The Best of New Zealand: A Country of Contrasts
The destinations that surprise us the most are the ones where the experiences shift so dramatically from the serenity of the great outdoors to the bright lights of buzzing cities, or from ancient sites to the more modern.
If there is one country that tops the list it’s New Zealand. As you travel from the volcanic north to the glacial south, the switch between scenery is particularly impressive. So much so, that it’s probably unsurprising that New Zealand has been chosen as a set location for blockbuster films.
Without further ado, here are our top sights and experiences on our Breathtaking New Zealand tour to get that all-encompassing experience.
FIRE AND ICE
The warm and emerald green North Island was shaped by volcanic activity, evidenced in the thermal springs around Rotorua.
To see it all from another perspective, you can book an optional helicopter flight over Mount Tarawera Volcano where a bird’s eye view will give you uninterrupted views of the crater lakes and domes which were formed by an eruption in 1886. Now dormant, the views are made even more impressive by your guide’s colourful commentary on the geology and Maori legends associated with this volcanic treasure.
Meanwhile the boiling mud pools and spouting geysers of Te Puia Thermal Reserve is otherworldly as you stand and watch the pools bubble away at the surface like a pot on a stove. It will certainly leave you wondering how they were formed.
Then it’s time to turn down the heat a little on Lake Taupo - New Zealand’s largest freshwater lake. Formed in a caldera, it’s roughly the size of Singapore! The lake is popular for trout fishing, boat trips and kayaking, while in the forests which surround it, mountain biking and hiking are just some of the popular pursuits here so it’s the perfect stop to relax, stretch your legs and soak up all the buzz around the lakeside.
Hopping over to the South Island, we’ll visit the Franz Josef Glacier, on the west coast, which we’ll explore on our way to Queenstown. At more than 7 miles long, it has a high flow rate which means it’s a constantly moving section of ice. As a result, it’s much more dramatic and impressive to look at versus the other 2,900 glaciers in New Zealand! It’s also one of the country’s steepest glaciers, descending from the Southern Alps to just 300 metres above sea level.
FILM SETS TO VINEYARDS
Fans of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings franchise, will not have any trouble deciding to book the optional excursion to Hobbiton on the North Island. The lush green pastures of this 1,250 acre sheep farm affords spectacular views of the mountains.
Stop at Bag End, where Frodo and Bilbo’s adventures began, find yourself lost in hobbit holes, visit the Green Dragon Inn, and enjoy hearing spell-binding tales of how Hobbiton was realised.
Napier, as well as being notorious for some of the finest art deco style buildings influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, also has the ideal climate on the north island for growing grapes. It would be remiss of us not to attest to this, and so a visit to a winery is a great opportunity to sample some of the locally cultivated wines, with dinner on the estate too.
GLOWING CAVES TO DAZZLING CITIES
It’s hard to describe the Waitamo Caves in a way that truly does it justice, so you’ll have to see them for yourself – seeing is believing after all! Home to thousands of glow-worms, travelling through this mesmerising grotto is an incredible out of this world experience.
More than 30 million years in the making, you’ll be able to marvel at Mother Nature’s light display as you cruise silently through this galaxy of tiny living lights. The glow-worm is unique to New Zealand, and you’ll be awe-struck by the history and legends of this gem of an attraction.
There’s more to dazzle you with on this tour, with three cities to explore as part of this 18-day adventure, and each have their own character.
The first city you’ll encounter on this tour is Auckland with its dazzling skyline and bustling waterfront packed with seafood restaurants and bars. If there’s one thing you won’t want to miss it’s the Sky Tower which will help you get your bearings, and enjoy the panoramic views of the city laid out all around you in all its glory.
Next up before you head across to the South Island, is Wellington – the capital of New Zealand. Get ready for a day at your leisure – you may wish to take the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens or visit the Te Papa museum and discover the fascinating history of New Zealand and how it’s blossomed into the stunning country you see today as part of its permanent collection and rotating exhibitions.
Christchurch – monikered the most English city outside of England is perfect for getting a familiar taste of home. A city for exploration, you’ll find everything here from nature to urban sights, with wide open green spaces, street art, modern architecture, and the Avon River which intersects the city.
WILDLIFE AND GOING WILD
Whilst Australia is blessed with vibrant birdlife such as parrots and parakeets, the birds in New Zealand are more demure, but equally as fabulous with their quirky characters.
The cheeky Kia is an animated bird that lives in snowy conditions, and believed to be the only alpine parrot in the world. Keep your eyes peeled for them on the South Island, and if one is taking flight above you, look out for their underwings which feature flashes of gorgeous greens and sunshine oranges.
And there are a number of endangered birds here too, so keen birdwatchers will be in their element with the myriad of birdlife that awaits, including the Meccano-like Albatross and the peculiar and clumsy-looking Spoonbill which all seem to wow and delight visitors.
From in the wild over to going wild, with New Zealand being a hub for all kinds of active adventures, if you’re looking to ramp up the thrill factor, you can take a jet boat ride on the Dart River in Queenstown, followed by a bush walk and 4x4 adventure.
A WORD FROM THE EXPERT, HOLIDAY DIRECTOR, SARAH:
"For me it’s all about the nature…although we visit some cities, it’s the nature that’s key, starting from when you arrive in Auckland and see the volcanic peaks as you look out to Rangitoto Island.
"And then there are the huge ancient trees that are growing, and a virtually constant view of the sea owing to the islands’ long and thin orientation, nature is there at every turn, including my absolute favourite, the Kia bird.
"Even though they are so close as a group, I’m always fascinated by the contrasting differences, from the volcanic peaks of the north and the alpine south, there’s something special for everyone to take away from this fire and ice tour."