Planning a trip to Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud? Here are some great recommendations of where to go, where to stay and what to do in New Zealand
Visiting The North Island
Auckland, Cathedral Cove & Hot Water Beach
“After landing in Auckland, we rented a car and drove to Coromandel to meet up with Kiwi friends. There are many Instaworthy attractions here, most notably Hot Water Beach (named after its underground hot water springs) and Cathedral Cove. When we arrived at the beach, we went to the local surf shop to ask about low tide and to rent shovels. Tip: Get to the beach earlier as it fills up with people wanting to dig their personal hot pool! It became a real community event as our spot filled with temperate water while our neighbours’ pools were scalding hot. Sand walls were destroyed and a pool of perfect thermal water was created for eight of us to enjoy.
Only 10 minutes from Hot Water Beach is Cathedral Cove. It takes some effort to get there as it’s only accessible on foot or by boat, but it’s worth it. The beach has perfect sand and there’s a large rock that draws divers and suntanners.
The accommodation on our trip was spectacular. For one, Flaxmill Cottages near Cooks Beach was everything we needed; it had a kitchenette, living room and outdoor area with a picnic table. If you visit Cooks Beach, order the bacon-wrapped bananas!”
– KELLI SHOEMAKER, AMERICAN
“You won’t regret visiting Waiheke Island, which is home to vineyards, beautiful beaches, wonderful forest parks and a slightly slower pace of life. There’s a ferry service to the island that leaves downtown Auckland every half hour. The ride takes about 40 minutes and you’ll see other islands in the Hauraki Gulf on the way. To get around, hire a car or scooter, catch a tour bus or taxi, or take the public buses (these run around the ferry times, so expect a waiting time of up to 30 minutes). The island has over 20 vineyards; my personal favourite is Passage Rock Winery.
If you have kids, a day at the beach is a must. Popular beaches include Oneroa, Palm Beach and Onetangi, where you can explore coastal walking tracks. If you’re more adventurous, be sure to visit the zip-line!”
– LES MILLIGAN, NEW ZEALANDER
Cambridge, Hobbiton & Mount Maunganui
“I’ve covered quite a bit of the North and South Island and love it. If you have 10 days to two weeks, just do one island at a time. For the North Island and Hobbiton area, I’d stay somewhere central near Cambridge, which is about two hours from Auckland Airport. You can do day trips (about an hour) to Mount Maunganui followed by a dip in the sea. It’s busy at Christmas and New Year’s but pretty chilled out at other times of the year. The Bay of Plenty and the forests nearby have wonderful hiking areas. Hobbiton is a 30-minute drive and Raglan (West Coast) is an hour away.
Rotorua with its thermal pools and cultural elements is an hour south. We took a plane ride over the pools, which was a good way to see them. Lake Taupo is another 30 minutes south from there. There’s plenty to see and do without long hours of driving or having to move accommodation.”
– REBECCA BISSET, BRITISH (BUT WISHES SHE WAS A KIWI!)
“When I’d asked my friend in Auckland what to do in Rotorua – the list of potential activities is endless – she said: “Visit Wai-o-Tapu, and go to The Polynesian Spa.” So that’s what we did. From Auckland, we headed south in a rental car to Rotorua, less than 300km away. I highly recommend our hotel, The Princes Gate. It’s right next to the pretty Government Gardens, and a 10-minute walk from the Polynesian Spa. Our Swedish massages ($165 for 60 minutes) were excellent. Check in an hour beforehand and soak in the five hot Lakeside Pools (included in the price), which range from 39 to 42 degrees. Gaze across Rotorua Lake while soaking up the therapeutic salt and minerals in the water.
Words like “surreal” and “other-worldly” – or even pictures of this fabulous natural phenomenon – fail to convey the feeling of Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland ($32.50 to enter). You’ve got to see its geysers, bubbling mud pools and steaming craters to believe them!”
– VERNE MAREE, SOUTH AFRICAN
Visiting The South Island
“Our family of four visited Queenstown for a friend’s destination wedding. After road tripping all the way down from Auckland, Queenstown was our final stop and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a place full of old-fashion family fun and a seemingly endless stream of amazing food and wine. If you’ve got kids, be sure to ride the gondola up the mountain and experience the luge. The view is simply stunning and the luge is great fun for kids of all ages.
We also day tripped on the TSS Earnslaw along Lake Wakatipu to visit the Walter Peak High Country Farm. The trip was glorious and the farm is full of animals to feed and pat. It also hosts an afternoon tea with scones, jam and cream that was a huge hit with my girls. Queenstown is a New Zealand must-do – even the view at the airport is postcard-perfect!”
– REBECCA SIMPSON, AUSTRALIAN
“We spent close to three weeks in the South Island during autumn and one of the places we visited was Milford Sound. You can take a day trip from Te Anau; we chose to drive. There are bus tours operating from Te Anau and Queenstown too. We took a tour with Cruise Milford, a small operator with a cosy boat and fewer people. The fiord was lined by magnificent mountains hiding behind dark clouds and countless waterfalls. It felt as if we’d sailed into a mystical place! We also came across cute seals and there were a few brave souls who were kayaking in spite of the weather. We were happy to be in our cosy cruise boat, sipping hot coffee and listening to our Captain’s quirky tales!
We returned to Te Anau for the night and stayed at an Airbnb outside town (called Aria in the Park). It’s a beautiful property with comfy rooms and the hosts are very kind and helpful. While you’re there, don’t miss the glow-worm caves. It’s a must-visit and kids would love it.”
– SAGAREE DAS AND VIGNESHKUMAR PADMANABHAN, INDIAN
“Our family of five (with kids aged 12, 14 and 16) enjoyed a brilliant Milford Sound overnight cruise on Real Journey’s Milford Mariner. Milford lived up to its reputation as one of the wettest places on earth, but our moods were not dampened. We adorned wet weather gear and got up close to the magnificent Stirling Falls. Dropping anchor in the calm Harrison Cove, we jumped into kayaks for a paddle and watched countless temporary waterfalls pouring down the aptly named Cascade Range. A refreshing dip seemed like the sensible thing to do before devouring a yummy buffet dinner.
We had breakfast at 6.45am and were underway towards the Tasman Sea, spotting fur seals and bottlenose dolphins. As we returned to harbour, the sun finally emerged and a rainbow appeared, capping off a memorable trip and adding more smiles for our return drive.”
– PIPPA MCNAUGHTON-SMITH, AUSTRALIAN
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