New Zealand holds a very special place in my heart. I first visited this beautiful country in 2007 on my year out between school and university, and did the hop-on / hop-off Kiwi Experience tour of both islands, which was the perfect introduction to both New Zealand and travelling in general, firmly injecting the travel bug into me for life.
I was then lucky enough to go again in 2014 during my big trip around the world with Adam. This time, we hired a car and travelled around ourselves, staying in a mixture of hostels and self-catered properties. It was during this leg of our adventure that we got engaged on a romantic, secluded beach in Abel Tasman National Park on the north coast of the South Island!
For us Brits, going all the way to the other side of the world is a fairly daunting prospect and usually a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so it's difficult to know where to start and how to maximise your time. However, I can assure you that New Zealand is completely worth the travel time and cost. From cascading waterfalls and dramatic fiords, to magnificent mountain ranges and mesmerising glaciers; volcanic hiking trails and whale watching trips, to acres of vineyards and pristine beaches, there is so, so much to see and do on this little pair of islands. It may be populated by more sheep than people (perhaps that's the appeal!) but you certainly won't be lost for activities.
As this is my first post on New Zealand, I've started by putting together an overview of it as a destination and some advice on planning your visit. I'll then be posting a suggested road trip itinerary on the blog for anyone ready to take the next step!
How Long To Go For
Personally, I would say if you're travelling from the UK, 3 weeks would be the minimum to get the most out of your trip to New Zealand. The ideal time, if you have the luxury to take it, would be 5-6 weeks with a short stopover en route but you could equally see a lot of both islands in 2-3 weeks.
Flights from London are usually about £1,000 return (with one stop) to Auckland or Christchurch, with Virgin Atlantic, Qatar Airlines, Air New Zealand and Emirates offering good prices. There are range of places you can stop over, either as just a connection or for a couple of days to break up the journey. The destinations depend on which airline you go with, but options include Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore or China if travelling East or Los Angeles, San Francisco or Fiji if travelling West.
Remember to factor in travel time to your trip, plus a night or two in a connecting city en route if you'd like to break up the flight. The flight itself is approximately 24 hours and the time difference is 12 hours ahead of GMT.
What Time Of Year To Go
As it's in the southern hemisphere, the seasons in New Zealand are the reverse of what they are in the UK and Europe - i.e. Summer is November / December and January and Winter is June / July and August. With this in mind, when you go depends on what you'd like to get out of the trip. However, unless you're keen to go skiing (which there is a great set-up for on the South Island), I would recommend NZ's Summer or Autumn (December - April) as great times to go. The weather tends to be mild during this period, with less rainfall.
However, when planning your trip, remember that - despite it being a small country - the climate changes dramatically in different areas. The top of the North Island (known as the Bay Of Islands) tends to be consistently warm in the Summer and Autumn months, averaging around 20°, whilst Milford Sound on the South Island is more likely to be around 10°-12°. The key is to take clothes for all weather types and be prepared to layer up!
How To Get Around
As I say, my first experience of New Zealand was with the Kiwi Experience which is a great option if you're a young traveler looking to meet like-minded backpackers and get your first taste of travelling on your own or in a pair.
If you're a more experienced traveler though, I would recommend hiring a car and doing the most epic of road trips! We hired our car through Apex Car Rentals who were brilliant and give the option to purchase and book your ferry pass (to get between the two islands) with your car hire, which is very handy.
Not only does self-driving mean you get to travel around at your own pace, but also that you get to see some amazing sights en route. It gives you the flexibility to be spontaneous, stop whenever you like for photo opportunities and go off the beaten track to visit places that other tourists may not have access to. Plus, the Kiwis drive on the left like us Brits so no need to panic about going around a roundabout the wrong way! You can even take this one step further and hire a camper van to have your transport and accommodation with you at all times. New Zealand is brilliantly geared up for this with tons of campsites and holiday parks across the two islands.
The public transport services are also good. There are reliable bus and train services in all of the major cities and the TranzAlpine Railway is a great option for those wanting to experience a scenic journey across the South Island. Getting between the islands on the ferry is very simple too - travelling between Wellington and Picton takes just over 3 hours across the Cook Strait and is provided by either Blue Bridge or Interislander.
Areas To See
Where to start?! You definitely need to do your best to see both island during any trip, but from there it really depends on how much time you have and what your priorities are. Adrenaline junkie? Head to Queenstown. Wildlife lover? Visit the Otago Peninsula and Kaikoura. Wine connoisseur? Don't miss the Marlborough region and Waiheke Island.
On the North Island, I would say that the key highlights are:
The Bay of Island is an area at the very tip of the North Island which is perfect for boat trips, dolphin watching and learning about Maori culture and history.
The most populated city in New Zealand, Auckland boasts a wonderful harbour, cracking food and wine scene and great coastal islands.
Located just a two and a half hour drive from Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is a stunning, lack-back spot on the East coast which is made up of immaculate beaches and native forests.
Taupo is full of geothermal activities, with it's 33km wide lake and hot springs, whilst the Tongariro National Park is the home of 'Mount Doom' from The Lord Of The Rings and has three active volcanoes.
The capital city of New Zealand, Wellington, has tons of charm with the main attractions being the historic cable car and extensive Te Papa Museum.
On the South Island, I would suggest:
Abel Tasman is beautiful coastal paradise perfect for relaxation and adventure. Take time to explore it's pristine beaches, guided walks, kayak tours and boat trips.
The most English of the Kiwi locations, Christchurch is a charming heritage city with a river running through and beautiful Botanical Gardens.
Though only a tiny coastal town, Kaikoura is a hotspot for an abundance of marine life. Do whale watching and swimming with seals trips from here.
Mount Cook itself is the highest mountain in New Zealand, the glacial lakes that border the mountain range are magical and it's a great place for star-gazing.
Sitting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is renowned for adventure sports including bungee jumping, coasteering and skiing. It has spectacular views over the lake and The Remarkables mountain range.
Milford Sound is a mesmerising fiord in the South West of the South Island boasting dramatic waterfalls, mirror lakes and an array of wildlife.
As you can see, there's masses to see and do and the scenery truly is spectacular. I'll be posting a road trip itinerary soon as well as a piece on my favourite spots to visit. In the meantime, please do post any questions or places you'd like to know more about in the comment section below!