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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 feel 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 is 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).

Tarns near Angelus Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park

New Zealand Travel Map

Unmissable hikes, attractions, wineries, and towns on the North Island and South Island.


Coromandel Peninsula



Hawke’s Bay

New Plymouth & Taranaki

Tongariro National Park

Palmerston North


Martinborough Wine Region

Marlborough Wine Region

Nelson Lakes National Park

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Waipara Wine Region


Aoraki Mount Cook



Central Otago

Mount Aspiring


Mount Aspiring National Park, French Ridge Hut Hike

New Zealand Facts

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.

Avalanche Peak, Arthur's Pass National Park, New Zealand

Best Things to Do in New Zealand

Goblin Forest, Egmont National Park, New Zealand Travel Guide

Enter the Goblin Forest, North Island

The aptly 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. The effect of seeing sunlight filter through the mossy canopy is nothing short of mesmerizing. 

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. This trail leads through the Goblin Forest for 2 hours before emerging into stunted tussock land.

Black Barn Vineyards, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

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 country’s 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 art. Our best meals in New Zealand were at these wineries.

  • 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.
French Ridge Hut, New Zealand

Overnight 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 served, 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). 

Some mountain 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.

Ben Lomond, New Zealand

Peak Bag 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:

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

Learn More: New Zealand Hiking Guide

Cape Kidnappers Gannets, New Zealand

Fall 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. 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 in Martinborough, New Zealand

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 in Martinborough

If you arrive in Martinborough after 4:30-5 pm, most of the cellar doors will be closed. Head to the wine bar Mesita 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 regretted not doing the same. 

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

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.

  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing (19.4 km point-to point)
  • Tama Lakes (17 km out-and-back)
  • Taranaki Falls (6 km circuit)
  • Mount Ruapehu’s Crater Lake
Cinema Paradiso, Wanaka, New Zealand

Watching a Film in a NZ Cinema

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 Hike, Queenstown, New Zealand South Island

New Zealand Travel Itineraries

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 3-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 Sheep, New Zealand South Island

Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails, Sabrina and Kati