Tips for Visiting New Zealand

Bennet's Bluff, New Zealand

Kate and Wills have just returned from their tour of New Zealand and Australia, and the pictures of the royal couple taking in the beautiful sights of both countries have undoubtedly inspired many to add Down Under to their Bucket Lists.

Bedazzled by the lure of Bondi Beach, Uluru, Sydney Opera House and The Great Barrier Reef that Oz offers, visitors too often forget New Zealand when planning their holiday in the southern hemisphere. NZ is a fierce rival to it’s Tasman sibling though, with it’s incredible landscape, wine regions, and plethora of activities for adventure junkies. From sunning yourself on a black sand beach in Auckland to walking on a glacier near Christchurch, it is too easy to find a dozen things to love about New Zealand.

I wrote a destination guide to the country for honeymooners on the brilliant website Destination42.com. But it’s not just for you lovebirds… it has advice and tips for everyone.

Lord of the RIngs horse trek(image)

1. New Zealand is the ultimate honeymoon destination for you adventurers and thrillseekers. Not only is it the birthplace of bungee jumping, but skiing, white water rafting, skydiving, and cycling are all popular activities for locals and tourists alike.

2. Spectacular views are abundant in New Zealand, which has 15,000 kilometers of coastline varying from sandy beaches, mountains, and rugged, rocky shores. Remember the epic scenery in “Lord of the Rings” and the “Hobbit?” That’s all New Zealand.

3. New Zealand consists of two large islands, named conveniently, North and South. And although it may look small on a map surrounded by ocean and dwarfed by Australia, New Zealand is roughly the size of Colorado in square miles and about as long as California.

4. Because of this size, and because New Zealand has such varied landscape and experiences to offer, it would be a shame to stay in just one place on your honeymoon. We recommend renting a car and basing yourselves for a few days in a few or all of New Zealand’s main cities mentioned in tip No. 5.

5. The North Island is known for stunning landscapes, Maori culture and experiencing volcanic and geothermal sites. It is home to the cities of Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington. The South Island is known for its wine regions, ski resorts and glaciers, and is home to the cities of Christchurch and Queenstown.The Remarkables, New Zealand(image)

6. There are two ways to go between islands. Flying from one of the domestic airports is an option, or if you do rent a car, you can jump from North to South by boarding the Interislander Ferry across the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton.

7. If you do plan on hitting the road, you’ll be fine to rent a car and drive on an American driver’s license. Just remember that they drive on the other side of the road in New Zealand!

8. December to February (southern hemisphere summer) are the hottest months, reaching 30ºC (90°F). This is the busiest and most expensive time for visiting. June to September is also peak season in the ski resorts of Wanaka, Canterbury and Mount Cook Mackenzie. Winter temperatures at sea level average around 10-15ºC (50-60°F).

9. Thanks to the hole in the ozone layer over Australia, the sun is far more dangerous in this part of the world. Make sure you wear plenty of 30+ SPF sunblock and a hat if you’re outdoors for any length of time. Kiwis are sticklers for sun protection, so any local supermarket will stock sunscreen. Don’t bother taking up precious suitcase space bringing it from home.

10. The local currency is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD$). Expect to pay about $4-5 for a beer, $20 per plate for a meal in a mid-range restaurant, and upwards of $30 a plate in an upmarket one. Outdoor activities will cost anywhere between $80-$500USD each. These experiences are often the most expensive part of your trip so leave plenty of room in your budget for them. We recommend downloading the XE.com app before you go, as it’s an easy way to quickly make currency conversions.

11. Tipping is not expected in New Zealand, but in the more touristy areas it is welcome. No service charge is added to bills in restaurants; it is left to the guest’s discretion. Generally, locals add a 10-percent tip or round up in restaurants, and leave their small change at the bar and in taxis. Small tips of $1-5 are welcome for bellboys and room service at hotels. No tip is required for hair and beauty services.

12. People from New Zealand are affectionately known as Kiwis, and one of the things most visitors remember is how friendly and laid back they are. Expect service with a smile and locals happy to point you in the right direction or share stories with you. On that note, though, don’t make the mistake of confusing Kiwis with their Australian neighbors. This is the only time you’ll probably be greeted with hostility.

13. Just as you would find when visiting a North American or European country, honeymooners to New Zealand can expect to find hotel chains big and small, boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, and individual vacation rentals from online services like AirBNB. Although we have a few special accommodation choices listed below, we’ll largely focus on what you can expect in several areas worth using as jumping off points.

14. Let’s start where most international flights arrive. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and most populated city, and home to great restaurants and nightlife. It is a great base for exploring neighboring regions such as The Bay of Islands and Waiheke Island.

15. For convenience, we’d recommend staying in Auckland’s city center, around the harbor. You will find the most hotels in a range of budgets and the best transport links. If you prefer a more local feel, the neighborhoods of Ponsonby and Parnell are both great options. The former is considered edgy and cool, while the latter is upmarket and charming.

16. “Personally, I liked Auckland because it really reminded me of Seattle — the topography, the types of restaurants, the coffee, even the weather,” said Catie Johnson, who honeymooned in Auckland with her husband Daniel in 2011. “We went in August, which is winter there, so it rained nearly the whole time, which I did not like. But, it’s a very easy city to navigate if you’re OK with walking hills.”

17. If you like the good life, Waiheke Island is nicknamed “The Hamptons” of New Zealand. Located about 35 minutes on a ferry from Auckland, it is home to wineries, boutique hotels and plenty of art.Delamore Lodge Waiheke Island(image)

18. For the ultimate romantic view and one of the best infinity pools in the world, Delamore Lodge on Waiheke Island, is a ferry ride away from Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf. Besides being a wonderful spot to enjoy your honeymoon, they also do weddings. That view would certainly make for one show-stopping ceremony!

