Destination Debrief: New Zealand

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Fora Author Fora

The Modern Travel Agency


  • New Zealand

  • North Island

  • South Island

  • Auckland

  • Queenstown

a stone building with a cylindrical tower overlooking an idyllic lake on a sunny day

Image courtesy of Rosewood Cape Kidnappers

There’s a reason more and more people seem to be taking up permanent residence in New Zealand. The South Pacific country is naturally stunning and deeply connected to its idyllic surroundings. Its culinary scene is a wonderland of farm-to-table dining, and it’s not hard to find organic wines made from regeneratively farmed grapes. Local sourcing is the rule rather than the exception.

The people, too, are warm and welcoming, with a sunny disposition and an all-around positive vibe. New Zealand’s rich Māori heritage only adds to the country’s vibrancy. Below is a brief overview of some of New Zealand’s best places to visit, on both its North and South Island. This barely scratches the surface, but it can help narrow down what you’re looking for and provide some inspiration for an upcoming trip. 

When you connect with Fora, our advisors will create a customized itinerary specific to you and your preferences (or just a hotel booking, if that's all you need). In a country this special, opportunities abound.

Need to know:

Currency: NZD$, New Zealand Dollar (NZD)

Languages: English & Te Reo Māori

Airport: Auckland Airport (AKL), Christchurch Airport (CHC), Wellington International Airport (WLG), Queenstown Airport (ZQN), Dunedin Airport (DUD)

Transportation: Public transportation does not have the best reputation. Opt for a car rental instead (especially useful for reaching city suburbs and various nature sites).

Best time to visit: New Zealand can be a great destination any time of year. December through February, (which is summer since the country is below the equator), is great for outdoor adventuring, lounging on the beach and overall warm weather. For snow and skiing / snowboarding, June through August is ideal. Still, the shoulder seasons — March through May and September through November — are not to be overlooked. Expect fewer crowds and mild temperatures during these periods.

Ideal length of stay: Due to New Zealand’s impressive natural diversity, you’ll want to spend a good amount of time here while factoring in space for transportation (ferries, etc.). Although you can certainly see a lot in five days to a week, eight to 14 days would be ideal for a fuller experience.

Traditional Māori foods & dishes: mānuka honey (mānuka is also used for smoking food), tio (oysters), kūtai (green-lipped mussels), rēwena paraoa (sweet, tangy potato bread), pūhā (bitter sow thistle often served with pork), kōwhitiwhiti (watercress)

Key words & phrases: kia ora (hello or thank you), tēnā koe (thank you), mauri (essential life force), motu (island), maunga (mountain), moana (sea), manaakitanga (hospitality, looking after others)

Dress code: ample outdoor gear for plenty of adventures, stylish tennies for exploring the cities and a few breezy dresses or sports coats for farm-to-table meals 

North Island

New Zealand’s North Island is home to Auckland, the country’s largest city. The metropolis is a must-visit, as is the island’s impressive range of landscapes and geographic locations primed for exploration, from the subtropical Bay of Islands to the geothermal marvel Rotorua.

a wooden lakeside hut surrounded by greenery

Image courtesy of Huka Lodge

Where to stay on North Island

Rosewood Cape Kidnappers: A hilltop countryside getaway overlooking the ocean, with all-inclusive, farm-to-table dining, private beaches, a maze of walking trails and a world-class golf course. Book with Fora to unlock exclusive Rosewood Elite perks.

Rosewood Kauri Cliffs: An elegant, sprawling oasis in the rugged Northland, complete with a 6,000-acre farm, forests, waterfalls, private beaches and nature trails. Book with Fora to unlock exclusive Rosewood Elite perks.

Park Hyatt Auckland: A five-star stay on the waterfront with views of Waitematā Harbour. Book with Fora to snag Hyatt Privé perks like $100 hotel credit, a welcome amenity, daily breakfast for two, an upgrade and extended check-in/out.

Sofitel Wellington: A refined stay with a French flair near the city’s botanical gardens. Book with Fora to unlock VIP Accor STEP perks like hotel credit, a welcome amenity, breakfast daily, an upgrade and extended check-in/out.

Huka Lodge: A vibrant, luxury retreat consisting of 20 suites and two cottages on the banks of the Waikato River. Fora’s partner perks include a complimentary three-course lunch for two, breakfast daily for two and extended check-in/out.

What to do on North Island

Start in the bi-harbor Auckland, a bustling urban center with a slate of boutiques, restaurants and cafés. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, New Zealand’s largest art museum, shows over 18,000 works that highlight the country’s history alongside its contemporary artistic movements. If you’re after adrenaline, consider bungee jumping from Sky Tower. (Not to worry: the tower also offers sky-high yoga and dining for something more laid back.) Maungawhau (Mount Eden) is Auckland’s highest volcano. Take the short and easy walk up to the summit for views of the city and Waitematā Harbour below. A little outside of Auckland is the black-sand Piha Beach, a popular surfing spot. 

The Bay of Islands, a micro-region consisting of 140 islands, is ideal for water-based activities and idyllic beaches. Delve into the country’s history at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where He Whakaputanga, New Zealand’s Declaration of Independence, was signed in 1835. Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal wonders: natural hot springs, mud pools, geysers. It’s also a great starting point for the Tarawera Trail, which ends at Hot Water Beach, where mineral water bubbles up through the sand. (Rotorua is also a mountain biker’s heaven.)

