1. Northern Exposure
Ever seen two oceans collide? Sand dunes the size of small mountains? A 90-mile beach? Dolphins dashing in between golden beach-fringed islands (Bay of Islands)? Even if you have, it’s unlikely you’ve seen them all in such close proximity. Welcome to the “winterless” Northland.
2. Ice To See You
New Zealand has gazillions of glaciers, but the colossal ice tongues of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are the most accessible. It’s like stepping into a different world as your crampons crunch through an ice labyrinth of caves, frozen waves and crevasses. If you have the cash to splash, a helicopter trip to land near the top of theglacier is unforgettable.
A little secret for you. The roadtrip from Queenstown is one of the most stunning drives in a stunning country, taking you past several Lord of the Rings sites. Indeed little Glenorchy was briefly Isengard, with those towering mountains surrounding it. Escape the Queenstown crowds here (or do many of the same adrenalin thrills), or recover from some of the great walking tracks in the vicinity.
4. Feeling Hip
Cosy Coromandel caters for every hippie whim, with hot water beach – where you can dig your own hot bath in the sand – arguably the pick of the bunch.
5. Willing and Abel
Arguably the finest spot for some kayaking is popular Abel Tasman National Park, at the top of the South Island. The water can be a curious glowing green, the beaches all golden little curves and the sea full of seals. Also try the park’s Great Walk.
6. Marlborough Man
Too crowded for you? Nearby Marlborough Sounds is an appealing alternative, offering similar kayaking hiking – and cycling – options, plus the mandatory seals and dolphins. The ferry from the North Island comes this way and is a spectacular introduction to the South Island.
7. Cave In
Go underground for some sensational caving and hilarious black water rafting at Waitomo’s extraordinary underground cave network. For the less adventurous, there are the pretty glow worm caves to “ooh” and “ahhh” over.
8. Conquer Mordor
Tongariro National Park has live volcanoes, bizarrely coloured lakes and post-apocalyptic landscapes – Mordor was filmed here for those films. If you do one tramp in New Zealand, make it the Tongariro Crossing.
9. Eggs-ellent Smell
It smells a bit like a rotten egg, but Rotorua is a great place to swot up on Maori culture, geothermal wonder and adrenalin thrills. Don’t miss seeing a haka and try to chow down on a hangi while you’re there. Then there are geysers and bubbling mud pools to admire and a spa pool or mud bath to relax in later. After some hair-whitening adrenalin thrills, such as zorbing.
10. Water Place
Just up the road there’s Lake Taupo, which combines more thermal fun, plenty of adrenalin thrills, water sports and some great scenery, for tramping or simply gawping at.
11. Give It Some Welly
With green hills reaching up behind the capital and the shimmering harbour below it, New Zealand’s most attractive city is awash with cafés and culture. The Windy City has festivals aplenty, day-stealing museums, and good nightlife. Try to give it two or three days, but even if you can only manage one we recommend you: get up early to climb Mt Wellington, score some top nosh in one of many appetising cafés and get lost in the excellent Te Papa museum, the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, the seal colony round at Red Rocks. Then hit the town’s many bars and music venues.
12. All White Then
Volcanic Whakaari/White Island is a unique and bizarre place. An island and smoking volcano crater in one. Hissing holes in the ground, bubbling mud, lakes which change dramatically in size overnight. Like you imagine Mars looks and feels – it’s a crazy place, man.
13. Say Farewell
Rather than a gesture of disdain, the Farewell Spit is a unique sandbar – the world’s largest – and wildlife reserve stretching out from the tip of the South Island like a claw. A fascinating 4WD experience. We recommend you stay another couple of days to sample the hippy treats of Golden Bay. Escape the crowds to laze on the unpeopled beaches and meet friendly local hippies. Not much of Peter Jackson’s films were shot here, but they so could have been.
14. Slap and Tipple
Get a bit of slap and tipple from the many, very tasty wine regions. Hic. We especially likesh Nelson.
