The thing is, 1 month isn’t nearly enough time to see everything that New Zealand has to offer. In fact, I don’t think a whole lifetime would be long enough to see everything this amazing place has to offer. But fear not! 1 month does give you time to experience a fair chunk of the main sights. It’s definitely enough time to make you fall head over heels for this country.
New Zealand is one of those places that stays with you forever. I just can’t forget how beautiful it is, full of lakes so still they look like mirrors, wildlife that you can get close to, national parks that stretch for miles and some of the best roads I have ever driven. I would be happy to drop everything and go back here at a moment’s notice.
Before I left to go travelling, in my Northern hemisphere head I had lumped Australia and New Zealand altogether, but they are completely different. Read about my month in Australia here and you will see that it’s full of stunning golden beaches, whereas New Zealand is far more green, mountainous and far less built up. Literally, everywhere looks like a postcard picture.
I spent 1 month during winter travelling around both of the islands which each have their own things to offer. Travelling off peak certainly has its perks – the roads were quiet, I never had a problem with availability and the cost of transport is cheaper. I loved experiencing the New Zealand winter and it’s totally do-able in a camper van.
WHEN TO VISIT
I was there in August/September so it was pretty chilly and although there was snow in Queenstown (where you can go skiing) everywhere else was fine. If you’re wanting a bit of a warmer break, head over in September-November for spring or December-February for summer. However, if you google Autumn in New Zealand you will see how amazing it can look also! There’s always something going on all year round, but bear in mind that not all activities run throughout. So do your research!
I love the roads in New Zealand! You can find yourself up the side of a mountain or going over a river all in the space of a few minutes. It’s the perfect place to hire a camper van and get off the beaten track for a bit. Don’t worry about finding places to park as there are campsites all over the place – we just followed signs to a site and waited to see where it took us! If you don’t want to drive then a bus such as Naked Bus (brilliant name) is a great way to get between places.
UK passport holders can actually enter and stay in NZ for up to 6 months, no visa required. Bonus! However, make sure you have proof of onward travel or a return ticket. DON’T ignore this as you could be denied entry.
SOUTH ISLAND – Hire a Jucy Campervan
CHRISTCHURCH – 1 NIGHT
I adore Christchurch. It’s been hit by some tough times over the last few years with 2 Earthquakes happening close together, but it’s such an inspirational place. Instead of either walking away or allowing defeat, the local Christchurch people have embraced it. The re:START shopping area made of old shipping containers is actually one of the best things I’ve seen. It’s creative, innovative, affordable and straight out cute! I was there in 2012, not long after the second of 2 recent major earthquakes so the town was still very much devastated. However, looking at the local tourism board, it seems as though it has re-grown massively. Looks like I’ll have to go back and check it out!
Find out more here
Kaikoura – 1 night
This beautiful seaside town is home to a right little gem – fur seals! Its rugged landscape next to the towering mountains makes for a hell of a view, and it the ideal place for seals to hang out. What’s even better is, across the road from the sea, you will find small pools where seal pups spend their time playing and learning before they head out to the more dangerous open ocean. Keep your eyes peeled on the ocean for sperm whales, albatross and dolphins too.
Abel Tasman – 2 nights
This beautiful Abel Tasman coastal national park is somewhere I could have spent ages exploring. Make sure you go on a coastal walk or 2 – there are plenty of walking or cycling routes ranging from 1 to 4 hours long, and it’s just such a gorgeous are to spend time in.
If you’re looking to get your adrenaline pumping, then this is where you absolutely have to do a skydive! I had had a skydive on my bucket list for a long time, and the reason I chose to do it here was because a) you can dive from up to 16,500 ft and b) you can see BOTH the North and South Island as you fall! I think the only way to describe seeing that is epic!
