5 things you should know before you plan your New Zealand Itinerary
Whether you’re heading down under for a few days or a few weeks, it’s worth spending a little extra time to get your New Zealand itinerary right.
That's where we come in! Maximise your enjoyment and make the most of your vacation, read our top five tips for planning your time in New Zealand.
1. Know the seasons before you come.
Nearly all New Zealand travel advice reads like this: ‘come anytime, all our seasons are amazing’ and while this is inherently true, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Our summer months are December to February, with most international travelers choosing to visit between mid-January to late March, as February is consistently warm and the majority of locals have returned to work after the Christmas break.
However, if you're partial to orange leaves and crisp Autumn days April/May is the time for you. Although not usually featured in a vacation itinerary, experiencing our native forests after a rainstorm is something else. And if you’d rather snow than sun then July is the month to pencil in your diary...
New Zealand’s seasons are:
Summer: December, January and February,
Autumn: March, April and May,
Winter: June, July and August,
Spring: September, October and November.
The average seasonal temperatures are:
Summer: Expect an average high of 25 C (76 F) in the north to around 22 C (72 F) in the south. Average lows (evening time) are 13 C (55 F) in the north to 12 C (54 F) in the south.
Autumn: Expect an average high of 20 C (68 F) in the north to around 17 C (63 F) in the south. Average lows (evening time) are 11 C (52 F) in the north to 7 C (45 F) in the south.
Winter: Expect an average high of 15 C (59 F) in the north to around 10 C (50 F) in the south. Average lows (evening time) are 6 C (43 F) in the north to 2 C (35 F) in the south.
Spring: Expect an average high of 18 C (65 F) in the north to around 16 C (61 F) in the south. Average lows (evening time) are 9 C (48 F) in the north to 7 C (45 F) in the south.
New Zealand has an average yearly rainfall of 7-11 days per month, however regions such as the West Coast and the upper North island collect far more moisture than the rest of the country. But as we said, exploring the native forests after a rainfall is well worth your time. When it comes to snow, the North Island rarely gets more than a dusting on the Central Plateau, around Tongariro National Park and the Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields. The Southern Alps mountain range - stretching the nearly length of the South Island - gets good snow cover in winter, and often on the ground during the heart of the cold season. Stewart Island has been known to get some snow, but only when it is exceptionally cold. So if you've decided Winter is the season for you, base yourself in either Canterbury or Otago.
2. Explore the cities.
Sure, our scenery is epic, spectacular and truly sensational, but our cities are awesome too. Each of New Zealand’s main metro centres have a unique attractions, nightlife and cultural experiences.
Visit Auckland ‘City of Sails,’ for its beaches, national parks and upmarket inner city culture. Volcanoes dot the landscape while island's - only a short boat ride away - ring the harbour. Wander up high High St or Vulcan Lane for a boutique bargain or take a short cab ride to the suburbs of Parnell or Ponsonby and explore the galleries, back-alley wine bars, and trendy eateries. Before you move on, meander through one of over 800 regional parks.
Explore Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, for its fashion, art and quirky lane ways. Home to the Nation's centre of government, visit the aptly name ‘Beehive,’ an executive wing attached to the Houses of Parliament. Wander the city centre on foot - at one kilometre squared, getting round is easy. Take in the boardwalk view as you stroll to Te Papa Museum or indulge your cinematic side exploring Weta Workshop, the Oscar Award winning design studio for Lord Of The Rings. For a taste of vintage fashion, spend some time on Cuba Street browsing the boutiques or Work off last night’s dinner with a cycling tour of Oriental Bay. For those heading further down, the capital is where you board the ferry crossing the Cook Strait to the South Island.
Take some time to experience Dunedin, known for its Scottish heritage, rugged peninsula and dramatic beaches. An eclectic mix of imposing architecture and industrial technology, Dunedin has many beautiful landmarks. The historically listed Flemish Baroque-inspired Railway Station gives a ‘gingerbread house’ feel and is one attraction not be missed. Coordinate your visit with the Saturday morning farmers market held within its disused grounds, and sample the local honey and organic produce. Base yourselves near the centre of town - The Octagon - to experience a thriving hub of restaurants and bars. For the artistically inclined, take a self-guided tour of Dunedin’s Street Art. Spend an hour playing Willy Wonka in Cadbury's Chocolate Factory or take a peek at Dunedin’s history in the Otago Museum. Follow the coast to Larnach Castle before ending your trip on the Otago Peninsula, home to the only mainland Royal Albatross colony in the world.
