How to plan a trip to New Zealand? What to see and how long should you spend in each stop? Useful tips for a journey into nature, in a pristine and incredibly generous land!
New Zealand is the journey of life, from every point of view: an authentic immersion in unspoiled nature, an earthly paradise made up of long greens stretches, ups and downs wedged in mountains; a more unique than rare landscape.
It’s the journey of your life because it’s on the edge of the world, far from everything and everyone. Its surface is roughly comparable to that one of Italy (270,000 square kilometers), but it is sparsely populated (about 4.8 million inhabitants, of which 1.6 concentrated in the area of Auckland).
New Zealand has unusual charm. It represents, for me, a completely separate space-time dimension; people are very hospitable, warm and smiling. You will find out the difference between the Maori origin natives (about 15% of the inhabitants) and the rest of the population, purely made by European origin people and in particular United Kingdom (it is part of the Commonwealth).
The food, excellent, is mostly from local production: it will be for pure air, for the attention and respect they put in environment preserving, but the flesh taste borders on the sublime.
The pace of life is relaxed, but not slow: it’s a laborious and technologically advanced country, working and free wi-fi even in the most remote places, you can do everything on-line with maximum efficiency. It’s the country of sailing (Emirates Team New Zealand won 5 America’s cup) but mostly of Rugby: the All Blacks are a living legend and I bet you all, once a time in your life, have witnessed marveled at the legendary Haka, the Maori war dance they play out before every match.
Travel to New Zealand: our itinerary
New Zealand is composed of two large islands, the North one and the South one: according to most of the visitors, including myself, the southern part is more beautiful, even more pristine. The North Island is also very beautiful and should be visited. Above all, considering the distance, the time zone (exactly 12 hours ahead of central Europe) and all places you should visit (from Auckland to Queenstown we have covered about 2,200 km by car !!!), 14 days are needed.
Days 1-2 Auckland
It’s considered the economic capital of New Zealand, a city with a strong European style (but forget the traffic), located in a narrow and long strip of land between the Pacific and the Tasman Sea. Life for a tourist takes place mainly near the Waterfront, where there is the highest concentration of shops, clubs and restaurants.
Don’t miss the view from the famous Sky tower, with an excellent restaurant and a glass floor that will make your head spin! Watch the video here.
Don’t miss also the breathtaking view on the bay from Mount Eden.
Hobbit destination in New Zealand
The Hobbit Trilogy was filmed entirely in New Zealand, throughout locations in both the North and South Islands. Matamata, 160 km from Auckland, is the movie set that gives fans an inside look at Hobbiton. The site, after the shooting, remained open to delight Middle-earth fans who can dance under the Party Tree, to visit the house of Bilbo Baggins with the round door (one of the 37 houses in the village) or, again, to have a beer in the Green Dragon Inn! PS there are guided tours (in two hours) taking you to discover Hobbiton at a cost of around € 52 per person.
Days 3-4 Whitianga (Coromandel peninsula)
After two days needed to dispose of the spindle and recover, we started the journey in the “true” New Zealand, heading to the Coromandel Peninsula, 200 km east of the capital. We stopped in the renowned town of Whitianga to admire the unmissable Cathedral Cove.
A place accessible almost exclusively by sea, admiring the coastline rocky stretch and the numerous inlets and caves that can be visited. Watch the video here !
Days 5-6 Rotorua and Lake Taupo
Proceeding south towards Taupo, because the stage was quite challenging (280 km) we stopped at the Polynesian spa (considered one of the best 10 spas in the world) in Rotorua, on the homonymous lake: is it worth or not?
In the evening we finally arrived at Lake Taupo, a pleasant place to relax, stroll along the lake and breathe pure air in this enchanting paradise.
Day 7 Wellington
Then we headed to the capital, Wellington, driving for 370 km. Except the Tongariro National Park, where we haven’t stopped, there isn’t much to see along the way; enjoy the view driving as we did here. In the late afternoon of December 31st we arrived in Wellington, just in time to celebrate at the waterfront the first New Year’s Eve of the world!!!