Greymouth/Hokitika – 1 night
Greymouth wasn’t my favourite place to visit but it’s worth a stop off. Its heydey was during the gold rush as well as when it was mined for jade. Visit the Shantytown open-air museum to find out more about the gold rush and how the population of New Zealand as altered drastically. It’s a pretty cool museum to spend half a day at.
Let’s face it, no trip to NZ would be complete without seeing the cute little kiwi birds that give New Zealanders their nickname. In Hokitika, just up the road from Greymouth there is a little kiwi sanctuary which gives you a chance to get a close-up look at them. This place is tiny though but they are really cute!
Fox Glacier – 2 nights
The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are the big famous glaciers to explore in New Zealand. I chose Fox Glacier or Franz Joseph for no real reason other than it being on route. From what I could see (and I’m sure there are people far more in the know than me) you can pretty much do the same type of stuff at either. Take a day walking up to the glacier to try and get an idea of its scale. It’s a great way to experience it and the landscape for free, but if you want to splurge, you can book helicopter rides right over it and hike on the glacier itself.
At night time, do the Minnehaha (brilliant name) to see the glow worms. They are odd creatures but it’s so cool to see. Take a torch with you through the forest and enjoy
Wanaka via Mount Aspiring National Park – 2 nights
The view of Mount Aspiring is out of this world. Even now, nearly 4 years after I visited I still think about it. The water is so still, it looks like a mirror and it’s completely unspoilt. I would have loved to have spent time exploring the national park, but time was too tight. But the view you can get from the roadside is phenomenal. It’s well worth going via here!
Wanaka is the place to be if you’re looking for adventure. The town itself is a ski resort surrounded by gorgeous snow-capped mountains and a lake in the centre and is the perfect place to get on some amazing hikes. To relax, the really cute and quirky Paradiso Cinema is so worth a visit. You can sit in old cars or sofas and even get a hot cookie during the interval.
Queenstown and Milford Sound – 3 nights
This adrenaline-fuelled city is filled with tonnes of stuff to do. Like Wanaka, Queenstown is home to ski resorts but is also the spot for bungee jumping, having a go at the luge, skydiving, mountain biking… you name it, it’s here! However, if you’re more of a spectator to these kinds of things (or saving the pennies as I was), get a ride up the Skyline cable car and watch the world around you. It’s also brilliant for foodies and has amazing nightlife. Don’t leave without visiting the famous Fergburger to get a burger the size of your head. Literally.
Queenstown is also the perfect place to book a trip to visit Milford Sound. Sadly the weather was too bad to go when I was there, despite trying for 2 days, but 100% this is a must!
Lake Tekapo – 1 night
There isn’t an awful lot going on at Tekapo, but it is home to the Mt John scientific astronomy observatory. It is a brilliant place to star gaze with such little light pollution, and you can even book a tour to the observatory if you want to learn more. The stars in the Southern hemisphere really are out of this world – I had never seen so many! So even if this isn’t your thing, make sure you look up at night.
During the day, visit the Church of the Good Shepherd right next to the lake with a bronze sheepdog statue outside. It’s such a beautiful setting and is the perfect place to view the lake. Alternatively, head to the Tekapo Hot Springs and Winter Park to relax or release your inner big kid and have a go at tubing (I definitely did this one).
Back to Christchurch to hand back the campervan
There are 2 main options to get to the North Island from the South – there is a 3.5 hour interisland ferry that travels between Picton and Wellington, or you can fly to Wellington. I chose to fly as we had to hand the camper back at Christchurch which was still a way away from the ferry port.
NORTH ISLAND – travel round by Naked Bus
TOP TIP – Bus companies often offer a pass package with a good amount of flexibility to get to different locations. However, when we booked with Naked Bus, the pass was $150, but when we bought individual tickets for our 4 journeys, it came to $44! HUGE saving!
