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New Zealand, a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, is made up of two main islands, the North and South. The sheer scale and majesty of the natural landscapes and the relatively sparse population who inhabit them, are bound to leave a lasting impression.
The visitor experience here is quite unlike any other – combining the ease and convenience of travelling in a highly developed economy with the natural un-spoilt beauty and wilderness of some the world’s most pristine and breathtaking landscapes – welcome to New Zealand.
From the Bay of Islands, Auckland and Wellington on the North Island to Christchurch, Queenstown and the awe inspiring Fiordland on the South, a trip to New Zealand is a trip of a life time, and will leave you with a memory bank of razor sharp images and experiences of the people and landscapes of these remarkable islands.
New Zealand has a distinctly more progressive record of LGBT rights than its big sister, Australia.
Following anti-discrimination legislation enshrined in the country’s Human Rights Act of 1993, and the granting of civil partnerships in 2005, full and formal LGBT equality was completed in 2013 with the passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Act. The first gay marriages took place in August 2013, attracting worldwide press attention. New Zealand also has equality in adoption, with gay married couples now able to adopt children jointly.
With a population of less than 5 million, there simply aren’t enough resident kiwis to support a major urban gay scene. The country’s largest city, commercial hub and international gateway, Auckland, has the most developed scene with several Gay Bars & Clubs and plays host to the largest of the country’s annual pride events held every February.
What you will find throughout the country is a relaxed and friendly local scene well integrated into the local community.
Auckland International Airport is the main arrival and departure gateway for New Zealand.
The airport is served by a dozen airlines with direct connections to destinations such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile and Tokyo.
New Zealand has very strict bio-security laws. Make sure you are not bring in any banned items or run the risk of a hefty fine.
The best advice is to plan how to experience and travel around New Zealand well in advance.
All the options are here – from well connected domestic airports linking all the major urban centres of both islands, the Overlander train service that runs the length of the North Island, ferry connections between North and South, and a tourist train line from Christchurch to the West Coast. There is also a nationwide modern fleet of buses, which will take you everywhere.
Driving in New Zealand is a breeze and a great experience in itself. The roads are well maintained, though often narrow and very windy, adding to the appeal. The good roads, and lack of major congestion attracts international motorcyclists to the country in particular, and they come in droves every year.
New Zealand’s seasons are : Spring from August to November; Summer from December to March; Autumn from April to May; Winter from May to August.
Bear in mind that New Zealand school summer holidays extend until the end of the first week of February.
In general, New Zealand has a temperate climate, with the North of the North Island being almost subtropical in the summer, and only mildly cold in the winter, to the South of the South Island where winters are the harshest. The sunniest spot year round is Nelson at the North of the South Island.
The raw natural beauty of New Zealand is by far and away its main attraction. There are world class facilities on offer for every kind of outdoor activity – from adrenaline pumping adventure sports to sailing, fishing, mountain climbing, wilderness hiking and cycling forest trails, and some forty golf courses.
Experiencing a taste of Maori culture, touring the countryside, visiting the stunning coastline and beaches as well as the main urban centres, and sampling the local cuisine will ensure a full and rewarding itinerary.
What follows here is but a brief outline of the major tourist attractions, from North to South:
Northland – the northernmost region of the New Zealand, with stunning beaches and incredible fauna and forests. In particular:
Waipoua Forest – to see the last of the huge ancient kauri trees
The Bay of Islands – many sailing and mini cruise options to take in the 144 islands in the bay of this major tourist area centred around Kerikeri, Paihia, and across the bay, the white washed Georgian houses of tiny Russell.
Waitangi – located in the Bay of Islands, is the place to visit for a quick lesson in New Zealand history, and the Waitangi Treaty.
Auckland – “City of Sails”, the nation’s commercial capital, largest city and international gateway.
Hamilton – fascinating town to visit on the Waikato river, and the venue for many festivals and events, including the annual hot air balloon festival.
Coromandel Penninsula – a wide sandy beaches and great hiking trails within easy reach of Auckland.
Rotorura – a centre for Maori culture and a geothermal hotspot.
Huka Falls – where the mighty Waikato river is forced through a narrow channel of bedrock, with the trademark kiwi adventure jet boating tours on offer to get up close and personal to the cascading white water.
Lake Taupo – a lake in large dormant volcano that attracts adventure sports fans for jet boating and sky diving.
Napier – rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1930’s, the town features many art deco building. The town holds and annual Art Deco weekend every February complete with vintage cars and the locals dressed up in 1930’s outfits.
Hawke’s Bay is a famous wine producing area.
New Plymouth – West Coast city famous for its music and arts festivals as well as hosting other major concerts throughout the year.
Wellington – ‘the Windy City’, cultural and official capital city of New Zealand.
The Cook Strait lies between the North and the South Island, and connecting them is the InterIslander ferry which runs from Wellington to Picton. Known as one of the most spectacular ferry crossings in the world, this is a three hour ferry ride you will not want to miss.
Nelson – located at the very centre of New Zealand, at the top of the South Island. This arts-focused town has a great local restaurant scene, as well as local wineries, a stunning coastline and three national parks all within easy reach. It is the ideal starting point for touring the South Island from.
Abel Tasman National Park – The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of the Great Walks of the New Zealand. At 51km though it is quite some way and will take 3-5 days to complete the entire route.
From here down is best to plan a route to criss-cross the South Island to take in the sights.
From Christchurch, the road to Twizel delivers the first glimpse of New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook from the stunning turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo, and on to Lake Pukaki for closer views of the mountain.
From Twizel, travel through central Otago to Cromwell, the Lindis Pass, the river Kawarau to Queenstown. You will want at least two days to experience Queenstown, the adrenalin adventure capital of the world.
From Queenstown, take the shore drive along beautiful Lake Wakatipu to access the remotest and wildest region of all, Fiordland.
The small town of Te Anua is a good base to explore the famous Milford Sound, one of the major highlights of the South Island. This amazing fiord is accessed via a long winding road up the valley from the town – a stunning drive.
A second, equally stunning fiord to visit is Doubtful Sound. It is accessible only by boat across Lake Manapori to the site of a huge underground power station. A coach then takes you to the head of Doubtful Sound, Deep Cove, to connect with the cruise boats for a truly awe inspiring cruise along this most remote and beautiful of places.
The onward route takes you back through Queenstown and then high over the Crown Range for stunning views back down over the town, and on to lovely Wanaka, with snow capped mountains ringing the beautiful lake on which the town is situated. Wanaka is idyllic and peaceful in comparison to Queenstown, and well worth a visit.
From Wanaka, drive north to access the West Coast region across some of the most dramatic New Zealand landscapes.
Walk around Lake Matheson for stunning views of the Southern Alps reflected in the still waters, before taking time to experience the Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier.
The West Coast road from here takes to Hokitake and then up to Greymouth. North of here are the Pancake Rocks, an incredible coastal formation of limestone rocks which resemble enormous piles of… pancakes. This particular route takes you back to the Nelson at the top of the South Island.
This route doesn’t include the South East corner of the South Island, which has the towns of Dunedin, with a strong Scottish heritage, Invercargill or Stewart Island.
Allow plenty of time, ideally around three to four weeks on both islands!
Special thanks to Tourism New Zealand for kind permission to use their photos on our site.