While it may not loom large on the world map, New Zealand feels incredibly vast and imposing on the ground, especially to those who try to visit the North and South Islands on the same trip.
Few countries can match the nation’s biodiversity; a single visit can easily incorporate scenic beaches, fast-moving rivers, and rugged fjords, plus a never ending assortment of cows and sheep.
For city slickers: Auckland
New Zealand’s largest city is full of inviting neighbourhoods filled with interesting shops and quality restaurants.
Situated on a narrow isthmus near the top of the North Island, Auckland is one of the world’s iconic destinations for sailing enthusiasts. Rare is the local who doesn’t enjoy spending time on the water, and visitors have a variety of pleasure cruises to choose from.
The sports-mad city stops whenever the national rugby team, the iconic All Blacks, takes the field at Eden Park, and the world’s biggest musical icons often make a stop at the city’s Vector Arena.
Neighbourhoods such as Ponsonby, Mount Eden, Parnell, and Devonport are chock full of inviting boutiques, trendy restaurants, and unique accommodation.
For trend seekers: Wellington
Nestled on the southern tip of the North Island, New Zealand’s capital city impresses with its craft beer scene and raft of forward-thinking food producers.
A mix of students and hipsters pack Wellington’s ubiquitous coffee shops and bars, and a variety of restaurants and markets provide easy access to the country’s finest wines and cheeses.
Pop-up shops and craft markets put Wellington’s budding designers on display. The Weta Workshop showcases cutting edge moviemaking technology as seen in the “Lord of the Rings” films.
No visit to Wellington would be complete without a stop at the incredible Te Papa, a huge, free-entry museum which provides a thorough look at the country’s history.
For wine lovers: Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay
New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs can be found on wine lists the world over. Situated on the northeastern corner of the South Island, the Marlborough region attracts oenophiles of all stripes.
A variety of wineries, from world-renowned producers to small upstarts, offer a tasting room experience behind their cellar doors. Several of the wineries house a bistro where visitors can enjoy locally-sourced snacks too.
Nature lovers take a break from wine tasting to cruise the stunning Marlborough Sounds, an assortment of ancient sunken river valleys populated with highly-prized salmon, mussels, and more.
For an alternative to Marlborough’s sauvignon-focused scene, head north to Hawke’s Bay, where a number of award-winning wineries specialize in reds such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Beyond the wineries, visitors to this North Island region get to experience the city of Napier, home to one of the world’s most extensive displays of Art Deco architecture.
For nature lovers: the west coast
The rugged west coast of the South Island will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Fans come from around the globe to see the sparsely populated locales that served as backdrops for Sir Peter Jackson’s award-winning films.
Charming small towns give way to jaw-dropping mountain roads and imposing glaciers. Dozens of hiking trails, plus stunning overlooks and points of interest, are all easily accessible from the main West Coast drive along State Highway 6.
For thrill seekers: Queenstown
Few places on the planet pack as many adrenaline-fuelled experiences as Queenstown. This small South Island town has exploded over the past couple of decades, and is constantly packed with international visitors lured by the abundant adventure activities; bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving, hang-gliding, skiing, and just about any other thrill ride imaginable.
The town centre buzzes with hip restaurants and bars, allowing thrill-seekers of all stripes to kick back and relax at the end of the day while enjoying beautiful lake views.
For breathtaking scenery: Fiordland
The South Island’s Fiordland region wows even the hard to please, with its incredible natural attractions, most notably the world-famous Milford Sound and larger but lesser known Doubtful Sound, where visitors frequently spot whales and dolphins.
Fiordland National Park hosts dozens of kilometers of world-class hiking trails, many of which can be experienced in a few hours or a few days.
The small town of Te Anau serves as a regional hub, allowing visitors to stock up on camping supplies and local souvenirs with minimal fuss.
For a small-town feel: Coromandel Peninsula
An easy drive east of Auckland, the breathtaking Coromandel Peninsula is filled with charming small towns and stunning natural scenery. Spend the night at a family-owned B&B or inexpensive guesthouse, then set off during the day to explore attractions such as Hot Water Beach, where hot water bubbles through holes in the soft sand at low tide, and Cathedral Cove, an incredible, naturally formed archway on Hahei Beach.
To witness a rebirth: Christchurch
The largest city on the South Island, Christchurch suffered unimaginable damage due to a series of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. Today, the city centre remains a work in progress, filled with interactive art spaces and shops housed in shipping containers.
Despite the wreckage, much of which is still visible, the city’s charm remains intact thanks to its idyllic, English-style parks, world-class botanic gardens, and scenic punting along the Avon River.