There’s never not a good time to be in New Zealand. No matter what the time of year, in what part of the country you’re in, there’s always stuff to do. Yet, summer is the undisputed king of the seasons in NZ, certainly in the North Island anyway. The sun is out, the water is pristine and the beer is cold.
We reckon that New Zealand, and particularly the North Island, get a bit of a dud rap when it comes to people’s ‘must-visit’ locations in summer! You ask most European or North Americans where they dream of spending a southern summer and most of them will come back with somewhere in Australia.
We’re not saying that places like the Gold Coast, Bondi, Ningaloo Reef or the Great Ocean Road are bad places to be in summer – not at all. What we are saying however is that New Zealand has just as many awesome places to spend a hot, sunny day in January as Australia does. And, it just so happens that the vast majority of those spots are in the North Island.
We love the South Island as well, more than we can say! Yet, the South Island really comes alive in the winter, when the slopes down near Queenstown are covered in lush powdery snow and the only thing sharper than the beating of your heart as you stand at the jump point for the Nevis or the Canyonswing is the lash of the cold air on your reddening face.
We’ve had some of our best times in New Zealand down South, but not in the summer months.
Summer’s for hanging at Ninety-Mile beach, or for kayaking in the Bay of Islands. It’s for zooming through the canopy outside Rotorua on a zipline, plunging down a hill in a zorb in your board shorts or even visiting a museum or two in beautiful Wellington.
Oh, yeah. If you still want to go bungy jumping you could always do that in Auckland.
Summer in NZ? We’ll show you how.
Rotorua Canopy Tours
WHAT: You will give Tarzan a run for his money zipping through this magical, untouched New Zealand forest. Roturua Canopy Tours is the only native forest zip-line canopy tour in New Zealand. The guided three-hour adventure will see you travelling a 1.2 kilometre network of zip-lines, swing-bridges and treetop platforms, 40 metres above the forest floor. The thrill of flying through breathtaking, peaceful, forested valleys, is unlike any other. The magnificent forest is also home to giant ancient trees and unique bird species. Roturua Canopy Tours is built on a reserve owned by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. Their inspirational conservation project aims to return the forest to a complete pre-human state for all New Zealanders and international visitors to enjoy. Since they started their conservation project and rat trapping in August 2012, a rare bird, the North Island Robin, has returned and visitors to the tour have been able to hear it.
WHERE: Just outside of Auckland.
Cost from $129 canopytours.co.nz
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
WHAT: Wandering through a valley of hot springs and bubbling mud baths is something reminiscent of ‘middle earth’, and that’s what you will find at this spectacular geothermal destination. Only 20 minutes south of New Zealand’s thermal centre, Rotorua, visitors can walk through one of the world’s youngest eco-systems to marvel craters, hot lakes, unusual thermal plants and wildlife. Explore the magnificent valley with a self-guided walk or join one of the guided eco tours. Waimangu Volcanic Valley was created as a direct result of the Tarawera volcanic eruption in 1886, and is the only geo-thermal system in the world that can be pinpointed to an exact time and event. This remarkable ‘must-see’ attraction has won multiple eco-tourism awards for conservation and sustainability.
WHERE: 20 mins south of Rotorua.
COST: $34.50 waimangu.co.nz
Green Glow Eco-Adventures
WHAT: A kilometre long cave stretch with seven entrances awaits you on the west side of Waitomo caves. There is something for people of all experience levels at Green Glow, including caving, abseiling, rock climbing and photography. Create your own unique tour consisting of your guide and whoever you bring with you! The maximum size is six people, and you can set your own pace. One of the many highlights of exploring the Waitomo caves is getting to stop and check out the glowworms when you turn out your light! This is a “dry” adventure, meaning you wear comfortable clothes and generally stay out of the water, as opposed to Black Water Rafting when you wear a wetsuit and sit in a tube up to your waist in cold water!
WHERE: Waitomo Caves.
COST: from $190 greenglow.co.nz
Hiking New Zealand Eco Tours
WHAT: These eco tour groups offer you the chance to experience wonderful adventures, some of them up to 27 days long! The best part? They operate throughout the whole of New Zealand and are carbon neutral.
