Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands North Island NZ: Top 5 things to do

The Bay of Islands is a 3-hour drive north of Auckland in the North Island, New Zealand.  It is a top New Zealand holiday destination and stunningly scenic! Being an archipelago, it is known for all things aquatic…with over 140 islands to explore there is a wide range of marine and nature-based activities to choose from.

The Bay of Islands is also the home to Waitangi, the birthplace of New Zealand. The Bay of Islands is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British and the indigenous Maori people in 1840.

So, for all you marine & history buffs out there, make sure the Bay of Islands is on your hit-list. It’s a great first stop on your North Island drive circuit. Apart from Waitangi & the archipelago there are some great towns to explore in their own right. Kerikeri has a horticultural and vineyard bent, and Paihia is the main hub and gateway to the Bay of Islands. Across the Bay from Paihia is the attractive seaside town of Russell which has many bars and restaurants along its foreshore. A great place to relax and watch the sun set! This region has so many activities on offer you can easily spend 3+ nights. Expect many iconic New Zealand experiences!

Bay of islands

Russell, Bay of Islands

Here are some of the key things to do:

Boat Tour: 

Make sure to explore the Bay of Islands archipelago by taking a cruise. Explore all the highlights which will include the Hole-in-the-Rock and Urupukapuka Island. Enjoy beautiful scenery, pristine beaches and most likely some dolphins showing off! A great day out.

Bay of Islands

Bay cruise Bay of Islands

Waitangi Treaty Grounds:

Walk in the footsteps of the people who changed history. Discover the momentous events that shaped New Zealand at the Museum of Waitangi. Enjoy a guided tour and witness spellbinding cultural performances to learn more about Maori culture. It’s fascinating!

Bay of Islands

Meeting House, Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Rainbow Falls:

A waterfall near Kerikeri. A 27-metre spectacular drop with only a 5-minute trek to view makes it a must-see!

Waipoua Forest:

This is a highlight for nature lovers. 2 hours to the west of Paihia, it is well worth the trip. Waipoua Forest is the largest tract of native forest remaining in New Zealand. Plenty of short or longer walks which wind through stands of tall Kauri, Rimu & northern Rata towering trees.

Bay of Islands

Waipoua Forest, Northland

Action Options:

For more action you are spoilt for choice. The main contenders are swimming with dolphins, kayaking and diving. Other options include: Sailing, fishing, cycling, parasailing and of course, golf.

Bay of Islands

Dolphins frolicking, Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is a must-visit destination with beautiful coastlines and famous for its beaches, boating & ocean activities. Ask us to include the Bay of Islands in your New Zealand holiday itinerary…

New Zealand attraction

Rotorua: a major New Zealand attraction

Why visit? New Zealand and the North Island is such a scenic place to visit. People are friendly and have a fun sense of humor. Count on great coffee, fresh local food & wine. Enjoy the feeling of having the road all to yourself, to be able to see the horizon and enjoy the views, to breathe crisp clean air, to wake up to the sound of birds …

Sounds good doesn’t it? Tick that box and plan your NZ visit! Once decided, make sure your NZ dream trip includes a stop at Rotorua. Rotorua is a heavyweight New Zealand attraction. It is one of the most visited places in New Zealand for good reason. It is in the very heart of the North Island and is a 3-hour drive south-east of Auckland. It is the centre of Maori culture as well as the main geothermal hub (think bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers & natural hot springs). Rotorua has so many activities on offer you can easily spend 3+ nights. Rotorua delivers many iconic New Zealand experiences!

Based around Lake Rotorua, the town offers many beautiful sparkling lakes and stunning lush forests. An outdoor paradise with endless hours of fun to be had riding Rotorua’s world-class mountain bike trails, exploring the thermal parks, visiting the living Maori Village, or doing some lake trekking. It is definitely a premier destination with many must-do experiences to enjoy! Here are some of the key things to do:

New Zealand attraction

Whakarewarewa Thermal area, Rotorua, New Zealand. Pohutu Geyser.

Thermal Parks:

You are spoilt for choice! Visit Waiotapu thermal wonderland, Orakei Korako Geothermal Park or Te Puia with the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, Pohutu. Explore a volcanic world of gushing geysers, hot springs, and bubbling mud pools at your own pace. Very impressive!

