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What Makes a Trip to New Zealand a Trip of a Lifetime

Always wanted to go to New Zealand? Considering a trip there? Here are all the answers to your questions about what to see and do in stunning, fascinating Aotearoa.

What Makes a Trip to New Zealand a Trip of a Lifetime

Toast your dream vacation on spectacular Waikehe Island near Auckland with an exquisite vintage from one of approximately 30 boutique wineries.

Credit: Camilla Rutherford

Kia Ora! And welcome to New Zealand. In one of the most breathtakingly beautiful countries in the world you may wonder, “Where should I start?” Whether you decide to drive or take advantage of short and affordable flights between cities, this wonderland invites you to go at your own pace—now that New Zealand is open for U.S. travelers.

U.S. citizens traveling to New Zealand from a visa waiver country—that’s us—must request a NzeTA or New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority, in addition to taking a pre-departure test and showing proof of vaccination. Find more detailed information on the border reopening here, and use this roundup of all that makes the country special and you’re away, as the Kiwis say. You’ll want to take your time here so plan on at least three weeks to do it right.

North Island’s cosmopolitan vibe and welcoming Māori culture

New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, located on the North Island, makes a good place to get your bearings. Head to the SkyTower, which at 1,076 feet tall, provides unparalleled 360-degree views. In a hurry and fearless? Skip the elevator and base jump by wire almost 630 feet to the ground.

Not far away, your catamaran, Dolphin Explorer, awaits at Viaduct Basin, to host you on a one-of-a-kind, 4.5-hour, interactive tour of Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Wave to Bryde’s whales and common dolphins, and maybe even pygmy blue whales, turtles, sharks, manta rays, and fur seals—not to mention 26 species of sea birds. You’ll spot picturesque nearby Waiheke Island, so once back in Auckland, plan to ferry there on SeaLink—with your vehicle—to drive and taste the best New Zealand vintages at 30 boutique wineries on this artful island of wine.

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Talk to the Earth and it talks back in Rotorua, with otherworldly geothermal activity, including hot springs and mud pools.

Credit: Miles Holden

Go south to inland Rotorua for a place like no other. You can stroll alongside one of 18 lakes or soak in a natural hot pool at Polynesian Spa. Nearby, you’ll encounter geothermal wonders that “talk back” through steaming vents, spewing geysers, and bubbling mud pools.

Meet locals, New Zealand’s indigenous people at Whakarewarewa, The Living Māori Village. Learn firsthand how New Zealand conserves the flightless national treasure, the kiwi bird, at the National Kiwi Hatchery.

At the southern tip of the North Island, Wellington, the nation’s capital, awaits. Take in wide-ranging, spectacular views from the charming, 120-year-old Wellington Cable Car and learn its history at the adjoining museum. Fans of films The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia will revel in props and costumes from those famous flicks at the Wētā Workshop. You can also spend an afternoon at Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā, on 62 lush acres.

The dramatic landscapes of South Island

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The lazy Avon River in Christchurch is a tranquil location for a boat ride where you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the sublime journey.

Credit: Graeme Murray

Hop on a 45-minute flight on Air New Zealand to the nation’s second-largest city, Christchurch, the seat of the Canterbury Region, on the South Island’s east coast. There’s just something so genteel about punting (traveling by flat-bottomed boat) on the quiet Avon River—with someone else doing the navigating. Then stroll through the city, with eye-popping street art around the next corner.

For more formal viewing of the city’s creative offerings, check out the Christchurch Art Gallery and Centre of Contemporary Art. Christchurch has a Botanic Gardens, too, apropos since it’s “The Garden City” of New Zealand.

Take a drive to drop-dead gorgeous Akaroa, a colorful, French town, about a 1.5-hour scenic drive away. Don your wetsuit and hope on a Black Cat Cruises’ Swimming with Dolphins outing in the turquoise waters—Hector’s small dolphins, to be exact.

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There’s perhaps no better way to experience Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown than cruising on the steamship TSS “Earnslaw,” a charming choice since 1912.

Credit: Miles Holden

Further south in the island’s midsection, Queenstown will captivate you from the first look, with towering mountains surrounding Lake Wakatipu. Wakatipu, which is the country’s largest lake is best seen aboard the 1912 TSS Earnslaw vintage steamship. In winter, schuss (ski straight down a hill at high speed) at four nearby ski fields or cycle the welcoming 80-mile Queenstown trail in summer.

Drive 25 minutes to the classic gold-rush town of Arrowtown, along the placid Arrow River. For a combination of ecotourism and a thrill, visit Ziptrek’s new Kererū Interactive tour with two zip lines complemented by an interactive technology experience—named after New Zealand’s native pigeon.

Now you’re near the southern tip of the South Island, where you’ll be dazzled in Dunedin, the gateway to the Otago Peninsula. The city features pristine Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and you’ll soak up the Scottish influences all around you.

Maybe you’ll catch an open-air concert from the City of Dunedin Pipe Band. Head to New Zealand’s sole castle, Lanarch, built in 1871, where you can overnight. A short drive away is the Royal Albatross Center, featuring, you guessed it, Northern Royal Albatross, and the world’s only mainland breeding colony. Need more of a wildlife fix? It’s there at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary, 12 miles north, with Tutatara Lizards, Otago Skinks, and many native birds, including that precious national bird, the kiwi.

