Planning a trip to New Zealand?
I grew up in New Zealand so I know all the best places to go (and where to skip).
I have been basically everywhere in New Zealand (the only place still on my bucket list is Stewart Island – which I’m going to soon).
Keep reading for my ultimate guide to New Zealand: the best places you should go, where you should miss, and all my top tips for travelling in New Zealand.
TOP 11 PLACES YOU SHOULDN’T MISS
When friends are visiting New Zealand, these are the top places I tell them they shouldn’t miss:
- Northland: I love the Bay of Islands and Russell (I’ve done a couple of boat cruises – this one is my fav if you want to see the Hole in the Rock, and this one is my fav for a small boat that goes to less touristy islands). There’s also lots of quiet hidden beaches further north – Maitai Bay is one of my favs. It’s also worth going to Cape Reinga if you have time.
- Coromandel: Don’t miss Cathedral Cove – I was worried it would be overrated and touristy but it’s one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. There’s also lots of beautiful beaches in the Coromandel – Hahei is my favourite.
- Hobbiton: I don’t like Lord of the Rings, but I loved Hobbiton (buy your ticket in advance here so you don’t miss out). The little hobbit houses are so cute and there’s a really cute pub. If you’re in the area, also visit the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves – I’ve been to lots of glow worm caves in New Zealand and this was my favourite. I did the Black Water Rafting trip which was really fun.
- Tongariro Crossing: One of the best day walks in the world. Do not miss this if you come to New Zealand.
- Wellington: I lived in Wellington for 10 years and it’s one of my fav cities in the world. It reminds me of a mini-Melbourne (where I also used to live). Cool artsy vibe and lots of cool cafes and restaurants – especially around Cuba St.
- Abel Tasman: A beautiful walk (or kayak) along golden sand beaches with bright blue water. One of the best walks I’ve ever done. The full track is a 4-day hike, but if you’re not a big hiker or don’t have enough time you can do a day cruise.
- West Coast + Franz Josef: Some of my favourite places in New Zealand are on the West Coast – the Franz Josef Glacier, Blue Pools, and the drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka is one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand. Read my Ultimate Guide to the West Coast here.
- Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook: My favourite area in New Zealand. Bright blue lakes and snowy mountains. Make sure you go here – even if it’s out of the way. Read my Ultimate Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo Destination Guide for the best (and worst) things to do.
- Wanaka and Queenstown: I live in Wanaka and it’s one of the most beautiful areas in New Zealand – so many beautiful lakes, mountains, glaciers, and skiing. Read my Ultimate Wanaka Travel Guide and Ultimate Queenstown Travel Guide to find the best things to do (and what to skip). Going for a ski holiday? Don’t miss my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka and 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.
- Clyde and Central Otago: Not on many New Zealand bucket lists, but this area is incredibly beautiful. Cute old mining towns and a bright blue river. Try and incorporate it into your itinerary. Read my Ultimate Guide to Central Otago here.
- Fiordland – One of the best areas in New Zealand you shouldn’t miss – it’ similar to the fiords in Norway. Make sure you do a Milford Sound cruise and Doubtful Sound cruise – one of the best things I’ve ever done. Also do one of the beautiful Great Walks (Kepler Track, Milford Track, or Routeburn Track). Read my ultimate guide to Fiordland here.
OVERRATED PLACES YOU SHOULD MISS
New Zealand is beautiful, but like anywhere, there are some overrated places you should miss.
- Auckland: I still like Auckland – there’s some cute areas like Ponsonby (cute cafes and designer shops) and Waiheke Island (make are you do a winery tour). But it’s just like any big city. Only spend a day or two here.
- Christchurch: Christchurch is also just another big city. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go here or spend much time here. But if you’re passing through, spend a day here.
- Queenstown: I know I included this in my don’t miss list. But I think the actual town of Queenstown is overrated and too touristy. If you get out of town, there are incredibly beautiful spots though – like the Gibbston Valley wineries and Glenorchy. Read my Ultimate Guide to Queenstown to find the best places to go.