New Zealand attraction

Te Puia Rotorua

Maori Culture: 

Make sure to visit the NZ arts & crafts institute at Te Puia. You can learn about the traditional arts of wood carving and weaving. Experience Whakarewarewa, Rotorua’s Living Maori Village. Consider an evening Hangi & Concert at Tamaki Maori Village.

New Zealand attraction

Hobbiton

Hobbiton:

This is a highlight. Only 1 hour from Rotorua, make sure to do the 2-hour movie set tour and experience the magic! A major movie set location for the Lord of the Rings Film trilogy. Make sure to watch the films before you visit!

New Zealand attraction

Redwoods Treewalk Rotorua

New Zealand attraction

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Action Options:

For more action the premier choice is Mountain biking, or the Treetop walk through the Redwoods Forest. Other options aplenty include: Rainforest Canopy Tours, White-water rafting, Skyline Gondola & Luge rides, horse-rides and the completely original Ogo ride. Visit Lake Tarawera, only a 20-minute drive which is so beautiful and serene (make sure to pack swimming gear, food & drinks). Consider doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the best one-day hikes in NZ. It is a little further afield at 2 hours from Rotorua, and features Mount Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mount Doom for Lord of the Rings fans).

Rotorua is a premier must-visit destination with magnificent landscapes and experiences to enjoy. Ask us to include Rotorua in your New Zealand holiday itinerary…

new zealand attractions

Fiordland: A must-see for your NZ Holiday!

If you are looking for awesome New Zealand attractions then look no further than Fiordland, the World Heritage listed National Park on the South Island. Fiordland is a great wilderness region, with spectacular mountains and waterfalls. It is a collection of huge glacier carved valleys that have been flooded by the sea. Home to both Milford and Doubtful Sounds, as well as the lakeside towns of Te Anau and Manapouri, it is simply not-to-be-missed when it comes to your holiday planning!

Te Anau is an easy 2-hour drive from Queenstown Airport, and is the gateway to the very impressive Fiordland National Park.  Located on the southern shore of Lake Te Anau, this bustling township is the jump off point for both Milford and Doubtful Sounds.  To get to Milford Sound you can either drive yourself (allow 2-3 hours for this top scenic drive) or take a guided tour bus for a relaxing day trip including a cruise on the majestic fiord.  Alongside Doubtful Sound and the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves, these three attractions are the main focus of tourism in this area.  Fiordland National Park is also a haven for Trampers (hikers) and kayakers.  Accommodation ranges from holiday parks, to B&B’s and hotels.

Here are some of the key things to do:

new zealand attractions

Photography by Rob Suisted

Milford Sound:

You can do a 2 hour or an overnight cruise to enjoy the views of Mitre Peak and the stunning fiords. The overnight cruise allows time for some kayaking, as well as star gazing in the evening. The actual drive to Milford Sound is also spectacular, and consider taking a bus tour or scenic flight to really soak up the magnificent alpine scenery without the worry of driving yourself.

Doubtful Sound:

Is the deepest Fiord and a haven for wildlife with resident bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins. A day trip is possible with an 8-hour cruise, or again an overnight cruise is a great option. The departure point for the cruise is Manapouri, which is a 20-minute drive from Te Anau.

Te Anau Glowworm Caves:

Enjoy a 2-hour cruise across Lake Te Anau to explore the underground world and grottos of the Glow-worm Caves. Great family fun!

new zealand attractions

Hiking:

Fiordland National Park features three world-class Great Walk tracks with stunning scenery: the Kepler Track (4 days), Milford Track (4 days) and Routeburn Track (3 days). There are also many short walks to enjoy, and of course you can experience a guided walk as an alternative.

Make sure to plan some days around Te Anau and Fiordland. It offers breath-taking scenery, wildlife, cruises, kayaking and some great walks. It is easily accessed from Queenstown, and really is a stunning destination that does deliver on a great outdoor experience! Ask us to include Fiordland in your New Zealand holiday itinerary…

Lake Tekapo

A guide to Lake Tekapo South Island, New Zealand

Thinking of a New Zealand road trip? It is definitely the best way to see New Zealand. You have the freedom to take your time, stop and explore, and enjoy the magnificent views from every turn. Make sure to include picturesque Lake Tekapo on your road trip. It ticks all the boxes for views, and is on the main highway halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown on the South Island.

