After almost 20,000km, the moment when travellers, on their flights to New Zealand, see those two islands appear on the seat-back map, invites a gasp.
New Zealand’s two islands are breathtaking, sometimes appearing unreal. Towering mountains, simmering volcanoes, sweeping sandy beaches, majestic fjords (in aptly named Fiordland), glacial lakes and lush rainforests... it’s no wonder that when the makers of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia wanted to portray fairytale lands, they went on location to New Zealand.
More than a third of New Zealand’s land area is within a park or reserve. There are about 15,000 kilometres of coastline and more than 25 marine reserves.
A country the same size as the UK, it has a population of only four million. Its cities - Auckland and Wellington in the north and Christchurch and Dunedin in the south - are bright and bustling, but not crowded.
New Zealand has a tolerant and multi-cultural society. The indigenous Maori people have a fascinating culture, which has informed many parts of New Zealand life. With their non-Maori neighbours, New Zealanders are a friendly, laidback lot, outdoorsy with a famous Kiwi ruggedness.
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New Zealand climate
The New Zealand climate is variable. On the North Island winters are mild and summers are warm and humid. On the South Island it's colder, the landscape features snowfields and glaciers. The mountains get snow in the winter and the west coast sees most of the rain. A Southern Hemisphere country, the summer lasts from November to April.
When to fly to New Zealand
December, January and February. These are New Zealand’s summer months. Average temperatures are between 20 and 30 degrees.
Flights to New Zealand are cheaper during July and August. Average winter temperatures are 10-15 degrees.
March through May. This is autumn. Temperatures are slightly cooler than summer, but the weather can still be excellent and this is the time of year for beautiful autumn foliage in Central Otago and Hawke's Bay in particular. The spring months (September to November) can be excellent times to visit too.
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Getting around New Zealand
Air New Zealand offers domestic New Zealand flights. On the North Island, Air Chathams provides scheduled air services while Air National and Skylink provide charter flights. On the South Island Stewart Island Flights, Air Canterbury and Air Milford operate.
The country has a good public transport system (bus and coach) connecting cities to popular tourist destinations. Apart from renting a car to get around – remember to drive on the left – some travellers rent motor homes to drive and sleep.
Tranz Scenic runs two railways on the South Island. The TranzCoastal operates between Picton and Christchurch; and the TranzAlpine links Christchurch and Greymouth.
New Zealand insider information
- Kapiti Island, north of Wellington on the North Island, is home to a nature reserve that protects some of the rarest birds in the world. These include Robin, Saddleback, Stitchbird, Kaka, Kakariki, Weka, Kereru, Bellbirds and the extremely rare flightless Takahe. The nocturnal Kiwi, the emblem of New Zealand, also lives here.
- Rotorua in central North Island, is a geothermal area. There are several geysers including the spectacular 20-metre Pohutu geyser at Whakarewarewa (the thermal village) and hot mud pools. It is also the heartland of Maori culture. There are 16 lakes around Rotorua, 11 are fishable and stock trout (rainbow, brown, brook and tiger).Major fishing lakes are Rotorua, Rotoiti, Tarawera, Okataina and Rotoma.
- Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle and Dunedin’s (South Island) top visitor attraction. The castle was built in 1871 by William Larnach for his first wife. It is owned by the Barker family, but it is open for tours and celebrations. The views over the Otago Peninsula are breathtaking. Dunedin is also home to the Cadbury Factory, which features a unique chocolate fall in a five-storey high silo.
- Queenstown is the birthplace of commercial bungee-jumping. The city lies on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and is surrounded by the Remarkables mountain range, the youngest ski area in the region. The Lindauer Queenstown Winter Festival takes place in late June and July.
- The Lord of the Rings trail: Mount Aspiring National Park, named for one of New Zealand’s highest peaks, is part of Te Wahipounamu, the South West New Zealand Unesco World Heritage Area. The park, to the south of the Southern Alps, is popular for walking and mountaineering. Many locations around Glenorchy village (Lothlorien, Amon Hen, Orthanc, and Isengard) were used in the films.
- While city-hopping, climb the hills for breathtaking views: Mount Eden and One Tree Hill in Auckland, Mount Victoria in Wellington, the Port Hills in Christchurch and Flagstaff Hill in Dunedin.
- Trivago is a useful website for user reviews and recommendations on accommodation in New Zealand. Take a look at the pages on hotels in Queenstown, hotels in Auckland or hotels in Rotorua.