Kia Ora! Read all about it: Why New Zealand should be on Your Bucket List
Updated: Sep 27, 2020
New Zealand is a country renowned for its stunning aesthetics and abundance of natural beauty, and is one country that holds a special place in my heart. Having visited twice now (first in 2012 and again in 2017) it has left a lasting impression and I 100% aim to go again when I can; I urge anyone who hasn’t to add it to their bucket list, you won’t be disappointed.
Whether you're an adrenaline junkie keen on seeking out adventure, or someone who's looking to soak up the sun in spectacular surroundings, New Zealand's got something for every intrepid traveller. With a total population of only 4.8 million (over five million less than London), you’ll find yourself interacting more with the local sheep than the local residents, which wouldn't be difficult as there is an estimated ratio of 16 sheep to one person (absolutely baarmy, I know). Here are some of my personal NZ highlights and recommendations, and if you’re not convinced by the end I’ll fight you (lol jks…).
I wasn’t particularly blown away by Auckland as a whole (soz if this offends), it is incredibly expensive (I’ll be damned if I’m paying $7 for a punnet of raspberries), although the sparsely populated city was a breath of fresh air in comparison to London, which has over nine times more residents (absolute hell on earth during rush hour). Auckland Zoo is pretty cool though, (plz note, no real elephants were ridden for photo purposes) it’s a not-for-profit wildlife conservation organisation dedicated to building a future for wildlife and offers plenty of space for the animals to roam (obviously it doesn’t compare to the wild but they are seemingly very well looked after). A visit to Mount Eden (Auckland Crater) is a must for that all-important panoramic, Instagrammable shot of the whole city.
Base hostel is a fairly central place to hang your hat and won’t break the bank. You can book your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hobbiton and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves from there too; it ain’t cheap, but the tour around Bilbo’s abode (on the pretences of official party business only, of course) which concludes with a pint of ale in the Green Dragon makes the price worthwhile.
Lake Taupo is a great spot for swimming and a must-visit for those looking to tick skydiving off their bucket list. Granted you’ll look like a pinhead in your skydiving getup but the free-fall view from 15,000 feet is totally worth it.
The country's capital is often nicknamed "Windy Wellington" due to the geography surrounding Cook's Strait, which creates a funnel effect on the prevailing westerly airstream (I have my Geography GCSE to thank for this titbit of info). It's got a laid-back, quirky vibe Brits can roughly equate to Bristol, with fun bars offering cheap $10 beer pitchers and $2 taco Tuesdays. Worth mentioning is Mount Victoria lookout point for an aerial view of the city, and the Te Papa museum which is truly remarkable and completely free (a rarity in NZ). Side note – try not to get black-out drunk the night before at Wild Zebra Backpackers and miss your ferry down to the South Island; it will not make you popular with your travel companion and the chairs at the ferry port are not built for hangover naps.
Abel Tasman National Park
This gem is said to be New Zealand's "finest coastal National Park" and it’s easy to see why; with its location at the top of the South Island meaning it benefits from the most hours of sunshine in the country all year round. Top excursions to try are either freedom stand up paddle boarding/kayaking around the park to sites such as Spilt Apple Rock, or a guided day/half day tour (I highly recommend). Be sure to disobey the instructor and paddle far out to sea and around the corner for stunning photo ops, but remember to take the GoPro from your mate first… Bookme is a good site to use for discounts on activities.
West Coast Drive
Those who are road trip fans will be in their element with this one. With the sun at your back and the ocean to your right this stunning drive offers an array of unmissable sights. Starting at Abel Tasman and cruising down to Queenstown there are a few places you can stop over on the way including Westport, Hokitika and Frans Josef, where you can view the majestic glaciers. The trip offers a huge amount of photo opportunities, ones to note are Pancake Rocks, the Seal Colonies and Lake Mahinapua. It’s important that all road trippers have driving licenses to share the load; otherwise your sole role must be designated in-car entertainment (my vocals were on-point always, sorrynotsorry Daisy).
Home to the famously photographed Wanaka Tree, it’s a town with a beautifully tranquil charm. For those who want something a bit fun and quirky head to Puzzling World for an afternoon filled with funky optical illusions and a fairly comprehensive maze at the end (cue super mature photo shoot ft. leaning tower). There are also lots of quaint restaurants and bars to choose from; Red Star Burger in particular gives Queenstown's famous Fergburger a run for its money. Head to Mint Bar below Base hostel for cheap drinks and karaoke, and then on to Fitzpatrick's Irish Bar for live music and a boogie.
Queenstown is the infamous party capital where undoubtedly thrill seekers can get their fill, although those who aren't familiar with the area may fall into the abundance of tourist traps. Again, most activities can be booked for a fraction of the price on Bookme (I’m not being sponsored I swear), so it’s worth checking it out before booking anything. Budget backpackers should head to Searle Lane for homemade $4 pizzas daily between 7pm and 8.30pm. Winnies is a laugh and a half and offers discounted drink deals throughout the night; 1876 has a fab beer garden for that all-important alfresco pint and Devil Burger is reasonably priced and delicious.
Of course Fergburger should be mentioned, but be sure to phone ahead beforehand to place your order if you don't fancy queueing for hours. Activity-wise the shot-over jet is pricey but well worth it for the buzz, although it’s definitely an excursion meant for fairer weather (having rain drops constantly pelting your face isn’t ideal). Also for a more affordable adrenaline fix, the AJ Hackett Bungy Swing is a good ‘un (at least then you can say you’ve done a bungy jump, kind of).
This underrated town is often one that's missed off of the NZ travel itinerary, but that shouldn't be the case. Arguably home to the best rice balls in the country, the town offers some of the most reasonably priced bars and eateries around. Highlights include the famous Dunedin railway station, with its striking architecture earning it the nickname "Gingerbread George"; the Chinese gardens and the botanical gardens - complete with aviary. Those with transport can venture out to the fabulous Tunnel Beach, with its vast smooth sands and interesting rock formations that can only be accessed through a tunnel carved through the cliff.
Lake Tekapo/ Lake Pukaki
These two lakes make up a trio, the other is called Ohau and all three lakes are full of icy glacial water. This explains their natural, dazzling turquoise-blue appearance, where photos just don't do it justice. Home to the charming Church of the Good Shepherd, the lakes should 100% be on your New Zealand must-visit list and are truly a sight to behold. If you visit at night you’ll be treated to the sky’s ethereal blanket of stars, and the odd token possum on your drive back to base.