Lake Tekapo:

The Lake itself is a gorgeous turquoise colour, and is framed by a cluster of New Zealand’s highest peaks which provide a beautiful backdrop with amazing views. Lake Tekapo is close to Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. The village itself is also a UNESCO dark sky reserve, so it is the perfect spot for some stargazing.  This is a fantastic location with plenty of eye candy for every budding photographer. There is plenty to do!

Here are some of the things to do in or around Lake Tekapo:

Flight:

Take a 50-minute spectacular scenic flight which covers the most amazing views of Mount Cook & the Southern Alps, Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers, Lakes, remote sheep stations etc. Breathtaking scenery from your own window seat!

Lake Tekapo

Stargazing:

Cowans Observatory offers a nightly astronomy session which will introduce you to the various highlights of the Southern night sky. Great for families. Tour duration 80 minutes and minimum child age is 5 years.

Tekapo Springs:

Tekapo Springs is all about family fun! It is based in a stunning setting at Mt John in Lake Tekapo. Think of a relaxing soak in the pools, an indulgent treatment at the day spa, fun on the ice skating rink or an adrenaline filled ride down the tubing park!

Lake Tekapo

Hooker Valley Mount Cook National Park

Scenic Drive Lake Tekapo-Lake Pukaki-Mount Cook:

This drive has impressive scenery. Set out for a leisurely 1:15 hour drive along the length of Lake Pukaki. The turquoise lake is surrounded by the peaks of the Southern Alps and ends at Mount Cook Village. Plenty to do!  

Other Attractions:

Walking Tracks through the Mackenzie Basin and explore the Church of the Good Shepherd.

Lake Tekapo is a great stop for 2 nights, and is only a quick trip from either Christchurch or Queenstown. It really is a beautiful region that does deliver the alpine experience in pristine surrounds. Include Lake Tekapo on your bucket list. Ask us to book & plan your trip to ensure your New Zealand Holiday is your best ever!

New Zealand

New Zealand: A Feast for the Senses

New Zealand By Paula Taylor

In 2007, my family and I took a vacation to the North lsland of New Zealand. When friends told me the South Island was even more beautiful I couldn’t believe it. Last Christmas, we had the good fortune to verify this for ourselves on our sixteen-day journey of a lifetime.

CHRISTCHURCH

[Note: Since our visit. the tragic earthquake has hit Christchurch and it is difficult to say when reconstruction will be completed. I will still include some highlights and let you determine if they are still possible.]

I felt that two days in Christchurch was plenty -a day in the city and a day driving up the Pacific coast to Kaikoura. Other recommendations for day trips might be to the nearby wine country or the beach. The highlight of our time in Christchurch was a visit to the wonderful botanical gardens. Here, my boys enjoyed climbing the enormous trees (some over 40m tall) and tossing a rugby ball on the manicured lawns, while my husband and I strolled through the amazing rose garden and walking paths.

KAIKOURA

As a day trip from Christchurch, we took a beautiful 2.5 hour drive through wine country and rolling hills to Kaikoura. It is a small but hip village with a main street full of restaurants and shops and a rocky beach (no sand). Here, we did the seal swim encounter, which turned out to be the highlight of my trip in New Zealand. In total, it took about three hours: we donned wetsuits, rode a bus to the beach where we boarded our small boat, and rode for approximately ten minutes (within sight of the beach). We stopped at a rocky outcropping and snorkeled with seals — magnificent. We spotted dozens of seals, both in the water and on dry land. In several instances, we came within a meter of them. The rule was not to touch the seals (it was ok for them to bump into you), nor to do anything that might scare or threaten them. Time in the water was about one hour, which was plenty as the water was very cold. even with full wetsuits. There are also whale watching tours and dolphin/albatross encounters out of Kaikoura a highly recommended day trip.

