Beautiful beaches, stunning displays of nature, adventures & thrills of all kinds.
New Zealand has often been overlooked as a honeymoon destination in favor of Australia, but this beautiful island nation’s natural beauty (including both beaches and mountains), excellent wine region, and a plethora of sports, recreation, and sightseeing options are helping New Zealand to come into its own as a paradise for the newly married. The country is made up of two main islands – the North and the South – and is roughly the size of Great Britain, but with far fewer residents. Thus, New Zealand has a particularly uncrowded feeling, which is very popular with honeymooners.
What To Do:
New Zealand is often called the adventure capital of the world (after all, the Kiwis invented bungee jumping), and there’s no better way to get into the spirit than with a death-defying plunge from the top of Shotover Canyon, just outside of Queenstown. If that sounds too terrifying, you can soak in Shotover’s vistas a host of other ways. Hop a jet boat along Shotover River to zip between jutting rock walls in a passage barely wider than the boat itself. More serene is the skyline gondola, which slowly travels to the top of Bob’s Peak for expansive vistas of South Island’s sublime surroundings. Here are a couple of ideas for you & your love to do while honeymooning in New Zealand.
- Auckland – As the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland is famous for its busy harbor, where you can take a harbor cruise or scuba dive at Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World to see sharks, stingrays, and other marine life. While here, visit the Auckland Museum, the historic volcanoes and Parnell Village, which is a shopping area made up of historical buildings converted into boutiques and specialty shops.
- Queenstown – Take in the Queenstown Winter Festival in late June, a 10-day extravaganza that includes snow sports, concerts, fireworks, and a Mardi Gras-style parade. Queensland also has a rich assortment of museums, galleries, and gardens.
- Rent an RV – It may not seem overly romantic, but it will give you access to most parts of the country while providing basic accommodations. Keep your eyes open for the various i-SITE visitor information centers, which dispense brochures and advice, and will handle local bookings for you.
- North Island’s Bay of Islands – This stunning area has beautiful resorts with access to fishing, diving, whale watching, mountain biking, hiking, picnicking on a private island, and gourmet food and wine. Be sure to ask about honeymoon packages.
- Rail travel – Very popular in New Zealand, with scenic trips throughout much of the country. The route between Christchurch and Greymouth is said to be one of the top train journeys in the world. Of special interest are the historic boutique steam trains, which can be booked for up to two weeks. One popular route takes you from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, with frequent stops along the way for you to explore and sightsee.
- “Lord of the Rings” – If you’re a fan, be sure to make time for a guided tour of the movie set, and explore Middle Earth on foot, by car, by helicopter, or by mountain bike. (Some of the sights used for the movie are accessible to everyone; others require that you sign up for a tour to gain access.)
- Wine Tours & Tastings – Wine connoisseurs will find much to love in New Zealand, and both islands offer many choices for wine tours and tasting. Plan to visit the Marlborough Region, Queenstown or the Central Otago Region for an opportunity to enjoy both food and wine. You can set out on a tour on your own or take a guided tour, but don’t miss a chance to taste the country’s Pacific Rim cuisine and pair it with local vintages.
- Attention Daredevils -You will love the Shotover Canyon Swing above the Shotover Gorge near Queenstown. Sit in a swing and freefall nearly 200 feet off the cliff, then blast across the river. The Southern Alps are perfect for rock-climbing and mountaineering, and you can also heli-hike, ski, horseback ride or go caving on various parts of the islands. Water sports abound: jet boating, diving, kayaking, rafting, fishing, and seaplane safaris. Golf is also extremely popular, and some of the most dramatic courses include Carrington on the North Island, Kauri Cliffs and Gulf Harbour near Auckland, and the beautiful Jack’s Point course on Lake Wakatipu.
- National Parks– New Zealand has 14 national parks and preserves, including the marine reserves such as Poor Knights, which is a dive site of world renown. Also take time to investigate the heritage of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people. The Maori weaving is especially beautiful, and can be seen at local galleries and shops. In February, visit the Matatini Maori Performing Arts Festival in Auckland, where there is a tribal marketplace.
Anaura Bay, Gisborne, New Zealand
When to Go:
New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere; therefore, all seasons are the opposite of those in North America, Europe, and other Northern Hemisphere locations. There really isn’t a bad time to travel to New Zealand.
