Top 18 reasons to visit New Zealand in 2018

2018 is almost upon us and the end of one year is the ideal time to start planning the next year’s adventures.

2018 is almost upon us and, for keen travellers the end of one year is the ideal time to start planning the next year’s adventures – with New Zealand sitting at the top of many wish lists. Renowned for its cinematic landscapes, kilometres of pristine coastline and welcoming locals, the Land of the Long White Cloud also offers a lot of stuff to do. And whether you’re visiting for adventurous pursuits or you have more refined pleasures in mind, you’ll find 18 good reasons to start planning a trip to Aotearoa/New Zealand right here.

Come ashore with the Volvo Ocean Race in Auckland

It’s been 37 years since this race began and now it’s the world’s number-one offshore competition, testing sailors and yachts to the limit. Embarking from Alicante in Spain in October this year and finishing in The Hague in the Netherlands in October of 2018, competitors will cover 45,000 nautical miles, sail across four oceans and leave six continents in their wake. Bringing the sailing world together, other host ports include Cardiff, Guangzhou and Cape Town.  With New Zealand awash with the sailing fever that engulfed the nation following its recent America’s Cup win, Auckland will be one of the plum spots to experience the Volvo Ocean Race, from February 24-March 18. The city promises plenty of activities on- and offshore to keep fans entertained throughout the racing weeks. You’ll want to book your berth now.

Follow Northland’s Ancient Kauri Trail

This is one of Northland’s finest self-guided expeditions, helping visitors understand the important role the kauri tree has played in New Zealand history, both Māori and European. Starting 90 minutes from Auckland in the village of Maungaturoto, the Ancient Kauri Trail is a self-drive route that makes its way through a network of endearing hamlets. Stop in at the Kauri Museum in Matakohe to check out the outstanding exhibits then drive through Ruawai, the country’s Kumara Capital on the Kaipara Harbour, before turning off for Tokatoka Peak lookout. Climb for 20 minutes and be rewarded with spectacular views from the summit. Further on, beaches and lakes vie for your attention, but the crowning glory is Waipoua Forest where some of the world’s largest kauri trees grow, including the King of the Forest, Tane Mahuta. All are accessible via short, easy walks. Check in for a night or two at the The Heads Omapere (opens 1 December) – 10 1-br villa apartments with private hot tubs and outdoor fireplaces on the edge of the gorgeous Hokianga Harbour.

Indulge in the wine of Aotearoa

There are more 450 wine experiences to be found on New Zealand Wine's official wine website and in 2018, there are barrels of compelling reasons to visit New Zealand if you’re viticulturally inclined. Toast Martinborough, held each November in the Wairarapa region, promises good times among the vines. Or make your way to FAWC, the Hawkes Bay Food And Wine Classic, also in November. Push the boat right out and set course for Cloudy Bay in the heart of the South Island’s Marlborough region, where the proprietors can arrange everything from a simple tasting to a mouth-watering meal or helicopter wine tour. Cloudy Bay also offers half- or full-day wining and dining tours aboard a 54ft Beneteau Oceanis yacht – the choice is yours.

On your bike around New Zealand!

New Zealand is paradise for cyclists thanks to all manner of great rides from the National Cycleway – Nga Haerenga – to smaller off-road suburban rides. If your fitness level makes you think twice before climbing on a bike, not to worry, because there’s recently been an e-bike revolution in New Zealand. E-bikes are available to rent in all the big cities and on most of the great rides, from the Otago Rail Trail to the Twin Coast Trail in Northland. Or go for gold with Over the Top Helicopters, which offers full-day e-bike tours on backcountry trails accessible only by helicopter. Or join Real Journeys to take on Walter Peak above picturesque Lake Wakatipu. If you’re feeling competitive, you’ll be delighted to hear that the Skoda Mountain Bike Race (March 10), which grants riders access to the Motatapu Valley, now has an e-bike category.

Come over to the Dark Sky Sanctuary

Granted International Dark Sky Sanctuary certification in 2017, Aotea/Great Barrier is the only island in the world to enjoy this status. The rugged 285sq km island at the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf has just 885 permanent residents and no reticulated power (off the grid for real!), so there’s minimal light pollution, which makes for spectacular stargazing. To make the most of your stellar adventure, enlist the help of Good Heavens. This team of local Dark Sky Ambassadors provides bespoke tours of the firmament on beaches and at baches – even catered if you fancy.