- North Island: I’m not saying don’t visit the North Island. Lots of my suggestions above are from the North Island. But spend most of your time in the South Island – it’s much more beautiful.
BEST AREAS IN NEW ZEALAND
Click on a region below for my detailed travel guides for that specific area.
BEST OF NEW ZEALAND
Not sure where to start? Read my curated collection of the best things to do in New Zealand.
WANT MORE SUGGESTIONS?
Feeling overwhelmed? Want more suggestions? Download my Wanaka Bucket List for free – find out my very favourite things to do and places to eat and drink in Wanaka.
TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING IN NEW ZEALAND
HOW TO GET AROUND NEW ZEALAND?
The easiest way to get around New Zealand is driving.
Unless you’re just sticking to the main cities (which you shouldn’t – the most beautiful places are outside the big cities) it’s really hard to get around by flying/taxi/public transport.
If you want to see the whole country, I recommend flying into Auckland. Hire a car and do a road trip from Auckland to Queenstown – and then get a domestic flight back to Auckland. (Or the other way around).
DRIVING: The best way to get around New Zealand is driving. I always book rental cars with rentalcars.com – it’s basically the booking.com of rental cars (same owners and concept). You enter your dates and location and it searches every rental car company and tells you every possible car available.
CAMPERVAN: A really popular way of getting around New Zealand, especially the South Island, is renting a campervan. Personally I don’t like campervans (boutique hotels and cute Airbnbs only please!), so I don’t have any recommendations for the best companies to use.
FLYING: Flying is a good option if you’re flying between big cities (e.g. if your international flight landed in Auckland, but you want to start your road trip in Queenstown and work your way back to Auckland).
Otherwise the better way to see New Zealand is driving. I wouldn’t fly from Queenstown to Christchurch, for example. It’s only a six hour drive and the scenery is beautiful – you could easily spend a week driving there, with all the beautiful stops on the way.
There are two main airlines in New Zealand – Air New Zealand (premium airline) and Jetstar (budget airline).
TRAINS: There are a few scenic train rides in New Zealand run by KiwiRail (also called Great Journeys of New Zealand) – the Northern Explorer (Auckland to Wellington), Coastal Pacific (Picton to Christchurch) and TranzAlpine (Christchurch to Greymouth).
I did the Northern Explorer years ago and just remember it was a very long trip. The most popular one is the TranzAlpine (I haven’t done it, but friends have said it’s beautiful).
But they are very much scenic rides. There isn’t a very good train network in New Zealand and I would def not recommend using trains as your primary way to get around.
BUS: The main bus network in New Zealand is Intercity. They go to all the main cities and quite a few smaller towns. But it would still be much easier to get around with a rental car. A lot of the beautiful sites in New Zealand (like the Wanaka Blue Pools) aren’t accessible by public transport.
FERRY: If you’re travelling between the North Island and South Island, you can get a ferry (both walk on passengers and cars). There are two main companies – Interislander and the Bluebridge. They’re both fine, but I’d say the Interislander is slightly nicer. I happily go on either though – just do whatever works best for your itinerary and budget.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Most cities and towns have public transport (buses usually; not many have trains). Just be aware if you’re wanting to go to all the beautiful spots, they are usually out of town and not easily accessible by public transport. That’s why I recommend driving.
TAXI/UBER: Most cities and towns have taxis. Be aware that a lot of small towns don’t have Uber (like Wanaka where I live).
TOURS: There are lots of tour companies that do big tour bus trips around New Zealand. Personally I don’t like these kind of tours, so I’d recommend self-driving instead.
I do like small group tours when I’m in a city though – especially walking tours, and gourmet food and wine tours. There’s also lots of amazing boat cruises in New Zealand. For some activities, it’s also the only way to see them (e.g. you can only see Hobbiton if you join a guided tour).
