New Zealand is famous the world over for its stunning scenery, ranging from jagged mountains to vast underground cave systems, enormous glaciers to boiling hot springs, scenic beaches to rocky coastline. It`s also packed with amazing cities, hidden nooks and crannies, magnificent wildlife, and much more.
Split into two islands, North and South, these islands form a unique bioregion inhabited by flightless birds seen nowhere else, such as kakapo and kiwi. New Zealanders have adopted the kiwi as a national symbol, and have even taken the word kiwi as a name for themselves.
Along with friendly, hospitable people and stunning natural landscape, there are a few characteristics and features that come to mind when we think of New Zealand. The country is now known as Middle Earth to millions of `Lord of the Rings` and `The Hobbit` trilogy fans. These movies have showcased to the world the amazing landscapes that New Zealand has to offer. The country is also known as a major producer of wines. There are ten wine regions that produce a variety of wines, 90% of which are exported. People often associate New Zealand with sheep; this is due to the fact that there are so many grazing throughout the country. And thanks to its dramatic topography, New Zealand is a hot spot for adrenaline-fueled sports. White water rafting, jet boating, heli-skiing, skydiving, hiking, and mountain biking round out the list of outdoor adventures, and the country is home to one of the highest bungee jumps in the world.
New Zealand is a very diverse country with many regions that are worth seeing, but at a high level it's easiest to break it down according to the two main islands and it`s regions. Such as the North Island, where you`ll find a mild climate, with scenery ranging from sandy beaches, through rolling farmland and forests to active volcanic peaks with bubbling mud pools. The spectacular mountains and fjords of the South Island boasts large beech forests, beautiful beaches and huge glaciers.
Known as a major tourist resort since the 1800`s, the magical Geothermal Phenomena is the result of many volcanoes in the central North Island of New Zealand. This unique geothermal environment offers many places where the natural forces brewing beneath the earth spout forth in spectacular ways. The Glaciers of New Zealand attracts visitors from all over the world looking for a unique ice adventure, such as the mammoth Franz Josef, Fos Glacier and Tasman Glaciers.
As well as having some of the most stunning and varied landscapes you`ll ever set your eyes on, New Zealand has some pretty cool cities too. Coastal cities, cities dotted with volcanoes, cities with a geothermal park as its city park… Knowing the biggest cities in New Zealand is not only a good way to understand the geography of New Zealand, but it also helps when visiting to know the lay of the land and what these cities have to offer. Wellington - the national capital, with the Parliament and Beehive buildings, and the wonderful, free Te Papa museum. Then there`s Auckland, the city of Sails with east and west coast harbors. And Christchurch, the Garden City, is the South Islands largest city, ever-evolving as it rebuilds from a devastating earthquake in Feb 2011.
Queenstown is known as the `Adventure Capital of the World` and the `Valley of Vines`, surrounded by stunning mountains and breathtaking views as far as the eye can see. Straddling the mighty Waikato River at the heart of the vast Waikato Plains lies Hamilton, the fourth largest city in New Zealand. Come here to discover the hot springs and horse-racing world of Matmata Township. And in the north island of New Zealand, in the Hawke`s Bay region, Napier is one of the country`s most attractive cities to explore offering a perfect stepping off point for wineries, art deco architecture, beautiful beaches and the stunning Cape Kidnappers.
Due to New Zealand`s location in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to those in North America, Europe, and Northern Hemisphere destinations. The country experiences a maritime climate due to the surrounding waters. It is popular destination year round for a number of activities including hiking, mountain biking, boating, beaches, and skiing. Weather throughout the year is pretty mild and the summer months are filled with sunshine and long days, however, the weather can sometimes be unpredictable depending on the region. For example, the North Island features a subtropical climate most of the year, but the winters get cold. The South Island experiences four distinct seasons, unlike the North and areas such as Central Otago where winter temperatures can drop as low as -4F with steaming hot summers when temperatures rise to a boiling 104F. Rain is more predominant on the west coast and moderate on the east coast, and Milford Sound gets the most rain in the country. The `kiwis` or locals take their holidays from mid-December through January which can mean that beach destinations are more crowded and accommodations are hard to come by. Many businesses also tend to close during the Christmas through New Year`s break. For more information visit Best time to visit New Zealand.
We recommend 7-10 days based on what you want to see and do. We offer flexible vacation packages so you can select your number of nights in each city, desired hotel and activities. We suggest a minimum of 3 nights in larger cities.
New Zealand is long and skinny, and many roads are two-lane country byways: getting from A to B requires some thought.
By Bus: Buses are a relatively cheap and environmentally friendly way to get around New Zealand. Services are usually only once a day, even between major towns. Most roads in New Zealand are quite narrow and winding (when compared to the highways of the USA), and travelling a long distance in a bus can be a safe and relaxing way to travel compared with driving yourself. Booking in advance can get you great bargains on some lines.