Watch the Warbirds over Wanaka

Celebrating 30 years of spectacles in the sky, Warbirds over Wanaka International Airshow is one of the world’s best-loved aviation festivals. Established by Sir Tim Wallis, a live deer recovery pilot looking for a way to showcase his private collection of WWII aircraft, the biennial event is held in even-numbered years at Easter (30 March – 1 April, 2018), attracting up to 50,000 aviation fans. Wanaka is arguably one of New Zealand’s most picturesque regions. Framed by dramatic alpine scenery, it is the South Island at its most majestic. For the air show, roads are closed and nearby towns burst at the seams while Wanaka Airport buzzes with all manner of aircraft. Watch in awe as aircraft from the pioneer days of flight astonish with their aerobatics, then marvel as more modern flying machines zoom overhead.

It’s a World of Wearable Art in Wellington

The World of WearableArt Awards Show, or WOW as it’s fondly known, is one of the highlights of Wellington’s annual diary, and features works by some of the world’s most innovative designers and couturiers competing for prizes worth more than $165,000. With a range of events, the major drawcard is the showcase of the top entries, the crème de la crème of creations. WOW has been described as a “collision of theatre, fashion and art”, and with 2018 being its 30th year since starting out in a Nelson country cottage, they’ll be pulling out all the stops. If you can’t be in Wellington in spring (September), but want to experience the WOW factor, visit the WOW Gallery in Nelson where winners from each season are on display.

Celebrate 150 years of beer on the wild West Coast

One of New Zealand’s wildest destinations, the rugged West Coast of the South Island traditionally has been the haunt of hard mountain men and miners. Those windswept landscapes really blow out the cobwebs. Back in the day, one of the main things that kept those early pioneers happy was beer. Monteith’s Brewing Company has been there from the beginning, refreshing those thirsty throngs. Celebrating 150 years in 2018, Monteith’s has got quite a few parties planned and a few new beers specially brewed to mark the occasion. There’s no better way to arrive in Greymouth than by the TranzAlpine train. Your designated driver will be sorted and you can settle in by the fire and find out what’s kept Monteith’s at the top of the hops for all these years.

Happy Hobbit Day at Hobbiton

With the birthdays of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins on 22 September, International Hobbit Day will be celebrated in style at Hobbiton in 2018. Festivities on the day include a guided tour of the Shire at dusk. Fans will be escorted through the 4.85ha (12 acre) site, learning fascinating details of how the movie sets were created. Arriving at The Green Dragon Inn, there’ll be plenty of time to relax in front of open fires and enjoy traditional Middle Earth ales and ciders. Then stroll around the Marketplace where individually themed stalls hawk Hobbit wares, local cheeses, breads, cured meats and fresh produce. All the while, roaming entertainers will mingle with guests. When the buffet is served, pace yourself, as Shire tradition encourages second helpings. To end the night, you’ll wander back along lantern-lit trails – pure magic.

Conquer the Lord of the Rungs at Wildwire Wanaka

For many, New Year coincides with a desire to challenge ourselves and set goals. If that sounds like you, Wild Wire’s Waterfall Adventure outside Wanaka could be just the ticket. Climbers ascend using the purpose built via ferrata (“iron road”) system, developed during World War I. There are three climbs of varying levels of difficulty. Choose between Go Wild (the shortest climb), Wild Thing (add another two hours of upward mobility), and the pinnacle of climbs, Lord of the Rungs, which includes a journey behind a 6m waterfall and a helicopter descent. You don’t need any climbing experience – if you can climb a ladder you can do Wild Wire – and all the way you’ll be supported by trained guides and secured with the best safety equipment.

Rotorua is New Zealand’s first bilingual city

Since being recognised as one of New Zealand’s three official languages 30 years ago (alongside English and sign language), Māori has finally been afforded the status it deserved. To further boost the language’s mana (prestige), Rotorua has been declared New Zealand’s first official bilingual city. Already a much-loved tourist destination, Rotorua bubbles with thermal activity, action adventures and cultural highlights. With Te Reo (Māori language) made more accessible and visible, international visitors will feel more immersed in the rich culture of the tangata whenua (people of the land) – and with bilingual signage popping up all over the region, including on interpretation panels, the manuhiri (visitors) will soon be peppering their korero (conversations) with Māori words. Kapai (good)!

Auckland celebrates Sky Tower’s 21st birthday

The Sky Tower is one of Auckland iconic landmarks – helpful for visitors wanting to get their bearings and a much-loved part of Auckland’s visual furniture. And Sky Tower will soon be coming of age, celebrating its 21st birthday in 2018. At 328m, it’s the country’s tallest building and boasts 360-degree views. On clear days you can see west to the Waitakere Ranges, across the sparkling Waitemata Harbour and south to the Bombay Hills. If you’re feeling daring, you might like to attempt the SkyWalk or the SkyJump. You can ride the glass-fronted elevators to the Sky Lounge for a cup of tea, dine at Orbit revolving restaurant, and later perhaps check out the casino below.

