New Zealand, known also as Aotearoa in the native Māori language, is a magnificent place to enjoy a mixture of adventure, food and wine, indigenous history, and natural beauty and wonder. The North Island and South Island both offer something special to see and experience.
Here are a few top highlights from each island.
North Island Highlights
Auckland – This is one of the most known towns in New Zealand and is its international hub. This is a great city to start in with its lively nightlife, great restaurants and interesting art scene at the country’s largest art institution, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. The adventurous traveler can do a special 1.5-climb over, in, and under the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Waikato – In addition to great biking trails and kayak tours, Waikato is home to Hobbiton Movie Set, this is one of the top-visited destinations in New Zealand, whether you are a fan or not of The Lord of the Rings books or movie series.
Bay of Plenty – This part of the North Island is special to tourists and locals alike. Enjoy beautiful white sand beaches, discover glow worms after dark and savor fresh seafood dinners. Enjoy Mount Maunganui where you can soak in a natural hot pool or explore a working kiwifruit orchard.
Ruapehu – This home to Tongariro National Park, an UNESCO world heritage site, is where you can see three volcanoes in the park before you canoe or kayak down the Whanganui River.
Hawke’s Bay – This area is a top spot to visit for foodies. Explore a local farmer’s market before you experience the Wairarapa Wine Trail.
Wellington – A city that has been called the world’s “coolest capital city,” Wellington is a great place to enjoy the vibe of a small village in the boundaries of a large, diverse city. You can learn more about New Zealand’s history at the museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, take a walking food tour or explore the Weta studios. This is also the town that has a ferry that can take you across the Cook Strait to the South Island.
South Island Highlights
Marlborough – This part of South Island that covers a fifth of the country’s coastline is a favorite for foodies and wine lovers. After a day of biking or hiking in Tasman National Park, you can find some fresh seafood and a lovely sauvignon blanc.
Kaikōura – Visit a coastal area that is the perfect spot for animal watching with rare seabirds and whales. You can also journey your way across the Alpine Pacific Touring Route from Kaikōura to Christchurch with a stop at the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa for a soak in a hot spring.
Christchurch – Enjoy this dazzling city on South Island and its urban charm. This is a great place to have as a home base as you explore the region on unique excursions. Consider a ride on the longest chair lift at Christchurch Adventure Park for a mountain bike or zipline experience. Or go stargazing one night at Mount Cook.
Mackenzie Region – This region is at the base of Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. In addition to being a photographer’s dream shoot, the adventurous traveler can ski, bike, mountaineer, or heli-hike. Those that want the scenery without as much physical adventure should consider a flight-seeing experience here.
Waitaki – The southeastern region of Waitaki is home to the fascinating Moeraki boulders that are estimated to be more than 65 million years old. Animal enthusiasts will enjoy seeing the world’s smallest penguins, the Oamaru Blue Penguin.
Fiordland – With its UNESCO World Heritage status, Fiordland National Park is a must-see natural wonder with 14 fjords. Cruise over Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound to gain a new perspective of these natural wonders. Or, if you want a trekking adventure, you can enjoy one of three “Great Walks” that take three to five days to complete.
While there is no rule that says how you should see New Zealand, many first-time visitors will start with the North Island and then return for a visit to South Island. Though, if you can plan your travels so you have about two weeks to visit, I highly recommend it.
New Zealand is a magical place to visit and has something for everyone. What are you looking forward to seeing first?