New Zealand is one of the world’s least-crowded countries, with easy accessibility to its stunning and diverse natural beauty. It is made up of two main islands -- North and South islands -- and many small islands. North Island boasts year-round temperate weather, sandy beaches, farmland, forests and active volcanoes. South Island is home to mountains, fjords, beech forests, beaches and large glaciers.
Your biggest challenge in New Zealand will be deciding where to go while here. Starting on North Island, Auckland offers all that a big city can, but within a half hour of beaches, rainforest and great island locales including the summit of Rangitoto, a volcanic island or a vineyard on Waiheke Island. In the city, cultural pursuits include stops at the Auckland War Memorial Museum with its Maori treasures, the New Zealand National Maritime Museum and the Auckland City Art Gallery. Otara Market is the largest Maori and Polynesian market in the world.
New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, is the arts and culture capital as well. It only takes 20 minutes to walk from one side of downtown to the other, so go out and explore. Be sure to stop at the interactive Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum along the waterfront, as well as at boutique shops, art galleries and trendy cafes.
On South Island, Nelson, with its coastal and mountain beauty, is home to three national parks, and more than 350 working artists and craftspeople. You can meet and check out the wares of some of these talented people at the Saturday market. Hiking is a must at either Kahurangi National Park, Nelson Lakes National Park, or a segment of the 32-mile Abel Tasman Coastal Track.
Explore the glaciers of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park while staying in Christchurch, where you can enjoy neo-gothic architecture. Queenstown is the ideal base for choosing your thrill, whether its skydiving, skiing, bungee jumping or jet-boating. The national parks Fiordland and Mount Aspiring offer great walks to get upclose to the regional beauty.
Shopping in New Zealand should include arts and crafts, with Maori carvings in wood, bone and pounamu (greenstone or jade) as good souvenirs. Pottery and hand-knitted wool sweaters or wall hangings are also lovely to bring home.
New Zealand offers “Pacific Rim” cuisine style, as well as a variety of international cuisine. New Zealand style options include lamb, pork and venison and pavlova, the national dessert of meringue, fresh whipped cream and fresh fruit or berries. Typical dining in New Zealand is casual café-bar style. Try some of the local wines, including the chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, which have an international reputation for excellence.
Nonstop flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco are available into Auckland, the largest international airport in New Zealand. Flight times are 12 and 13 hours, respectively.
New Zealand has a well-maintained road network and the main islands are linked by ferry and air services. Driving, though on the left, is a good option for those who would like to view the beautiful scenery. There is also scheduled intercity bus services and luxury coaches, as well as tours to get you around by road. New Zealand also has numerous scenic rail options.
New Zealand experiences summer from December to February and winter from June to August. Summer high temperatures average in the 70°s F., while winter high temperatures average in the 50°s F.