New Zealand Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

New Zealand

Last Updated: April 2018 

New Zealand Travel Guide

The greatest danger of visiting New Zealand is not wanting to leave. In no time at all, you’ll fall in love with the country’s diverse landscapes, endless trails, exceptional wine and friendly people.

Ultimately, it’s New Zealand’s scenery that’ll leave the most indelible impression. Some environments feel enchanted, while others bleak. Each landscape seems to sing a unique song, whisper a different story, and ask a new question. 

And so, New Zealand is best discovered on foot. From multi-day hikes to short walks, there are no shortage of hiking options. There’s also a network of backcountry huts at your disposal. Some require online booking ahead of time, while others are first come first serve. If you’re interested in hiking one of the famous Great Walks (e.g. Milford Sound Track, Routeburn Track), we urge you to plan ahead. Due to their popularity, you must secure your overnight spot(s) well in advance of your hiking date.

We traveled throughout New Zealand for three months (mid-January to mid-April). Our choice of transport was a converted minivan. Camping allowed us maximum flexibility, since we could plan around bad weather and change our plans easily. 

 

This Guide Includes:

Nelson Lakes National Park, NZ Hiking Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

New Zealand Basics

Official Name: New Zealand. Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand.

Capital: Wellington 

Government: Constitutional Monarchy. New Zealand’s head of State is the Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II of New Zealand. The Governor-General is the Queen’s representative in New Zealand.

Regions: New Zealand is divided into 53 districts. 

Population: 4.7 million 

Language: English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language

Currency: New Zealand Dollar 

Tipping Etiquette: Tipping isn’t customary, or expected in restaurants, taxis, or spas. Tipping tour guides and hotel staff is more common.

Water Quality: Excellent.

Hiking to Mount Ruapehu’s Crater Lake without a guide, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel

Where to Go in the North Island

Click the dots to explore specific destinations.
North Island
  • Coromandel Peninsula
  • New Plymouth & Taranaki
  • Tongariro National Park
  • Taupo
  • Hawke's Bay
  • Palmerston North & Around
  • Martinborough Wine Region
  • Wellington

Where to Go in the South Island

Click the dots to explore specific destinations.
South Island
  • Marlborough Wine Region
  • Nelson Lakes
  • Waipara Wine Region
  • Christchurch & Around
  • Mount Cook National Park
  • Wanaka & Around
  • Gibbston Valley & Central Otago
  • Queenstown & Around
  • Milford Sound & Fiordland
  • Inland Scenic Routes
background

Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka

 

 

 

 

Māori Saying

The kumara (sweet potato) does not say how sweet he is

What to Experience in New Zealand

Our favorite things to see and do
Mueler Hut, Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel
Mueler Hut, Mount Cook National Park

Sleeping in a Mountain Hut 

The Department of Conservation (DOC) manages a network of 950 mountain huts. That means you can hike hut to hut in NZ’s pristine wilderness, or enjoy a single overnight hike. Many of these huts are first come first serve, while others have a booking system in place. We stayed in five huts during our trip and loved each experience. The benefit of staying in a remote mountain hut is that you don’t have to carry up your own camping gear. You also get to meet fellow hiking enthusiasts from all over the world. At the French Ridge Hut, we met a Czech couple in their 70s who shared their love of travel, which they explained could only develop after the Velvet Revolution.

The DOC huts vary in size, cost and appliances. Prices range from 15 NSD (not serviced backcountry huts) to 65 NSD (great walk huts). We usually paid 25-35 NSD per person. Some huts are managed by a volunteer warden. The wardens collect money (or confirm booking), communicate the weather forecast, and help visitors figure out their hiking options.

We’ve included our favorite overnight hikes in our New Zealand Hiking Guide.

Goblin Forest, Egmont National Park, New Zealand Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel
Goblin Forest, Egmont National Park

Entering the Goblin Forest, North Island 

The appropriately named Goblin Forest is located in Egmont National Park (Taranaki). It’s a lush rainforest characterized by twisted kamahi and Hall’s totara trees festooned with moss. The forest floor is carpeted with ferns and moss, creating an entirely green environment. The effect of seeing sunlight filter through the mossy canopy is nothing short of mesmerizing. You feel like you’ve entered another realm.

