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Your guide to New Zealand
All About New Zealand
For a small country in the South Pacific, New Zealand — Aotearoa, or the land of the long white cloud, in te reo Māori — packs a punch with the sheer diversity of its landscapes and the distinctiveness of its natural treasures. In the stories of the tangata whenua (the people of the land), the South Island was the boat of Maui, who caught the great fish of the North Island using his magical fish hook. His brothers were jealous of his achievement and hacked at the fish, creating the mountains, rivers, and coastline.
The landscape here is hugely diverse, from the soaring, glaciated mountains of the Southern Alps and the central North Island volcanoes to the golden sands of Abel Tasman National Park and the Coromandel Peninsula. The same can be said for the flora: Subtropical ferns and palms pepper the North Island, while you can walk in the shadow of ancient beech forests on the South Island.
New Zealand’s major cities are just as appealing as its scenery. The water is never far from sight in Auckland, which stretches across an isthmus peppered with volcanoes. You can spend a day ducking in and out of hip boutiques along Ponsonby Road, followed by cocktails and dinner amid the reclaimed warehouses of Britomart, and then take the ferry into Hauraki Gulf/Tīkapa Moana the next morning to wander among the vineyards on Waiheke Island. On the south end of the North Island, Wellington isn’t just the nation’s capital but its cultural capital as well, home to myriad art galleries, museums, and the national symphony and ballet, not to mention its proximity to the island’s wine country. On the South Island, Christchurch charms with its English architecture and carefully tended gardens and parks, while mountainous Queenstown is the jumping-off point for outdoor activities.
The best time to stay in a vacation rental in New Zealand
Covering approximately a thousand miles from north to south, New Zealand experiences weather ranging from subtropical patterns in the far north to drier conditions in the southern Otago region. It can rain at any time of the year all over the country, but the summer months of November to March are generally drier and warmer, while it is colder and wetter in the winter months of June, July, and August. If you’re looking for a New Zealand rental, bear in mind that school summer holidays take place in January.
New Zealand’s national day is Waitangi Day on February 6. Thousands gather at the tiny settlement of Waitangi, north of Auckland, to commemorate Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi), the nation’s founding document. As well as the formal ceremonies at Te Whare Rūnanga (the Carved Meeting House), you can watch as a fleet of ornately carved waka (canoes) paddles across Te Ti Bay. The Pasifika Festival celebrates multicultural New Zealand in the Auckland region each March at Western Springs Park. Events throughout the park showcase traditional dances, songs, and culture from across the Pacific region.
Top things to do in New Zealand
Tāhuna (Queenstown), nestled in the mountains of the South Island, is often dubbed New Zealand’s adventure capital for the plethora of outdoor activities on offer: from jet boating on Lake Wakatipu to horseback riding in Glenorchy and winter skiing in the Remarkables (Kawarau) Range. You can catch the Skyline gondola up to the famous viewpoint and grab a bite to eat, then loop back to town or hike along the Moonlight Track up past Ben Lomond and all the way around to the Shotover River. For a more sedate day, take a paddle steamer across the lake or go wine tasting in the Gibbston Valley.
As well as geothermal wonders, world-class mountain biking, and stunning lakeside scenery, Rotorua is one of the best places in New Zealand for visitors to encounter Māori arts and culture. Since the 19th century, members of the Te Arawa tribe have set up Māori villages where you can help paddle an ornately carved waka across the lake, watch performances of traditional dance and song, and enjoy the tender food from a hāngī, or pit oven.
The breathtaking beauty of Fiordland National Park prompted UNESCO to make the remote southwest corner of New Zealand — Te Wahipounamu — a World Heritage site. Head to the tiny lakeside town of Te Anau to access boats and shuttles into the park. If you’re driving, the road to Milford Sound is amazing — make sure to stop every time there’s a sign to make the most of each viewpoint or take a scenic mini-walk. The Milford Track is a four-day hike that many New Zealanders aspire to experience at least once in their lives. You can also take a boat cruise from Milford Sound to see the stunning reflected beauty of Rahotu (Mitre Peak) and hear the roar of Bowen Falls (Hineteawa).