By Ben Janeczko
New Zealand is world-famous for adventure, a pristine natural environment and some of the best fresh seafood & wine produced anywhere on Earth. We surveyed our well-travelled team at Eclipse Travel to get their favourite spots in this remarkable country.
The Southern Alps – Luke
The Southern Alps towns of Queenstown and Wanaka are among New Zealand’s most popular destinations. They offer great skiing in the winter and an abundance of other activities such as mountain biking, hiking, bungee jumping and jet boating. Both towns have a lively bar and restaurant scene and spectacular lakeside settings. These towns have something for everyone, they both offer a range of accommodation options from motels to five-star luxury.
For adrenaline junkies, there are abundant options for activities to get the pulse racing; skydiving, canyon swings, mountain bike trails for all levels, heli-skiing and heli-hiking as well as great resort skiing. They are also the perfect destinations for those who would just like to relax and enjoy the region’s great food and wine, sit by a fire and take in the beautiful lake views.
Fiordland National Park, Karen
My favourite part of New Zealand so far (as I am still adventuring around both islands with lots of small short breaks) is Fiordland National Park. With Te Anau as the gateway to Milford and Doubtful Sounds and the famous Kepler Track you may be confused with all the options you have to explore in this region. Te Anau has some great small accommodation choices, with a few good choices of where to dine and some interesting locals. I particularly loved my visit to Te Anau Caves with the limestone grotto of glow-worms, the underground waterfall, and exploring the local native forests. There is an abundance of wildlife in this region and for those who love trout fishing, you won’t be disappointed. The hardest decision though is whether to do Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound, so of course, I did them both.
Whilst they are different and I would highly recommend seeing them both, Doubtful is definitely more spectacular giving you a more intimate quiet experience with nature and worth the extra effort to get there, but if you are short on time then definitely go to Milford Sound and you won’t be disappointed. Milford Sound has more overhanging cliffs and sheer waterfalls all in a smaller area, and as it is more accessible you will see a lot more tourist boats in this area. Doubtful Sound is three times longer and ten times larger with the abundance of impressive scenery more spread out. My only regret is that I didn’t take the option to do the overnight cruise with stargazing, beautiful sunrise, and more intimate experience, and rather I chose the rather long day tour. Next time I will be overnighting definitely.
Lake Taupo, Jess
This may not be a typical stop on everyone’s itinerary but Taupo, located in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, is definitely worth a visit. There is something for everyone to enjoy here, from adrenaline junkies to history buffs to nature goers, this undeniably beautiful town will not disappoint.
On a three-week road trip around the country, Taupo was one of my most memorable experiences. Having backed out of several bungee jumping opportunities on the South Island, Taupo was my last chance to tick of this bucket-list item. After paying for the privilege of plummeting towards near death, I was briefed, harnessed, and ready to go. Standing on the edge of the infamous cliff-top platform suspended over the crystal-clear Waikato River had me absolutely petrified however without much opportunity to back out, I counted to three and took the 47m plunge to the water’s surface. Don’t think I’ll be in any rush to bungee jump again, but this experience was one to remember.
Our next checklist item is the most visited and photographed natural attraction in New Zealand. Dumping 200,000 litres of water every second, the Huka Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls I have visited. The thunderous crashing of the clear, crisp blue water is simply breath-taking. If you haven’t had your fill of adventure yet, I highly recommend the thrilling jet boat ride!
A visit to this town is not complete until without a visit to Lake Taupo. Towering 14-meters above Lake Taupo are the famous Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings which are only accessible to view via scenic cruise, sail boy or kayaking trip are a must for any art or cultural enthusiast. This massive, picture-perfect, expanse of crystal-clear blue-green water is the perfect backdrop for an afternoon picnic, a fishing trip or a variety of your favourite water activities.
Taupo is well known for its geothermal activity and so the last stop on our itinerary was the Craters of the Moon walk. This geothermal area offers an out of this world experience where we spent about an hour exploring this completely unique landscape of usual plants, bubbling craters and steaming geysers. But if Taupo hasn’t left you with enough memorable sights by this point, be sure to check out the local McDonald’s as you head to your next destination. Voted as one of the coolest McDonald’s in the world, you won’t be disappointed as you come onboard the decommissioned DC3 aircraft to enjoy your favourite fast food meal.