To experience the Goblin Forest, head to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre. There’s an easy loop hike that takes you into the forest and to the Willies Pools and Dawson Falls. If you’re interested in experiencing the Pouakai Range (outstanding views of Mount Taranaki on a clear day), consider hiking the Mangorei Track (accessible from Mangorei Road). You’ll hike through the goblin forest for 2 hours before emerging into stunted tussock land.

Black Barn Vineyards, Hawke's Bay | New Zealand
Black Barn Vineyards

Wining and Dining in Hawke’s Bay, North Island 

Hawke’s Bay is a region on the east coast of the North Island. If you’re a food and wine lover, this region should be at the very top of your list. As the oldest and second largest wine-producing region in New Zealand, some of the countries finest wines are produced here. Stand out varietals are Chardonnay and Viognier. Apart from the quality of the wine, it was the welcoming atmosphere of the wineries that we really loved. 

We recommend wandering between cellar doors and doing as much tasting as you’re able. But, we also highly recommend dining at the wineries. Many wineries have adjoined restaurants that specialize in new-concept food, elevating New Zealand cuisine to an art. Our best meals in NZ were at these wineries.

A few ideas to get you started:

  • Elephant Hill Wine Estate – this place makes an impression. The cuisine and wine (chardonnay) are exceptional. The service is kind and attentive. We treated ourselves to dinner here after hiking to Cape Kidnappers
  • Black Barn Vineyards – light-filled, modern bistro. We came here for lunch and had a remarkable fish dish. The viognier was liquid heaven. If you time your visit right, there are sometimes open-air concerts.
  • Craggy Range – Directly facing Te Mata Peak, this must be the most beautiful winery in the region. We had an excellent wine tasting experience here. If you decide you’d like to linger here, check out their Terrôir Restaurant.
Cinema Paradiso, Wanaka | Moon & Honey Travel
Cinema Paradiso, Wanaka

Going to the Cinemas 

Kiwis know how to go to the movies. Imagine dining on a cheese platter during a film. Or, envision eating freshly baked cookies during the intermission of a movie. How about sipping on a glass of wine by a fireplace before a screening. These are real movie-going experiences in New Zealand.

We absolutely loved the unique charm of NZ movie theaters. They were all small, intimate, licensed (serve beer and wine), and featured great food. Here are our absolute favorite cinemas:

  • Focal Point Cinema in Fielding (North Island)
  • Focal Point Cinema in Hastings (North Island)
  • Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka (South Island)
  • Dorothy Browns in Arrowtown (South Island)
Ben Lomond Track, New Zealand Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel
Ben Lomond

Peak Bagging in the Southern Alps, South Island 

If you love alpine trails, the South Island will entice you with its many mountain ranges and peak trails. It would take a few lifetimes to summit all of the mountains, but you can definitely tackle a few. Here are a few notable peak tramps in the Southern Alps:

  1. Avalanche Peak (1833 meters), Arthur’s Pass National Park
  2. Roys Peak (1578 meters), Wanaka
  3. Isthmus Peak (1385 meters), Wanaka
  4. Ben Lomond (1748 meters), Queenstown
  5. (Lookout, The Remarkables, Queenstown)
  6. Julius Summit, Robert Ridge (1794 meters), Nelson Lakes National Park
  7. St. Arnaud Range (1650 meters +), Nelson Lakes National Park

Learn more about these hikes in our NZ Hiking Guide.

Paired Gannets, Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel
Paired Gannets, Cape Kidnappers

Falling in Love with New Zealand’s Birds

From the flightless kiwi to the notorious kea, New Zealand is full of unique and melodious birds. You don’t need binoculars or a penchant for spotting birds to see them. You’ll encounter them on forest trails, on rocky pinnacles, and on the side of the road. Many of New Zealand’s birds are endangered and the country is fighting an uphill battle to protect their diminishing populations. On trails, you’ll see a series of pest traps and signs signifying the presence of 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate). Through these methods the DOC is trying to control introduced pests (possums, rats and stoats) that pose a threat to native birds and plants.

Gannets

If you want to see Gannets, go to Cape Kidnappers (North Island) from early November to late February. Cape Kidnappers is home to four gannet colonies, where an estimated total of 15,700 gannets live. They nest in close proximity to one another, so you’ll see hundreds of birds soaring around the colonies, guarding their chicks and displaying unique “partner” behavior. 