Time to say “Kia Ora!” again, or goodbye. When someone asks, “What did you do in New Zealand?” be prepared to awe them with so many reasons they, too, should visit soon.

Kia Ora! And welcome to New Zealand. In one of the most breathtakingly beautiful countries in the world you may wonder, “Where should I start?” Whether you decide to drive or take advantage of short and affordable flights between cities, this wonderland invites you to go at your own pace—now that New Zealand is open for U.S. travelers.

U.S. citizens traveling to New Zealand from a visa waiver country—that’s us—must request a NzeTA or New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority, in addition to taking a pre-departure test and showing proof of vaccination. Find more detailed information on the border reopening here, and use this roundup of all that makes the country special and you’re away, as the Kiwis say. You’ll want to take your time here so plan on at least three weeks to do it right.

North Island’s cosmopolitan vibe and welcoming Māori culture

New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, located on the North Island, makes a good place to get your bearings. Head to the SkyTower, which at 1,076 feet tall, provides unparalleled 360-degree views. In a hurry and fearless? Skip the elevator and base jump by wire almost 630 feet to the ground.

Not far away, your catamaran, Dolphin Explorer, awaits at Viaduct Basin, to host you on a one-of-a-kind, 4.5-hour, interactive tour of Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Wave to Bryde’s whales and common dolphins, and maybe even pygmy blue whales, turtles, sharks, manta rays, and fur seals—not to mention 26 species of sea birds. You’ll spot picturesque nearby Waiheke Island, so once back in Auckland, plan to ferry there on SeaLink—with your vehicle—to drive and taste the best New Zealand vintages at 30 boutique wineries on this artful island of wine.

open-uri20220602-49-vmld00

Talk to the Earth and it talks back in Rotorua, with otherworldly geothermal activity, including hot springs and mud pools.

Credit: Miles Holden

Go south to inland Rotorua for a place like no other. You can stroll alongside one of 18 lakes or soak in a natural hot pool at Polynesian Spa. Nearby, you’ll encounter geothermal wonders that “talk back” through steaming vents, spewing geysers, and bubbling mud pools.

Meet locals, New Zealand’s indigenous people at Whakarewarewa, The Living Māori Village. Learn firsthand how New Zealand conserves the flightless national treasure, the kiwi bird, at the National Kiwi Hatchery.

At the southern tip of the North Island, Wellington, the nation’s capital, awaits. Take in wide-ranging, spectacular views from the charming, 120-year-old Wellington Cable Car and learn its history at the adjoining museum. Fans of films The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia will revel in props and costumes from those famous flicks at the Wētā Workshop. You can also spend an afternoon at Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā, on 62 lush acres.

The dramatic landscapes of South Island

open-uri20220602-50-859xpl

The lazy Avon River in Christchurch is a tranquil location for a boat ride where you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the sublime journey.

Credit: Graeme Murray

Hop on a 45-minute flight on Air New Zealand to the nation’s second-largest city, Christchurch, the seat of the Canterbury Region, on the South Island’s east coast. There’s just something so genteel about punting (traveling by flat-bottomed boat) on the quiet Avon River—with someone else doing the navigating. Then stroll through the city, with eye-popping street art around the next corner.

For more formal viewing of the city’s creative offerings, check out the Christchurch Art Gallery and Centre of Contemporary Art. Christchurch has a Botanic Gardens, too, apropos since it’s “The Garden City” of New Zealand.

Take a drive to drop-dead gorgeous Akaroa, a colorful, French town, about a 1.5-hour scenic drive away. Don your wetsuit and hope on a Black Cat Cruises’ Swimming with Dolphins outing in the turquoise waters—Hector’s small dolphins, to be exact.

open-uri20220602-49-7kyzs5

There’s perhaps no better way to experience Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown than cruising on the steamship TSS “Earnslaw,” a charming choice since 1912.

Credit: Miles Holden

Further south in the island’s midsection, Queenstown will captivate you from the first look, with towering mountains surrounding Lake Wakatipu. Wakatipu, which is the country’s largest lake is best seen aboard the 1912 TSS Earnslaw vintage steamship. In winter, schuss (ski straight down a hill at high speed) at four nearby ski fields or cycle the welcoming 80-mile Queenstown trail in summer.

Drive 25 minutes to the classic gold-rush town of Arrowtown, along the placid Arrow River. For a combination of ecotourism and a thrill, visit Ziptrek’s new Kererū Interactive tour with two zip lines complemented by an interactive technology experience—named after New Zealand’s native pigeon.

Now you’re near the southern tip of the South Island, where you’ll be dazzled in Dunedin, the gateway to the Otago Peninsula. The city features pristine Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and you’ll soak up the Scottish influences all around you.

Maybe you’ll catch an open-air concert from the City of Dunedin Pipe Band. Head to New Zealand’s sole castle, Lanarch, built in 1871, where you can overnight. A short drive away is the Royal Albatross Center, featuring, you guessed it, Northern Royal Albatross, and the world’s only mainland breeding colony. Need more of a wildlife fix? It’s there at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary, 12 miles north, with Tutatara Lizards, Otago Skinks, and many native birds, including that precious national bird, the kiwi.

Time to say “Kia Ora!” again, or goodbye. When someone asks, “What did you do in New Zealand?” be prepared to awe them with so many reasons they, too, should visit soon.

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