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New Zealand stretches definitions and perceptions, evoking superlatives with unassuming ease and breathtaking power. Fictional worlds become vividly real, phantasmal landscapes burst with intimacy, while surreal adventure blends into natural tranquility. Welcome to a land like no other.
New Zealand offers a world of compelling contradictions. It brims with adventure yet the experience is often defined by serenity. Endlessly incomprehensible landscapes are matched by a friendly familiarity at every destination. Unique geological features test definitions of natural beauty, yet the journey through Middle Earth is a smooth one. It’s no wonder that the country is a favorite of Hollywood movie directors; there’s no need for enhanced graphics when every backdrop bursts with drama and vibrancy. Fjords slice through the South, jagged snowy peaks gaze upon calm alpine lakes, geothermal jets burst through Jurassic rock, while forest and beach merge before your eyes. And these aren’t grasped glimpses. Ethereal landscapes greet you from the plane window, tower over your boutique hotel, and accompany every intrepid turn.
Yet for all New Zealand’s surreal splendor, it’s the accessibility and ease of travel that impresses most. The country’s compact size is combined with an exemplary transport infrastructure, allowing those with limited time to jump deep into the experience. There’s an inherent capacity to excel and impress, reflected in the sublime array of accommodation, food, and tours. Visitors with more time can veer and venture, sweeping across the country to remote destinations that scream of a lost world. No day is ever lost here. Each journey is an integral part of the experience, whether it’s meandering through volcanic leftovers, zigzagging into jaw-dropping mountains, or rolling past fairytale farmland. Look left, look right, turn around, and the country continues to evoke superlatives. You may have seen Lord of the Rings on the big screen, but that doesn't come close to what New Zealand really looks like.
The country predominantly consists of two geologically distinct islands. The North is embodied by enchantment and tranquility, every vista dreamy on the eye as it effortlessly rolls and curves. The South Island comes from a different surrealist collection, jagged lines and dramatic mountains providing a theatrical stage for your adventure. Central to both are soothing picturesque lakes, calming expanses of water from which your photos are framed. And don’t forget the New Zealanders themselves; indigenous Maoris offer traditional tribal welcomes, outdoor enthusiasts guide you through forests, and in a land of such allure you can expect everyone to have a smile on their face. In this land of contradictions there’s no need to follow a single paradigm. Adrenalin, wanderlust, nature mixed with culture, movie indulgence meets fresh perspectives, settling into a tranquil rhythm; come to New Zealand and simultaneously have all kinds of different vacations. Her are just a few of the highlights from the unforgettable New Zealand get-away that awaits you:
- Adventure in the Wilderness: New Zealand’s unforgettable landscapes are not just pleasing on the eye, they’re epic wildernesses that demand exploration. This is a land of outdoor adventure and it rewards beginners and professionals alike; kayak across lakes to uninhabited hot springs, mountain bike along breathtaking forest trails, and enjoy a dazzling choice of hiking routes. In many places you’ll be doing it all in one day.
- Journeying from Sound to Sea: Most journeys have you glued to the window, eyes lost in a haze as the terrain twists beyond the imagination. The feeling of incredulity is symbolized by Milford Sound, a narrow fjord surrounded by mountainous walls and thunderous waterfalls. Take a boat cruise across the dolphin inhabited water, winding through astonishing panoramas to reach the Tasman Sea.
- Fantasy and Fiction Come to Life: It only takes one glance at New Zealand to confirm that the country really does resemble Middle Earth. Peter Jackson used hundreds of locations in both the South and North Islands, and he’s just one of many movie directors who keep returning to this visually fictional world. Tailored tours take you closer, revealing countless spots from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, plus a dazzling array of locations that have graced many Hollywood epics.
- Nature and Relaxation: There’s something indelibly serene about New Zealand. Nothing is rushed, nowhere is chaotic, and there’s a wonderful ease to traveling through the country. Epitomizing the tranquility are its many lakes, stunning bodies of water ringed by rich forest, snowy peaks, and volcanic remnants. Most popular destinations stand along the lakeshore, ensuring there’s a soothing accompaniment to every day of exploration. Furthermore, spending a day in a deserted lakeside spot and admiring the view provides the ultimate recuperation.
- Raising the Pulse and a Rush of Adrenaline: Queenstown revels in its fame for adrenalin, offering an unimaginable collection of activities to set the heart racing. The world’s first bungee jump was concocted here, so it’s no surprise to find a choice of jumps, swings, jet boat rides, luge trips, parasailing flights, zip lining, sky diving, and more. The mood in town is infectious, normally grabbing the most timid of visitors; however, like all of New Zealand, it’s also fun to just watch.
- Arial Views of it All: Engulf yourself in visual euphoria with a helicopter ride into the aesthetic brilliance. Fly above the dramatic scenes, cut between stark mountain walls, and then land in the middle of it all, the helicopter touching down on an immense glacier. A helicopter helps you appreciate the country’s endless scale, yet it also offers unforgettable close-ups of uninhabited worlds. These rides are on offer throughout the country, the most famous being a trip across Fjordlands National Park on the South Island.