Keas

The kea is the world’s only alpine parrot. These intelligent creatures live in the alpine regions of the South Island. You won’t find keas, but they will find you. If you’re hiking to peaks and along ridges in the Southern Alps, keas will spot you and come say hi (at least in our experience). Make sure your belongings and food are tucked away, because they’re not shy about stealing. We encountered keas at the Ben Lomond Summit, at Avalanche Peak, French Ridge and in the Remarkables.

Wine Tasting at Haythornthwaite Wines and Vineyard, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel
Wine Tasting at Haythornthwaite Wines and Vineyard

Wine Tasting in Martinborough, North Island 

Martinborough is a sunny wine village in the Wairarapa wine region. It has a laid back, casual vibe that makes wine tasting here so enjoyable. Wairarapa is like the Anderson Valley of California. Martinborough itself is a charming town surrounded by 20 wineries. It’s flat, so hopping on a bike is a good option for getting between tasting rooms. The region is renowned for its pinot noir, but also produces excellent pinot gris and gewürztraminer. We’re going to say something controversial – we like Martinborough’s sauvignon blanc far more than Marlborough’s. It’s less acidic, a bit rounder and perhaps a touch sweeter.

A few places to visit:

  • If you arrive in Martinborough after 4:30/5:00 p.m., most of the cellar doors will be closed. Head to the wine bar Micro for a flight of local wine.
  • Haythornthwaite Wines – This is a family owned boutique vineyard of 11 acres. Sit in the garden and order a cheese platter and a full wine tasting. On a sunny day, you won’t want to leave. Whatever you do, don’t leave without tasting the gewürztraminer.
  • Palliser Estate – we enjoyed our wine tasting here. We saw a couple eating a huge slice of chocolate cake with their wine, and regret not doing the same.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel
Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Hiking up volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, North Island 

Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and home to three active volcanoes:  Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. No visit to the North Island is complete without hiking through the park. The most popular track is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (definitely a must do), but there are countless other trails to explore. These tramps are fair weather hikes. We recommend monitoring the weather forecast closely using MetService.

  1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing (19.4 km)
  2. Tama Lakes (17 km return)
  3. Taranaki Falls (6 km loop)
  4. Mount Ruapehu
    • Marked Tracks: Skyline Ridge (1.5-2 hrs return), Waterfalls Descent (1.5 hrs), Meads Wall (15-20 min, return)
    • Unmarked Track: Crater Lake (5 hrs return) – only attempt this on a clear day.
Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel

New Zealand Itinerary Ideas

Classic New Zealand Wine Trail

If you love wine, consider structuring your trip around NZ’s major wine regions. The classic wine trail begins in Hawke’s Bay, winds through Wairarapa (Martinborough) and Wellington, and ends in Marlborough (South Island). The other major South Island wine regions include Waipara Valley and Central Otago.

3 Week North Island Itinerary Summary

If you want to experience the best of the North Island, read our Three Week North Island Itinerary.

  • Day 1: Arrive in Auckland
  • Days 2-3: Coromandel Peninsula
  • Day 4: Raglan
  • Days 5-7: Taranaki & New Plymouth
  • Days 8-10: Tongariro National Park
  • Days 11-13: Taupo & Around
  • Days 14-16: Hawke’s Bay & Around
  • Days 17-18 : Martinborough Wine Region
  • Day 19: Cape Palliser & Aorangi Forest Park
  • Days 20-21: Wellington

4 Week South Island Itinerary Summary

If you want to experience the best of the South Island, we recommend following this route. Read our full 4 Week South Island Itinerary.

