by Bryn Reade and Sarah Bennett, The Telegraph, August 30, 2017
An essential guide to where to go in New Zealand, including what to do in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and how to visit Hawke's Bay, Rotorua, Marlborough, Mount Cook, Milford Sound and Hokitika Gorge. By Sarah Bennett, Lee Slater and Bryne Reade Telegraph Travel's New Zealand experts.
Auckland & Northland
New Zealand’s largest city is a green and leafy metropolis, spread over old volcanoes and wrapped around two harbours thus earning it the moniker ‘the city of sails’. As well as lively cultural and hospitality hubs downtown and dotted throughout its suburbs, Auckland offers plenty of nature-based activities such as hiking on the rocky, volcanic island of Rangitoto, or the temperate rainforest of the Waitakere Ranges and swimming on west coast beaches.
Islands and beaches are also a highlight of Northland, the narrow region capped off by Cape Reinga. The pilgrimage to New Zealand’s northern extremity is best made up one coast and down the other, thus presenting the opportunity to enjoy fabulous ocean and harbour scenery, ancient Waipoua kauri forest, and the maritime playground of the Bay of Islands.
Waikato, Coromandel & The Bay of Plenty
The popular Pacific Coast Highway touring route winds around the east coast from Auckland, serving up a classic slice of coastal paradise. Lavished with visitor attractions, coastal walks, beaches and sunshine, it is perennially popular with holidaymakers from home and abroad.
The roll call of beaches includes New Chums, Cathedral Cove, Whangamata, Waihi and Mount Maunganui. In between are such crowd-pullers as the quirky eco-project known as Driving Creek Railway (07 866 8703; drivingcreekrailway.co.nz), the rocky Pinnacles, and lively Tauranga city.
Drive inland from Tauranga into the Waikato region to find Hobbiton, Hamilton Gardens (International Garden of the year in 2014), and the Hauraki Rail Trail cycle way.
Things get sleepier out east, from Te Puke kiwifruit country through to the sweet little town of Whakatane, from where the highway snakes around the rural East Cape to surfy Gisborne and onward to bountiful Hawke's Bay.
Rotorua, Taupo & The Central North Island
This region is influenced by powerful natural forces, vividly displayed in the bubbling mud pools, steamy vents, geysers and colourful silica terraces around Rotorua.
Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, lies in a massive caldera. Its resort town is a magnet for boaties and watersports enthusiasts, as well as a base for adventures in Tongariro National Park.
The park’s volcanoes starred in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. They can be ogled on hiking trails – including from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – or by bike around their foothills.
Mount Taranaki, to the east, is an almost perfect volcanic cone and a welcome reason to visit New Plymouth named in Lonely Planet’s top regions to visit in 2017. Boasting the Len Lye Centre for film and kinetic art and New Zealand’s newest day walk, the Pouakai Crossing, the Taranaki region is becoming a popular destination for international visitors.Hidden away in the neighbouring King Country are Waitomo Caves (0800 456 922, waitomo.com), a visitor-friendly subterranean wonderland that can be explored on guided walks or a more adventurous Legendary Blackwater Rafting (waitomo.com/black-water-rafting) trip.
Wellington & Lower North Island
Wellington, the nation’s nifty little capital and port for the inter-island ferry, is often panned when struck in poor weather but beloved by those with good timing and/or fortitude.
Te Papa Tongarewa (04 381 7000; tepapa.govt.nz) is the lynchpin in an array of arts and cultural institutions. Cafés, restaurants, bars and shops pack out the gaps in what is a compact and vibrant centre with an alternative vibe.
Neighbouring Wairarapa is easily reached for a day-trip or weekend stay. Greytown and Martinborough make fine bases for exploring this wine-soaked region.
Around four hours’ drive away, Hawke’s Bay is a notable food and wine region that also features a gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers, and art deco architecture in Napier.
Nelson & Marlborough
The top of the South Island sees plenty of sunshine, just one of numerous reasons to visit.
The inter-island ferry port town of Picton is a personal favourite for its pleasing aspect, friendly disposition, and access to Queen Charlotte Sound. Linger at least a day.
