Ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Before you pull out your luggage and start packing your bags, check out this essential guide put together by our friends at Skyscanner. Discover things to do, the best time to visit, and other handy tips for your first trip to one of the most magical places on earth: New Zealand.
1. Why New Zealand is on every traveler’s bucket list
Blessed with breathtaking natural beauty, world-famous vineyards and a rich Maori heritage, it’s no wonder that New Zealand is at the top of every traveler’s bucket list. Also known as Aotearoa (“Land of the Long White Cloud”), the country is home to 4 million people, and is composed of two main islands.
The North Island is known for its cosmopolitan cities, Maori culture, volcanoes, and pristine beaches. The South Island’s rugged beauty and dramatic landscapes are the stuff of legend: picture snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and shimmering turquoise lakes. After all, we’d expect nothing less from a country that is synonymous with Lord of the Ring’s Middle Earth.
Given its relatively small size making everything close by, the staggering variety of activities in New Zealand makes it the perfect destination for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a hiker, adventurer, foodie, or film buff, New Zealand has an abundance of treasures to offer.
A map of New Zealand: both the North and South Islands are well worth exploring. Photo credit: Tourism New Zealand
2. What to know before you go
2a. New Zealand’s Weather
New Zealand’s weather is famously unpredictable, and locals say you can get 4 seasons in one day. The good news is that any time is the “best time” to visit – whether you want to go surfing in summer or skiing in the winter, there’s plenty to see and do any time of year.
Spring: September to November. Average temperature: 16–19 °C.
Summer: December to February. Average temperature: 20–25 °C.
Autumn: March to May. Average temperature: 17–21 °C.
Winter: June to August. Average temperature: 12–16 °C.
2b. Visa requirements
Singaporean and Malaysian passport holders don’t need a visa to visit New Zealand, and can travel around the country for up to 3 months. We recommend you make full use of that!
2c. Average prices
In New Zealand you can find a wide range of accommodations, from backpacker lodges to five-star hotels, but you can expect to pay between S$150 and $230 (160–240 NZD) for a double room at a mid-range hotel. A main course at a mid-range restaurant will usually range from S$18 to $30 (20–32 NZD). Your travel budget should take these average costs into consideration.
3. Things to do in New Zealand
3a. Things to do in Auckland
With its bustling waterfront districts, vibrant arts scene and delicious cuisine, New Zealand’s largest city has plenty to offer. Your first stop should be the iconic Sky Tower, where you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of Auckland. Explore the hip boutiques and trendy eateries of Ponsonby, or hunt for vintage fashion on K’ Road.
Don’t miss Auckland Museum, which boasts an impressive collection of Maori treasures and daily haka performances that will delight the whole family. In the evening, take a stroll along the scenic Viaduct Harbour, or treat yourself to a gourmet dinner at one of the many acclaimed restaurants in Britomart district. Auckland is fun any time of year, but a real highlight is the Matariki Festival (6 June–30 July 2016), a month-long celebration of the Maori New Year.
For a fun-filled family excursion, hop on a ferry to Rangitoto Island, which is just 25 minutes away from Auckland. Here you can trek across the ruggedly beautiful volcanic landscape and explore lava caves. Another great day trip option is Waiheke Island – home to gorgeous beaches and world-famous wineries like Stonyridge Vineyard.
Soak up the panoramic views from Auckland’s famous Sky Tower. Photo credit: Chris-McLennan / Tourism New Zealand
3b. Things to do in Wellington
Wellington is famous for having more restaurants and bars per capita than New York, so come prepared to feast your way through this buzzing capital city. Must-try eateries include Logan Brown for innovative New Zealand cuisine; Ortega Fish Shack and Bar for succulent seafood; and Hippopotamus Restaurant for fine dining and stunning harbour views.
Foodies should mark their calendars for Wellington on a Plate (12-28 August 2016), an epic culinary festival featuring night markets, foraged meals, and craft beer tastings.