Marlborough Sounds – Alisha
A boaters paradise, the Marlborough Sounds is a naturally beautiful destination with stunning crystal clear waters, hidden coves with deserted beaches and lush jungle-like native bush. The quaint town of Picton is a popular stop-off for cruise ships, but to truly appreciate this area I’d recommend getting off the beaten track and staying at a boat-access only lodge deep in the heart of the Sounds, or even challenging yourself to hike the Queen Charlotte Track.
Make sure to complete your stay in this region by spending a day sampling good NZ sav at local wineries in Blenheim, my personal favourite is the Cloudy Bay winery.
Bay of Islands, Matt
NZ is blessed with so many incredible destinations and whilst often overlooked the Bay of Islands should be high on your agenda. The small town of Paihia (pronounced ‘pie here’) which is around a 3-hour drive north from Auckland offers a nice centre to base yourself in to explore the stunning beauty and history of the region which is comprised of 144 islands, incredible bays and beaches.
Take an adventure cruise through the famous ‘hole in the rock’ at Cape Brett, swim with dolphins and witness some of the incredible marine life that abounds in this region. The inland is just as interesting with some great walking tracks through giant Kauri Tree forests and quaint boutique towns. Food and of course wine are par for the course anywhere in NZ and the Bay of Islands is one of many areas producing exceptional produce including some great craft breweries which I am keen to return and try soon.
Milford Sound – Lara
Milford Sound is a stunning fiord located in the South West of New Zealand’s South Island. The scenery is absolutely epic! The whole area is surrounded by towering mountains, waterfalls and native rainforest. On the way to the Sound there are many beautiful places to stop and take photos and if you are lucky you may even spot the world’s most cheeky alpine parrot, the Kea.
These birds have very little fear of humans and will allow you get very close. They are also known for riding on car roofs and picking away the rubber on car windows! The fiord itself is home to fur seal colonies, penguins and dolphins. No visit is complete without a stop at the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory where you will get to see corals and other marine life in their natural habitat.
West Coast South Island – Leanne
The ‘wild’ West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is as rugged a coastline as it gets. The coast road stretches from Kahurangi National Park in the north to Mount Aspiring National Park in the south.
Starting from the north with the Oparara Arches, near Karamea then calling in at the Pancake rocks and blowholes in Punakaiki as you head south. Try your hand at fly fishing on Lake Brunner as you make your way to Hokitika and the impressive Hokitika Gorge. In this small coastal town once a year in March it hosts the Wildfoods Festival. If your time on the coast coincides with this event I’d highly recommend a visit for a day of fun and Huhu grubs!
Further south you will reach Glacier country and Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. Here enjoy a soaring helicopter flight over the glaciers even make a snow landing. In the evening take a stroll to search for glow worms. The final stop before turning left and heading inland is Haast and it’s untamed natural wilderness with an array of hiking trails. If hiking isn’t your thing but biking is why not ride the Old Ghost Road or the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
Self-driving this coast will give you freedom to veer off the main road to take in some of the sights this area is well known for. If you’d prefer an escorted tour which will cover the main sights we can assist you too. The ‘coast’ as it is known by locals will not disappoint. Take it as leisurely as you like… sit back, relax, enjoy a whitebait fritter, a glass of chilled Monteith’s cider or beer and watch expert carvers create a pounamu momento of your time on the coast.
I’m a little reluctant to share my favourite place in New Zealand for fear of word getting out, however my top spot is the Catlins. Situated at the very southern end of the South Island, to the east of Invercargill, this really is the last stop before Stewart Island and the great Southern Ocean beyond. The Catlins region is breathtakingly beautiful with enough to keep you occupied for a week of exploration: easy hikes to waterfalls; rainforests and caves to explore; and a petrified forest to walk over at low tide (over 180 million years old!), plus colonies of Yellow-Eyed Penguins, seals and sea lions to get your wildlife fix.
But most surprising are the gorgeous golden sand beaches stretching for miles with barely another tourist to share them with. But you don’t have to look far to see the trees all misshapen and bent over at sharp angles shaped by the wild winds – think of the beauty of a Mediterranean beach, but combined with the climate of Antarctica. In spite of the wild weather the Catlins is known for, for me, this remote, rugged and windswept piece of New Zealand remains firmly in number one place.
New Zealand is a naturally beautiful adventure playground just waiting to be explored. If you are interested in any of these experiences or would like some advice on your NZ trip please contact us and we will give you expert advice, obligation free.