When you have the opportunity to plan a once in a lifetime trip, the whole world is your oyster. How do you narrow it down? You do your research and find places that interest you, of course! Consider: New Zealand. New Zealand is home to beautiful scenery, lovely weather and delicious food. Whether you’re planning a special anniversary trip or just trying to spice up your life, New Zealand has something to offer for everyone. Let’s take a look at this majestic destination!
If you’re traveling to New Zealand from the United States, you’ll want to make sure you have the proper paperwork for an event-free entry. Americans are welcome, but if you have an American passport, you’ll also need to obtain a visa to visit as a tourist. You can apply for most types of visas online. Visit the New Zealand immigration site for more information on the required information to apply.
Best Time to Visit
Now that we have all of our documentation, it’s time to plan the trip. When is the best time to visit New Zealand? There’s a lot to do and see no matter what time of year you decide to visit. The summer is considered the “high season,” which is a busier time of year. If you’re looking to visit areas with fewer people (and get a better deal on accommodations), you may want to consider visiting in the winter. While you’ll find areas such as Queenstown and Wanaka buzzing with the activity of skiers, you’ll find coastal areas and cities such as Auckland and Wellington less crowded.
Remember, New Zealand is on the opposite side of the world from the United States so the seasons are quite different. Winter is in the months we usually consider summer: June-August and summer is in the months we would consider winter: December-February. This is important to remember when planning your visit. It would be inconvenient to book a trip by the beach for July only to realize it’s the middle of winter.
So you might be wondering how you’ll get around while you’re in New Zealand. Great news: there are plenty of transportation options! Your selection will depend on where you’d like to visit and how quickly you’d like to get from one place to the next.
A great way to ensure that you get to see the sights you want to see and experience things at your own pace is to rent a vehicle. You can choose a basic motor vehicle or go big and rent a motorhome. Either way, you’ll be able to see the country at your leisure and make stops whenever and wherever you’d like.
Prefer to sit back and relax while someone else takes you where you want to go? There are also guided coach tours available. Hop on one of the tour buses to see the sights. Choose from a single day or a multi day experience.
Ferries and water taxis and railways are other great options for traveling around the country while getting a unique vantage point for enjoying the spectacular scenery.
Places to Stay
You can find a variety of options for accommodations all across New Zealand. You’ll find campsites, bed & breakfasts, luxury accommodations and traditional hotels/motels. There’s something to fit every style and budget.
Popular Bed & Breakfasts
One of the best ways to experience a new place is to dive into the local culture. A great way to do this is by booking a bed & breakfast for your stay. Staying at one of these cozy options will give you a chance to pick the brains of your hosts about local traditions and find out what the locals love to do. You’ll get a comfortable, private room for the length of your stay and get to experience what a real home is like in New Zealand. Most B&B accommodations provide breakfast before you venture out for the day. Have a chat over morning coffee and get recommendations for things you should do and see.
If you find yourself in Queenstown and you’re looking for a comfortable place to stay, Hidden Lodge is a beautiful option. The boutique B&B boasts four private luxury suites. The property is at the edge of Lake Wakatipu and is minutes from the heart of Queenstown. Feast your eyes on a gorgeous mountain view while enjoying your morning coffee from your private balcony.
All rooms feature a private bath and there is also a wood-heated hot tub on site! Each room is uniquely decorated so be sure to check out their photo gallery to decide which is best for your stay.
If you find yourself near the coast and hoping for a beach adventure, Orewa Beachside is the perfect location, located literally a few steps from the beach. This B&B offers a two-bedroom boutique studio suite. Featuring your own private entrance through the garden, you’ll also have the luxury of being the only guest during your length of stay. Accommodations give you access
to a deck and private courtyard. The studio features a private bathroom as well as dining and lounge seating.
Orewa Beachside is just a short walk to the village where there is a wonderful array of restaurants and shops available for you to enjoy. There are plenty of water activities available at the beach such as paddle boarding and fishing. There is also a great cycling and walking path nearby.
If you’re traveling in the winter and looking for the perfect opportunity to embrace all things cozy, Wellington will certainly fit the bill. Located on the coast, Wellington isn’t the typical winter destination, but it packs a big punch when it comes to cozy, indoor activities.
As far as great places to stay, Melrose Haven is a studio apartment overlooking Lyall Bay. This B&B comes with a hot tub to warm up those chilly nights and a queen sized bed with an electric blanket to keep you warm all night long. This intimate B&B is a wonderful place to relax after a day exploring all Wellington has to offer. The bedroom boasts beautiful French doors leading out to a relaxing patio where you can enjoy the morning or watch the sun go down. The studio has its own private entrance and spans the entire lower level of the home.
Food is the backbone of any great vacation. It’s always interesting to explore local cuisine. The choices are usually unique and New Zealand absolutely does not disappoint when it comes to eating. Be sure to seek out some favorite food and drinks of the New Zealand people.
The seafood in New Zealand is some of the best in the world. Caught fresh, you’ll experience what it’s like to eat directly from the source. Some favorites are salmon and crayfish. One of the most popular locations to get crayfish is Nin’s Bin. This ‘seafood caravan’ is located in the small town of Kaikōura. This famous spot is a family affair and has been in operation since 1977.
New Zealand is also renowned for its lamb. One of the top meat exports for the country, the juicy, rich and tender cuts can be found on the menus of the best restaurants.
If you’re visiting the area of Rotorua, you must experience the unique cooking method of Māori hāngī. Traditionally, this food is steam-cooked underground by naturally heated geothermal pools. Enjoy lots of options like pumpkin, sweet potato and chicken.