By Plane: Domestic flights in New Zealand can be expensive; however, flying often works out cheaper than driving or taking a train, especially when crossing between the North and South Islands.
Airlines operate an electronic ticket system. You can book on-line, by telephone, or through a travel agent. Photo ID will be needed for travel.
Check-in times are usually at least 30 minutes prior to flight departure, or 60 minutes if you`re connecting to an international flight. Cabin baggage and personal scanning are routinely conducted for services from the major airports that have jet landings.
By Motor Vehicle: You can reach most of New Zealand`s sights in a two-wheel-drive car, motorcycle or even a small camper van. While public transport is usable in the cities of Auckland and Wellington, a car is almost essential to get around anywhere else.
Traffic drives on the left in New Zealand. The State Highway network connects major cities and destinations within the two main islands, and are indicated by a number inside a red shield. Motorways and expressways are generally only found near major cities, with most intercity driving done on undivided highways with one lane in each direction and limited overtaking opportunities. Be prepared to get caught behind slow-moving vehicles, and expect drivers behind you to become impatient if you drive slowly without a reason. If you are driving slowly and traffic builds up behind you, find a safe place to pull over and let them pass.
By Train: Both Auckland and Wellington have commuter rail services. Auckland`s network is managed by Auckland Transport, and has four lines spreading from Britomart station in the city centre to Swanson in the west, Onehunga in the southwest, Papakura and Pukekohe in the south, and Manukau in the south-east; there is no rail to the North Shore or to eastern Auckland. Wellington's network is managed by Metlink, and has four lines spreading north from Wellington station serving Wellington`s northern suburbs, Porirua, the Kapiti Coast (as far north as Waikanae), Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt. A fifth service, the Wairarapa Connection, travels several times daily to Masterton in the Wairarapa via Upper Hutt and the 5.5 miles Rimutaka Tunnel.
Long distance passenger-rail services are slow and limited in New Zealand, and are largely used for tourism purposes rather than as actual practical travel options, with the bulk of New Zealand`s rail traffic being used for freight transport.
Inter-city passenger services are operated by KiwiRail Scenic Journeys, with just a few popular tourist services that pass through spectacular scenery and have a running commentary, panoramic windows and an open-air viewing carriage.
By Ferry: Interislander's Kaitaki is one of five ferries (and the largest) plying the Wellington-Picton route between the country's two main islands.
There are two passenger and car ferry operators which cross Cook Strait between Wellington in the North Island and Picton in the South Island. The journey lasts 3.5 hours and there are several sailings daily. It is a stunning and scenic trip through Wellington Harbor, Cook Strait and the Marlborough Sounds. However, the weather and seas in Cook Strait are frequently rough and unpredictable; sailings can be delayed or cancelled due to stormy weather, while others can quickly turn from a Mediterranean cruise into a spew-fest. Make sure you pack essentials for every possible weather situation in your carry-on luggage; you can't return to your car once the ferry has left port.
The ferry terminal at Picton is close to the railway station, and the Coastal Pacific train connects with Inter-islander sailings.
It is essential to book vehicle crossings in advance. The busiest period is from late December to February. Foot passenger traffic is also heavy at this time, and it is advisable to book well in advance.
Check with your rental car company whether you can take your vehicle on the Cook Strait ferry: some do not allow their vehicles on the ferries but will happily allow you to drop off a car at one ferry terminal and pick up another car at the other terminal at no extra cost.
By Bicycle: You can rent a bicycle in some of the larger cities. By law, you must wear a helmet while riding; otherwise you may be issued an on-the-spot penalty. When renting a bike you should be supplied with a helmet. Remember to ride on the left. You cannot ride on motorways in New Zealand - be aware that the Auckland Harbor Bridge between downtown Auckland and the North Shore is a motorway and there is no separate cycle path (yet), so you`ll have to take a ferry or cycle around the harbor.
Cycling in New Zealand can be fun, but be aware that because of the geography and small number of people cycling between towns there are very few cycle lanes and limited shoulder space on roads. Beware of buses and trucks on main highways as many drivers will not give you sufficient overtaking clearance; proportionately, five times as many cyclists are injured and killed on New Zealand roads as in the Netherlands or Singapore! You should also be prepared for the large distances between towns and cities and the generally windy weather. While some areas of New Zealand are flat, most tourists cycling in New Zealand will find that they need to be able to cope with long periods of cycling up hills, especially in the Coromandel. Be prepared for any weather and for all seasons in one day.
The units of currency in the New Zealand dollar $, $NZ or $NZD, sometimes referred to as the `kiwi` or `buck`. US dollars are not accepted. Please be sure to have the correct currency on hand or be prepared to exchange your dollars for New Zealand dollars ($NZ) upon arrival. Currency exchange desks can be found at the airport and many locations throughout the larger cities. For more detailed information, consult our guide to tipping in New Zealand. For more detailed information, consult our guide by clicking here Tipping in New Zealand.
Yes, English is the official language of New Zealand.