Visit New Zealand's Beautiful Backyard This Summer
Aotearoa New Zealand is only 1600 kilometres long and 450 kilometres across at its widest, but our irregular boomerang shaped country is absolutely teeming with great things to see and do this summer.
After the year we’ve had, who could blame anyone for needing a holiday to unwind and reset? Without overseas visitors, our tourism and hospitality businesses are relying completely on Kiwis to rediscover our own big, beautiful backyard. In return, we get to skip the queues, save with ‘off season’ prices and enjoy a warm local welcome.
New Zealand has 13 of the world’s best travel experiences, according to Lonely Planet’s list of 500 ‘unmissable global travel experiences’. So this summer seems like the perfect time for New Zealanders to rediscover the local gems that bring the rest of the world to our doorstep.
In the central North Island, Rotorua is probably best known for its geothermal activity (and outdoor activities). Wai-O-Tapu, Hell’s Gate, or Orakei Korako (Between Rotorua and Taupo) boast bubbling mud pools, boiling geysers, and dramatic rock formations. It’s easy to find a hotel, resort of holiday park that has its own hot springs or mineral spas cool enough to bathe in.
The area is second only to Queenstown for adventure tourism and exciting modes of transport. From a pedal-powered monorail, to ziplines and swing bridges through ancient forests, careening down a mountainside by luge, or rafting the world-famous Kaituna River (including the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall). Skim across Lake Rotorua in a jet boat or soar above it in a paraglider. If you think the outdoors are great, you’ll have your opinion confirmed in Rotorua.
It’s also a great place for us Kiwis to engage with our unique indigenous culture – from a cultural show featuring traditional waiata (songs), instruments and dancing, to feasting on slow cooked hangi. Bespoke tours provide in-depth lifestyle, history and mythology lessons. Paddle a traditional waka on Lake Rotorua to learn about the local Māori who have called this region home for hundreds of years.
Good for: families, adrenalin junkies, pampering
Spend some time: You could easily fill a week here
History in the making
Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a major milestone in our nation’s history. In 1840, Māori chiefs signed a treaty with representatives of the British Crown, the Treaty which was a founding document that gave the sovereignty of New Zealand to British rule. In the 21st century, the closest we can get to this period in our history is to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The area includes a ceremonial waka bush walk, a new indoor museum, the Treaty House, an ornately carved marae, and will give you unlimited picnic spots with sparkling views of the Bay of Islands.
Ferry from Paihia to Russell near sunset for a view of the bay from the water. You can pause for beer and chips on the porch of the Duke of Marlborough, catch whoever’s performing on the little wooden stage under the trees, and watch local kids bombing off the wharf. Or head west to the wilder Hokianga – first discovered by the Māori voyager Kupe more than a millennium ago. Visit the Waipoua Forest and gaze up at Tāne Mahuta – the mighty kauri tree justifiably dubbed the god of the forest. Stop in the Harbour town of Opononi for a night or a bite, before taking the old stagecoach route. Kids (big and little) will love the family-run, family-friendly Kawiti Glowworm Caves with their twinkling inhabitants, stalactites and stalagmites, hidden among native forest.
Good for: picnicking, history buffs, sun worshippers
Spend some time: Give the Waitangi Treaty grounds at least half a day
A Great Walk
People come from all over the world to experience hiking in New Zealand – and this year we have the place to ourselves. Great Walks take you deep into New Zealand’s diverse, spectacular scenery – from native forests, lakes and rivers to rugged mountain peaks, deep gorges and vast valleys... At time of writing, independent places on the Milford Track are completely booked out for summer 20-21. But there are nine others to choose from: each offering a unique mix of terrain challenges, scenery and length.
The Great Walks tracks are well maintained and easy to follow. You can either choose to explore on your own terms, or join a guided trip for good food, comfy accommodation and an extra layer of knowledge about the landscape. Visit the DOC website for information about the walks and to book a spot, or search ‘guided walks New Zealand’.
Good for: friends, solo travellers, a fitness challenge
Spend some time: New Zealand’s Great Walks range between 32-82 kilometres in length and take from 3-6 days to complete
Stewart Island time
At the southern tip of the country, Rakiura (Stewart Island) offers a simpler, slower vacation. Rakiura National Park covers 85% of the island, and includes the Rakiura Track – a three-day walking loop that’s a perfect blend of bush, birds and beaches. If you’re lucky, you might hear a tokoeka/kiwi call or spot its footprints.
In 2019, Rakiura was accredited as a Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark Sky Association for its ‘outstanding sky quality’. Warm ocean currents from the Great Barrier Reef flow around the Island, bringing with them a huge diversity of marine life, rarely found at this latitude. If you love to SCUBA or free dive, expect to encounter lots of fish species, crustaceans and tall underwater kelp forests.
Good for: birdwatchers, budding astronomers, fans of fresh kai moana
Spend some time: A few days should be enough to unwind and leave 2020 behind. Add a trip to Southland, Fiordland or Central Otago to extend the journey.
Take a sip
Marlborough is world-renowned for producing wines with pure intensity that simply can't be found anywhere else in the world. Take time to savour a long summer lunch at a vineyard restaurant, showcasing award-winning wines paired with local produce. Join a tour, hire a bike or grab a sober driver, and sample your favourite tipples at the cellar door. Close to Nelson there are more than 20 cellar doors across the Waimea Plains and Moutere Valley.
Pack light and take a roadie from Picton, via Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock, past long jetties overlooking emerald bays, for a pot of greenshell mussels. Head west to Pelorus Bridge and a dip in the river. Then turn off to Cable Bay for kayaking, diving and an adventure park offering paintball, a flying fox, quad biking, archery and more, before a quick trip into Nelson. Or head northwest from Nelson to gorgeous Golden Bay, via Abel Tasman National Park, crystal clear Te Waikoropupū Springs, historic Collingwood, and a selection of some of New Zealand’s most spectacular beaches.
Good for: wine tasting (of course), sun worshippers, foodies
Spend some time: It’s a big area – allow a week to take it all in.
Ride like you’re on rails
Voted our country’s best place to cycle, 2016 and 2017, the Central Otago Trail is free to use. The Trail spans 152 kilometres across the South Island heartland’s wide open spaces and spectacular landscapes. There’s a real range of places to stay, making this a pretty budget-friendly family holiday, or a luxury escape. As an independent rider, you set the pace. Or go with a tour planner like Trail Journeys, who can supply bikes, extra transport and secure storage options at either end of the Trail. You will need to plan and book ahead, especially if there’s a group of you and you’re travelling in peak summer. Feeling fit? If you enjoy walking, consider walking the Trail, or a part of it.
Good for: cyclists of most ages and abilities, history buffs, active relaxers
Spend some time: Riding the trail takes 3-5 days and walking it takes around a week.