15. See Sperm
Kaikoura is a hot spot for whales, dolphins and seals. Take a boat cruise to watch whales – sperm, humpback and more – call in year round. Much-underrated seal swims (or dives) are excellent in Kaikoura. Plus, there’s dolphin swimming – go on, make ‘em jealous at home.
16. West is Best
Many people make the glacial-sized error of speeding down the west coast and not stopping to peruse a little, in Hokitika (where you can make your own jade pendant), Greymouth and the pancake rocks of Punakaiki. Lonely Planet rate it as one of the world’s top 10 roadtrips.
17. You Must Be Raft
New Zealand has a lot of water. The water is wild and angry and doesn’t want to be tamed. Jump into a big inflatable and try to tame it. Be prepared to get wet.
18. Great Walks
The nine official Great Walks got their name for a reason. All of them come highly recommended, especially those in spectacular Fiordland. The Milford Track may be the most popular (and will probably be booked out for the season by the time you read this – check www.doc.govt.nz), but locals claim the Routeburn is superior. At the end of the day, they’ll all knock your socks off.
You’ve been warned. Canyon swinging. Bungy jumping. Skydiving. Rafting. Whitewater sledging. Canyoning. Jetboating. Horse riding. Hanggliding. Buses zigzag Queenstown full of people either looking puddle-by-their-feet petrified or saucer-eyed, with their hair sticking up on end. This town changes people. Plus there are the snow fields. The only way to return to relative normality is with a night out on the town.
There are nearly a dozen jumps in New Zealand, though Queenstown has the original and the biggest, the N-n-n-nevis. Go on. we dare you (and, yes, we have!).
21. Take a Peak
As long as the clouds haven’t hooded its handsome head, your first full sighting of Aoraki/Mt Cook should stop you in your tracks. New Zealand’s highest is one dashing mountain. If you’re not much of a mountaineer, there are several short walks near Mt Cook, all yielding good mountain and/or glacier views. Or stay overnight in the Mueller Hut (book at DOC), with wondrous mountain views at sunrise and sunset.
22. Dive Another Day
Jump out of a perfectly good plane at 12,000ft. Oddly, many people find this less frightening than bungy jumping. It’s one hell of a rush.
23. Have a Wanaka
An hour from Queenstown is its younger, smaller, but equally attractive brother. It boasts: wineries, great scenery, ski fields, mountain biking, skydiving, jetboating, canyoning, Lord of the Rings lark… Silly name though. Bit too close to wan…
24. Sounds Spectacular
Half the visual pleasure of Milford Sound is the journey there; winding roads plunge into dense, moss-plastered woodland, snake along gaping drops and pass waterfalls crashing to the floor from way up somewhere. A boat trip edges you out onto the Sound’s water, home to dolphins and New Zealand fur seals, looking like an ant by the immense Mitre Peak. Onwards to the open sea, passing all sorts of waterfalls; some twist in the air, others thunder from impossible heights. A scenic flight around here is an unforgettable experience. And then there’s the far larger Doubtful Sound around the corner. You can even stay overnight in a house boat.
25. Way to Otago
Sneak up to the sea lions, gaze in awe at albatrosses and other amazing wildlife – especially the adorable penguins – on the Otago Peninsula, before testing out Dunedin’s much vaunted nightlife. While you’re on the east coast, wildlife lovers will kick themselves in the eye if they miss Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony and bird-watchers (top that).
Gah! We’ve run out of space. Also well worth considering are The Lord of the Rings tours which take you to exact locations, dress you in Legolas’ wig and give you a sword to pose with. A precioussss experience. There’s also the sacred rugby matches, some superb diving (see Poor Knights and Goat islands), wind-swept, barely-peopled Stewart Island, Mt Taranaki to climb, art deco Napier, sunny, artsy Nelson, a roadtrip back in time along the North Island’s east cape, the rugged coastline of the Catlins, the three-day Whanganui River kayak trip, surfing… Gasp. We could go on and on. All that in a country the size of Britain…