North Island Checklist

Bay of Islands

There are nearly 150 different islands in the Bay of Islands. After a few days in Northland’s travellers’ capital you may think there are almost as many ways in which to explore the region’s endless array of bays. Cruise to the famed Hole in the Rock or drop anchor in a sailing ketch and explore hidden coves in a kayak.

Auckland's West Coast

Known locally as ‘Westies’, the proud folk of West Auckland are an independent and fun-loving bunch. It’s all due to having a backyard that’s fringed by dramatic surf beaches and criss-crossed with hiking trails in the rugged native bush landscapes of the Waitakere Ranges.


Once you’ve settled into New Zealand, you owe it to yourself to explore the nearby nations of the South Pacific. While you’re saving up the airfare, let the Pacific come to you at Auckland’s annual Pasifika festival. Two days of music and cultural performances and 150 different food stalls provide an excellent insight into Auckland’s role as the world’s biggest Polynesian city.


The west coast surf town of Raglan has always drawn outsiders. Originally it was intrepid surfers drawn to the uniform and reliable waves of nearby Manu Bay and Whale Bay. Now the town’s got a relaxed bohemian vibe and you’re likely to discover trendy galleries, cool little cafes and relaxation spas amid the aromas of suntan lotion and surf wax.

Hahei & Cathedral Cove

With a combination of weather-aged limestone cliffs, native bush and white sand beaches, the area around Hahei and Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula takes some beating. Most visitors opt for a balance of kayaking and walking. Don’t miss the underwater snorkelling trail at Gemstone Bay.


The traditional tourist appeal of Rotorua is built on the considerable attractions of Maori culture and the steaming and bubbling energy of the region's volcanic terrain. Now ‘Roto-Vegas’ is an equal opportunity tourist town, and backpackers flock to test their mettle in an eclectic display of adventure sports activities. Somewhere in the middle are the Agrodome’s highly entertaining performing sheep.

Waitomo Caves

At Waitomo. locals claim that many caverns and underground cave systems are yet to be discovered. That hasn’t stopped enterprising folk from devising increasingly exciting ways to explore the labyrinth of limestone and underwater rivers. Gentle subterranean strolling is allowed, but much more fun is floating on inner tubes, abseiling or sweeping through the inky darkness on a flying fox.

Tongariro National Park

New Zealand’s first national park was created in 1887 as a gift by local Maori tribe to the nation. To experience the best of the park’s rugged volcanic scenery, trek the Tongariro Crossing track. You’ll complete it in around eight hours, but don’t be surprised if the spectacular vistas have you quickly plotting a return visit.

Whanganui River

The 329 kilometre Whanganui River was once a main conduit of trade and transport for Maori and European settlers. Roads and rail diminished its importance, and now most river transport is canoeists and kayakers exploring its bush-lined and meandering course.

Hawke's Bay Food & Wine Trails

With plenty of sunshine and the country’s most diverse soil types, the vineyards of Hawke’s Bay are New Zealand’s most versatile. The region’s Bordeuax-style red wines and oaky chardonnays are world renowned, but you’ll also find excellent versions of other wine varietals.

Driving the East Cape

Drive back in time along the Pacific Coast Highway (State Highway 35) from Te Kaha to Tologa Bay. Don’t try to do it in record time, because the wonderfully windy road hugs the coast in many places. The predominantly Maori locals are usually in no hurry either, driving cars of ill-defined vintage or riding horses to get from bay to bay.

Te Papa

New Zealand’s National Museum incorporates 36,000sqm of innovative and state-of-the-art displays in a spectacular building on Wellington's waterfront. In English Te Papa translates to ‘Our Place’. You should also regard it as ‘Your Place’ because there’s no better place to fast track your understanding of New Zealand history and culture.

South Island Checklist

Do a South Island Wine Tasting tour

So much wine, so little time. Sauvignon blanc in Marlborough, pinot noir in Waipara and Central Otago, chardonnay in Nelson – there’s a star varietal in each region, and a whole bunch of pretenders. You can get around the vineyards yourself, but the best way to relax and enjoy is to join a tour and let someone else do the driving.

Do a South Island Great Walk

There are any number of superb tramping experiences, but a few are iconic: the Queen Charlotte Walkway in Marlborough, the Abel Tasman National Park in Nelson, the Heaphy and the Wangapeka in north Westland, the Rees-Dart, the Routeburn and the Milford tracks in South Westland and the Hump Ridge Track in Southland are all justly internationally famous.