From river canoes to skiing, prepare to see volcanoes, rivers, rainforests, canyons and a huge variety of flora and fauna. These eco-tours are approved by the Department of Conservation, proving they have passed all necessary environmental and safety standards that are set to keep the area preserved. The concession fees also go towards the management of natural and historic resources. Hiking NZ also run a great program called ‘Trees For Trampers’ where they will plant a tree on your behalf so everyone can do their bit for the environment, regardless of how busy you are! This encourages bird life and new plants to grow so future generations can see what you do – and we love all manner of tress and birds, after all.
WHERE: All around.
COST: Prices vary. hikingnewzealand.com
WHAT: Widely regarded as a surf spot to rival Piha Beach, Raglan is another world-class location for surfers and body boarders alike because of its consistent conditions. It is situated on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island in the Waikato region and is most famous for having one of the longest left-hand breaks at Manu Bay. Aside from being a renowned surfing beach, Raglan has plenty of other fun activities if the long board doesn’t float your boat. Visitors can kayak, kite board, horse ride along the beach, fish for dinner, hike the local trails, mountain bike or simply take a walk along the rocks and admire the black sand and spectacular sunsets. Another top tip is to take the short walk to the top of Bridal Veil Falls, 55 metres up with an impressive view. There are plenty of things to keep any visitor busy in this dramatically scenic area. You could, of course, always just ditch the walking and relax in the sun instead.
WHERE: Waikato, North Island.
Ninety Mile Beach
WHAT: Ninety Mile Beach, on the north-western tip of New Zealand’s North Island, is famous for its expansive stretch of golden sand. However, despite the name, the beach is actually only around 60 miles long (yeah, we don’t really know why either). One of the beach’s biggest drawcards is the enormous sand dunes that line its edge, creating a blustering Mad Max-style desert landscape. Not surprisingly, water-based activities are not necessarily the most popular pastimes at this beach. Visitors can grab body boards to sand surf down the dunes before making the long journey back up to the top and flying down all over again. Other fun things to do include quad biking, joining a guided tour that drives right across the beach or “sandy highway” and, of course, sampling one of the best left-hand surf breaks in the world. Also, close by at Cape Reinga is the spectacular lookout where visitors can see the Pacific Ocean dramatically collide with the Tasman Sea. So much prettiness!
WHERE: Aupouri Peninsula.
WHAT: Piha Beach, located on the west coast of the North Island, is arguably New Zealand’s best surf beach because of its large swells. It is also credited with being the birthplace of NZ board riding in 1958. Many national and international surfing competitions have taken place there over the years.
Besides the crunchy black sand found on many west coast beaches, due to nearby volcanic eruptions, and ideal surf conditions, Piha Beach’s defining feature is the 101 metre high Lion Rock. This impressive monolith resembles a seated lion staring out towards the sea and his ‘shoulder’, located two thirds of the way up, is a great climb for outstanding views. An energetic endeavour such as this, however, is best left until the cooler part of the day.
WHAT: New Zealand’s capital city is probably the most interesting and appealing city in the country – especially if you hit it on a good day when the sun dances on the harbour and the city comes alive with Wellingtonians lunching and jogging along the waterfront.
Wellington’s sheer vibrancy and colourful character make it the country’s centre for culture and the arts. Te Papa, the national museum is here, so too is the nation’s parliament.
The city’s nightlife, food and café culture is also world-class, young and cool. There are more cafés per head than New York for example and lots of small-bars.
The Te Papa is one of the best museums in the country, with a wonderful series of Maori exhibits in particular. From virtual reality rides to a living Marae (Maori meeting house), stories of the first Pakeha settlers, interactive natural history exhibits and art galleries. You could spend a week in here and still have things left to see. It’s a ‘must visit’ destination for culture when you’re in Wellington.
Take a ride on the historic cable car ride built in 1902 (and refurbished in the 70s, for your peace of mind), take a walk past the Beehive, the Old Government Building which purports to be the world’s oldest wooden building, visit the Otari Native Botanic Gardens or take it all in at once from atop nearby Mt Victoria.
WHAT: Experiencing the unique traditional culture of the Maori is a big part of any trip to Aotearoa (New Zealand). Archeological evidence indicates they discovered the country some time between 800-1,000 AD, on one of the last deliberate voyages of colonisation across the Pacific.