In Wellington, there is really not much to see, just the view of the bay from the Kelburn suburb, reachable from the center with a spectacular cablecar (https://www.wellingtoncablecar.co.nz/English/home.html)
Days 8-9 Nelson
Wellington ended our adventure on the North Island and we crossed, by ferry, the popular Strait of Cook (watch the video here ); we arrived in Picton, the first port of the South Island and we headed to Nelson, an enchanting town that I highly recommend to see, a strategic outpost to visit one of the two pearls of our journey, the Abel Tasman National Park. A huge and wonderful park overlooking a spectacular stretch of ocean, with breathtaking views, crystal clear beaches, mountain paths (video) and this bridge, that I challenge you to overcome as I did here.
Days 10-11 Kaikoura
Then we headed to the Kaikoura peninsula, 240km southeast, to enjoy the spectacular view of the snowy peaks from the beach, to whale whatching (video here) and to be surrounded by hundreds of dolphins (video here) .
Day 12 Akaroa
Later we stopped at Akaroa, a small town in the Canterbury region, the only French village in New Zealand, a place characterized by a beach in the mountains, ups and downs and breathtaking views. Quiet and relaxing place, be careful because at 6 pm shops close and you can just have dinner or walk along the charming promenade.
Days 13-14-15 Queenstown
The longest stage was from Akaroa to Queenstown, 550km; you can take the plane from Christchurch, a beautiful English matrix town not far from Akaroa, under reconstruction after a violent earthquake. We did it by car, of course, to enjoy the priceless view of Mount Cook and Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki! We arrived in Queenstown in the evening, tired but really happy.
By the way, Mount Cook and the adjacent snowy peaks were used for some aerial shots in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” while the wonderful Pukaki lake was chosen as the location for Laketown in “The Hobbit : The desolation of Smaug “.
Let’s say it: Queenstown is the TOP place of New Zealand, a renowned ski town, a destination for an elitist tourism, full of clubs, restaurants, shops, and the closer place to the pearl of the pearls of the journey, the Milford Sound, the eighth World Wonder inside the Fiordland National Park (time lapse video).
Don’t miss the view from the top, thanks to the ‘Gondola’ Skyline Queenstown, a cable car that will allow you to enjoy the city view on the impressive Lake Wakatipu.
Travel to New Zealand: how to get there?
Make yourself comfortable, the journey is very long! The shortest way from Rome is via Doha with Qatar Airways. There is a direct flight from there (16 hours, until recently the longest flight in the world) to Auckland; valid alternatives are Emirates, Etihad and Qantas, but all with a further intermediate stop in Australia. If you opt, like us, for an off-road trip from north to south, the return airport is Queenstown. From there, to get back to Europe, take a flight back to Auckland or go to Sydney (where we stopped at the end of the trip for a relaxing weekend).
What documents do I need to enter New Zealand?
Passport: necessary with residual validity of at least 3 months to the scheduled departure date from New Zealand, or one month, if the issuing passport Authority has its own diplomatic-consular representation in the country. (for more information, see official website)
How to move on a trip to New Zealand? Car or hitchhiking?
Car for sure, with one caution: if you opt for an off roads trip from North to South (hitchhiking is very trendy and safe in New Zealand), remember that it’s more convenient to leave the car in Wellington, take the ferry to Picton (South Island) and start a new hire. The roads are excellent but only one lane, excluding Auckland surroundings. Right hand drive! Car rental is about 150 € per day, gasoline not included.
How much is a trip to New Zealand?
The trip is certainly expensive. The air ticket varies from 1,500 to 2,000 euros (unless you decide for a long stopover in China). The hotels, B&s and restaurants we tried, excellent, have European prices and beyond.
When to go to New Zealand?
Oceanic climate, cool also during summer (December-March), the most recommended period to visit the island. We have been there on New Year’s Eve. The island of the North is sunnier, the South one is more prone to sudden thunderstorms. The wind is very strong; it’s not a case if, as mentioned, they are sailing world champions! The water is cold, we tried to swim but for us Europeans it’s really very hard!!!
What to pack on a trip to New Zealand?
Hiking shoes and k-way wind breaker, sweater for the evening, especially in mountain areas. During the day the climate is warm and enjoyable.