If you want to indulge in some international travel and the sound of going abroad is a bit frightening, NZ has got to be the least intimidating country to visit. It is so easy to navigate around and the tourist infrastructure is probably the best of any country I have visited. It is a hugely popular vacation destination, especially during the summer months. Being located in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand’s peak summer runs from December-February. If you are a winter person and you fancy a little chill in the air, the crowds along with the higher pricing can be avoided simply by visiting during winter or better yet, the shoulder season. However, you will sacrifice the warm summer weather and the opportunity to hang out on some of the worlds best beaches spread across this amazing country. Being the beach bums that we are, Barbie and I chose the warmth and the sun for all four of our months that we spent in New Zealand.
The good thing about New Zealand is there were still many undiscovered places to experience despite four extended visits here. It’s easy to go off the beaten path even if you’re not trying to – and with a country whose population is less than 5 million, don’t be surprised if you find there’s no one else around. There were times we were the only people around on some of the most awesome beaches and walks. One of my favorite things about New Zealand is that it’s so remote with so few people. Driving around the roads of both islands confirmed the fact that New Zealand is mostly rural farmland with more sheep than people. This country is an amazing empty space.
On our road trip around New Zealand, we got the feeling of being engulfed in one large national park with the most incredible landscape. Whenever we choose to visit a new country, we place a big emphasis on the need to see beautiful landscapes, sweeping beaches and lush natural spots in order to feel comfortable and at peace. Lucky for us, New Zealand has that in strides. The entire country, especially the South Island is like a fairy tale. Maybe that explains why Lord of the Rings was filmed here. No matter where you are in New Zealand, you are approximately 15 minutes from somewhere spectacularly beautiful and always a stone’s throw away from a place that will make your jaw drop open in awe. It is one of the most beautiful countries we have visited and that explains why we chose a repeat visit here, despite so many other parts of the world yet to be seen on our RTW. The other big draw is the strong dollar which help keeps costs down and the fact that New Zealand is a ‘No Tipping’ culture.
Camping is a big deal in New Zealand. The Kiwi culture is all about camping, hiking (or “tramping” as they call it here), and exploring the outdoors. Hands down, without a doubt, the best way to experience New Zealand is to rent a car and explore it on your own. There’s something about having the freedom to travel at your own pace, visiting only the sites you want to see, all in the comfort and flexibility of your own vehicle. If you love a good road trip filled with outdoor activities, nature, and jaw dropping scenery, than a trip to New Zealand should be at the top of your “must-see” lists. Campervaning is also a great way to see the country. Just about every other vehicle on the South Island appeared to be some version of a camper van decked out with fully functional compact kitchens and sleeping area. We passed on traveling and sleeping in a campervan and instead opted to rent a car. We preferred the comforts of staying in Airbnb’s and random backpacker joints when we felt the mood to partake in the camaraderie of fellow travelers. We really enjoyed chatting with people from all over the world who all seemingly have the right outlook on life. We rarely came into contact with any Americans in New Zealand. I heard that only about a third of Americans even have passports. Even when we road tripped the USA years ago to all the National parks in Utah, we would often meet more foreigners than US citizens in our own national parks. It’s really unfortunate.
Over the last few years on our RTW journey, we often met people from New Zealand, and were struck by how kind they were. That being said, I was not prepared for just how friendly everyone is in New Zealand. I’ve always heard that kiwis were friendly folk, but I had no idea how friendly! Of all the countries we have visited, New Zealand wins being home to the nicest people in the entire world. Just being around locals made me me cognizant of my own attitude and persona. I know I will be leaving New Zealand 100 times friendlier than when I arrived, I just don’t know how long this will last in the world outside this oasis.
Saying goodbye to New Zealand and our great outdoor wilderness adventure felt like leaving home after spending so much time exploring the country. It’s one of those places and experiences where before you leave, you’re already planning your next trip there. If I were ever to think about moving abroad, coming to a place with the friendliest and happiest people makes all the difference.
New Zealand is split between two islands, the aptly named North and South Islands. Each island offers a slightly different experience. The South Island boasting most of the top natural attractions coupled with dramatic scenery and the North Island getting the edge with its stellar beaches. Before giving the top beach prize to the North Island, I must say the Nelson region (northern part) of the South Island in the Abel Tasman National Park area, is home to some killer beaches.
We spent anywhere from 3-6 nights in each of the places listed below during our four (4) months in New Zealand. If you are blessed with four months of time off and are able to hit up all of these hot spots, you will be very well served. Each town has super helpful, I-Site information centres which makes planning an itinerary and activities simple. Note, you can also read my North Island & South Island blog posts that go into greater detail from our first visit to New Zealand.
Video – Top Walks & Sights
NORTH ISLAND –
BAY OF ISLANDS –
New Zealand’s largest city. If pressed for time, you will be better served moving onto other locations.
WAIHEKE ISLAND –
A short ferry ride from Auckland and must visit for several nights or longer during summer months to enjoy the fabulous beaches and relaxed vibe.
COROMANDEL PENNINSULA – (Hahei, Whitianga)
Scenic drive up the western coast of Peninsula into the town of HAHEI (best place to base). Some of the best beaches in New Zealand.
Touristy town but many cool activities including amazing geothermal features of the area.
The big activity is exploring the magnificent Waitomo Caves. Many full day tour options (Black Water Rafting & Abseiling)
Cool surfer/beach town with a mellow 70’s beach town vibe.
All activity revolves around beautiful Lake Taupo and the awesome Waikato River.
OHAKUNE – (TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK)
Home of the world famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, many day hikes and a bunch of ski resorts.
New Zealand’s capital city and proudly named the “Coolest little capital in the world”. Wellington doesn’t even feel like a city.
SOUTH ISLAND –
MARAHAU / KAITERITERI – (Abel Tasman National Park)
Best to visit in warm summer months for beaches and amazing single day and multi-day walks.
GOLDEN BAY – (Pukawau & Tata Beach)
Many cool activities best explored in warm summer months.
CAPE FOULWIND / PUNAKAIKI –
Many scenic walking tracks.
FRANZ JOSEF –
Heli-Hike glacier walk is a must.
Waterfalls & many other scenic sites nearby.
Great hikes and scenic lake setting.
Adventure capital of the world. Buzzing with action and superb views.
TE ANU – (MILFORD SOUND)
Nature on steroids. Incredible nature and world famous multi-day hikes.
CATLINS – (POUNAWEA & CURIO BAY)
Wild and many scenic sites to explore in open space.
Small city with university atmosphere.
MT. COOK – (LAKE TEKAPO / LAKE PUKAKI)
Great scenic hikes in Mt. Cook and two beautiful lakes to explore.
Completely rebuilt city devastated by earthquake.
Arguably, one of the most scenic settings in New Zealand. Must catch the area on a sunny day when water color shines up the town.
ARTHUR’S PASS –
Spectacular Pass thru the Southern Alps w/ many hikes in Arthur’s Pass National Park.
HANMER SPRINGS –
Small relaxed town to soak in the Hotsprings.
Sea life galore…..Seals, Whales & Dolphins. Another town you must catch on a sunny day to bring out the visual charm of the ocean colors surrounding the area.