New ZealandTRANZALPINE TRAIN

As it was time to move to the next stop on our tour, we took the morning train from Christchurch to Greymouth. The weather was rainy, so it was not as scenic as expected, but we still enjoyed the beautiful views. The dining car had a good menu, so we had plenty to eat and drink along the way. The four-hour trip was a little long, but enjoyable. Arriving in Greymouth and renting a car took longer than expected – the car rental desks were very slow. We asked about restaurants and were given the option of a couple of restaurants in Greymouth, or driving forty minutes to Hokitika. We chose the latter and discovered Hokitika to be a small artisan town with several nice cafes. Hokitika is known for its hand­blown glass and jade, so we browsed some of the shops before continuing our drive to Franz Josef.

FRANZ JOSEF

After a full day of travel, we arrived at Westwood Lodge, a beautiful B&B. The rooms were very large and nicely appointed. The only complaint was the shower, which was not enclosed, so it was not very warm. After our all our day hikes, a warm bath would have been welcomed. The grounds at Westwood Lodge were stunning, with a view of the glacier from our room. The staff was friendly, the breakfasts were delicious, and it was fun chatting with other guests while we dined in the lodge. The weather didn’t cooperate, so our helicopter ride and hike to the top of the glacier was cancelled. I recommend booking the helicopter tour early in the stay so you can have alternate options for later dates. The cool, wet weather didn’t dampen our spirits, though. We thoroughly enjoyed hiking on the stunningly beautiful trails and were thankful we brought waterproof hiking boots and jackets. Connecting with nature on such a grand scale was the perfect way to spend Christmas day.

The next part of our journey was a drive along the western coast from Franz Josef to Queenstown. The torrential rain hampered our view, so our drive was a little nerve ­racking. It was cool to see the waterfalls spouting from the hillsides (even along the roadways onto the roads!). The wide rivers, which are usually dry except for a narrow stream in the middle, became wild rapids and a force of nature. This drive has the reputation as being one of the most amazing in New Zealand (a good excuse to return one day).

QUEENSTOWN

Our outstanding apartment at The Rees made a very luxurious base for our six-day stay in Queenstown. The apartment, which overlooked the Remarkables Mountains and Lake Wakatipu, was only a 30-minute walk into the town center, so we enjoyed walking on the trail along the lake to go for breakfast each morning. The first two days were rainy, so not many adventure activities were available. On a recommendation from a friend, we ate at Winnies Pizza which offered far more than just pizza and had a great party atmosphere. Due to the rain, we went to the cinema next to Winnies – a good rainy-day activity.

New Zealand

The next day, the rain started to clear, so we took a short trip to nearby Gibbston Winery. We did their short wine cave tour and had an exquisite lunch. We noticed there were shuttle buses advertising winery tours, which would have been a good way to visit the dozen or so wineries in the Gibbston Valley without having to drive. In the afternoon, we went into the town center, played disc golf at the Queenstown Gardens and browsed the shops. We ate dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Minarni, which was delicious. It is very popular, so reservations are recommended.

The weather cleared for the remainder of our stay, so we participated in many more adventure activities such as the Shotover Jetboat ride, one of the most popular tours in Queenstown. There is a shuttle bus for pickup and drop off and the 25-minute boat ride is a thrill a minute – especially the 360 spins. The next day we slowed the pace and did a half-day tour with Dart Stables near the small village of Glenorchy. The beginner level horseback ride took 90-min and covered areas where movie such as the Lord of the Rings, Wolverine, Caspian and Lovely Bones were filmed. Our guide pointed out locations for various scenes which will make it fun to re-watch these movies.

On New Year’s Eve we drove 45-minutes through rolling hills to Cardrona Adventure Park, an adrenaline-filled place perfect for doing “guy stuff.” In retrospect, l would have stayed back in Queenstown and spent the day hiking or shopping while my husband and teenage boys enjoyed the adventure park. At the park we rode monster trucks and did a one-hour quad bike ride through beautiful countryside. My teenage boys said riding the quad bikes was the highlight of their trip to New Zealand, although they said the monster truck ride was not worth the money. We had a lovely discovery as we left the park and stopped at the historic Cardrona Hotel for lunch. The outside of the hotel looks small and not especially inviting, but when we stepped inside, we discovered a huge garden in the back with picnic tables and lovely landscaping. A small band began to play bluegrass music, so we thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the lovely garden, eating wholesome food, and listening to good music.