Things to Keep in Mind:
- Annual holidays – most Kiwi families take their main annual holidays between mid-December and the end of January, which puts enormous pressure on accommodations in major summer beach destinations. During the Easter break and school holidays in April, June to July, and September to October, it also pays to reserve well in advance.
- Ski Destinations – Ohakune, National Park, Methven near Mount Hutt, Wanaka, and Queenstown fill up quickly — reserve early and be prepared to pay higher winter rates. In most other areas, though, you’ll be paying lower rates during the winter months (Apr-Aug). In some summer-peak areas, the winter also means that tour, lodge, and adventure operators may take advantage of lower tourist numbers and take their own holiday breaks, closing their businesses for 1- to 3-month periods.
New Zealand’s climate, especially by Northern Hemisphere standards, is pretty mellow for much of the year. You’ll find a far greater seasonal difference in the South Island than in the subtropical North, and don’t believe anyone who says it never gets cold here or that there are no extremes. In Central Otago, winter temperatures are often 14°F (-10°C) and sometimes as low as -4°F (-20°C), with summers up to 100°F to 104°F (38°C-40°C). By comparison, the northern part of the North Island is subtropical. That means lots of winter/spring rain, and often daily light showers.
The west coast of the South Island can get up to 100 inches or more of rain a year on its side of the Southern Alps, while just over the mountains to the east, rainfall is a moderate 20 to 30 inches annually. Rain is also heavier on the west coast of the North Island, averaging 40 to 70 inches annually. Milford Sound, though, beats the lot; it’s the wettest place in the country, with a phenomenal 365 inches of rain a year.
- Spring (Sept, Oct, Nov) — This is a beautiful time to visit — the countryside is flush with new green grass, baby lambs, and blooming trees. Christchurch in the spring means blossoms, bluebells, and daffodils in abundance; Dunedin is a splurge of rhododendron color. The weather can still be very changeable right up to mid-October, so come prepared with light rain gear. In the South Island, it’s still perfectly normal to get late snowfalls in September.
- Summer (Dec, Jan, Feb) — This is peak tourist season, so you’ll pay top dollar for accommodations and airfares. Book early to avoid disappointment — this also applies to the major walking tracks, such as Milford, for which you should make bookings 6 months ahead. Beaches all over the country come alive, and boaties flock to the water. Fresh fruit are falling off the trees. (You must try Central Otago cherries and apricots; the apple district is Hawke’s Bay.) And everyone should see Central Otago when the lupines are flowering, with brilliant colors etched against blue skies and golden tussock.
- Autumn (Mar, Apr, May) — Personally, I think the best time to visit is February through April. The temperatures are pleasant (still hot in Feb in most parts), and even in April you’ll be wearing summer clothes in the upper North Island. The most spectacular autumn colors are found in Queenstown, Central Otago, and Christchurch. Keep Easter and April school holidays in mind, though, when accommodations may be tight in some areas.
- Winter (June, July, Aug) — If you’re a skier, you’ll be heading to Queenstown, Mount Hutt, Canterbury, or the Central Plateau in the North Island — and paying top dollar for the privilege. Otherwise, if you travel elsewhere during this period, you won’t need to prebook much at all (except during the July school holidays). You’ll find some excellent rates — just don’t expect great things from the weather.
- National public holidays include New Year’s Day (Jan 1), New Year’s Holiday (Jan 2), Waitangi Day (Feb 6), Good Friday (varies), Easter and Easter Monday (varies), ANZAC Day (Apr 25), Queen’s Birthday (first Mon in June), Labour Day (last Mon in Oct), Christmas Day (Dec 25), and Boxing Day (Dec 26).
- Regional holidays include Wellington (Jan 22), Auckland (Jan 29), Northland (Jan 29), Nelson Region (Feb 1), Otago (Mar 23), Southland (Mar 23), Taranaki (Mar 31), Hawke’s Bay (Nov 1), Marlborough (Nov 1), Westland (Dec 1), and Canterbury (Dec 16). Regional holidays are always observed on a Monday. If the date lands on a Friday or weekend, the holiday is observed on the following Monday. If it falls earlier in the week, it is observed on the preceding Monday.
- School holidaysconsist of three midterm breaks — in April, June to July, and September to October — that last for 2 weeks each, plus 6 weeks for the December holidays. Kiwi families do much of their traveling during these periods, so be sure to reserve early.
Sunset – Lake Wanaka, New Zealand