The road twists around a bend and out of nowhere soaring sheer cliffs appear rising from the dark blue water below. You've now ticked Milford Sound, an ethereal place you’ve always dreamt of visiting, off your bucket list.
From setting off on a road trip between Christchurch and Queenstown to flying in a helicopter over the country’s most active volcano, White Island, New Zealand’s vast and varied islands are a haven for adrenaline junkies and the more sedate alike.
In the heart of the North Island, Rotorua’s geothermal landscape is where bubbling thermal pools and steaming vents delight before spa treatments in soothing hot spring waters. Wandering around the revitalised Britomart district in downtown Auckland, boutique bars, microbreweries and casual eateries have you immersed in a cool, creative city that leaves you yearning for more. In a country where everything is close, somehow however much time you have is never enough. With an amazing and unique experience around every corner, it’s a place that keeps giving.
If epic wilderness and thrill-seeking experiences are your slice of pie, head to the South Island where the great outdoors is the main attraction. Join a guide on a hike across Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier, two of the country’s largest and most accessible glaciers. Try bungy jumping over Queenstown, hang on tight for 360-degree spins on the Shotover Jet, or take a scenic flight over the mountains before a cruise through Milford Sound. Head off on a kayaking adventure in Abel Tasman National Park, or hike through the breathtakingly beautiful Fiordland National Park. From luxury boutique accommodation to motorhome holidays, exploring these parts is best done by road, where you can stop to take in that view, or continue around the bend at your own pace.
Movie buffs and book lovers will want to land on the North Island, driving into the heart of Middle-earth. Since the first Lord of the Rings movie was released in 2001, the Waikato, Rotorua and Waitomo regions have doubled as Middle-earth locations, transporting visitors straight into the worlds of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Easily accessible from both Auckland and Christchurch, a self-drive tour allows you to take in all of the major filming sites in approximately a week. Explore the underground homes in Hobbiton, walk inside glowworm caves in Waitomo, and hike across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which doubled for parts of Mordor in the films.
For culture cats, starting off in Christchurch is the way to go. With a history steeped in English heritage, since its skyline was dramatically changed in the 2011 earthquake, Christchurch has reinvented itself in a uniquely New Zealand way. The fierce local community, creativity and innovative culture have birthed a plethora of quality art spaces, boutique retail experiences, eateries, coffee houses and microbreweries. Shipping container precincts have replaced cold sandstone squares, the waterfront has been revitalised and the city is abuzz with its own energy. Just outside the city, on the south side of Banks Peninsula, is one of the South Island’s best-kept secrets. Akaroa, a French settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano, is a vision of quaint colonial architecture, craft stores and cafes, the perfect seaside weekend or day escape from Christchurch.
Of course, if one island or region isn’t enough, the beauty of New Zealand is that it’s small enough to tackle in one fell swoop. Hit the road from Christchurch all the way to Auckland for a taste of flavours of the north and south. There is no bad time to visit New Zealand either, from the ever-popular snow season in the winter to the clear skies and warm weather of summer across the nation. But, shoulder seasons are the secret when planning your trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud, or Aotearoa. Travelling to New Zealand in spring or autumn will bring prices down, while upping the availability of accommodation, and wherever you go the roads are likely to be all yours.
With wild coastlines, pristine lakes and dramatic mountain ranges, there’s no place more inviting than New Zealand. The locals are friendly, the wilderness is accessible, the food is incredible and best of all, it’s a short hop across the ditch from Australia. Time for a trip to New Zealand? That sounds like a yes to us.