  • Day 1: Marlborough Wine Region
  • Days 2 – 4: Nelson Lakes National Park
  • Day 5: Hanmer Springs
  • Day 6: Waipara Valley Wine Region
  • Days 7-9: Mount Cook National Park
  • Days 10-15: Wanaka & Mount Aspiring National Park
  • Day 16: Central Otago Wine Region
  • Days 17-19: Milford Sound & Fiordland
  • Days 20-23: Queenstown & Around
  • Days 24-26: Haast Pass & West Coast
  • Day 27: Arthur’s Pass & Castle Hill
  • Days 28-29: Banks Peninsula
  • Day 30: Christchurch

New Zealand Resources

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New Zealand Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel
Moon & Honey Travel Resources
External Resources
  • DOC (Department of Conservation) – you’ll find every DOC trail, hut, camping ground and national park on this website.
  • MetService – weather forecast. We used this site religiously, when planning out hiking dates.
  • Day Walks in New Zealand: 100 Great Tracks by Shaun Barnett & Geographx – we used this book religiously to figure out where we wanted to hike.
  • Lonely Planet New Zealand – indispensable guide for traveling in NZ. We consulted our LP throughout our whole trip. We also bought the the Lonely Planet’s New Zealand’s Best Trips book. This is a road trip guide that gives you a good visual understanding of how regions are connected and how to plan your trip. Buying both was a bit redundant, but it did simplify the planning process.

There are some affiliate links in this travel guide. If you make a booking or a purchase using the links, we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It’s how we cover the costs of running the blog!

@moonhoneytravelers
  • Üsküdar is rarely a first, second, or third choice for places to explore in Istanbul. There are no trendy cafés, vintage shops, or entertainment venues here. But, we’d argue that Üsküdar delivers a completely authentic experience and gives visitors an opportunity to hop off the tourist track. This Asian-side district has many treasures. We’ve been uncovering them slowly this past week, starting with this mosque. The light-filled interior of Marmara University Faculty of Theology Mosque is poetry embodied. Can’t wait to share more of our finds this week.
  • We’re celebrating our blog’s one year anniversary. It’s filled with travel guides and hiking guides for destinations in Europe and Asia. We’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished. There’s always room for improvement and an endless list of things to do, but today we’re just going to say “it’s pretty damn good.” Have you checked it out? Come say hi! Link in bio, or moonhoneytravel.com
  • We‘ve been traveling almost continuously for 13 months. Being able to travel long term is an incredible privilege and gift. When we started our trip, we were out exploring every day at full speed. We didn’t want to miss anything. And, we felt an immense obligation to see and do as much as we possibly could. But after months on the road and getting destroyed by illness (more on that later), we decided that we needed to change our travel style.

We‘ve been in Istanbul for 1.5 months. Do we want to see more of Turkey? Of course! However, right now it feels right to stay here and soak up the vibe of one of the world‘s greatest cities.

Petsitting has allowed us to slow down and rest on the road and afford long term travel. 
If you’re interested in housesitting, we highly recommend @trustedhousesitters . To join, click the link in our bio. You’ll get 20% off the membership fee. Once you‘re a member, you can search for opportunities across the world. Yay for free accommodation and pets! 😺Photo of Oscar, the cat we‘re taking care of in Istanbul. #notsponsored
  • We’ve been pretty absent here the last week. Honestly, we needed a break. It’s terrifying to see how much time we waste aimlessly scrolling and clicking around on Instagram. We love seeing our friends and favorite bloggers’ updates (@eternalarrival @thesandyfeet @practicalwanderlust @alongdustyroads @lostwithpurpose to name a few), but we don’t want to get sucked in and realize a whole hour is gone. 
We’re curious, do you feel like you spend too much time on the app? And if so, what tools are you using to modify your Insta-behavior?

We tried simply logging out, but as soon as we logged back in, we were back at it. One thing that’s been helpful is the “manage your time” notification that’s actually built into Instagram. If you click the hamburger menu (top right) and then “Your Activity,” you can see exactly how many minutes, or hours, you’re spending on the app each day. Directly below the graph, there’s a manage your time section that lets you enable a daily reminder. You set it to how many minutes you want to spend on the app. When you reach that threshold, Instagram will notify you.

Travel Update: We’re still in Istanbul. We’re pet-sitting for the next 10 days and then heading somewhere we’ve never been before.
  • Another vantage point of our favorite waterside mosque in Istanbul. Doesn’t it look like its floating in the Bosphorus?
  • Ortaköy Mosque (Büyük Mecidiye Camii) is one of Istanbul‘s most memorable sites. Located in Ortaköy along the Bosphorus, this baroque-style mosque has the most dreamy, pink interior to compliment its stunning exterior.

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