3. Make the North Island a priority.
This one’s a little controversial but we’ll stand by it. Ignore the guidebooks and make the North a focus. Don’t get us wrong, the South is jaw-dropping and should definitely be a feature - but the North Island (in our opinion) is much more diverse. The beaches are better, the forests are more dramatic and it’s home to several active volcanoes. So unless you're really keen on sticking to the southern tourist trails, spend a good chunk of your trip up North.
Start your North Island travels in Auckland, home to deserted beaches, rain-forests and a bustling inner city vibe. Spend time in the Bay of Islands, and go off piste to Ninety Mile Beach, the only sand highway in New Zealand. Visit Doubtless Bay for a calm tropical vibe, then cross to the West Coast to see renowned kauri forests, pristine beaches, quirky holiday towns and historical artifacts. Relax in a natural spa on Coromandel Hot Water Beach or kayak to the cavernous Cathedral Cove - or do both! Take a trip through the real Middle-earth - Tongariro National park - to see Mount Doom and Mordor. Spend time in geothermal Rotorua with its boiling springs and steaming geysers, then indulge in a once-in-a-lifetime experience, catch a helicopter the active volcano, White Island, and land within its erupting crater.
4. Come with good outdoor clothing.
Because you’ll be spending most of your time in the beautiful scenery, right? make sure you bring good quality walking shoes, a fleece, a wind/rain jacket and a day pack. And if your fitness can measure up to a two-hour hike over undulating terrain, you're well prepared for the many ‘must-do’ scenic walks dotted around the country. If you're a keen hiker, then this is the tip for you. Both the North and South offer a multitude of stunning walks, but when limited for time we recommend these stand out few. At the bottom of the North the Abel Tasman, a relatively easy hike, is renowned for its golden beaches, beautiful forests and clear waters.Traversing the coastline, you'll see fur seals, native birds and if you're lucky a dolphin or two. For a hike in the mountains try the Heaphy at the top of the south. Not for the faint hearted, this track has significant uphill, and while the views are well worth the slog, a moderate degree of fitness is required. You’ll see many Weka, and have the chance to swim in icy snowmelt springs. Another one for the memory books is the Routeburn Track, located in Fiordland. Earmarked as one of the greatest walks in the world, this Alpine epic climbs 4,000 feet above sea level and travels through valleys, forests and across many streams. You’ll see soaring mountains, waterfalls, snow and glassy lakes. New Zealand sun is harsher than here, so make sure you bring good 50+ SPF sunscreen and wear it at all times, even when it's cloudy. For days when you're not lost on a mountain, casual clothes are fine. Kiwis are the laid-back type and most spend their down time in jandals (flip-flops) and shorts. Bring one smarter outfit if you're planning on fine-dining but unless you have a swanky function to attend, anything more than smart casual isn't required.
5. Don't underestimate the distances.
New Zealand is a lot larger than visitors realise. Although small by European standards, to do both islands fairly comfortably you will need at least 14 days. For a positively leisurely tour, 21-23 is ideal. If you're short on time but want to pack in as much as you can, we recommend a New Zealand itinerary that looks like this: Auckland, Rotorua, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, Marlborough, Christchurch, Queenstown. For those with a little more time, here's where we would go if we had 21 days at our leisure: Auckland, Rotorua, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, Marlborough, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Mt Cook, Dunedin, Te Anau, Milford, Queenstown, Franz Josef, Greymouth, Christchurch. Book your accommodation in advance or you may find yourself stranded in the busy season. Scheduling activities and sightseeing can must also be booked in advance, but allow a day or two’s leeway for weather cancellations. And If you're arriving at night there's no need to worry, all our itineraries include a personal airport pick-up.