There’s the picture-postcard beauty, but New Zealand is so much more than the sum of its varied landscapes. Take the time to embrace the country’s incredible diversity – from music festivals in the vineyards to terrifying thrill rides and be surprised by this exciting island nation.
It really is clean and green, but it’s also prosperous, safe, incredibly beautiful, and full of creative, friendly people happy to share their New Zealand with you. This proud island nation has a lot more to offer than you might realise. Here are 10 reasons to plan a visit to Aotearoa. You may never want to leave.
Discover a world of contrasts
The main city of Auckland has more than 100 surf beaches right on its doorstep. No surf beach is too far from the main cities, so you have a choice of rugged black (west) or pretty golden (east) sands. The tiny west coast town of Raglan has at least six surfing schools alone.
In July and August explore the ski fields on both islands – at Mt Ruapheu in the north you can ski or snowboard on an active volcano, while the stunning Southern Alps – bigger than the European Alps – can be accessed from Queenstown or Christchurch.
When the New Year rolls around imagine welcoming it during the height of summer, or celebrate it twice – the Māori New Year or Matariki falls in late May or early June.
Experience the great outdoors
Getting out into nature is a way of life in New Zealand, which really looks after its greatest assets – about a third of the country is made up of national parks. It’s well set-up for budget travellers with plenty of reasonably priced, good quality hostels and campgrounds, and most importantly, it’s safe.
Hire or buy a bike and ride from top to toe on public roads; or explore some of the many diverse trails off the beaten track, as part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail. You’ll find cheap Department of Conservation huts in many of the national parks and along the country’s nine Great Walks. Parts of the country are really empty so you might have a beautiful beach all to yourself on the East Cape of the North Island, or on the South Island’s West Coast.
Take a leap and discover a new identity
Challenge yourself and you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of and how much self-confidence it will give you. Commercial bungy jumping, started by clever Kiwi A.J. Hackett in the 1980s, is a rite of passage for many visitors. You can throw yourself off spectacular structures throughout New Zealand, from Auckland landmarks to rail viaducts, bridges and ravines.
Once you’ve taken that leap of faith into the void and proved you can do it, there are a gazillion other options – try a rope swing, a zipline or zipride, a bridge climb – or Zorb or Ogo down a hill in Rotorua with a few of your pals in a giant inflatable ball.
Explore diverse new worlds
Among the 4.5 million people who call New Zealand home you’ll find almost every culture you can think of, along with the biggest Polynesian population in the world. Its indigenous Māori culture is unique to Aotearoa and you’ll have opportunities to learn some of the language, try doing the haka war dance, visit a marae and eat food traditionally cooked in a hangi (underground oven) or geothermal pool.
You can experience Pacific culture at the annual two-day Pasifika Festival in Auckland each March which features cultural performances, arts and crafts, and food and market stalls.
Immerse yourself in music
New Zealand has a vibrant creative community and you’ll find plenty to do from a full calendar of film, theatre, and literary events to food and wine shows nationwide.
You could plan an entire visit to Aotearoa around its world-class summer music festival scene, each of which is held in stunning outdoor locations. Unlike, say, Glastonbury, you can leave the galoshes and raincoats at home and relax and enjoy the sunshine. The best way to see in the New Year is at Rhythm & Vines on the east coast of the North Island, one of the first places in the world to welcome January 1. The three-day festival, which takes place in vineyards, attracts many international and local acts, with previous headliners including Major Lazer, Public Enemy and Moby. Or choose the mountain version at Rhythm & Alps near Wanaka.
For more of an urban vibe, Auckland hosts the Laneway Festival at the end of January at Albert Park in the heart of the city. If chilled-out world music or reggae is more your style, try Soundsplash in Raglan on the North Island’s west coast, also in January.
Make friends for life
Kiwis are incredibly warm, laid-back and hospitable people who will go out of their way to make sure you’re safe, heading in the right direction, don’t miss the best part of town, and know where to find a great coffee or sandwich. They’re keen for the world to realise what a great place New Zealand is and want you to go home raving about what a lovely time you’ve had.
Eat and drink really well
New Zealand is a young country with access to fresh, delicious produce and has its own style of innovative cuisine and café culture. Think seafood right off the boats, fusion cuisine and plenty of options for vegetarian, vegans and those with other dietary needs.
Visit one of the many farmers’ or seafood markets nationwide to experience farm/ocean-to-table produce first-hand – you might try foods you’ve never had before such as feijoas (fruit) or paua (shellfish). There are world-renowned wineries everywhere you look, and if you love boutique beer Wellington is the best place to go – here you’ll find at least 15 craft-beer bars and eight breweries. It’s also home to some of the country’s best coffee.
Reboot yourself in glorious surroundings
It’s not all about rugby (though you should watch at least a game or two), you can actively take in the majestic landscapes in a number of interesting ways.
Aotearoa has a host of health and yoga retreats and meditation centres. The North Island city of Rotorua sits in a geothermal field, and many facilities here harness the natural therapeutic properties of its hot mud and natural hot springs rich with minerals. Around the area, it’s possible to stumble across hot springs out in the bush where you can immerse yourself in picturesque, peaceful surrounds in a stretch of steaming stream for free.
It’s easy to visit, and to stay
Kiwis like to keep things simple, so you’ll find things like opening a bank account, getting a tax number, renting a flat or a car and sorting out your drivers’ license is really easy compared to the UK and Europe.
You won’t find it hard to get a job either – there’s loads of seasonal work such as picking fruit or harvesting grapes, plenty of opportunities in hospitality and trades, and, if you’re qualified, there’s a real demand for workers in areas including IT and health. Two great options are working as an au pair or as a WOOFer in exchange for food and accommodation on an organic property. Once you’re working you can really immerse yourself in local culture – join a sports team or club, and start enjoying the great Kiwi lifestyle.
Fill your social media feeds
You’ll find enough photo-ops to make your Facebook and Instagram accounts the envy of your friends for years to come, whether its lying on the gleaming golden sands of the Coromandel on the North Island’s east coast; climbing one of the glaciers at the bottom of the South Island; sitting atop a volcanic cone in Auckland, covered in thermal mud at the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua, or swimming in one of its crystal-clear lakes, clean rivers or picture-perfect oceans. New Zealand won’t stay your delicious secret for long.