New Zealand is made up of two main islands - the imaginatively named North Island and South Island. That must have taken them a while! The North island houses NZ's biggest city (Auckland) and its capital (Wellington) and despite being the smaller of the two, has the higher population. The South Island is where the previously mentioned 'dramatic landscapes' reside. Mountains, forest, beaches, fiords, they're all here including a lake around every corner. Queenstown and Christchurch make up some of the top places to go. Scroll down for more details.
New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, will likely be your point of entry into the country. It's as you would expect any big city to be but to experience its best bits you should venture further than the central streets. The viaduct harbour is beautiful and is home to a range of restaurants and bars. Take a walk up to the Auckland War Memorial Museum and through the Auckland Domain. The Museum is a great way to learn about the countries' history and as it's at the top of a hill, provides a great view of the city. Sky Tower also does this but you have to pay and riding the lift to the top unfortunately doesn't burn any calories. There are also plenty of water based activities as well as beaches nearby. To escape the city completely, catch a ferry ride to Waiheke Island and explore the vineyards. There are a lot of wine tasting opportunities in New Zealand and so it's essential to take advantage of all of them.
There is a lot of decent and varied accommodation on Queen Street and if you base yourself here you're in the prime location to explore the city on foot and there's lots of transport links to further afield too.
Another imaginative name - surprisingly this strip of land lies to the north. Best way to explore this part of the country is to get in a car and drive it. Visit Whangarei to see the falls and to Waitangi to learn about the treaty. Further up the way is the Bay of Islands - a beautiful sub-tropical cluster of islands perfect for taking to the water or lying around like a beached whale - whichever suits you best. Base yourself in Paihia and from here you can arrange boats trips, rent kayaks, go walking and there are plenty of accommodation and food options. Right up at the top of the country is Cape Reinga, where the lush forest meets rolling sand dunes. Buy a foam body board and go 'surfing' down the dunes followed by a drive along 90 mile beach. Finally stop by the Waipoua Forest to see Tane Mahuta - the largest standing Kauri Tree.
Another northern paradise - the Coromandel is a peninsular on the north coast of the North Island. A lot of the crowds are drawn to the famous hot water beach where you can dig yourself your own hot water pool in the sand. There are plenty of other beaches to explore including Hahei Beach home to cathedral cove and the 'hidden' New Chums beach. Getting there is an adventure in itself. Wade through a knee deep estuary and across muddy tracks to find the secluded strip of sand at the end of your journey. You have to earn your relaxation here.
Rotorua is the very smelly thermal hub of New Zealand. There are lots of opportunities to see and smell all of the sulphur activity but probably the best is to visit Wai-O-Tapo geothermal park to see the bubbling mud pools and emerald waters. Rotorua is also a great place to get a slice of Maori culture. Go on one of the trips that takes you into the forest to discover a Maori village where you can experience tribal etiquette, games and music and of course learn how to do the famous haka. The experience ends with a feast (Hangi) where they steam the food underground. Expect meat and vegatables including Kumara (Sweet potato) and, forget Tate and Lyle, the best steamed sponge pudding.
Taupo is a lovely quiet little town along the side of Lake Taupo. It is one of those places that is just nice to be in. Sit along the lake and watch the world go by. You can also take a walk along the lake to see the Huka Falls and if you're not just satisfied looking at them you can take a jet boat to whizz you up and down until you're sick. If you chose to walk the 30 minute track to the falls, on the way you will walk past a unique part of the Waikato River. There is a small area of the river where a hot water stream runs though it creating a little natural rockpool hot tub. The warm water also runs part way into the main body of the river and so it is possible to find a spot where half your body is in cold water and the other is in warm. There are also plenty of watersports to partake in as well as Nz's highest water bungee. Again there are nice restaurants and bars but like a lot of places in New Zealand, don't expect them to stay open too late. There is also a McDonalds shaped like an aeroplane which does stay open late - that's all you need surely! Taupo is also where most people stay ahead of doing the 7 hr hike - the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Lord of the Rings fans should go just for the pictures with Mount Doom alone.
Napier was hit by an earthquake in 1931 and so the city was rebuilt in the style of the time and is now the self-proclaimed art deco capital of the world. You can take tours of the city or just stroll around at your own pace. To celebrate this era, every February the city holds an Art Deco Weekend where everyone gets dressed up, dances the Charleston and listens to Jazz. It's great fun and you'd be forgiven for thinking you had actually gone back in time as everybody gets involved. Napier is situated in the famous wine region of Hawkes Bay and so it would be rude not to visit some of the wineries. To aid your wine tasting they have conveniently mapped out cycle routes from vineyard to vineyard so you can enjoy wine after wine and bike off on your merry way. I truly believe there is little better than going for a tipsy cycle ride on a bright sunny day.
A tiny little place in the hills, Waitomo's tourism is based around its expansive cave systems. You can either explore the caves on foot or you can opt for one of the more extreme ways of experiencing these caves. Some of these excursions include black water rafting - where you float through the caves in a large inner tube staring up at the glow worm littered ceiling. A truly brilliant experience. You can find out more at - http://www.waitomo.com
Catch a bus to the town of Matamata and you will have reached the gateway to Hobbiton. Even the isite (info centre) has received the Lord of the Rings treatment. There isn't much in Matamata itself but there doesn't need to be as there is only one reason people come here. You'll be taken on a guided tour of Hobbiton including Bilbo's house and there are plenty of photo opportunities throughout. At the end enjoy a pint of mead and a pie in The Green Dragon sat by the fire and plot your next great adventure. I'd recommend going even if you aren't a fan of the films. http://www.hobbitontours.com
Also known as the windy city, Wellington, has all the appeal of a big city but feels more personal than say Auckland. It has lots of cool little bars, Courtenay Place is where a lot of them reside, and like Auckland has a great harbour front. A huge must is the Te Papa Museum, you could easily spend a full day in here and miss something and most importantly it is a 'fun' museum. It doesn't bore you with an overflow of words and small old things in glass boxes - it's interactive and engaging. However one glass box that you do want to see is the one containing the giant squid! For more Lord of the Rings action , catch a bus a little further out the city and go to the Weta studios where they will show you how they make all the props for the films.
