This is the question I get asked most often, so I thought the best way to open this blog was with a post that gets straight to core of what people want to know. Its a big question this one too and the honest answer is – it depends.
On what? Well among other things its mainly on time. If you had a lifetime I’d say ‘everywhere’ if you have 3 months I’d say your best ‘selection of everywhere’. If you have two weeks or less though this is the list for you.
It’s the places that in my opinion you have to see to experience New Zealand and while it pains me to narrow down a hundred million places to a list this small, I definitely recognize that not everyone has a lot of time to spend here and the most important thing is to see what you can with the time that you have.
That said, here’s my list of the places (in no particular order) that you must see if your time in NZ is short. Pick from this list a smaller selection if your time is say 1 week as opposed to 2 weeks. Even if your time is 2 weeks I recommend that even from this list that you pick the ones that most appeal to you. Do your research and check out the places online in a Google search. While the temptation is to see as much as you can, the reality is you will enjoy what you do see more if you don’t rush around trying to see too much.
- Northland – Don’t dismiss the idea of seeing some of the most northern tip of NZ. It’s easy to arrive in Auckland and head south as it feels a bit like backtracking to head up this way, but you’d be nuts not to at least take a quick day trip up here. If you can, go all the way to Cape Reinga (that’s the light house at the top), check out the Bay of Islands, or take the western route. For a shorter option, take a drive up to Whangarei heads for the day and check out all the amazing beaches enroute.
- Bay of Plenty / Coromandel – Theres a tonne of stuff to choose from in this area – just make sure you choose at least one. Coromandel Peninsula is famous for its beaches, its incredibly beautiful and there’s so many nice places to visit. Mt Maunganui and the surrounding inland spots are also a top area for exploring. Rotorua, further inland is one of New Zealand’s tourist hot spots, and for good reason – if you pick only one North Island destination for your short trip it probably has to be here. That is because the geothermal activity here makes it an area unique to anywhere else you will see in the country. Its a hotspot for action too – a bit like a North Island ‘Queenstown’ in some respects.
- Taranaki – One of our most beautiful areas, with one of our most majestic mountains. The outdoors here is great and the surf is awesome too. New Plymouth the city on the coastline is a beautiful spot to visit. Also, inland Taranaki is just magic! There is the Wanganui River with the Road to Nowhere, Whangamomona (a republic of its own 😮 ) , and more!! Consider exploring off the beaten track here, if even just for one day.
- Central Plateau – The area that holds my heart. Vocanos, giant crater lakes you can water-sport on to your hearts delight, natural hot spring activity and more. Also home to Mt Doom from the Lord of the Rings and one of the top 10 day walks in the world (the Tongariro Crossing) – do not miss this area!
- Kapiti Coast – Paraparaumu the wee coastal town at the heart of this area is a gem. Its a train ride away from the capital too whilst being away from the hustle and bustle. Beaches, cafes, walks, and more. Also home to the best NZ made limencello I know!
- Marlborough Sounds / Blenheim – One of the best winery destinations in the country – the Savignon Blanc here is the best in the world!! Take a boat trip into the sounds and stay in one of the amazing accommodation choices available, check out the beautiful walks such as the Queen Charlotte (pick a section to do as a day walk), take road trips and explore, get kayaking, get mountain biking and more!!
- Nelson / Surrounding National Parks – So I’ve spent a lifetime traveling New Zealand including 18monthes full time just recently and I decided to move to Nelson for my short to medium term base – you’ll bet its for a reason!! Mountains, beaches, conveniences this place has it all – oh and more wineries!!
- Christchurch – I spent 2 years living here from 2012 – 2014 and its come a long way since the earthquakes. Its still a work in process but the life is springing up everywhere!! Its a beautiful city, and has an awesome surrounding area, think Sumner, Akaroa, and even Hanmer Springs Village (an hours drive inland – with hot pools).
- West Coast – This is New Zealand at its best. Westland is New Zealands most sparsely populated region. Its incredible here and when you arrive it feels like time has begun to stand still in comparison to the rest of the country. Pick somewhere here to explore; Hokitika is probably my favourite, and the logical choice for a short trip.
- Mackenzie Distict / Central Otago – All those amazing pictures of mountains you have seen? They are probably from this region. This is where you will find Tekapo, Queenstown and Wanaka to name but three of the most popular spots. Also Mt Cook Village is worth a drive to if mountains are your thing. Its the gateway to Mt Cook National Park – home to our tallest mountain – Mt Cook. There’s not a lot out here in terms of facilities but there are places to stay and eat, and some of the most scenic walks I’ve ever done ranging from a few hours upwards.
- Milford Sound / Fiordland – Another tourist hotspot, and again for good reason. Take a trip out to Milford Sounds or to the Doughtful Sound. It’s incredible.
The list is short, and it is brief, but hopefully it will help get you started. Stay tuned for more posts that will give you a more detailed look at some of these areas and more! 🙂 🙂
Enjoy your visit!!