Back in Queenstown. we had reservations at Flame Grill for our New Year’s Eve dinner. The restaurant is known for its BBQ ribs and in no time, my boys were elbow-deep in BBQ sauce. At the end of the meal, the pile of rib bones reminded me of something out of a Flinstones cartoon. We strolled along the beachfront in downtown Queenstown, which was set up for a big New Year’s party with two stages for bands. We had dessert at Patagonia, a well-known local ice cream shop which uses only local ingredients – the best tasting ice cream we’ve had in a long time. There was a fireworks show at midnight in downtown Queenstown, but we opted to stay home after our long day.

For our final full day in Queenstown, we took the Skyline Gondola to the mountaintop overlooking Queenstown – the view of the town and the enormous Lake Wakatipu was stunning. We chose to do the street luge, which was our third time to do it (the other locations were in Rotorua and Singapore). This was our favorite of the three. Although we only spent three hours here, it is definitely possible to spend the whole day (and of lot of money) doing other activities such as bungy jumping, paragliding, and mountain biking. We ate dinner at a local favorite sandwich shop called Jimmy Barr’s, which is another good place if you have a big appetite.

New Zealand

TE ANAU/MILFORD SOUND

Just when we thought it was impossible to match the beauty we had seen so far on our trip we drove to Fiordland and Milford Sound. The small town of Te Anau, while not particularly exciting, is basically the ”base camp” for activities in Milford Sound (it is the closest city with decent accommodations and dining). One activity that can be done from Te Anau is a visit to the glow worm caves. Real Journeys offers trip that includes a 30-minute boat ride across Lake Te Anau to the caves. The tour of the cave takes another 30 minutes and includes a wonderful cave hike and a pitch-black ride on a small boat to see the glow worms. As I sat in silence and total darkness, staring up at the small dots of light from the glow worms, I imagined I was in deep space. It was a very serene experience.

It takes about two hours (one way) to drive f om Te Anau to Milford Sound – something to consider when planning activities. Fortunately, it was only a one-hour drive to many of the hiking trails outside of Milford Sound. We did a 3-hour hike on the Key Summit trail, which was well ­marked and stunning in its scenery. The next day, we woke before sunrise to drive into Milford Sound for a kayak trip. Getting into all the gear and receiving instructions took quite some time, but it was worth it to be on the calm morning water and glimpse such astounding sights as Mitre Peak and Stirling Falls. We had the treat of getting up close to the Bowman Waterfall ( 150111 high) as well as paddling to within five meters of a seal sunning herself on the rocky shore. On our final day at Milford Sound, we started on a more advanced 4-hour hike, but the water in the creeks was too high and we had to turn around. We “settled” for a nature hike around Gunn Lake, a lush, moss-covered forest trail with ancient trees.

As we drove every day from Te Anau to Milford Sound, I wondered if it would have been better to stay in Queenstown and spend the money to take the short helicopter flights to Milford Sound. Some friends did the overnight stay on a cruise boat in Milford Sound and they had a wonderful time. That might be another option to avoid having to drive so much each day going back and forth. No matter how you plan your trip to the South Island, Milford Sound is not to be missed. For us, it was the icing on the cake and the perfect way to finish our idyllic vacation.

As I described to friends upon my return to Shanghai, experiencing such clean air and seeing the vibrant colors was like living in High Definition. My son described it like when you clean your eyeglasses and you realize you can see everything so much better! This rejuvenating vacation was a feast for all of my senses … and my soul.

RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS

FRANZ JOSEF

  • Blue Ice (only 12 tables – make reservations)
  • Breezes

QUEENSTOWN

  • Winnie’s Pizza
  • Manami (Japanese)
  • Flame Grill
  • Vudu Cafe (breakfast and lunch)
  • Fergburger (famous hamburger joint)
  • Jimmy Barr’s (sandwiches)
  • Patagonia (ice cream)

WHEN TO BOOK

September and October are the best times 10 book a Christmas trip to New- Zealand since it is peak tourist season. My trip was arranged with the help of Vicki Baensch at Australia Expat Travel. Visit the website

Paula Taylor is the former editor of the Courier magazine. She repatriated in June and is now breathing the clean air and enjoying the blue skies of Texas.