I get a lot of requests for “tips” of places to go when visitors are planning their trips to New Zealand. So, I thought I would write up some of my thoughts – this is still a work in progress! It’s worth noting that some of these points are just my preferences and things will be different for everyone. I have also spent some time writing a specific list of places I have visited for photography, please contact me if you're interested in getting a copy of this.
Firstly, I want to recommend a very cool guide book, which is a little different to most. It’s called Frenzy Guide and there is a North Island and a South Island version. The writer has compiled a list of cool places to visit in all the regions, some of which are quite unknown or won’t appear in traditional guidebooks, and he’s very honest and humorous about what to expect. Often read in conjunction with the more mainstream books, as some of the most major tourist attractions are not in the Frenzy guides.
The books are available in print or cheaper if buying a PDF version. The link to buy these guides is:
BEST TIME FOR TRAVELLING
I don't think there is a best time - New Zealand is accessible year round. Personally my favourite time to travel in New Zealand is in our autumn (March – May) and winter (June to August). Autumn tends to be a bit less crowded and less windy, and winter is when you will get lovely crisp still days, and amazing snowy peaks. Note that you can get ferocious weather at any time in New Zealand however! Summer is the most popular time and things will be busy and more expensive, but the reward is longer and warmer days.
If you are tight on time, I would say the South Island offers more bang-for-your-buck in terms of variety of scenery. The Queenstown Lakes district is probably my favourite area and very iconic in terms of how NZ is portrayed overseas.
From Queenstown you can easily make trips to some of my favourite places. Most of these I would say to allow at least 2 days in each:
- Lake Wanaka
- Mt Cook
- Te Anau and Milford Sound
- Haast and Lake Matheson (this one might take a little longer)
Some of the regions in the South:
· Marlborough – beautiful sounds with amazing bays, also a wine region
· Nelson/Tasman – sunshine capital of NZ, home to Abel Tasman area which is known for golden beaches and clear water
· West Coast – wild, wind-swept and can rain a lot, but home to my favourite coastal drive in New Zealand. Also home to the famous Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and Lake Matheson
· Canterbury/Mt Cook/Tekapo/Twizel – accessible parts of the Southern Alps, the famous Aoraki/Mt Cook national park, glacial blue lakes
· Queenstown Lakes – collection of lakes set among mountains, also the gateway to Milford Sound and the adventure capital of NZ (jet boating, skiing, bungy jumping, sky diving etc.)
· East Coast – Kaikoura (mecca for wildlife enthusiasts, whale watching, seals, birding) and Hanmer Springs (hot pools!) – note the main highway is closed after an earthquake late in 2016, so you need to allow more time to drive
· Otago – amazing history and beaches around Dunedin, home to the Otago Rail Trail (cycle journey), lots of wildlife also (penguins/albatross colonies)
· Far South – another wild area of NZ, more remote – Catlins, Southern Fiordland
North Island also has some fantastic options for travel and photography, particularly the north of the island. It’s more about the beaches and less about the lakes and mountains up here, but that said, you’ll find those too!
My favourite regions on the North Island are Coromandel, Taranaki and Rotorua.
· Far North/Bay of Islands – warmer, with lots of beaches, bays and islands, Cape Reinga at the top
· Coromandel – amazing beaches, the famous Cathedral Cove
· Auckland – our largest city, also very beautiful due to all the beaches and bays (traffic can be difficult)
· Waikato – farming area, some amazing sights including Waitomo, Raglan, Bridal Veil Falls
· Rotorua/Taupo – home of Maori culture, also a geothermal area where you can see lots of natural geothermal activity
· Hawkes Bay – Fruit growing, wide region, pretty seaside city. Te Mata Peak, Cape Kidnappers
· Taranaki – Home to Mt Taranaki, a traditionally symmetrical volcano, and some wild beaches
· Central Plateau – Home to three volcanoes, lots of great day hikes, including Tongariro Crossing
· Wairarapa – one of the wine regions of New Zealand
· Wellington – Capital City, a beautiful harbour city that is easy to walk around, but beware of the wind!
DRIVING IN NEW ZEALAND
If you’re from overseas, you might find driving a bit more challenging than in your home country. Our major highways are single lane only in either direction for long stretches, with passing lanes when possible. The roads, particularly in the south, can be very winding with tight and blind corners. That said, roads are generally well maintained and sign posted for where you are heading. Weather can affect driving conditions meaning you must go a lot slower than normal. If you are driving a campervan, remember to pull over to let traffic pass if you are holding people up, this helps prevent people from making dangerous moves. And remember – keep left!
ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE
Campervanning and freedom camping has seen a real surge in popularity in New Zealand, and is a great and easy way to cruise around the country. Please note that a small minority of tourists have not been treating NZ well – leaving lots of rubbish, abusing privileges, not paying their fair share etc. There is some local push back around freedom camping and ongoing discussion. If you are travelling in this manner, please be respectful of our country by not littering (particularly toilet waste and related products!!), by paying for services where applicable, and by observing local by-laws around freedom camping.
Have a read of this guide to freedom camping: https://www.rankers.co.nz/tags/freedom-camping
WHAT HAVE I MISSED?
I'm hoping to add to and re-share this post over time, so please send me a message with ideas or things you would like to know!! As stated at the beginning, I have also spent some time writing a specific list of places I have visited for photography, please contact me if you're interested in getting a copy of this.
If you would like to view more of my photography please visit Laurie Winter Photography