Aotearoa = Land of the Long White Cloud.
New Zealand = Hobbits and Flight of the Conchords.
As a citizen of this country I find it only fair I give you some insights into what this land is about. What you can find here. And to straighten some misconceptions about the three island nation sitting just next to Australia. It’s a country the locals and tourists find a passion for with it’s never ending beauty, friendly culture and great food on offer.
On countless occasions in America/Canada/Europe I’ve been asked about ‘facts’ people have so let’s straighten things out:
There are no crocodiles or snakes here, that is Australia.
Sheep don’t roam the streets, but they do roam large parks even in our largest city.
We have no poisonous animals, although a couple of the poisonous spiders have snuck in from our neighbor, we don’t see too many of them though.
It rains a lot here, I would go so far as saying more than Vancouver or England, but it can also clear up rather quickly.
We aren’t all mountains, trust me in that we have some of the best beaches around!
I wanted to break the country down into sections, make this easy and I’m going to be honest in saying there is only a small amount said about the South Island, I’ve spent only a week of my time there unfortunately, but trust me that the North Island is stunning too!
Here we go:
The Capital is Wellington and while I’ve talked about it more fully before. It’s a city where one of the only flat pieces of land was big enough for an airport to be built on.
It’s huge reputation lies in wind thanks to the geography of being u-shaped with the wind sweeping through it’s hills and I have heard more stories than I know of people flying in to land on an angle. Always take a coat when visiting, you never know what it will be like outside.
Its a city steeped in cultural and political folk, so be sure to scope out what activities may be on during your visit, best to start here.
Wellington is a very easy city to navigate and if you fly in and want to avoid taking a taxi to get downtown, the best option is the No. 91 bus. Exit the airport terminal and turn right, there will be a sign for the airport flyer, for fares and timetables check out here.
*If you are taking the bus, one tip is to check your accommodation location before you get on as it stops either side of downtown and you would have to walk some way with your luggage if you don’t get off the right stop.
Must stops in the city are (Free in bold): Cuba Street, Te Papa, Wellington Cable Car, Botanical Gardens, Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop. For other suggestions on where to go during your stay check out here.
Next we move to my home turf and the largest city: Auckland. It’s nickname is the City of Sails and we have had the honor in my lifetime of winning the America’s cup and hosting it twice, it has been a while though.
Auckland has a staggering 52 volcanoes within it’s region, almost everywhere you look you see a remnant of one, although it has been a very very long time since one has been active.
It’s best to pick up a car to get around, although if you prefer to use public transport the air bus runs every 10 minutes during the week and 15 minutes on the weekends to and from the airport. Although I’ve not personally taken it, I imagine it would be approximately an hour’s journey from the airport to downtown.
Public transport is still finding it’s grounding in this city, despite gaining more use recently. Three link bus services have been designed to take people from the inner city to some of the closest suburbs, for more information click here. If you want to go further afield, however, renting a car is the best option thanks to Auckland’s very spread out landscape.
There are so many free events in Auckland throughout the year that it’s best to check out the Auckland Council website and ViewAuckland for what to do when you are visiting. One of the best free things to do of course is find the nearest volcano (most likely Mt Eden from downtown which you can get the outer link to) and climb it. The views alone will be worth it!
Must stops: Auckland Museum, Wynard Quarter (free movies on Friday nights during the summer is a bonus), Mission Bay for a little beach, K Road, Western Park, or any one of the Western black sand beaches for a beautiful sunset.
Now let’s go north to Northland.
There are countless beaches in Northland, it has historical importance with the Waitangi Treaty (our declaration document in effect) having been signed there. The northernmost point is Cape Reinga and that is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s an hour’s drive from Kaitaia, however, is free to get into once there.
If you get off the beaten track a little you’ll find yourself in some beautiful beaches, but one stop that is free to visit are the dunes on 90 mile beach. You can park, rent a boogie board and set off for the dunes.
Further south is the Bay of Islands, there are tours available to see dolphins and other marine mammels. If you continue south you will arrive in Whangarei (pronounced faang-ga-ray), if you happen to have enough time detour to Whangarei heads and see the beauty on offer. Mt Aubry is a quick climb, although watch out for the prickly gorse.
Within two hours drive south of Auckland is the Coromandel, one of my absolute favorite parts of this land, so special is it that I have taken countless travelers and locals there just to ensure they see it’s beauty.
Cathedral Cove is a famous hole in the rock and can only be reached via walking or boat. It’s a 40 minute walk and not too difficult, with views very very worth it. Hot Water Beach is only a five minute drive from the parking lot of Cathedral Cove and like Cathedral Cove is best visited when the tide is out. It’s thermal activity means digging holes in the sand next to the large rock results in spa hot water people can sit in. Except for the cost of renting the spade and gas to get there, both places are free to visit, for tide times check out here.
The Central North Island is really tourist mecca and it includes mountains, thermal pools and lots of mud. A stop in Taupo is always worth it, despite it being off the main road now, it’s a town with a great outdoor culture and a lot to offer within it’s vicinity.
If you continue following the road to Rotorua you will be welcomed with a smell. Then you will discover the many activities available to do within this city, including thermal pools of your choice to sink into, have a go on the luge, outdoor activities at a handful of local lakes and learning more about the native Maori culture.
If you continue another half an hour outside of Rotorua then you can visit Wai-O-Tapu, if you arrive around 10am, then you have an opportunity to see a geyser show also.
If you want a break from all the lakes and prefer to see the coast again then Tauranga/Mt Maunganui is perfect. It’s a surfing and swimming beach that also has some walks or ice cream to accompany your mood.
Gisborne used to be known as the first place to get the sunrise on earth, now however, with Samoa beating us into the new day it’s a city on the eastern most part of the country that has land not explored often enough.
Further south the twin cities of Napier and Hastings in the Hawkes Bay have a lot to offer, particularly with Napier having one of the most tragic histories in New Zealand. A city that had to be rebuilt after a tragic and horrific earthquake in 1931 it sits in dense wine country which always needs another mouth to try!
The southern most point of the North Island is where Wellington sits and from there you can take ferries across to the South Island.
As previously mentioned I’ve only spent a very short portion of time there and only went as far south as Punakaiki (Pancake rocks), but it’s stunning landscape is something I cannot avoid sharing with you.
The upper South Island is known for superb weather, more sun than the rest of the country and you can sense it when driving through the little towns and villages to Cape Farewell Spit which is the 21km/13m piece of land and sand that juts out from the top.
You cannot drive on it, only with a tour and despite my father and my best attempt at walking it, all I can say is take the tour if you want to get to the lighthouse at the end of the headland.
Don’t be afraid to go off some of the roads on the way there because there is some stunning scenery to be had in Golden Bay.
Of the many different options of activities to do in the South Island I’ve been told the Nelson Lakes are amazing. Wanaka and Queenstown take people back to mountain cities overseas with their vibe, although prepare for the crowds, especially in the high seasons of winter and summer.
Christchurch is a city reeling back from not one but two massive earthquakes and countless aftershocks and tremors, its a city that still stands as our Garden City and it has a lot to offer despite the construction downtown.
If you only read one thing than this is the site worth checking as a country with so much nature to offer the Department of Conservation has made it easy to get to many amazing sites and the best part is that most of these places are free to see.
So there is New Zealand, in my best way trying to help you figure out the best places to go. It’s not a country that want’s to be conquered, it’s hilly and difficult to navigate. The wind can be crazy and the rain can go straight in your eyes for more days than you ever thought you could count. But it’s beautiful and when you make the effort your breath can be taken away more than you imagine.