New Zealand

Comprised of the volcanic, lush green North Island and its rugged, mountainous neighbor to the south, New Zealand has just about everything you could ask for in a destination. With a rich Maori heritage, beautiful beaches, geothermal spas, Lord of the Rings filming locations, and a growing wine culture—plus tons of adventure sports—the “Land of the Long White Cloud” has much to offer travelers, who are guaranteed to fall in love with this little nation.


Photo by Tyler Lastovich/Unsplash


When’s the best time to go to New Zealand?

At the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons in New Zealand are reversed from what most of us are accustomed to. Summer runs roughly from December to March, with Christmas through January considered peak season. Snowfields on both islands lure skiers and snowboarders, making New Zealand a popular winter destination as well. During the shoulder seasons, the crowds die down. The weather on the North Island, especially around Auckland, is considered mild and temperate, making it a nice destination year-round.

How to get around New Zealand

Really, the only way to get to New Zealand is by flying, and all international flights are routed through Auckland because of its large airport. From Australia, it’s a four-hour flight, and from Los Angeles it’s 12. A growing cruise industry brings tourists to travel around New Zealand by ship.

Many visitors choose to rent a “campervan” as a way to explore New Zealand’s lush countryside, save on accommodations, and participate in the country’s rich camping tradition. There are plenty of holiday parks and sites in which to park overnight, but free camping isn’t allowed anymore in most of New Zealand. If you are planning to explore the country for more than a month, you might even consider buying a car or campervan. Because of New Zealand’s remote location and limited public transportation, there is a large market of used cars being bought and sold by travelers; it’s a relatively easy, cheap, and painless process. The major cities also have airports, so if you’re on a limited schedule, you can fly between destinations. Public buses connect towns and cities (you can buy hop-on, hop-off bus passes), and there are some train routes on both islands, as well as plenty of tour companies.

Food and drink to try in New Zealand

New Zealand has a growing food scene, and in recent years big cities like Wellington and Auckland have turned out gourmet restaurants, chic cafes, and boutique bars. The famous coffee culture here ensures you will never be far from a delicious cup of coffee. Trendy new independent craft beer companies and breweries continue to pop up around the country, and plenty of wineries dot both islands.

Culture in New Zealand

Before it was colonized by Westerners, New Zealand was settled by the seafaring Maori people from the Pacific. You can visit various Maori sites and have Maori cultural experiences in places like Rotorua. From carving greenstone or jade pendants to witnessing the famous Haka, you’ll see Maori culture and history everywhere in New Zealand.

The two main wine festivals are Toast Martinborough on the North Island in November, and the Marlborough Wine Festival in February on the South Island. New Zealand’s version of Independence Day, when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Maoris and the British Crown, takes place every year on February 6. Also in February, Wellington comes alive with the Sevens, when seven rugby teams compete, creating a massive party in Wellington. If adventurous eating is your thing, then be sure to check out the Hokitika Wild Food Festival in March, where you can try anything and everything.

Local travel tips for New Zealand

- New Zealand is one of the safest and friendliest countries in the world. From the commonplace encounters with hitchhikers around the islands to conversations with just about anyone you meet, it won’t take long for you to realize that there’s something special about Kiwis.
- Remember that because New Zealand is very remote, parts of the country aren’t easily accessed, aren’t connected to phone service, or are prone to wild weather and geological activity such as earthquakes, landslides, and volcanoes—and it’s good to come prepared.

Practical Information

- English and Maori are the official languages of New Zealand, and pretty much everybody speaks English.
- Of course, like any language, Kiwis (aka New Zealanders) have their own take on some words. If you’re told to get dressed in your togs and jandals, change into a swimsuit and flip flops. And when you’re driving around in a camper van, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in the middle of the wop wops (aka the sticks).
- The country runs on 230/240 volts with angled two- or three-pin plugs so you’ll need a converter.

Guide Editor

Brett Atkinson is a full-time travel and food writer based in Auckland. He writes about adventure travel, unusual destinations, and surprising angles on more well known destinations for Lonely Planet and the BBC, among other outlets.