Nelson is a small, confident city with an active arts scene and gorgeous Tahunanui Beach. Neighbouring Motueka is quieter but equally sweet, and closer to Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks. Just over the hill is Golden Bay, a rural escape extraordinaire.
Marlborough is the epicentre of New Zealand’s wine industry, spread through picturesque valleys with cellar doors in spades. Blenheim’s highlight is Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum (03 579 1305; omaka.org.nz) contender for the country’s best historical attraction.
Kaikoura is renowned for whales and other wildlife, and will be enjoyed by those who like salt air and fish suppers.
Christchurch & Canterbury
Canterbury is still putting itself back together after the devastating 2010/11 earthquakes.
It is, however, the South Island’s major air gateway and those who make the journey will be utterly amazed by the street art, sculpture, gardens and general enterprise that has sprung up since the earthquakes. A tour of the city is awe-inspiring in ways you can’t imagine.
Highlights of the wider Canterbury region include Arthur’s Pass National Park nestled deep in the Southern Alps, Hanmer Springs’ hot pools, the tussocky MacKenzie country and Aoraki – the ‘cloud piercer’ – also known as Mount Cook. Mount Cook National Park is home to 19 peaks over 3,000 metres and is a designated International Dark Sky Reserve.
Kaikoura is renowned for its marine life including whales, dolphins, and seals, and will be enjoyed by those who like salt air and fish suppers. Despite its own recent earthquake, Kaikoura is open for business with the uplifted geography creating new attractions. Some journey times are affected by ongoing road repairs. It’s best to book ahead for accommodation and activities and check nzta.govt.nz for information on road access.
Waitaki, Dunedin, Southland & Stewart Island
Waitaki is a haven for geological tourism with the weird and wonderful Moeraki Boulders, Duntroon elephant rocks, and Omarama’s Clay cliffs. Dunedin is the gateway to the Otago Peninsula, home to some of the world’s rarest wildlife including royal albatross and the yellow-eyed penguin.
The Mataura River in Southland has the highest trout population and catch rates in New Zealand, while Bluff, just south of Invercargill, supplies what may be the world’s finest oysters.
Stewart Island, a short ferry ride from Bluff, provides one of the best opportunities to see kiwi in the wild.
The West Coast
Along with flinty mining history, its vast tracts of mountainous wilderness that define this region, the West Coast is Fiordland’s closest rival in the untamed nature stakes. It boasts six national parks, along with myriad other reserves totaling nearly 90 per cent of its footprint.
This doesn’t just mean donning the boots for nature hikes, although there is plenty of that, of course. Many spectacular features are readily accessible off the highway, or a short walk from the car park.
Among its many natural wonders are the Fox and Franz Josef, the area's best known glaciers, the magnificent limestone arches of Oparara Basin, the pancake stacks of Punakaiki, and the unreal blue Hokitika Gorge.
Wild, sparsely populated and homespun, this region will be best appreciated by those with the time to detour and dally.
Queenstown, Southern Lakes, Fiordland
A Unesco World Heritage Area, Fiordland is a glacier-carved wonderland of towering peaks, hanging valleys, waterfalls, lakes and remote fiords.
Milford and Doubtful Sound can be experienced on popular cruises. Our pick is the overnighter on Doubtful run by Fiordland Cruises (0800 368 283; fiordlandcruises.co.nz). Real Journeys (0800 656 501; realjourneys.co.nz) offers Doubtful and Milford cruises as well as many other boat- and bus-based sightseeing trips throughout the Southern Lakes region.
Te Anau is pretty and low key, and a convenient base for activities. To its north is Queenstown - a firecracker of a tourist town - and quieter Wanaka, gateway to Aspiring National Park.
Penetrating these vast wilds generally requires hiking. Four Great Walks - Milford, Routeburn, Kepler and Hollyford - are achievable multi-day adventures for the moderately fit. There are scores of other trails, from 10-minute nature trails to hard-core adventures such as the Dusky Track doc.govt.nz) – a four-day hike into isolated wilderness, suitable for advanced hikers only.
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