There is no bad time to visit New Zealand. Plan your trip around your interests, whether that is skiing the Southern Alps or kayaking on mountain lakes. The Southern Hemisphere’s seasons are the opposite of those in North America. Summer lasts from December to February. Spring is September through November. Autumn is from March to May. Winter runs June through August.
About New Zealand Travel
Homesteads of New Zealand: New Zealand excels at being exceptional. Among its many assets are a range of extraordinary homesteads on both islands, and Big Five has chosen among them to select the best of the best that meet Big Five’s sustainability standards. What unites these particular homesteads are their profound respect for the land, local culture, and their reputations for excellence. Yet each has its own distinctive character. For example, one began as a successful farming operation in the mid-1800s; another is an elegant island retreat accommodating just seven guests; and yet another is ideally located at the edge of a national park. All of these gems offer rewarding experiences of life in New Zealand.
Auckland: The largest city in New Zealand, it is both cosmopolitan and relaxed. Howick Historical Village reflects life as it was in the mid-1800s. The National Maritime Museum, Parnell Colonial Village and Rose Gardens are interesting as well as the Town Hall. Great shopping and dining make the city a delicious way to begin any New Zealand adventure.
Bay of Islands: The Bay of Islands is regarded as the birthplace of modern New Zealand, since it was here that European settlement first began in 1814. Ninety Mile Beach (actually 88 kilometers/55 miles) runs west of Kaitaia towards Cape Reinga along the Aupouri Peninsula. Cape Brett’s 1908 lighthouse sees the majestic display of the Tasman Sea clashing with the Pacific Ocean. According to Maori legend, the cape is where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. The area offers some of the best deep-sea and big game fishing in the world.
Hawke’s Bay: The Hawke’s Bay region includes the hilly coastal land around the northern and central bay, the floodplains of the Wairoa River in the north, and the Heretaunga Plains around Hastings in the south. Hawke’s Bay has dozens of wineries as well as orchards and olive groves. Year-round events related to food and wine include the annual Harvest Hawke’s Bay in February. Napier is known for its Art Deco architecture – the city experienced a devastating earthquake and fire in 1931, but it was rebuilt in the Art Deco-style popular at the time. Today, it represents the most significant collection of Art Deco buildings in the world.
Rotorua: Rotorua is the remarkable “Thermal City.” Te Puia Thermal Reserve and Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserves have boiling mud pools and active geysers. In the area, working farms showcase the talents of working sheep dogs and the variety of sheep that contribute to New Zealand’s worldwide reputation for fine wool products. The Waitomo Glow Worm Caves are a stunning underground wonderland, magically lit by glow worms.
Taupo: The town sits on the shore of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake and a trout fishery with stocks of introduced brown and rainbow trout. It is a center of volcanic and geothermal activity and hot springs. The lake was created nearly 2,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption that darkened the skies over Europe and China. The Craters of the Moon has a fascinating geology with geysers, steaming craters and boiling mud pools.
Wellington: New Zealand’s capital city is set on the edge of a peaceful harbor surrounded by rolling hills. It is an amiable city with boutique shops, galleries and great restaurants within easy walking distance of downtown. The city on the North Island is bounded on three sides by water. In 1839, the first Europeans settled here. As the nation’s capital, Wellington has a rich cultural life that includes Royal New Zealand Ballet, Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre and National Portrait Gallery.
Arthur’s Pass: In the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, Arthur’s Pass climbs to more than 900 meters/2,953 feet, making it the highest pass across the Southern Alps. It is surrounded by Arthur’s Pass National Park. A wide range of adventure activities includes hiking, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife treks and much more.
Christchurch: According to Maori history, the Maori have inhabited this area for more than a millennium. In 1840, the first Europeans settled on the plains and Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter in 1856. Today, Christchurch, the garden city, is known for its festivals that encompass arts, hot-air ballooning and flowers. It also boasts fine restaurants, galleries, gardens and shops. The unique International Antarctic Centre is the only attraction where you can experience an Antarctic storm, first hand.
Glenorchy: During the gold rush of the 1860s miners came to the area seeking their fortunes. Remnants of several mines still exist. But today’s travelers come here for the dramatic landscapes and the vast number of adventure activities. Scenic helicopter flights provide a birds-eye view of this breathtaking alpine countryside. Hiking is done along renowned trails such as Routeburn, Greenstone and the Milford Track, often described as “the finest walk in the world.” Horseback riding, mountain biking, heli-skiing in winter and kayaking are popular as well as jet boating the Dart River. Fishing in wild and untouched rivers offers outstanding fly-fishing.
Kaikoura: Once a center for the whaling industry, it offers some of the best whale watching in the world. A variety of species can be seen offshore along with pods of dusky dolphins. There is also a large colony of Southern fur seals at the edge of the town. Bird watchers may catch sight of albatross, petrel and shearwater. The Seaward Kaikoura Mountains is a branch of the Southern Alps that reaches down to the sea. Hiking trails wind through this scenic setting. The area has been inhabited by Maori for 1,000 years, and provides for one of the best Maori cultural experiences.
Lake Moeraki: Lake Moeraki rests in the wild heart of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area boasts spectacular beaches, fur seals and crested penguins colonies, lowland rainforests, lakes and rivers that drain the Southern Alps.