These are some of my fav tours in New Zealand:
- Bay of Islands boat cruise – do this one if you prefer a large touristy boat that goes to the Hole in the Rock, or this one if you prefer a small boat that goes to less touristy islands (I’ve done and recommend both)
- Hobbiton tour
- Waitomo Black Water Rafting
- Tongariro Crossing (it’s one way so you need transport)
- Abel Tasman day cruise
- Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike
- Tasman Glacier heli-hike
- Milford Sound cruise
- Doubtful Sound cruise
- Waiheke Island winery tour
- Queenstown gourmet food and winery tour
ACCOMMODATION IN NEW ZEALAND
I’m quite fussy with accommodation and only like Airbnbs or boutique luxury hotels – with Instagrammable interiors of course.
I always use Airbnb or booking.com to book my accommodation. There’s lots of beautiful Airbnbs in New Zealand. If you search on booking.com – you can usually find them cheaper. Booking.com also has an amazing loyalty programme – I get 10-20% off, free room upgrades and free breakfasts for most hotels.
I also love Mr & Mrs Smith – it’s a curated collection of the best luxury boutique hotels in the world. There’s a really limited selection of New Zealand hotels on there (less than 30) because they only include the very best hotels.
If you’re looking for the best luxury hotels in New Zealand, add these to your bucket list:
- Eagles Nest (Russell, Northland)
- Mudbrick Vineyard (Waiheke Island, Auckland)
- SO/ Hotel (Auckland) – I stayed here for my hotel quarantine when I flew from Scotland to New Zealand during the pandemic. It had beautiful interiors and amazing food.
- Hotel Britomart (Auckland)
- The Church (Coromandel)
- Huka Lodge (Taupo)
- Bay of Many Coves (Marlborough)
- Annandale (Pigeon Bay, near Christchurch)
- Fable (Dunedin)
- The Lindis (between Wanaka and Lake Tekapo/Mt Cook)
- Mahu Whenua (Wanaka)
- Minaret Station (Wanaka)
- Fiordland Lodge (Te Anau, Fiordland)
- Hulbert House (Queenstown)
- Eichardt’s Private Hotel (Queenstown)
WHEN TO GO TO NEW ZEALAND?
The best time to visit New Zealand depends on what you want to do.
- If you want to go skiing – August to mid-September is best. Before this, there won’t be enough snow or it will be the school holidays. After this, the snow will be too slushy. Whatever you do, don’t go in the July school holidays (or even the week after). It’s so busy and you’ll just be waiting in lines all day. The best places to ski are Wanaka and Queenstown. Read my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka and 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.
- If you’re not here for skiing, the best time to see New Zealand is February to April. The weather is beautiful (it’s Summer/Spring) and it avoids the Christmas school holidays which are super busy, especially around Queenstown and Wanaka.
HOW LONG TO SPEND IN NEW ZEALAND?
The biggest mistake I see is people not allowing enough time to see New Zealand.
I have so many people tell me they have two weeks in New Zealand and expect me to come up with an itinerary to get them from Auckland to Queenstown in two weeks.
You cannot see the whole country in two weeks!
You will just be driving the whole time and miss out on the most beautiful places.
- Allow at least two weeks if you only want to see the South Island
- Allow at least three weeks if you want to see the South Island and North Island
- Even with this, your trip will be rushed – long days driving and you might not be able to see everywhere on your bucket list
I recently spent a week just travelling around Northland (a small region at the top of the North Island) – and that felt rushed!
VISAS + COVID
New Zealand had very strict covid rules – the border was closed for almost two years, even to New Zealanders. (I was a New Zealander stuck overseas during covid – it was very hard trying to get back). Make sure you check the New Zealand immigration website for the latest covid and border closure rules.
People from most countries can travel to New Zealand for up to 3 months without getting a visa. You just need to get a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority. Check the New Zealand Immigration website to work out what visa you need.Plan-trip
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