Must-see New Zealand
Written by: Julia Hammond
For a little country, New Zealand packs a powerful punch. For those on an extended vacation or gap year, hiring a camper van and touring North and South Island at leisure is a tempting prospect. If your time is more limited, you’ll need to be more selective with your stops – and that’s where this article comes in. Here are ten staples for any Kiwi holiday itinerary – your guide to must-see New Zealand.
It may not be the capital, but New Zealand’s largest city certainly has the attitude of one. Begin with an ascent of the Sky Tower and you’ll appreciate Auckland’s setting amidst the cones of ancient volcanoes. You’ll also see why it has the nickname “City of Sails” as its marina and harbour are packed with hundreds of yachts. Take the ferry over to nearby Waiheke Island for a day getting away from it all amongst the many wineries and galleries that you’ll find there. Try historic Devonport too, for naval history with a liberal dose of boutique shopping. End the day in one of Ponsonby’s great pubs or restaurants just a short ride from the city centre.
The beaches of North Island’s Coromandel peninsula are legendary, even by New Zealand’s standards. The exquisite Cathedral Cove takes some beating when it comes to coastal scenery. Its sleepy towns are perfect for the kick back and relax kind of vacation that’s perfect for banishing the stress of everyday life. Head to Hot Water Beach for a treat: the hot springs that feed the beach offer a chance to dig your own bath a couple of hours either side of high tide. If you need a little more adventure, then skydiving at Whitianga or abseiling into Sleeping God Canyon should do the trick.
The complex of Te Puia is where you’ll find New Zealand’s most impressive geyser, Pohutu, which shoots a jet of boiling hot water and steam thirty metres into the air at regular intervals. The on-site Maori show is a great way of learning about the islands’ early culture. But the geothermal activity isn’t confined to one spot: the Craters of the Moon and Orakei Korako can be found just a short distance from both Taupo and Rotorua. These offer an atmospheric alternative to the heavily managed Pohutu, with steam rising over the mineral encrusted deposits and mud pools plopping in quiet corners.
Art Deco Napier owes its architectural homogeneity to one thing: the earthquake that destroyed the town’s centre in 1931. The shaking lasted for almost three minutes and little remained of the business district which was soon rebuilt in the style of the time. Now, these buildings add character to this North Island town where it’s easy to find a guided walking tour to get the lowdown on the sights of interest. Just out of town at Cape Kidnappers you’ll find a gannet colony to impress any birdwatcher and of course, the many vineyards that make the most of this area’s fantastic climate.
Running from Christchurch in the east to Greymouth in the west, the TranzAlpine train climbs up and over Arthur’s Pass on what’s one of the most scenic railway journeys in the southern hemisphere. Tranquil Lake Brunner will appeal at any time of year, but the frosted Alpine meadows have a certain charm on a clear day in winter when the frozen puddles glisten in the sunshine. Wrap up warm so you can still take advantage of the train’s open air viewing car.
Franz Josef Glacier
Located on South Island’s West Coast, the glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef are a stone’s throw from each other. The tourist industry in Franz Josef makes this the better base of the two, with hot springs to relax in at the end of the day. Before you sink back into nature’s bathtub, get out in the fresh air. Try a hike along the valley floor, dodging scree slopes to soak in the awesome views of the distant glacier. Take to the air for the most memorable helicopter ride of your life with a snow landing at the summit, or strap on the crampons to take a hike amongst the crevasses of the glacier itself.
In winter, this bustling resort town is ski central, situated within easy distance of New Zealand’s best snow; the runs of Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Treble Cone are just a short bus ride away. In summer, its lakeshore setting and liberal scattering of outdoor cafes makes this the perfect base whether you want to people watch over a coffee or lace up your walking boots to explore the surrounding countryside. Adrenaline seekers will be thrilled to learn that this is also the birthplace of bungee.
The distinctive shape of Mitre Peak gives it this name as it looms over one of New Zealand’s most beautiful stretches of water. From the dock, sightseeing cruises slide gently through the calm waters of the Sound and make their way towards the Tasman Sea. Passing as close to the spray of lofty waterfalls and sneaking alongside colonies of seals basking on the rocks that line the water’s edge, there’s much to see along this pretty fjord. The cliffs on either side of the fjord rise steeply, adding to the drama of this, the place that Rudyard Kipling dubbed the world’s Eighth Wonder.
Charming Dunedin has a long history by antipodean standards and is unique within the country for its strong Scottish connection. It’s also home to New Zealand’s only castle. Larnach Castle was built by banker William James Mudie Larnach on the proceeds of the gold rush which had brought him to Otago in the first place. Since then, it’s been a lunatic asylum, nunnery and hospital. Its ballroom was even used as a sheep pen by one irreverent owner. Also of note is the ornate Flemish-style railway station; don’t miss its stained glass windows and its Royal Doulton mosaic floors.
We couldn’t leave out New Zealand’s capital on a must-see list. Wellington is sometimes referred to as the country’s craft beer hub and there’s a self-guided trail to follow so you can taste the best. For the best views over the city and its surroundings, head up to the Mount Victoria Lookout; alternatively take the cable car from Lambton Quay to visit the observatory and stop by on the botanical gardens on the way back down. If it is culture you’re seeking, then head to Te Papa Museum on the city’s waterfront where you’ll find exhibits covering the country’s social, cultural and political development. By evening, Cuba Street is where it’s at, packed with vintage shops, art galleries, restaurants and bars.