An Australian’s guide to visiting New Zealand for the first time

You’ve seen the epic landscapes in widescreen, sampled its acclaimed wine at your local and heard about the incredible heritage, art galleries and dining experiences from friends. Now it’s time to make that short hop across the Tasman and experience it in full colour for yourself. But where to begin? 

There are many ways to escape into stunning Aotearoa / New Zealand. Our guide steers you through just some of the (many) unmissable attractions, giving you the groundwork for an itinerary that suits you and helps you make the most of this exceptional country – with a few tips along the way.

North Island

Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland

Hobbiton™ Movie Set Tours
Hobbiton™ Movie Set Tours

New Zealand’s largest city. Tāmaki Makaurau. The City of Sails. Situated on sparkling Waitematā Harbour, Auckland is a gateway to New Zealand’s abundant playground, rich with Māori and European history, incredible dining experiences and stunning natural wonders.

A perfect start, settle in for a cocktail and seafood at one of Waitemata Harbour’s waterfront restaurants. The Auckland Night Markets food stalls offer multicultural delicacies at a range of locations. History comes to life at Auckland Museum, with interactive exhibits that weave stories around you and a collection of over 1,000 Māori treasures. The city’s surrounding nature is also awe-inspiring. Take a short trip to mountains, forests, beaches and Rangitoto Island – all within easy reach. You can even explore The Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton location, only two hours away. 

Top tip: Grab an AT HOP fare card and enjoy Auckland’s well connected and frequent transport system. The city is divided into transport zones, meaning you may be able to transfer between AT buses, trains and ferries and pay just one fare for your entire journey.

How to get there and where to stay

International and domestic flights connect to Auckland Airport, only 20 minutes from the heart of town. You’ll also find plenty of car hire and shuttle services here. You’ll find a range of Choice Hotels in Auckland that suit every taste and budget.

Napier

Redwoods Forest
Redwoods Forest

Situated a scenic midway between Auckland and Wellington, Napier is a wonderfully preserved Art Deco township reminiscent of a period-piece film set. Explore the surrounding wine country of Hawke’s Bay by winding through hills dotted with award-winning vineyards and orchards. 

Lined with superb Art Deco architecture, built after a 1931 earthquake, and towering Norfolk pines, Napier’s streets present an eclectic mix of art, antiques and local wines. The Art Deco Festival Napier is held over five days each February. Hike, bike or drive up the magnificent Te Mata Peak to enjoy spectacular panoramic views across Hawke’s Bay and the surrounding Ranges. Don’t miss the cathedral-like Redwoods forest, a grove of giant Californian Redwood trees planted here in 1927.

Top Tip: Learn about the history of Napier’s captivating architecture on a self-guided tour. You’ll find interpretation panels around the city that tell the story as you go. Pick up a walk brochure from Napier i-Site.

How to get there and where to stay

Napier is a 4hr and 15 min drive northeast of Wellington or just under 5 hours southeast of Auckland. Bus and rail services run between Napier and Wellington, Auckland and Palmerston North. You can also fly to nearby Hawke’s Bay airport from most major cities in New Zealand. Enjoy easy access to the town’s delights by staying at Comfort Inn Westshore Beach or Quality Inn Napier.

South Island

Ōtautahi / Christchurch

Views over Christchurch - Image by Graeme Murray
Views over Christchurch – Image by Graeme Murray

Inspiring heritage, vibrant modern arts and world-class dining. With breathtaking natural splendour in every direction.  It’s hard not to fall in love with this city of contrasts. Christchurch is the perfect base to relax or further explore the exhilarating South Island. 

Explore the mix of rich Maori culture, immersive museums and dynamic art galleries. The story of Christchurch is vividly told at the heritage-listed Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora. Walk along High Street and Victoria Street and you’ll find back-street bars, award-winning restaurants and thriving breweries. Dine aboard the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant as you tour the city in a heritage dining carriage. Christchurch is also a great base to explore the incredible Canterbury region, home to world-class ski fields and celebrated wineries. 

Top Tip: Get to know Christchurch on a river punt tour, which glides through the Botanic Gardens from the Antigua Boat Sheds.

How to get there and where to stay

Christchurch International Airport is 20 minutes from the airport to the city centre. It’s a two-day drive from Auckland, which includes a breathtaking ferry crossing through the Marlborough Sounds from Wellington in the North Island to Picton at the top of the South Island. You’ll find great Choice Hotels accommodation options to suit every budget.

Nelson

Te Waikoropu Springs, Nelson - Image via Craig Parry
Te Waikoropu Springs, Nelson – Image via Craig Parry

Situated at the stunning tip of South Island, Nelson is famed for a creative arts community inspired by the surrounding mountainscapes, stunning marine life, rivers and glacial lakes. Settle in and take a tour of these wonders for yourself – you’ll also find acclaimed wineries and breweries.

Renowned for its vibrant arts scene, Nelson is packed with celebrated galleries and museums. The Suter Art Gallery is home to major exhibitions of local and New Zealand art spanning 200 years. An hour’s drive south takes you to Nelson Lakes National Park, a spectacular alpine landscape with lakeside walking tracks and mountain hikes. Known for its chardonnay and pinot noir, the Nelson region is dotted with acclaimed vineyards. Drop into nearby Waimea Estates for a sample.

Top tip: For more than 40 years the Nelson Markets in Montgomery Square have been offering locals and travellers delicious local flavours as well as creative local arts. Pick up something memorable.

How to get there and where to stay

The scenic drive from Christchurch is just over 5 hrs. There are also regular Cook Strait ferries with vehicle access between Wellington in the North Island and Picton, which is only 2 hrs drive from Nelson. Nelson Airport services multiple daily flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Enjoy a stay at the charming Honest Lawyer, overlooking Waimea Estate. 

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