In a country that exudes superlatives the list of unique experiences runs longer than a JRR Tolkien novel. Again, the accessibility and ease of travel enables visitors to enjoy the full range of this inimitability, often in just a single day. Here is just a selection of the experiences New Zealand has on offer:
- Trekking at Your Own Pace: It should come as no surprise that New Zealand excels in offering carefully managed hiking trails. Multi-day routes meander across mountain passes, the unending vistas accompanied by fabulously remote accommodation. The Milford and Heaphy tracks are some of the most famous in the world, but you don’t need strong legs and hiking experience to lace up the walking boots. Just spending a few easy hours trekking through the wilderness is what New Zealand is all about.
- Maori Cultural Immersion: The indigenous Maoris have always stoically defended the land, and they continue to reserve a spine-tinglingly authentic welcome for visitors. Their distinctive culture has been carefully preserved on the North Island. Be welcomed by a local chief, savor meals cooked on natural hot rocks, admire the vivacious power of their war dance, the Haka, and lose yourself in their traditions. A Maori experience is not a museum trip, it’s a very real immersion in a unique culture.
- Carving the Slopes: Pristine snow slopes cover the South Island during winter, offering idyllic conditions for first-time skiers and unbounded adventure for snow sport pros. Heliskiing is particularly popular, hundreds of uncharted slopes awaiting downhill carves and effortless escapades. The white slopes seem to perennially hang above your head, enticing everyone towards a day spent enjoying the powder.
- A Glimpse into New Zealand’s Prehistoric Past: Geothermal activity bubbles beneath the volcanic surface of the North Island, exploding out of any holes in the crust. Natural hot springs and geysers cover Rotorua, many of them fizzing at boiling temperatures and sending great jets of water into the sky. Framing these continual eruptions are seemingly prehistoric rock formations and shimmering colors.
- A Magical Miniature World: New Zealand’s movie set locations require little imagination. Open a short swinging gate and you're transported into Hobbiton, the cute village looking even more enchanting than the movie. Hobbit holes come with dwarf-sized gardens and circular doors; smoke flickers from the tavern chimney, and there’s an air of disbelief as you step into a magical world. It’s the attention to detail that completes this mythical experience; locally brewed Hobbit stout, postboxes, scarecrows, Middle Earth street signs, and thatched cottage roofs.
- A Peek into the Ice Age: The country was irrevocably shaped and altered by the ice age, striking geological expanses formed by uncontrollable glaciers. Crisp white ice remains in place, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier flowing through fresh rainforest and tumbling down to sea level. They offer one of the world’s most accessible opportunities to trek and explore landscapes that most people can only dream of glimpsing.
Depending on who you ask, New Zealand’s weather is known for being temperamental. Ask any Australian and they’ll argue that it’s a country of grey skies and continual rain. This is a long way from the truth. While the country’s sunbathing season is short, myths about the climate shouldn’t put anyone off visiting. This is a Southern Hemisphere country, so the seasons will come at opposite times of year from home. There isn’t a wrong or bad time to go, although the regional weather ranges means that your itinerary will be partly shaped by the seasons. Such dramatic geography creates peculiar local diversity. For example, parts of the South Island’s West Coast receive an impressive 350 inches or more of rainfall a year. Cross the mountains and go east and it’s more in the vicinity of 30 inches.
This Pacific Ocean nation has a mellow climate, rarely hitting scorching temperatures or plunging to icy lows. Four distinct seasons play out through the year, with the South Island demonstrating far more variation than the sub-tropical North. Much like an English cliche, there can be a need to pack for all eventualities, and accurately predicting the weather is a challenging task.
Here’s a general guide:
Summer (December to February) - The hottest time of year and easily the peak season for tourism in New Zealand. Mid-December to the end of January is the school holiday period and the busiest time of year. During summer, the beaches become part of your itinerary and the skies are generally clear. Temperatures meander between 60 and 85ºF.
Fall (March to May) - An excellent time of year to experience the diversity of both New Zealand and its climate. It’s mild and mellow, with stunning color changes adding an extra dimension to the landscapes.
Winter (June to August) - Snow hits the South Island and the ski slopes add another dimension to your vacation. It gets cold and below freezing in the South, although that’s often combined with crisp blue skies. Throughout the rest of the country you’ll be visiting during off peak times, meaning that the experience is virtually yours alone. The North Island weather is temperamental but rarely too cold.
Spring (September to November) - Usually the wettest season but New Zealand in fresh bloom more than compensates. You can still see snow in the South in spring while the North Island weather begins to reach summer proportions. Spring is another good season for New Zealand’s diverse experiences and spectacular landscapes.