Visit Farewell Spit and Bluff

There’s an irresistible magnetism about the extremities of land masses, and the top and bottom respectively of the South Island are the long, sandy strand that is Farewell Spit, and Bluff, the windswept vantage from which you can contemplate the emptiness between yourself and Antarctica.

Visit Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks)

It’s a unique landform, and one of the most photographed parts of the South Island: it looks like a whole bunch of flat, pancake-shaped rocks stacked where the Tasman Sea swell can hammer them, and it does. Standing at the observation point above the blowholes when the sea is really running is a lesson in how inconsequential you are.

Visit Fox and/or Franz Josef Glaciers

Seeing as they’re a couple of the very few genuine glaciers in the world lying within easy view of the road and within a short walking distance of a carpark, it’d be an act of supreme ingratitude not to experience them, especially given how rare glaciers of any sort are predicted to become quite shortly. Get in while you can.

Experience the South Island’s Unique Wildlife

There are whales in Kaikoura, and a number of points about the coastline where you might see Hector’s dolphins. There are penguins great (yellow-eyed, at Oamaru, Dunedin and Curio Bay in Southland) and small (little blues, at Oamaru). There’s royal albatross at Taiaroa Head, Otago, kea in the high country, and white herons and kiwi at Okarito and even more kiwi on Stewart Island, takahe at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre, and kakapo on Ulva Island.

Soak in Hanmer Springs

Sure, the North Island has natural mineral hot springs. But does it have them way up in the mountains, where you can loll about in the water and look at the snow on the peaks, even on the ground about you? Hamner has been beautifully developed to ensure that a soak is as much a therapeutic as a recreational experience.

Ski (on or off-piste) the South Island

With all due respect to the North Island’s ski facilities, the South Island is the place to be with skis (or a snowboard) strapped to your feet. There are skifields everywhere, and for the most part, they are wide open and varied in their terrain. New Zealand’s best fields – Mount Hutt, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone and Cardrona are all here – as is the country’s only developed Nordic ski area in the Cardrona Valley.

Visit the Moeraki Boulders

Like the Pancake Rocks, the Moeraki Boulders are a geological curiosity and a massive tourist drawcard. They don’t look natural, and if they’re not natural, they’re a mystery. Everyone loves a mystery, and it helps if the subject of the mystery is located on a beautiful, secluded beach close to a fantastic restaurant. All that marveling and photography gives you an appetite.

Bike the Central Otago Rail Trail

You’ve been warned: the time to ride the 151 kilometres of level, well-graded track that skirts the great Maniototo Plain, full of light and history, is now, before the secret gets out. It’s easy riding, and you can break up the pedaling with stops at some of the best little pubs in the South Island, either to stay, to have lunch, or just to refuel.

Live Dangerously in Queenstown

First it was whitewater rafting and bungee jumping, now there’s any number of ways in the region you can look eternity in the eye without blinking – from jetboating and rafting to paragliding, skydiving, canyoning and riding the world’s fastest survivable flying fox.

Visit Milford Sound

The mountains rear straight out of the mirror-calm water, often shrouded in mist, and even more often with rain feeding hundreds of waterfalls. You can get a look at the undersea wonders at the observatory, and appreciate the Sound’s beauty above the water on a cruise, most likely escorted by dolphins as you go. There’s nowhere quite like it on earth.

Drive the Southern Scenic Route and Detour to Stewart Island

The best time to visit the places on the Southern Scenic Route is paradoxically the worst time. In winter, when it’s cold as charity, there’s no one about, and you can appreciate the solitary splendour of the beautiful beaches, the rugged headlands, the silent bush without distractions. Across Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island is one of the nation’s neglected gems, great for tramping and for fishing the way it used to be.

Visit the Chatham Islands

Not even the national television weather forecast remembers the Chathams are part of New Zealand. They’re an outpost, and while similar to bits and pieces of the mainland, they’re also different enough to let you feel you’ve travelled overseas. They’re hardly a pleasure spot — unless hunting or fishing are your chief pleasures —but you can hardly say you’ve seen all of New Zealand unless you’ve experienced Chatham Islands hospitality and bleak charm.

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