cloaked in mist and intrigue.