New Zealand is also home to several world-class cheese companies. You’ll also find quite a few boutique cheese companies around. Not only do cheese makers use cow’s milk to make cheese, but goat’s and sheep’s milk are also popular choices. Delight your taste buds and schedule a cheese tasting at The Cheese Barn or visit the Gibbston Valley Cheesery & Deli.
Things to Do
No matter what region of New Zealand you decide to visit, you’ll not be short on things to do. From fishing to museums to art galleries to skiing and hanging on the beach, there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy.
If you’re an outdoor person, we’ve got great news for you: there’s tons to do outside! If you’re into cycling, there are great riding trails scattered all throughout New Zealand. You’ll find plenty of world-class cycling trails that are fit for any experience level. You can visit this cycling page to learn more about the trails and view potential itineraries.
If cycling isn’t exactly your thing, don’t worry, there are other options! Maybe you prefer to venture out and spend your day in a winter wonderland. From June to October, you’ll be able to find a great many opportunities for winter activities. Snowboarding, skiing and sledding are all popular activities. Or maybe you’d like to rent a snowmobile and explore the backcountry. There’s also a chance to go on a tour and meet a dog sledding team!
If water is more your speed, you’ve definitely chosen the right place for your vacation. New Zealand has an incredible selection of bodies of water. With lakes and beaches galore, there’s so much to choose from. Some of the best water activities include:
If you want a chance to see some dolphins or other sea life up close, there are boat cruises available all over New Zealand!
The Great Indoors
If you’d rather explore indoors, that’s no problem either. There are lots of art galleries and museums to occupy your time. You’ll find major public galleries in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, and Dunedin. These galleries showcase art that will transport you back to the 1800s, when the country was busy transforming into what it is today. You’ll find lots of historical art on display, which will give you a peek into the past. There is also modern day art on display.
If you’d like to take home a reminder of your glorious New Zealand holiday, dealer galleries are situated throughout the country and any one is happy to arrange safe transport for your new piece.
A trip to a museum doesn’t have to be a stuffy experience. A great way to gain a deeper understanding of the area you’re traveling in is to visit a museum. The museums of New Zealand are rich in local culture and history.
The major museums are found in Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington, and Dunedin. Each of these museums features a different theme and explores unique parts of the country’s history and culture.
The smaller museums will give you access to a variety of exhibits. There are museums dedicated to things such as cable cars, toys, army equipment, boats, trains, and so much more. The choice is yours!
If your trip is going to be a family affair, there are lots of incredible ways to get everyone involved. Zipline in Rotorua or venture out to the International Antarctic Centre in Canterbury. Get up close and personal with some penguins or try your luck at braving a winter storm. With many different immersive experiences to choose from, it’s sure to be fun for the entire family!
Wineries and Vineyards
For some grown-up fun, New Zealand is also home to some amazing wineries and vineyards. The majority of the vineyards can be found on the east coast of the North and South Islands. The wine regions of New Zealand have some of the best scenery.
Taste your way through locally made wines as you drink in the scenery. Schedule a tour and get a demonstration of how the wine is made. With well over twenty different wineries, you’ll certainly have plenty to choose from.
Obviously you can’t go on vacation without doing a little shopping. What better way to experience the cultural beauty of the country and find something to take home to commemorate your time there? Local markets are a great way to meet the artists and get your hands on a unique piece. You’ll find everything from handmade crafts to jewelry to artwork or photography.
Pick up a unique piece of pottery that will be sure to be a conversation starter when displayed back home. You can find a wide variety of markets all around the country just waiting for you to come and explore.
If you’re in search of one-of-a-kind fashions, New Zealand also has a wide selection of boutique shopping. In these stores you’ll find anything from international designer labels to locally made items. You’ll find every style from urban to edgy to trendy to preppie. There’s something for everyone!
Looking for something a bit more luxurious? You can also find upscale luxury brands such as Prada and Louis Vuitton. Sprinkled in around the big-name stores are plenty of local shops that are great for finding that perfect souvenir or gift.
No matter what part of New Zealand you’re visiting, you’ll find great opportunities for shopping in all the major areas: Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Wherever you are, be assured that fabulous shopping isn’t too far away.
Of course we can’t talk about New Zealand without mentioning its ties to an extremely popular fantasy series. J.R.R. Tolkien enthusiasts will probably know that both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were shot in New Zealand.
With dramatic hills, plains, and mountains as backdrops, New Zealand was transformed into Middle-earth. Prepare to step into Tolkien’s world and visit filming locations to relive your favorite parts of the story. Tours are offered regularly where you can fully immerse yourself and walk in the footsteps of a Hobbit.
Daily tours will take you to the original Hobbiton movie set. Stand where the actors stood and take in the view of the Shire with your own eyes. Or maybe you’d like an aerial view of some of the filming locations. Helicopter tours are available as well. You can fly with actual crew that worked on the movies and can give a unique tour of filming locations and some behind the scenes sneak peeks. You can book any of The Lord of Rings Trilogy Experiences online.
The Bottom Line
A New Zealand vacation is a great option for anyone. Whether you want to take a romantic trip or a family vacation, you’ll have plenty of options for fun available to choose from. Each region offers a unique taste of New Zealand culture. With fantastic food, glorious beaches, exceptional skiing venues, shopping, and everything in between, you’re guaranteed to have a great time and never run out of things to do.
Currently travelers from the United States are required to present documentation of full COVID-19 vaccination in order to enter New Zealand. This information is subject to change at any time. It is recommended that you check the requirements again just before your travel dates.
A quarantine period may also be required so be sure to gather your information and allow enough time to travel and to enjoy your visit.