Soaring snow-capped peaks meet implausibly blue lakes in this far off land, a paradise for foodies, wine lovers, adrenaline junkies and anyone who appreciates staggering natural beauty. Fall is a perfect time to visit the southern hemisphere – temperatures are cool but not icy, attractions are a little less crowded and what’s more, this April sees New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, host the Pacific Asia Volleyball Challenge and the Pacific Asia Under 20s Challenge.
Although not the capital, Auckland is a fine place to start your Kiwi explorations, hiking the surrounding volcanoes, including One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie in Maori), a volcanic cone and site of a former Maori fortification. Hiring a car is the ideal way to see New Zealand and it’s a pretty three-hour drive south from Auckland to the notoriously pongy town of Rotorua. The sulphuric stink is what brings travellers here though – to witness its spurting geysers and cleanse in the hot springs and natural thermal mud pools. Delve into a little Maori culture before taking to the road for the long drive south.
New Zealand’s capital, Wellington sits on the southern edge of the North Island and despite being long overshadowed by its larger counterpart, Auckland, has come into its own as a bohemian city with an ultra-cool cafe culture. Cuba Street is an essential stop for caffeine addicts and the surrounding streets offer superlative shopping and dining. Wellington’s main attraction, other than its eateries, is the Te Papa Museum, an homage to NZ’s history, art and culture, with excellent exhibits on the Maori. The city center is charming enough to keep you hooked, but for an alternative view, take the tram-like cable car to the Botanic Gardens sitting above central Wellington.
A three-hour ferry ride carries you across the Cook Strait to New Zealand’s true travel paradise, the South Island. Begin on the east coast with a touch of whale watching in the exquisite town of Kaikoura. Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean and backed by soaring snow-capped peaks, this is one of the world’s prettiest peninsulas and a great place to kick back and enjoy some wildlife viewing. Charming Christchurch sits 120 miles south and while the city center was devastated by the February 2011 earthquake, locals are picking up the pieces and welcoming tourists more than ever. En route stop to explore the vineyards of Waipara with their crisp, cool- weather wines. Many Christchurch attractions remain closed, but the Grand Tour is an ideal way to get a feel for this English-inspired city. Enjoy punting on the river Avon and learn about regeneration projects to rebuild the city before taking the astoundingly beautiful drive to Queenstown through pine plantations, rolling green hills dotted with sheep, craggy outcrops and turquoise lakes.
Queenstown is New Zealand’s adventure capital – a place to ski, skydive, bungee jump, raft on white water, hang glide and take a white-knuckle jet boat ride. For something a little tamer, take the gondola for unrivalled vistas over the alpine-esque town or visit Kiwi Birdlife Park – your best bet for seeing NZ’s national bird. Most people visit the splendor of the waterfall-fed Milford Sound on a day trip from Queenstown, but if time (and energy) is on your side, you could arrive at the mountain-fringed fjord along the Milford Track, a four-day hike considered one of the world’s finest.
In Auckland, try the Auckland City Hotel (157 Hobson Street, tel. 09 925 0777) – a stylish city center option with rooms starting at a very reasonable NZ$130. The sister property, Hotel Arena, has simpler rooms from NZ$79 for an en-suite double. Perhaps Wellington’s most famous place to sleep is the arty Museum Hotel, (90 Cable Street, tel. +64 4 802 8900), where the main claim to fame is that the entire structure was transported, intact, about 400 feet down the street to make way for the Te Papa Museum. Rooms from NZ$220. Base Wellington (21-23 Cambridge Terrace, tel. 04 801 5666) is a more affordable place to stay, a lively backpackers’ hostel with dorms from NZ$29 and en-suite doubles starting at NZ$100. For a quirky and well-priced option with excellent facilities in Christchurch, try The Jailhouse (338 Lincoln Road, Addington, tel. 0800 524 546), located in a former prison (dorms from NZ$30, doubles from NZ$79). Orari Bed & Breakfast (42 Gloucester Street, tel. 0800 267 274) is a short walk from the city center and has charming rooms (double from NZ$185) in a restored heritage home.
One of Auckland’s longest running and best-loved eateries is The White Lady, a mobile burger bus that’s been feeding the after-pub crowd since the 1940s. Find it each evening at the corner of Commerce and Fort Streets, tel. 09 379 5803. In Wellington try some unusual pizza toppings and a pint or two of micro-brewed beer at One Red Dog (Steamship Wharf Building, North Queens Wharf, tel. 04 918 4723) – options include the pizza topped with lamb shank, pumpkin and rosemary or the tandoori chicken pizza with popadoms and butter chicken sauce. Matterhorn (106 Cuba Street, tel. 04 384 8918 ) is an award-winning, upmarket dining option with an exquisite menu for those seeking a culinary splurge. Like its attractions, many of Christchurch’s restaurants remain closed, though you can still gorge on English high tea, home-grown meals and decadent desserts at Sweethearts at Berryfields (161 Gardiners Road, Harewood, tel. 0064 3 359 5630), 15 minutes out of town. Back in town, Cook ‘n’ with Gas (23 Worcester Blvd, tel. 03 377 9166) has a great menu of local beers and offers outdoor dining. Among Queenstown’s many eating options is The Cow (Cow Lane, tel. 03 442 8588), whose down-to-earth menu remains exactly as it was when this cowshed-turned-restaurant opened in 1976. Wai's (Steamer Wharf, Beach Street, tel. 03 442 5969) seafood and oyster-heavy menu offers upscale dining on the water’s edge.
Theatre buffs are well catered for in Auckland at The Edge (50 Mayoral Drive and 269 Queen Street, tel. 09 357 3355), comprised of four venues featuring theatre, music and dance. In Wellington, the long-standing Bodega (101 Ghuznee Street, tel. 04 384 8212) hosts wide-ranging live music acts most nights. Winnies (7-9 The Mall, tel. 03 442 8635) in Queenstown serves gourmet pizzas and a charming gimmick – a retractable roof that opens periodically meaning you might find yourself suddenly dancing under the stars. Minibar (Eureka Arcade, The Mall, tel. 03 441 3212) is a laid-back drinking spot with over 100 beers hailing from more than 30 countries.
Originally published in February 2012