Nelson sits on the North shore of the South Island. Right on the coast you're always a short way from the beach but drive a little further out of the city to Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park. Towns of note are Motueka and Kaiteriteri but this region is best explored out in the country and down by the sea. There are plenty of walking tracks, secluded wineries and water activities like kayaking to keep you busy. A good walk to do is up Botanical Hill where the centre of New Zealand is marked. You'll need a lot of huff and puff but once at the top you'll have great views.
Whales! On the East Coast of the South Island is the little town of Kaikoura famed for its whale watching. You can choose to view Kaikoura's Giant Sperm Whales from the sky or from the sea along with Dusky Dolphins and if you're really lucky, Hector's Dolphins. The helicopter option is obviously more expensive but you're able to scan larger patches of water. From the sea, you get a closer view of their ginormous tails cutting through the waves. If you get seasick, make sure you take travel sickness pills because otherwise you will have to be sick into a paper bag, struggling to come up for air in time to see the sight of a disappearing tail! I'm speaking from experience. Ps, the herbal ones don't work. The town is only little but still has a waterfront strip with restaurants and a handful of pubs on it to keep you busy after the wildlife has gone to bed.
Known as the Garden City, Christchurch has had a lot of bad luck on the natural disaster front. The city is still rebuilding from the 2011 earthquake and minor earthquakes continue to happen and in November 2016 they were hit again. Fortunately this wasn't as devastating as the former mentioned but still measured 7.8 on the richter scale and caused considerable destruction. Despite this the people of Christchurch continue to make the best of it, building Cathedrals out of cardboard, shopping centres out of shipping containers and museums about living on the 'ring of fire'. The centre of the city, where the original Cathedral lies, is still relatively quiet but new restaurants and bars are continuously popping up all over the place.
There are a lot of Scottish influences in New Zealand, especially the fact that New Zealanders use the word 'wee' instead of little, but Dunedin is a slice of Scotland in the Otago region of the South Island complete with a statue of Robert Burns. Similar to a good Scottish City its a brilliant place for drinks especially sports bars. Along with Wellington, Dunedin is the closest you'll get to a city that looks and feels more like a traditional British city. Not quite like Edinburgh but just outside the city is New Zealand's only castle - Larnach Castle. The Otago Museum here is also brilliant and you shouldn't leave without taking on the worlds steepest street. Outside of the city go and see the worlds only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross and the yellow eyed penguin.
Queenstown is just really really great! It's beautiful surrounded by the Remarkables mountain range. It's lively with bustling bars and restaurants and there is so much to do. It's known for the extreme sports. You can ski in winter, you can bungee jump, there are jet boats, skydiving and zip lining, and a range of other heart racing activities. If you're not one for dandling on the end of a large rubber band don't worry there is plenty of other things to do too including Frisbee Golf, whizzing down the hill on a luge (a little cart with wheels) or as I have stated before sit back and relax watching everyone else do these crazy things whilst enjoying a range of beverages. You can also actually go with friends who want to indulge in giving them selves a heart attack. The Nevis Bungee (NZ's highest) is suspended on wires above a canyon, journeying across in a little mesh cart and then standing in the little glass box 134 meters above the ground with music blasting in your ears while your friend plummets to earth is trills enough for me. Another must is the mighty Fergburger - don't ask me why but it is the greatest burger ever!
Arthur's pass is a road connecting Canterbury and the West Coast and takes the phrase 'scenic route' to a new level. On the west side you will be immersed in dense rainforest and will hopefully spot the cheeky alpine parrot - the Kea. On your journey there are lots of walks to stop off at and natural wonders to see. If you don't want to drive you can also take the Transalpine express from Christchurch to Greymouth, the only downside is that it is quite expensive. See here for more info http://www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz/tranzalpine/
Milford sound is the most well-known of all the fiords in New Zealand to explore. Interesting fact - despite its name Milford Sound is actually a fiord. The difference being that a sound is a valley formed by a river which is then flooded by the sea, a fiord is a valley formed by glacier erosion and then flooded by the sea. There you go.. life changing information right there. Anyway fiord or sound who cares, it really is insane and the drive there is also pretty impressive. You take a traditional cruise out towards the sea or you can also kayak. Our boat was selling pita wraps though and so that got my vote. You can stay in Milford but a lot opt for day trips from Queenstown or the lovely little Te Anau.
The Catlins are situated on the South Coast of the South Island. It is a lovely little drive along the coast with lots of nice things to stop off and see along the way. There's the Purakaunui Falls, Jack's Blowhole, the mini waterfall Niagara Falls (very amusing) and Nugget point, home to Sea Lions and Fur Seals as well as Penguins and Dolphins. Also journey to Slope Point - the Southern most point of the South Island.
Franz Josef is a little town named after the Glacier that resides there. You have to drive to the car park but once there you can take a 20 minute walk to see the huge Glacier. There are also a range of things you can do if you actually want to get on the ice - heli hikes and ice climbing. Aside from the glacier there are also some great hot pools and the West Coast Wildlife Centre where if you haven't been able to catch one in the wild you can see the elusive Kiwi.