Wellington – 3 nights
I love this place! it’s really quirky and has a fantastic mix of city and escape. I think if there was anywhere I was going to live in NZ, this would be it. Make sure you take a day to visit the Te Papa museum showcasing just about everything to do with New Zealand and it’s history – honestly, it’s one of the best museums I’ve been to and it’s completely free. Have a stroll round Oriental bay which is speckled with restaurants and cafes; grab some food and watch everyone enjoying life (which they genuinely seem to be doing here!). For an amazing viewpoint, I would recommend 2 spots – the Botanical gardens that can be reached by a cute old fashioned cable car, or Mt Victoria. Personally, I loved Mt Victoria and it offers a fantastic view, especially at sunset.
Napier – 2 nights
I feel this fabulous place is often passed by, but more fool you if you miss it! It’s nestled right in the famous wine making region of Hawkes Bay and It’s a truly unique place to visit. When the 1930 earthquake hit the area, Napier was completely rebuilt and today it is still pretty much the same, showcasing the stunning art deco era in a lot of its architecture. They even host an art deco festival each year!
As you’re in such a famous wine making region, it would be rude not to explore this side of the area! I was lucky enough to find a tour which combined visits to some vineyards (with PLENTY of samples) as well as a tour around the city to learn more about the architecture. Unfortunately, as this was now a few years ago, I can’t find the company I booked with and many of the tours come with a pretty hefty price. So why not grab a map, hire a bike and do a self-guided day tour yourself. Biking will burn off the wine calories, right?
Lake Taupo – 2 nights
Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand so it’s an amazing spot for water activities. Make sure you also take a walk to the Huka falls which are one of the fastest moving falls in New Zealand. It’s a beautiful location and a great place for a picnic. If you want to relax then take a dip in the natural hot springs at Butchers Spring.
If you’re a lord of the rings fan, Taupo is the spot for you as the nearby Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike takes you to the area used to film the scenes for Mordor. It’s a 20km hike but it’s considered one of the best hikes in New Zealand, and it’s free!
Rotorua – 3 nights
This town is pretty small and is known for it’s rather funky smell coming from the geysers nearby. But don’t let the small put you off, it’s a cute place to visit. Rotorua has a large Maori population so it’s a great place to learn about the history of New Zealand. There are a number of cultural experience shows you can go on- they’re pretty touristy as you can imagine but for me, it beats traipsing round a museum.
Rotorua’s geothermal activity makes it an interesting place to explore. Take a walk to see the geysers or soak in the hot geothermal pools.
Auckland – 3 nights
Ok, so Auckland is not my favourite place in New Zealand and compared to other capital cities in the world, it’s pretty small. But there’s still plenty to do and some amazing places to eat. Make your way down to the slick Waterfront area which is full of restaurants, bars and often has events going on. If the weather isn’t so great then head over to Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium where you can easily spend an afternoon, and you can even book snorkle with the sharks.
Back outside, take a picnic and have a walk through Albert Park located near Princes Street and for a bit of shopping, have a look down K Road (full name Karangahape Road) which is full of boutique and retro shops to explore.
I mentioned that food is amazing in Auckland, and I wasn’t exaggerating. There is a large Asian population so you can sample some seriously delicious Korean, Chinese and Japanese food around here. There are restaurants, bars and cafes all over the city so make sure you get involved!
Bay of Islands – 2 nights
This stunning area is unmissable. Made up of 144 islands, there are lots to do and see here. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a few days in the concrete jungle of Auckland. Paihia is the perfect place to stay to explore the area and a fair number of hostels can be found here. The Bay of Islands also holds important historical significance as it is the place where the Maori people and the British signed the Waitangi Treaty. You can visit the treaty house to learn more while you’re there.
The Bay of Islands is a beautiful area to explore. Take a day trip out on the water searching for whales and dolphins and get a good look at some of the other land masses around. If you’re lucky enough you might even be able to swim with the dolphins as long as they don’t have any young with them. Make sure you catch the ferry over to Russell ($12) and explore this beautiful place. It’s got some of the most incredible houses and beautiful restaurants. There are some great routes to either walk or cycle here too.