Selecting 15 top things-to-do in New Zealand is almost as difficult as narrowing the field of talented Kiwi rugby players to just one team. So what better guide than some of New Zealand’s rugby greats who are passionate about their home turf and keen to share their favourite places to go and things to do?
Here’s a Tourist Top XV for visitors touring the country during the 2017 NZ Lions Series:
1. Waterborne in the Bay of Islands, Northland
‘Kamo Kid’ Ian Jones who grew up at Whangarei Heads, reckons no trip to Northland is complete without getting out on the water and in this marine paradise you are spoilt for choice. Nowhere is more than 40kms from the sea and Northland’s sub-tropical climate makes boating, fishing, kayaking, dolphin watching and island cruising, a year-round possibility.
Jones’ top picks: the world famous Poor Knights marine reserve, fishing and cruising in the Bay of Islands, and a thrilling jet boat ride to the famous Hole in the Rock. Urupukapuka Island sanctuary is also a must, as is dining on fresh local seafood at Paihia Wharf.
2. Hike to the top of Rangitoto Island, Auckland’s iconic volcano
Rangitoto Island is Auckland’s most recognised natural landmark and with its distinctive symmetrical cone and proximity to the city, is one of the most popular places to visit. Auckland has 48 volcanic cones, and most are now picturesque picnic spots. Rangitoto is the youngest having blown its top 600 years ago. As a result the island has a fascinating geology - there’s no soil yet it grows one of the world's largest pohutukawa forests. The island is easily accessed by ferry from downtown Auckland or kayak from Mission Bay and can be explored by foot, on a guided 4WD journey or by helicopter. With the summit 260m above sea level, you’ll get panoramic city and harbour views.
3. Fly to Waiheke the ‘island of wine’
There’s something decadent about flying by float plane to an island to go wine tasting and Auckland Seaplanes will land you in the picturesque wine-lover’s paradise of Waiheke - rated amongst the top 10 regions of the world to visit. The island’s hot, dry summers and stony soils provide ideal wine growing conditions and have given rise to award-winning vineyards producing primarily red wines like syrah. The ‘Island of Wine’ is a compact blend of farmland, forest, beaches, vineyards and olive groves and is also easily accessed by fast ferry - just 40 min from downtown Auckland.
4. Savour the surf culture in Raglan
The laid back, surfie town of Raglan on the west coast of the Waikato region has one of New Zealand’s most famous surf beaches and no-one knows that better than former All Black Brent (Buck) Anderson who started his first job here. Raglan lies just 45 minutes west of Hamilton and the black sand beaches and world-famous left-hand surf break at Manu Bay – one of the longest in the world – attract surfers from all over the world. You’ll instantly relax with the Bohemian vibe here.
5. Learn the haka in Rotorua
Ever wanted to have a go at performing the haka or wondered what was behind the All Blacks’ famous pre-match ritual? It’s a lot harder than it looks but there’s no-one better to explain the proud history of this ancient posture dance or demonstrate the deep cultural meaning than Tiki Edwards of Haka World in Rotorua. New Zealand Māori traditionally used the haka to prepare a war party for battle and Haka World lets visitors become a Māori warrior for a day. Leave with a whole new respect for New Zealand’s indigenous culture and top off the experience with a visit to Whakarewarewa for the Te Po combo (hangi, cultural performance and geothermal valley tour) at Te Puia.
6. Mt Maunganui’s #mustdo
It’s the classic Kiwi instagram shot – the dramatic 360 degree view from the top of Mount Maunganui across the white sandy beaches and glistening Bay of Plenty, worth every step of the 230 metre climb. Mt Maunganui is a relaxed beach town occupying a peninsula at the southern end of Tauranga Harbour and is a favourite holiday spot for Kiwis. Hikers can reward themselves with a post mountain climb ice cream from Copenhagen Cones and a gentle soak in the Mount Maunganui Salt Water Hot Pools.
7. Fish & cruise Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo is the largest freshwater lake in Australasia and the same size as Singapore so naturally dominates New Zealand’s central plateau. According to Māori legend it is the North Island’s beating heart and certainly the bubbling mud and hissing steam vents around the region indicate there’s plenty going on below the earth’s crust. Lake Taupo has strong cultural significance to Māori – check out the Māori rock carvings from a lake cruise to the remote Mine Bay. Lake Taupo is also famous for trout fishing and a vast playground for hiking, mountain biking, water and snow sports.
8. Dance of the gannets in Hawke’s Bay
Cape Kidnappers is the largest and most accessible mainland gannet colony in the world where you can expect to see over 20,000 of these amazing birds nesting, preening, flying and performing the famous recognition ritual "dance of the gannets". Take the overland 4x4 safari tour with Gannet Safaris, travelling across some of Hawke’s Bay’s most spectacular landscapes or head out along the beach on a unique tractor and trailer ride with Gannet Beach adventures. With its near-Mediterranean climate, Art Deco architecture, amazing wine, beaches and wildlife, Hawke’s Bay is one of New Zealand’s premier tourist destinations.