In modern New Zealand, around 14 per cent of the population claim Maori heritage and their language and culture has a major impact upon just about every aspect of the country. New Zealand is very proud of its Maori ancestors and a large number of fantastic museums and maraes (traditional meeting houses) can be found on both islands.
The Waitangi National Reserve is where the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Europeans and Maori leaders. The treaty is controversial as the promises made to the Maori regarding land rights and protection were changed in the translated English version, leading to the Maori Wars in the late 1840s. The reserve is beautiful, and includes a stunning marae, a 35m Maori war canoe and the treaty house where the document was signed.
The Museum of New Zealand in Wellington has a fantastic number of Maori exhibits while the Auckland Museum presents daily performances of Manaia, which gives a look at Maori culture through narrative, song and dance.
The Maori have been involved in tourism since 1870, when the Tuhourangi people south of Rotorua owned the ‘eighth’ wonder of the world, the Pink and White Terraces – impressive and beautiful layers of thermal pools. Despite its destruction by the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886, Rotorua has become a hub for Maori tourism, taking advantage of the many geothermal fields and attractions of the central volcanic plateau. Maori entertainers can be seen at many venues performing a concerts. Some of these performances are accompanied by a ‘hangi’ – a meal steam-cooked in a traditional Maori way.
Bay of Islands
WHAT: Nothing could sound quite as lovely as the name, Bay of Islands, and the region substantially lives up to that reputation. Tauranga is a no-brainer for a visitor to the region. With its seaside holiday town qualities, you can’t help but fall in love with the sun, surf and sea. Take a sprightly walk to the top of Mount Manganui to get a real feel for the area from above. It’s a toughie in the heat of day, but definitely worth it. Whakaari or White Island is further along the coast and likely to be the most stunning example of nature at its scariest. The island is essentially one big volcano bursting forth out of the sea like a teenager’s pimple. It’s the most active cone volcano in New Zealand and other than tourists and scientific research, nobody lives there. You can hop on a boat for an hour and a half or take a plane to check it out from above. It’s the holiday destination of choice for Aucklanders, which is a finer endorsement than we could ever bestow upon a region, so hurry up.
WHAT: East of Auckland, the Coromandel boasts dense scenic bushland, superb unspoilt beaches, great surf and some pretty, placid townships. The famous Hot Water Beach gives visitors the opportunity to dig their own hole in the sand to sit in a deliciously warm, geo-thermally heated bath. After a couple of shovels with your plastic spade you might be doubtful, but journey on traveller and you shall be duly rewarded. For a beach like no other take either a walk or a kayak trip ending at Cathedral Cove. The stunning rock formation is about as cathedral-like as you’re likely to find on the sand and with the Pacific pounding the shore you’ll feel about as close to Narnia as you can get.
WHAT: Auckland is New Zealand’s largest urban area city sprawls for 50km between two large harbours, the Waitemata and the Manukau. Despite the urban sprawl and the 1.4 million people living there, the city boasts a great deal of scenic and cultural activities that some may well overlook.
The Auckland Museum has a brilliant display of Maori history, lifestyle and culture complete with a fully kitted out 25 metre long traditional war canoe. Admission to the Museum is free but donations of $10 are encouraged to keep the museum operational.
Another must-visit cultural attraction is the nearby One Tree Hill. This extinct volcano was once the site of the largest Maori settlement in New Zealand, known as a ‘pa’ in the traditional language. Not only can you see the historical remnants of the old Maori fortress from here, the old terracing and storage pits but also get a great view of the city. Alas the tree that once gave the hill its name was cut down in 2000 due to old age.
The restored suburb of Parnell has become a hip, young area full of cool restaurants, shops and galleries and is well worth checking out if you’re keen for a few beers, a good cup of coffee or wish to indulge in a little shopping.
Auckland also has a number of interesting and colourful markets; one in Victoria park and the other is the China Oriental Market which both open on the weekends and offer outdoor cafés and entertainment.
If you’re feeling brave you can even go to the top of the city’s standout landmark, the 328m tall Sky Tower and indulge in a little bungy jumping.