19. Located south of Auckland, Hamilton is a small city, but one that offers a plethora of activities and is a good base for visiting Rotorua. Its distinctive black sand beaches and incredible nature are its main draws. The best accommodation offerings in this region are in boutique lodges and bed and breakfasts. Our favorite is Kamahi Cottage, a romantic farm lodge near the Waitomo Caves.

20. The capital city of Wellington, the most southerly point of the North Island, is the best place to base yourselves for exploring New Zealand’s wine regions. A foodie’s paradise, you will find dining options from street food markets to upmarket restaurants.

21. Wellington is the heart of New Zealand’s film industry (almost entirely thanks to “The Lord of the Rings” franchise), nicknamed “Welliwood.” There are plenty of accommodation options, from large hotel chains to small bed and breakfasts.

22. If you’re after quiet, privacy and the beach on your doorstep, Atahuri are four luxury B&B suites in the sand dunes on Peka Peka beach, one hour from Wellington. It’s a perfect honeymoon retreat.Atahuri Peka Peka(image)

23. Christchurch is the country’s second largest city, and is a primary gateway for excursions to Antarctica! Now, that would be a honeymoon to remember. The region is also home to Aoraki Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak and a popular ski destination. The city was devastated by an earthquake in 2011, and continues to rebuild – but the spirit of the city remains, and there is much to see and do, from shopping and dining, to outdoor activities in the surrounding Canterbury region.

24. Cosmopolitan Christchurch has plenty to offer in various accommodation styles – but excels with luxury eco-lodges such as Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses.

25. Queenstown is for the adrenaline junkies! The birthplace of bungee jumping is also a great base for other extreme pursuits such as canyoning, paragliding, sky diving, and ziplining.White water rafting, Queenstown(image)

26. Thanks to its fun-filled reputation and as a haven for thrill-seeking backpackers, budget accommodations are plentiful in Queenstown. If you want somewhere more luxurious to rest your head after a high-octane day, Blanket Bay is nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and was the home away from home for many of the cast of “Lord Of The Rings” during filming. We hear Sir Ian McKellen was a fan.Blanket Bay, New Zealand(image)

27. Or try Kaimata Retreat, a boutique luxury lodge on the Otago Peninsula, 30 minutes from Dunedin, on the east coast.

28. If you want to hit the beach on your honeymoon, you are spoiled for choice. The northern end of the South Island is home to beautiful sandy beaches, while further south is rugged and wild. The North Island’s west coast beaches have dark sand, because of the presence of iron.

29. Frankly, though, if you plan on sitting around on the beach for your entire honeymoon, New Zealand is probably a waste of a long flight. However, if you’re an outdoorsy couple who loves hiking or cycling, virtually anywhere in New Zealand will make for a perfect, adventurous honeymoon. 

30. New Zealand’s indigenous people are known as the Maori, and we highly recommend taking some time to learn about Maori culture and history to truly understand the country’s heritage. There are a range of experiences, from watching combat or dance performances, art displays, and even Maori wine tours! Check out Auckland Maori Tours for more information.Te Hana, Wellsford, Auckland, New Zealand(image)

31. If you plan on visiting a marae (Maori meeting house), remember that you will need to obtain permission to enter. The traditional Maori greeting is a hongi – touching noses. “Hello” is “Kia ora”.

32. New Zealand is a mecca for whale and dolphin watching. Two of your best bets are in the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland, and in Kaikura on the South Island.

33. “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” fans MUST visit a Hobbit Hole in Hobbiton, which is a permanent site in Matamata between Auckland and Hamilton. It’s a cool experience even if you aren’t a film geek.Hobbiton, New Zealand(image)

34. White water rafting: Been there, done that? Try “Black water rafting” through underground caves in Waitomo. You can also swim, tube and climb through the caves, and watch out for the beautiful glowworms!

35. While Queenstown is the most popular skydiving destination, Lake Taupo is said to be the most beautiful view to take in as you plummet 14,000 feet.

36. Wellington is the center of the New Zealand film industry and Weta Studios, where you can experience behind-the-scenes tours of “The Lord of Rings” and “The Hobbit” and take day trips to many of the filming locations.

37. Although on the South Island, world-famous wine regions are only a short ferry ride away from Wellington. Marlborough alone is home to 74 wineries. In between sipping on the local wines and drinking in the spectacular landscape, make time for a hearty lunch at one of the winery restaurants for decadent meals made from local produce and paired with award-winning wines.Marlborough, New Zealand(image)

38. It’s not all about the grapes though. A boutique craft beer scene has popped up in New Zealand in recent years, and now there are more than 250 varieties brewed in the country. Bespoke tours are available to sample the local tipple.

39. Catch a helicopter ride out to Franz Josef Glacier from Christchurch or to the Southern Alps from Queenstown where you can hike through the snow in a remote area only accessible by chopper. Glacier Helicopters or Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters are good bets.Helicopter sightseeing, Southern Alps(image)

40. If you want to take the plunge, the world’s highest cliff jump at 200m is Canyon Swing near Queenstown. Just don’t look down!

41. Seals, penguins, albatross and sea lions are also part of the local wildlife. To see them up close, you can go wildlife spotting with Elm Wildlife Tours.

42. Take a cruise of the incredible Marlborough Sounds. Why? Well, take a look at the picture below.Marlborough, New Zealand(image)

The article 42 Tips for a New Zealand Honeymoon was originally published on Destination42.com.

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