Some travelers avoid visiting New Zealand and Australia because they feel it is simply too far from home. Well, look at it this way, a flight from Los Angeles to Auckland takes about 13 hours. You depart Los Angeles early in the evening and arrive early the next morning local time. A flight from Los Angeles to Europe would take almost as much time. By flying to the South Pacific you also cross the International Date Line. Let’s say if you depart Los Angeles on a Monday evening you will arrive in Auckland early Wednesday morning.
After arrival in Auckland you will be met by a guide and escorted to a coach that will take you into the city. If you travel independently you can secure seats on a transfer bus easily at the airport after arrival.
This is a country that is easy in which to get around. New Zealand is comprised of two islands that stretch 1,100 miles and 11 miles of sea separate the North and South Islands. The North Island offers a little more temperate weather with the South Island featuring the Southern Alps and glaciers.
Both islands present the traveler with scenic lands of rolling hills, grasslands, tall mountains, and even geothermal wonders located at Rotorua.
There are fishing opportunities in the clean rivers and streams, tranquil farms, interesting bays and fiords. The sea is rather close no matter where you are in the country.
The cities and towns are all very clean, good water from every tap and tasty food everywhere. The people all speak English (it’s their language also), so it is as easy to get around in New Zealand as it is in the United States. And, the local people seem anxious to help with directions or make suggestions as to where to explore. If I were to live in another country it would be New Zealand.
Auckland, the largest city in the country, now has a population of more than a million residents and somewhat resembles San Francisco, both in size and feel. It is loaded with hills offering views of the sea from any direction. If you can find it in San Francisco, you can find it in Auckland.
Since you will be arriving in the morning from the States, I suggest you take a walk around the town after settling into your hotel. The air will be good, which is needed after a 13-hour flight. Try and stay awake until after dinner this first day in order to get accustomed to the time change. You will sleep like a baby this first night. I never sleep well on aircraft, so the first night in bed after a long flight is usually long and good.
If it were me, I would plan on taking an escorted tour on my first visit. This way the tour operator will make all the arrangements for hotels and transportation and provide a guide. You usually get a lot more information from a guide than doing it on your own. And, you won’t have to worry about where to park or the local laws. The hotels throughout the country range from deluxe to basic, but they are all clean and you are safe.
The seasons are reversed from ours so January, February and March are summer and this is the period of the year most Americans travel here.
A city tour of Auckland provides an overview of the area and some of its more interesting sections. You will visit beautiful parks; see aquariums; the port activity at the foot of downtown; churches; neighborhoods and more. Your hotel will most likely be downtown, which is always worth a long walk.
New Zealand has a definite English feel, which you will see in architecture and customs. Afternoon tea is important. The residents love their pubs, beer and lamb.
After seeing Auckland, venture to the Bay of Islands at the northern end of the North Island. This is an area where vacation cottages are found, as well as standard residences. You will find resorts, good beaches and be introduced to the Polynesian natives known as the Maoris.
The natives ventured to these lands many hundreds of years ago and are somewhat integrated with the white people. They will show you their customs, art crafts and you can even dine with them if you choose. You can visit the Treaty House and Meeting House. Book a sailboat cruise here.
From the Bay of Islands you can travel south to Waitomo and for a guided tour of the limestone caves and glow-worm grotto. Then continue to the geothermal region of Rotorua with hot bubbling water boiling up from the depths of the earth. You can even partake in a relaxing soak in a natural thermal mineral pool. There are museums and cultural centers to visit as well.
From Rotorua it’s on to Lake Taupo to visit the Wairakei Steam Valley, a unique and fascinating geothermal power project. You’ll see Huka Falls as well as the lake.
Next it’s on to Wellington, located at the southern tip of the North Island. This is another “English city” in feel with old and stylish buildings and again, friendly people. No one is stuffy in New Zealand.
After getting acquainted with Wellington, you will take a boat across the Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds to Picton on the South Island. Continue on land via the Marlborough region to the town of Nelson. Stay the night here, perhaps at the Rutherford Hotel. There is plenty of good dining in the area and there will be seafood choices almost everywhere. All of these towns are interesting to cruise through on foot.
The next day you can follow the Heritage Highway to the West Coast where you can view the Pancake Rock formations at Punakaiki. Be sure to stop at Hokitika to see Pounamu (jade) being carved. Later you can enter Westland National Park to view the glaciers. You are now in the high country loaded with scenic wonders. The coastal areas are dazzling.
Travel through Haast Pass, over the Southern Alps and the shores of lakes Wanaka and Hawea, to Wanaka township and if you are not on tour, at least book a night at the Edgewater Resort.
After a restful period here, journey to the village of Arrowtown, an old gold rush settlement, then continue on to Queenstown, on the banks of Lake Wakatipu.
You’ll probably want to stay at least two nights here. There are interesting restaurants, with fine seafood and lamb and it’s a fascinating town with a range of activities.
There are attractive gardens and you can take a local wine tour and in the afternoon enjoy an exciting jetboat ride or a fun double-decker bus tour of the area.
Now, it’s time for the famous Fiordland National Park where lush rain forests meet snow-capped mountains. You can drive along Milford Road, renowned as one of the most spectacular alpine drives. Upon arrival at Milford Sound you can board a boat that will cruise the full length of this beautiful fiord, traveling below famous mile-high Mitire Peak.
After leaving your cruise, it’s continuing on through the Eglinton Valley and Homer Tunnel to the lakeside settlement of Te Anau. This is at the southern tip of the South Island.
After an enjoyable night here, travel via beautiful Southland to Dunedin, settled by the Scottish in 1848 and renowned as the Edinburgh of the South.
While here you can visit Otago Peninsula or ride the Taieri Gorge Railway through stunning scenery. I suggest staying at the Southern Cross Hotel.
From here, you can travel along the coast to view the fascinating Moeraki Boulders and stop at Oamaru, known for its distinctive limestone buildings en route to Mt. Cook National Park. While here you may choose from a guided walk through the National Park, discovery of the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center, or stargazing with expert astronomy guides. Be sure to stay at the Hermitage with Mt. Cook views and choose to dine at either the Panorama Room or Alpine Restaurant. You won’t forget this stop.
After some time here, pay a visit to Lake Tekapo for wonderful views of the Southern Alps. Then travel through the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch and a return to the North Island and Auckland.
You can either return to the United States, or catch a plane and travel the 1,200 miles across the Tasman Sea to Sydney, Australia. I’ll be discussing this special continent with you soon.