For the past six months, I’ve been researching and planning a month-long trip to Australia and New Zealand with my family—the impetus being the FIFA Women’s World Cup, played here from late July until the final in Sydney on August 20. The global sporting event covers a lot of ground—five cities in Oz, four in NZ—and though we’re not necessarily making every stop, we’ll see much of both countries in the process.
It’s always considerate to share, so here are parts of my actual itinerary as well as of-the-moment intel on the best new happenings across New Zealand today. It’s a mix of North and South Island, “Great Walks” and national parks, and one of the world’s best new resorts set on a high-country sheep station. Read on for the best places to go now in New Zealand.
Whether it’s their first or 15th time in New Zealand, most U.S.-based travelers pass through the country’s largest city and main international hub. With its boat-filled harbor and dramatic volcanic surroundings, Auckland is a stunner when viewed from any vantage point: hiking to the summit of Maungawhau/Mount Eden or along the shoreline of Te pane o mataoho/Mangere Mountain; on a ferry headed to winery-laden Waiheke Island; or atop the gantry at Silo Park, the rooftop bar of the QT hotel, or the observatory of the iconic Sky Tower.
If you’re traveling with kids, get on the ice with a colony of king and gentoo penguins at Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium, or learn the story behind NZ rugby and haka (the Māori war dance at the start of each match) at the Auckland All Blacks Experience. Drive an hour outside Auckland to Sculptureum at Matakana, whose six art galleries, three sculpture gardens, vineyard, and Rothko Restaurant make for a lovely all-ages way to spend an afternoon.
Where to stay
Cordis Auckland, a Langham sister property downtown, manages to be both business traveler– and family-friendly. Corner Executive Suites have a living room, king-size bedroom, and kitchen with a microwave and range; views of the Sky Tower; and oversized bathrooms with soaking tubs. Make time for a Cordis High Tea for Two; it also has a thoughtful kids’ afternoon tea with a red panda mascot named Cody and a sugar rush for the ages.
Where to eat and drink
Breakfast at Amano Bakery in Britomart; Instagram–famous Giant Cookies at Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar; your pick of Italian at Bivacco on the waterfront and/or at Baduzzi on the North Wharf in Wynyard Quarter. Ditch the cell phone (social media is discouraged here), puffer coats, and sneakers for a fancy night of cocktails at Pineapple on Parnell.
How to get there
Air New Zealand now flies directly from New York City, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Embrace the 13- (or 15-, or 17-) hour flight and enjoy the airline’s awesome long-haul service. Business class is among the best in the sky, and economy comes with a clever Skycouch option: a discounted row of three seats that turns into a futon-style bed, complete with bedding. (We booked two Skycouches for two adults and two young children, and we all got 9 hours of sleep.) Just be sure to stay up for a couple hours to try the Kiwi wines and “Made in New Zealand” TV and movie selections.
Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park
The South Island of New Zealand needs no hype man, no filter. Natural wonders come with legendary names like The Remarkables and Valley of the Trolls, and they beg to be explored on foot, by car, helicopter, skis, jet boat, bungee—you name it.
As Elen Turner wrote for AFAR in 2022, “Road-tripping is the only way to really experience the South Island’s natural beauty. Start in Nelson, a city of more than 50,000 at the top of the South Island, and drive west about an hour to the eastern entrance of Abel Tasman National Park. Many travelers opt to hike—or ‘tramp'—the Coast Track, a five-day, 37-mile ‘Great Walk,’ camping in tents along the way. If you have mobility issues (or perhaps toddlers in tow), you can still get the best of the national park via boat tours from Kaiteriteri, stopping at beaches on turquoise bays.
“Continue the drive over notorious Tākaka Hill—with its narrow, windy, gut-churning lanes—to Golden Bay, pausing at a lookout for panoramic Tasman Bay views. Stay overnight in a town along the way, such as Tākaka or Collingwood, and end your visit marveling at the 65-foot-high Wainui Falls and Te Waikoropupū Springs. The cold, clear springs are a sacred Māori space—a source of life, healing, and renewal for locals and travelers alike.”
In between Christchurch and Queenstown is a homestead that people are making pilgrimages to: Flockhill Lodge, a four-bedroom property set on a 36,000-acre, high-country sheep station. AFAR named it a “best new hotel of 2023” and I’ve been itching to check it out ever since. Flockhill’s greatest luxury is its privacy and remoteness (plus access to nature and incredible food). “New Zealand–born chef Craig Martin emphasizes local ingredients in his meals: Périgord black truffles foraged in Canterbury one night, followed by fresh-caught hapuku from Rakiura the next,” writes Jessica Beresford in her review of the lodge. “Even with these luxuries, the retreat’s best asset is its access to adventures. Guides can take guests snowboarding at the nearby Broken River and Craigieburn ski areas or fly-fishing in Winding Stream.”
Fiordland National Park
Several years ago B.C. (before children), I went on my first New Zealand “Great Walk"—one of 10 well-maintained hut-to-hut hikes through some of the country’s most scenic stretches. This was a three-day, 25-mile, many-weather-patterns tramp along the Routeburn Track in Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks with Ultimate Hikes New Zealand, and I’m still talking about it. This October, as the Great Walks program turns 30, a new trail is set to join the network: a 38-mile loop called Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, also in Fiordland National Park. Be among the first to check out its “ancient regenerating forest, Māori land, and deserted coastlines.”
Base up in Queenstown, and please make time to stand in line for a Ferg Burger—it’s worth it.