But there’s much more to Wellington than food. Explore the fascinating interactive exhibitions at Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum; or take the historic Wellington Cable Car to the Carter Observatory.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, plan a visit to the Weta Cave in Miramar district. This world-famous workshop showcases many props and costumes from the movies, and you can enjoy a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse of Wellington’s film industry.
Hop on Wellington’s iconic cable car for great views of the city. Photo credit: Ian Trafford / Tourism New Zealand
3c. Things to do in Hamilton
Nestled in the lush Waikato region, which boasts a rich Maori heritage, Hamilton is well worth discovering. The city’s thriving café culture, artisanal spirit and lively nightlife have made it an increasingly popular tourist destination.
Kick off your exploration with a scenic cruise on the Waikato River, followed by a stroll through the exquisitely designed Hamilton Gardens. Culture vultures will enjoy the Aesthete fine art gallery, while coffee lovers are sure to find their bliss at one of Hamilton’s many artisan roasters.
The city is brimming with excellent dining options like the award-winning Palate restaurant or River Kitchen, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. Don’t miss Balloons over Waikato (16-20 March 2016), Hamilton’s popular hot air balloon festival – it’s truly a sight to behold.
If you’ve always longed to visit the Shire, head to the utterly charming Hobbiton movie set, which is located in Matamata (1-hour drive from Hamilton). With its legendary geysers and vibrant Maori culture, Rotorua also makes for an ideal day trip (1.5-hour drive).
Experience the beauty of Middle Earth while visiting the Hobbiton film set near Hamilton. Photo credit: Sara Orme / Tourism New Zealand
3d. Things to do in Christchurch
In spite of the devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch in 2011, this resilient city has re-emerged with more spirit and creativity than ever. This ingenuity is most evident in Christchurch’s lovely transitional cathedral, fondly known as the Cardboard Cathedral, which has now become the city’s main landmark.
Another fascinating attraction is Re:Start, a funky retail space where you can shop inside converted shipping containers. New Regent Street, with its picturesque row of restaurants, cafés and cocktail bars, is an essential pitstop; while the Christchurch Gondola offers breathtaking ocean and city views. For high-octane family fun, head to Adrenalin Forest – a heart-pounding aerial obstacle course that will have you swinging through the treetops.
Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island, so there are also many excellent day trip options to choose from. Can’t pick one? We recommend visiting the coastal town of Kaikoura (a 2-hour drive), which boasts jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery, adorable seal colonies, and whale watching.
Get in touch with nature and go whale watching in Kaikoura. Photo credit: Rob Suisted / Tourism New Zealand
3e. Things to do in South Island
The South Island is famous for its many landscapes of ethereal beauty, so give yourself at least a week (ideally two) to do it justice. Head to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain, where you can enjoy stunning hiking trails, mighty glaciers, and stargazing.
Queenstown is the capital for adventure lovers and adrenaline junkies: here you can do anything from bungee jumping and jet boating to horseback riding. While you’re there, don’t miss the nearby alpine town of Glenorchy: its gorgeous snow-capped mountain ranges and lush pastures served as the iconic setting for many scenes from Lord of the Rings.
Of course, no trip to New Zealand would be complete without visiting the majestic Milford Sound. Carved by glaciers in the last ice age, this magnificent fiord is framed by dramatic peaks and waterfalls, and is often called the “eighth wonder of the world”.
If you’re more of a foodie than a nature lover, travel to Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest wine-producing region. Explore award-winning vineyards and restaurants, and mark your calendar for the region’s biggest attraction: the Marlborough Wine & Food Festival (13 February 2016). Last but not least, make sure you visit some of the South Island’s staggeringly beautiful lakes – whether it’s Lake Pukaki, Wakatipu, or Tekapo, their crystal blue waters will mesmerize you.
Discover the unrivalled beauty of Milford Sound. Photo credit: Rob Suisted / Tourism New Zealand
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