Liz Carlson is a writer and travel blogger based in New Zealand.

Read Before You Go
The South Island’s Routeburn Track is one of the great trails in New Zealand. Two unlikely hikers head out to see what they find.
Resources to help plan your trip
New Zealand’s North Island is home to volcanoes, beaches, movie scene locations, stellar dining options, and cosmpolitan (but always friendly) cities. Easy to travel around in, you’ll find that you’re not far from anything including friendly North Island locals willing to personally point you in the right direction and show you what ‘secret places’ not to miss out on. Your best route: Start in Auckland, rent a car, and head south to settle in at Rotorua and Taupo. Enjoy the capital Wellington before heading home or, better idea, making your way to the South Island.
Postcards were invented for New Zealand’s South island. Blue alpine lakes, snow-capped mountains, breathtaking fjords, and numerous adventure activities guarantee loads of stories to share with friends back home. From your homebase in Queenstown you can explore Milford Sound, Franz Josef Glacier, Wanaka, skifields, and wineries. Or hire a camper van and make the road and the island’s campgrounds your home.
Some of New Zealand’s best souvenir shopping is found at art and craft galleries around the country. Locally-made crafts include Maori woven pieces and wood carvings. One color you’re sure to see all over the place: green, the color of pounamu, the Maori name for greenstone. But the country’s shops don’t just stop at souvenirs, of course. You’ll find local designer labels at shopping centers, including Auckland’s High Street. Watch for pieces by Karen Walker, one of the country’s best-known designers. Living in a camper van during your stay? Stop at the many farmers markets around the country to restock your cooler.
From high-end seafood dishes to, as expected, perfectly-baked treats to go with New Zealand’s sublime coffee, Auckland’s restaurants will tempt you to stay put in the city ... forever. Or, at least, return time and again.
If there was a world cup for adventure, New Zealand would win it. It has hands-down become the adventure capital of the world, with more adrenalin-pumping sports and activities packed into one small country than are found on most continents. New Zealand’s best known for its world-famous bungee jumping, but the adventure spots don’t stop there. Choose an adventure from skydiving over a snow-capped mountain range to underground rafting in glowworm caves - New Zealand is the full of extreme fun.
Hiking (or “tramping”) is a New Zealand national pastime, a way of getting close to nature and appreciating the beauty of an unspoiled pristine environment. You can choose from world famous day-hikes to multi-day “Great Walks” through New Zealand’s national parks, scenic reserves, rivers, mountains and forests. No matter the hike you choose, the views will be breathaking and jaw dropping. Yes, both.
You’ll quickly find that your favorite daily task in New Zealand is meeting or catching up with new friends. The best places to do that? Over drinks at some of the country’s bars, breweries, and other watering holes. Whether you enjoy craft beer, Japanese whiskey, mixed drinks, or a strong local red, there’s a place for you in New Zealand. Many places, really. From bars in Auckland to hidden gems further afield, you’re guaranteed a good time when friends and drinks are on your NZ itinerary.
There are more sparkling blue alpine lakes in New Zealand than you can possibly imagine. In a land that is so geologically new, it’s no surprise that these beautiful waters go hand in hand with ancient glaciers and towering mountain peaks. Whether it be the stillness of New Zealand’s South Island picture-perfect lakes, or the geothermal heated waters of the North Island, you will not be disappointed by the beautiful lakes all around.
New Zealand’s city hotels combine comfort with modern design touches, while the lodges and country houses—set amid coastal cliffs, pristine fjords, and the soaring Southern Alps—serve luxury with a side of drama.
Come explore New Zealand’s natural wonders—on foot, on bike, in a camper van, at the fully-extended end of a bungee cord—and meet the (exceedingly friendly) locals. For a small country, there’s an almost overwhelming number of things to do. But, to get you started: Lord of the Rings fans should head straight for their middle earth in Hobbiton. Adventure fans can get their wheee on ziplining on Waiheke Island. Nature fan? Go do some whale watching. But, no matter what you love to see, make sure you learn about Maori culture. The culture is at the center of the beauty of New Zealand.
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