9. Craft beer in the capital
Wellington has so many great beers, it even has a beer map to help people find the alleyways and bars housing some of the world’s best craft brews. Tucked away in the basement of a former police station or thriving in what was once a petrol station, it’s not hard to find a bar and a beer to suit every taste. Nothing’s far away in Wellington so it’s easy to see a lot in a short time. Wander down the waterfront to New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa and visit the incredible Gallipoli exhibition which tells the story of the World War I campaign through the eyes of eight ordinary New Zealanders who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. For film fans, a trip to the Weta Cave Workshop should be top of the list, to see props and collectibles from some of the world’s best movies.
10. Across the Strait
Just a short hop across Cook Strait, the regions of Nelson and Marlborough are the jewels in the crown that is the sunny tip of the South Island. Each region is just a 30-minute flight from Wellington offering day trippers the chance to experience diverse landscapes, exceptional wine and food and some tourist activities you won’t find anywhere else in New Zealand. New Zealand’s first rugby match was played in Nelson in 1870 and these days art and fashion give the region a unique drawcard with the World of Wearable Art Museum based here. Marlborough is New Zealand's biggest wine region and produces some of the world’s best sauvignon blanc. If flying to Blenheim, don’t miss the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre where movie director Sir Peter Jackson houses his rare and extensive collection of WW1 memorabilia including many aircraft.
11. Wine time in the Wairarapa
Graham Mourie ran out against the Lions in 1977. These days he prefers running his visitors to the Wairarapa, a rural getaway just over an hour’s drive from the capital, Wellington. The cluster of small towns is a food and wine lovers’ paradise and the former All Black captain says if you like pinot noir, a trip to Martinborough is a must. The popular settlement, with its village square laid out in the shape of a Union Jack, is surrounded by more than 20 boutique vineyards where you can sample premium wines, visit cafés and dine at award winning restaurants. Graham’s personal pick is the Ata Rangi winery but there’s plenty to choose from. Maybe round off the day with some shopping in Greytown, the Wairarapa’s oldest town, packed with antiques, art and designer clothing shops on one charming street.
12. Sky high with Richie McCaw in Christchurch
The ultimate tourist experience for any rugby fan has to be taking to the skies for a scenic flight across the Christchurch Canterbury region with legendary Richie McCaw at the controls. The ex-All Black captain now pilots for Christchurch Helicopters and delights in showing visitors his home patch. Richie says the Canterbury region’s scenery, from the coast of Banks Peninsula and Akaroa across to the Waimarie Valley, the Southern Alps and Mount Cook is ideal territory for scenic flights. Canterbury is New Zealand’s largest region and there’s plenty to do on the ground as well from skiing in the Alps, playing golf on world-class courses to exploring the rejuvenated urban spaces of the garden city of Christchurch.
13. Naturally Dunedin
Former All Black prop Kees Mueews, now a real estate agent in Dunedin, has a long list of must-do activities for his home region, Otago, and eating fresh fish and chips overlooking the dramatic surf at St Clair beach rates highly - as does a craft brewery tour of the new Emerson Brewery, a handy walk from Otago’s Forsyth Barr stadium. Dunedin is gateway to the Otago Peninsula where you’ll find some of the rarest wildlife species in the world enjoying their dramatic, natural habitat. Other forms of nature include The Nude Blacks, a naked rugby team made up of keen locals who play on the day of an All Blacks international rugby match in Dunedin, as a kind of "curtain raiser".
14. Tee off in Queenstown
The alpine resort town of Queenstown is known as New Zealand’s adventure capital but not everyone comes here to bungy jump or leap out of an aeroplane. For many a round of golf at one of the region’s world class courses is enough to get the adrenalin going, especially when you’re surrounded by jaw dropping scenery and can finish off the day wining and dining at one of the country’s most famous wineries. Millbrook Resort, Jack's Point and The Hills in Queenstown are all award winning courses frequently listed in the world’s top 100 golfing destinations.
15. Cruise the mighty Milford Sound
Every picture tells a story and Milford Sound in Fiordland is no exception. The area is one of the New Zealand’s most photographed regions, but rarely captured in sunlight because it’s one of the wettest places on earth with eight metres (26ft) of annual rainfall. That’s all part of the appeal and fuels the numerous cascading waterfalls you’ll come up close and personal with during a relaxing boat cruise. Named after Milford Haven in Wales, Milford Sound is the most northern of 14 fiords in Fiordland – one of the southern hemisphere’s great wilderness regions and a haven for native birds and rare marine life.