Marlborough Sounds: The region appears in stories and legends of the indigenous Maori. The famous Captain James Cook favored Marlborough Sounds as a base while charting New Zealand in the 18th century. Marlborough is known for its mussel farms. With forests, trout-filled rivers, rugged backcountry and sheltered bays, it is a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts. There are opportunities for sailing, diving, biking, kayaking and hiking. More leisurely pursuits include vineyard tours and browsing galleries and craft studios. Wildlife includes dolphin, seal and blue penguin.
Milford & Doubtful Sound (Te Anau): The region has achieved UNESCO World Heritage status for its famous landscapes, including Mitre Peak, Milford and Doubtful Sounds and Mount Aspiring National Parks. Doubtful Sound possesses a sheltered serenity that contrasts with Milford Sound. New Zealand fur seal and Fiordland crested penguin inhabit many small islets. Doubtful Sound is also the deepest fiord, with several outstanding waterfalls. It can be explored by kayak, on a cruise, as a day trip or overnight. The hub of the fiord region is the attractive town of Te Anau, nestled on the edge of a lake, with a backdrop of Mt. Luxmore and the Murchison Mountain.
Nelson & Abel Tasman National Park: Sitting at the top northwest corner of South Island, Nelson encompasses long superb beaches, unscathed forests and rugged mountains. More than 350 contemporary, traditional and Maori working artists and craftspeople have studios here. The inland region is notable for its cave systems, and the country’s deepest vertical shaft, Harwood’s Hole. Te Waikoropupu Springs holds the world record for fresh water clarity. Abel Tasman National Park was founded in 1942, and at just 225.3 square kilometers/87 square miles, it is New Zealand’s smallest national park. The Tonga Island Marine Reserve adjoins part of the park.
Queenstown: Born during the 1860s gold rush era as a mining camp, Queenstown retains an element of that frontier energy. This is the place for adventure sports – bungee jumping, skiing, snowboarding, white-water rafting, sky diving, hot-air ballooning, hang gliding and mountain biking as well as golf, biking, walking, sailing and fishing.
Southern Alps (Franz Josef/Greymouth): Haast Pass is the entryway to World Heritage Westland National Park with its dramatic mountain ranges, native forests and lakes. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers offer rewarding adventures such as optional scenic flights over, or guided walks on one of the glaciers. Greymouth is home to the Tranz Alpine Train, which travels through beech forests and past the village of Arthur’s Pass before crossing the Southern Alps.
Suggested New Zealand Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland enjoys a water-oriented lifestyle, from sailing to whale watching to deep-sea fishing.
Day 2: Auckland
Nicknamed the City of Sails, it has more boat owners than any other city in the world.
Day 3: Auckland / Taupo
Taupo is on the shore of New Zealand’s largest lake, with plenty of outdoor adventure options.
Day 4: Taupo / Rotorua
Rotorua is renowned for its melodramatic boiling mud pools and active geysers.
Day 5: Rotorua / Hawkes Bay
Hawkes Bay is known for outdoor activities from bird watching and hiking to fishing and cycling.
Day 6: Hawkes Bay
The area is home to award-winning wineries; and its major city, Napier, is renowned for its Art Deco architecture.
Day 7: Hawkes Bay / Nelson
More than 350 contemporary, traditional and Maori working artists and craftspeople have studios in the Nelson area.
Day 8: Nelson / Abel Tasman National Park
At the top of South Island, Nelson encompasses long beaches, intact forests and rugged mountains.
Day 9: Nelson / Christchurch
Christchurch dates back to 1856, making it the oldest established city in New Zealand.
Day 10: Christchurch / Queenstown
Christchurch is the garden city, known for festivals that encompass the arts, hot-air ballooning and flowers.
Day 11: Queenstown
This area is rich in activities from adrenaline-pumping bungee jumping to more relaxing pursuits like walks and hikes.
Day 12: Queenstown / Milford Sound
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is noted for its incomparable landscapes.
Day 13: Queenstown / Depart
Custom Travel Options
Homesteads of New Zealand (3-5 days)
New Zealand’s homesteads on both islands offer a kaleidoscope of history, adventure and superb settings.
Bay of Islands (3 days)
The dramatic beaches and chiseled islands of the far north of the North Island are gems of extraordinary beauty; and Cape Brett’s lighthouse bears witness to the majestic display of the Tasman Sea clashing with the Pacific Ocean.
Wellington (3 days)
In the midst of rolling hills and a lovely harbor, the capital city is easily walkable with boutique shops, galleries and great restaurants downtown.
Arthur’s Pass (5 days)
In the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, Arthur’s Pass is in the center of the Southern Alps, surrounded by a national park.
Glenorchy (4 days)
This splendid landscape makes for exceptional horseback riding, as well as mountain biking, heli-skiing in winter, kayaking and jet boating on the Dart River.
Kaikoura (3 days)
Halfway between Christchurch and Blenheim, Kaikoura area is famed for its seafood. Kaikoura is known for whale watching and for opportunities to swim with dolphins.
Lake Moeraki (5 days)
Spectacular beaches, fur seals and crested penguins colonies, untouched lowland rainforests, pristine rivers make for a raft of adventure activities.
Marlborough Sounds (4 days)
Picture-book scenery – forests, rivers, rugged backcountry, established vineyards and year-round sunshine – make this region a favorite.
Southern Alps (5 days)
The glacier region of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers is simply stunning.
Land price, per person, double occupancy: From US$650 per person per day