Don’t be expecting typical accommodation in a country of idiosyncratic landscapes and adventures. New Zealand finds a way to carefully enhance the experience with a subtle array of boutique accommodation and cute specialties; after all, this is the home of Hobbit holes. Many of the big luxury hotel chains are represented and they respect the local tastes when creating the five-star experience. Gleaming hotel blocks wouldn’t sit comfortably, even in the cities. However, slick and chic interiors should be expected, alongside the kind of personal service that all travelers dream of. It’s rare that you’ll be one of a thousand other guests. Whether you’re in a city hotel or lakeside cottage, there’s a delightful intimacy to the country’s accommodation.
Small boutique hotels are likely to feature highly on your itinerary. Even the chain hotels have ensured that each of their establishments is indelibly unique. Lounge areas and onsite restaurants effortlessly blend into an inimitable style, while spacious rooms inject a subtle dose of opulence. Locations are often unbeatable, gazing out onto the wild landscapes that you’ve come to see. New Zealand has lots of space and few towns or developments. Choose between the stunning isolation of a small lakeside or mountain hotel, or spend the night in the center of town. Either way, it will be blissfully quiet.
As you travel farther into the wilderness a range of alternative accommodation choices become available. Serviced mountain huts are available for hikers on multi-day trips, or intrepid visitors looking for the ultimate escape. Hidden in the forest you’ll find enchanting cottages and cute bed and breakfasts. In fact, all across the country you'll find unique accommodation options that can provide families and couples with absolute seclusion. Whatever you choose, you can be guaranteed exceptional quality. New Zealand is a rich nation and it ensures that the wonder of your experience never gets wanes.
Visa and Passport Requirements
The US, Canada, and most EU countries are on the visa waiver list and mean that visitors do not need a visa to travel to New Zealand. Those from other countries should check the New Zealand immigration website. You will be granted a stay of up to three months (six months for UK citizens) upon arrival. Immigration officials ask polite questions about the purpose of your trip and told that this visa-free entry must be for “lawful purposes.” To avoid any complications, carry a printout of your return air ticket and travel vouchers / itinerary.
The country is particularly keen to prevent the import of foreign materials. There are strict regulations restricting flora and fauna. Visitors rarely deliberately fall afoul of this, but it’s easy to accidentally break the law. Fruit and vegetables are banned, so a careless banana in your bag will leave you with a big fine. Tent pegs, walking boots, and anything that’s used outdoors, is likely to be inspected. Don’t worry too much, there are clear instructions and signs as you arrive in customs, as well as honesty bins for freely declaring anything that you didn’t intend to bring.
Visitors to New Zealand are highly unlikely to encounter any health or safety issues. This is a place where people still leave their doors unlocked, even when they go out. An encompassing culture of watching out for others pervades throughout the country, and it won’t be long before you slip into a routine of saying hello to everyone you pass.
While adrenalin fueled activities like bungee jumping sound dangerous, the country’s adventure industry has an exemplary safety record and procedures. It’s easy to get carried away in New Zealand, so it’s worth remembering your own limitations, particularly when participating in activities like mountain biking and heliskiing.
Healthcare and hospitals are among the best in the world. While there’s not that many of them, guides have direct contact with helicopter evacuation units so you’re never more than an hour from a hospital. No vaccinations are required other than those recommended for general life in the US or Europe, although some travelers may require specific vaccinations when traveling abroad.
Tap water is arguably the cleanest and tastiest in the world, usually piped from glacial streams and alpine rivers. Buying bottled water somehow just doesn’t feel right, especially when guides show you places to drink straight from the source.
Life moves slowly in New Zealand. From the moment you disembark the plane it’s easy to fall into the easygoing culture that epitomizes the country. Nothing is ever rushed, then again, nothing needs to be rushed. The cities are tiny by US standards, the country is sparsely populated and wonderfully unpolluted, and there’s too much visual delight to do anything quickly. Having said that, the well-refined tourism industry has very high standards of professionalism. If your pick up time is 07:45, the vehicle will be outside at 07:40. Then the tour will invariable go at a leisurely pace, ensuring everything is savored and little is missed.
New Zealanders are open and welcoming, from modern Maori tribes to recently settled mountain guides. Outside the towns you’re unlikely to see very many people, so stopping to say ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ comes naturally. Most residents are in the country for the same reason you are; to explore, be surrounded by nature, and enjoy a peaceful way of life. If New Zealand sounds like your kind of place than the locals will be your kind of people.
ATM’s are readily available and almost all will accept Visa and MasterCard. American Express can be used by not everywhere. Almost every town has at least one; just remember that some towns can be quite far apart. Most establishments will take credit or debit card payments, so there’s little need to carry large amounts of cash. The New Zealand dollar is slightly weaker than its Australian equivalent and the US dollar.
The easy going nature of the country is one of its highlights. However, there’s one part of local culture that must be respected. Local authorities work hard to ensure the pristine landscapes can be perfectly preserved. There are absolutely no excuses for spoiling them with litter, however small. If ever the travel mantra of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos” could be personified it’s in New Zealand. And as soon as you lay your eyes on its immaculate bounty you’ll want to make sure it stays that way.