New Zealand, Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud. Whatever you call it, travelling New Zealand is an adventurous, nature-loving, cultural tour de force through some of the finest countryside you’ll find in the world. Be a beach bum during the long summer evenings or ski your heart out during the northern hemisphere summer — it’s all here waiting for you.
New Zealand travel resources
New Zealand is a country located in the South Pacific Ocean, making it part of Oceania. Its nearest neighbours, Australia and the Pacific Islands of Fiji, New Caledonia and Tonga (among others) aren’t actually that close – you need to fly for around three hours to reach another country.
New Zealand is composed of two principal islands – the North Island and the South Island (very inventive names, I know), as well as hundreds of smaller islands. New Zealand’s geography is diverse – you’ll find mountains, lakes, rivers, deserts, forests, beaches and glaciers – well, just about whatever you want to find, you’ll discover it in New Zealand.
Adventure sports are a popular pastime in New Zealand – bungee jumping as a commercial enterprise was started there by AJ Hackett, and the country enjoys a good safety record for bungee jumping. You can also try skydiving, luging or zorbing, as well as the more traditional winter sports of skiing and snowboarding.
Since the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy was released on film, tens-of-thousands of people have flocked to New Zealand to spot their favourite backdrops. While Lord of the Rings tours exist, the best way to see the sights is to hire or buy your own vehicle and grab a copy of the The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook to guide you.
Featured: Spaceships campervans
Spaceships are brilliant for New Zealand driving conditions. These converted people-movers can easily handle the twists and turns of New Zealand’s scenic roads while being packed full of features: a comfy bed, cooker, fridge, DVD player, plenty of storage space, plates and cutlery, and cup-holders. If you’re not buying your own vehicle, these are the best value-for-money rentals for independent travellers. Book now.
Featured: Stray Backpacker Bus
The Stray New Zealand backpacker bus is a hop-on, hop-off bus service offering several passes around the North and South Island. Passengers can book their next bus using an online system, so you can use your miles over a few weeks or spread them out for up to 12 months. There’s no easier, faster or more fun way to get off the beaten track around New Zealand. Book now.
City focus: Christchurch
Christchurch, the Garden City, is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and the second-largest city in the country. Although it’s recently been shaken by earthquakes, there’s still plenty to see and do.
It’s a beautiful place to visit due to its location near both coast and mountains, and because of the prevalence of gardens throughout the city. Its English heritage is very apparent: the River Avon (yes, named after Shakespeare’s Avon) snakes lazily through the central city. It’s easy to get in and out, with its international airport, and it’s the main gateway to the rest of the South Island.Read more about Christchurch
Getting to and from New Zealand
New Zealand’s national flag-carrier, Air New Zealand, is part of the Star Alliance network and has the best wine-list in the sky — including in economy class. They have interesting budget options for trans-Tasman flights, but have an innovative line of customer service on the long-haul, ensuring that you’re well served on longer flights.
The airlines servicing NZ have some great cheap flight deals for both domestic and internationals mainly to Australia and the Pacific Islands. Air New Zealand has daily Grab A Seat, Jetstar has Friday Frenzy and Pacific Blue Happy Hour on Fridays. All these deals can be found in one place at SeeYa. They also have a free destination-based email alert system.
There are several cruise-ship harbours in New Zealand, with Auckland’s being the most modern and closest to the city centre.
Getting around New Zealand
New Zealand’s intercity bus network is reliable if a little infrequent due to the low population density. Bus drivers understand tourism and are normally helpful. Naked Bus is a new, low-cost challenger to the traditional networks and you can net some excellent bargain fares.
Hop-on, hop-off travel buses are very popular, with Stray, Magic Bus and Kiwi Experience being the names on everyone’s lips. These buses serve the backpacker market, so enjoy the late nights and groggy mornings with your travelling crew.
Intercity have a range of Flexitrip and Flexipass passes available, to travel in a similar way on the local bus networks.
The small market keeps competition a little too low, but there’s still some good airline fares to be had. Along with hyper-local companies, check out Air New Zealand and budget carriers Jetstar and Pacific Blue.
Always be aware of your check-in time: although most New Zealand domestic airports are small, rules can be strictly enforced.
Car and camper rental
It’s often been said New Zealand is best explored by car, and we would certainly agree. There are so many pristine beaches to explore that it’s tough always being the passenger.
All major car hire firms operate in New Zealand, but we’d recommend exploring a innovative Kiwi company, Spaceships. The Spaceship is a people-mover converted into a camper van: giving you the freedom of a camper with the driving style of a car. Useful for all those windy roads, as we noted in our Spaceship camper review.
Cycling and hiking
There are many great walks and cycling paths in New Zealand, but many are self-contained. Hiking between cities is not easy, so use public or private transport to get to trail heads.
Outside of Auckland, cyclists are well respected by road users and, outside of winter, there are plenty of people exploring the country on bike. The New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga, is definitely something to keep an eye on.
The train network in New Zealand is slow, but stunning.
The trains aren’t used by locals so much, but the Overlander, TransAlpine and TransCoastal trains are pricey but worth the views.
Top 10 things to do in New Zealand
- Whale spot and swim with the dolphins. Possible in several New Zealand locations, but the water’s warmer in the Bay of Islands. Explore New Zealand’s history at Waitangi, Russel and Paihia while you’re on land.
- Bungy jumping with AJ Hackett. Throw yourself off the Southern hemisphere’s highest jump (or one of half a dozen other locations) with the world’s first commercial bungy operator. See our Nevis bungy movie
- Do a Great Walk. With nothing poisonous and no large mammals, New Zealand is one of the safest and most rewarding place to hike. Forests drop down the sea; mountains turn to glaciers to fjords.
- Road trip! Hire a camper, like the Kiwi-made Spaceship, and take to the roads with ultimate freedom to explore the dramatic countryside.
- Cruise Milford Sound. One of the world’s most dramatic and easily accessible Sounds, the hundreds of waterfalls pouring into Milford Sound from the lush native forest is unforgettable.
- A South Island train trip. Although we’re yet to try, the Transalpine and Transcenic rail trips just keep on coming up in every conversation.
- Wine tasting around the country. From the small-town farmers’ market in Matakana to the powerhouse wine regions of Marlborough and Otago, wine is as an important part of Kiwi culture as travel itself.
- Traditional Kiwi roast. That’s Kiwi as in “New Zealander”, not the bird! Or the fruit… Roast lamb with freshly picked veges washed down with Pinot Noir or a healthy dose of beer. Yum.
- Go to an All Blacks match. The New Zealand All Blacks are one of the world’s best-recognised sporting brands and, some would say, the best rugby team on the planet.