Get creative at Queenstown’s QT Hotel

Art-loving visitors to New Zealand have a multitude of options for exploring creative culture. From sculpture parks to galleries, carvers’ studios to masterclasses, there are plenty of spectacles – massive and modest – to enjoy. One of the newest kids on the artistic block is the QT Hotel in Queenstown providing guests with an opportunity to enjoy New Zealand’s adventure capital while indulging their penchant for stylish things. QT Hotels and Resorts are known for their quirky sense of style and fun. The staff is outfitted in quirky costumes by Janet Hine, overall design is in the hands of trendsetter Nic Graham. With spectacular views, paintings, custom-made furnishings and 69 boutique suites up and running by December 1 this year, the QT looks like becoming a special-occasion hotel in 2018.

Love Te Papa on Valentine’s Day in Wellington

On February 14 1998, Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum, opened its doors to great fanfare – which means 2018 will mark two decades of transporting visitors. Te Papa Tongarewa literally translates as “container of treasures” and with so many wonders under one roof, you’ll want to ensure you have plenty of time to make the most of this marvel. Thanks to engaging, interactive displays, you can explore Māori and Pacific cultures, the natural world of New Zealand, significant works of art and the nation’s unique history. Using the latest technology to tell the stories of the past, present and future, Te Papa is as educational as it is entertaining. And to celebrate turning 20, Te Papa will unveil a spectacular new art gallery, which will open at the end of February. Spanning two levels and 3980sq m, the 8m-high gallery will feature immersive and large-scale art, a suite of stunning new exhibitions and iconic works from the national art collection.

See the light at Wellington’s LUX Light Festival

This free public light festival in May is a sight for sore eyes, turning Wellington’s waterfront and laneways into captivating spaces that celebrate light, art, design and technology. Getting bolder and brighter each year, LUX Light Festival (Te Ao Marama) features imaginative light sculptures that illuminate nooks and crannies all over the city, transforming spaces and causing visitors to stop and think, perchance to dream. Offering more than just light, Lux will also have a range of activities for all ages, art exhibitions and performance artists, with a special focus on contemporary Māori light artists and performers.

Say hi to Kaikoura’s Hope Springs

Following a series of earthquakes in 2016, the enchanting tourist town of Kaikoura was battered: roads and rail lines closed, landscapes changed – even the seabed was in a state of upheaval. Sadly, some natural attractions were lost, but one new one, Hope Springs, bubbled to the surface. Discovered by local men Matt Foy and Conner Stapley from Kaikoura Kayaks, the astonishing new feature was found in shallow waters off the Kaikoura Peninsula. Thought to be caused by the earthquake, the aptly named Hope Springs are sure to become a tourist attraction alongside Kaikoura’s other marvels – whales, dolphins, seals and birdlife. The best way to see this new wonder? A guided kayak tour, of course.

Experience AJ Hackett’s new thrill ride

AJ Hackett has been at the forefront of New Zealand’s adventure tourism for close to 30 years. The man who dreamed up the bungy jump has been responsible for all manner of thrilling experiences and now there’s a new one in the pipeline. The bulk of the details are top-secret, but what is certain is that in 2018 there’ll be a new experience at the site of the Nevis. Tentatively going by the name “Nevis Thriller”, it will combine bungy, flight and serious speed, promising to push people to the limits in ways not previously imagined. If the adrenaline rush isn’t enough, the natural beauty of the Nevis River location, the cool green water of the snowmelt and the dramatic Central Otago mountains will add a scenic dimension to this new adventure.

Get in training for the Golden Oldies in Christchurch

Promising “fun, friendship and fraternity”, the Golden Oldies games in Christchurch in April 2018 is a month-long celebration of sport with the focus on mature participants. Featuring cricket, lawn bowls, netball, rugby, golf and hockey, this biennial event attracts sports fans and teams from around the world. As much about the love of sport as it is about winning, you don’t even have to be a member of an existing team to take part, because many teams are eager for extra players. Contact the organisers prior to the event and it’s likely you’ll be able to slot into a team. There’s no upper age limit, participants can be as young as 35. With thousands of entrants expected to converge on the city, this will be Christchurch’s biggest participant event ever and also the first time in Golden Oldie history that all the events have been held in one location. 

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