If you love wine, birdwatching or both, make a beeline for Hawke’s Bay, on North Island’s eastern coast. For more wine, board a ferry in Auckland and head to Waiheke Island, where vineyards and olive groves await. In Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, visit Te Papa, the country’s bicultural national museum. And don’t miss a ride on the famed Wellington Cable Car. The capital city is also where you’ll likely board the ferry headed to New Zealand’s South Island. 

Where to eat on North Island

In Auckland, start your day at the hipster, industrial-chic Ozone Coffee Roasters. Savor locally sourced Italian-inspired cuisine amid exposed brick at Amano, and locally sourced Indian food at the modern Cassia. Bar Céleste is chic, cool and casual, perfect for seasonal dishes paired with excellent wines.

In Wellington, Egmont St. Eatery’s elevated seasonal menu reflects the latest local bounty, as does the menu at Highwater Eatery. For wine, cheese and satisfying meals, Noble Rot Wine Bar is a must. For mouth-watering Middle Eastern food in a casual space, Kisa will not disappoint. 

Over on Waiheke Island, Mudbrick Restaurant treats diners to set menus enjoyed among brick floors and exposed wooden beams. (The onsite bistro Archive offers à la carte options.) Opt for the dinner tasting menu at the sleek Tantalus Estate, which doubles as a winery; a wood-fired meal at The HEKE, Brewery & Distillery; and the low-intervention wines traditional Italian food at the family-owned Poderi Crisci. There are numerous additional wineries to explore — too many to list here. Connect with me and I’ll suggest the ones that best fit your preferences.

South Island

Like its northern neighbor, South Island is a natural paradise brimming with beautiful landscapes. The rolling vineyards, rugged peaks of the Southern Alps, serene lakes and bays, majestic fjords and glaciers are sure to enchant. The island is also home to charming towns and cities — most notably Christchurch and Queenstown — where art, culture and a deep respect for nature combine.

a rustic alpine lodge on a gassy expanse overlooking a lake

Images courtesy of Blanket Bay

Where to stay on South Island

Rosewood Matakauri: An 11-suite alpine escape on the idyllic Lake Wakatipu. Book with Fora to unlock exclusive Rosewood Elite perks.

Blanket Bay: A luxury alpine lodge located in a sheep and cattle farm. Fora Perks include a complimentary three-course meal for two, breakfast daily for two, an upgrade and extended check-in/out.

Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa: Classic luxury in Queenstown. Book with Fora to receive Accor STEP perks like hotel credit, a welcome amenity, daily breakfast for two, an upgrade and extended check-in/out.

Annandale Villas: Four ultra-chic villas on an idyllic seaside stretch of farmland make up this luxurious, exclusive retreat. Book with Fora to receive $100 food / beverage credit, breakfast daily and extended check-in/out.  

The George: A boutique stay with an award-winning restaurant in the heart of Christchurch. When you book with Fora, you’ll receive exclusive SLH withIN partner perks including $50 hotel credit, breakfast daily, an upgrade and extended check-in/out.

chairs and couches on an outdoor wooden terrace overlooking a lake

Image courtesy of Eichardt's Private Hotel

Otahuna Lodge: A restored Victorian home on an idyllic hilltop, with views of the estate’s manicured gardens and the Southern Alps. Book with Fora to receive a complimentary three-course lunch or dinner for two, daily breakfast for two, an upgrade and extended check-in/out.  

Eichardt's Private Hotel: A historic lakefront boutique stay consisting of seven handsome suites and four apartments. Fora’s VIP partner perks include $100 food / beverage credit, breakfast daily for two, an upgrade and extended check-in/out.

Bay of Many Coves Resort: A bayside hideaway surrounded by nature. Book with Fora to unlock $100 hotel credit, welcome treats and an upgrade.

What to do on South Island

The Nelson Tasman region combines vibrant arts and culture with a diverse natural landscape. Explore the area's markets and artisanal stores, where craftspeople and artists display their wares. Then, venture out into nature for some serious exploring. Mountain bikers especially will be happy here.

For glaciers, mountains and alpine adventure, head to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, where minimal light pollution makes for the best stargazing. For rugged peaks, waterfalls, kayaking, cruising and hiking, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound), one of the island’s sublime fjord’s, is the perfect choice.

In Ōtautahi (Christchurch), on South Island's western coast, check out the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The city, after all, is nicknamed the Garden City of the Plains for its numerous green spaces, parks and recreation areas. Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū shows a wide range of works, and partners with artists, encouraging them to take risks and explore novel ideas. 

Queenstown, on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, is a veritable natural playground. Ski, mountain bike, hike, kayak — regardless of the season, outdoor adventure awaits.

Where to eat on South Island

In Christchurch, Gatherings is a casual and cozy restaurant with good vibes and a menu highlighting seasonal, organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. Inati is great for a refined chef’s-table experience. The hipster SUPER marries Japanese and Māori cuisine, while the youthful 5th Street serves well-crafted plates in a plant-filled space.

Over in Queenstown, check out the organic, sustainable winery Amisfield. Their rigorous ethos extends to its restaurant, where you’ll dine on an exceptional multi-course meal. For additional winery action, head to Chard Farm, which practices regenerative farming. Cap off a day of tasting at Cellar Door, the winery’s restaurant. Opt for breakfast, lunch or dessert at Mora Wines & Artisan Kitchen, located on its eponymous organic, regenerative winery. 

The sleek Rātā celebrates New Zealand’s local bounty, as does Sherwood’s Restaurant, where everything on the menu is homegrown, foraged or sourced hyper-locally. Vudu Cafe & Larder is a hip option for a nourishing brekkie or lunch, while Aosta, in Arrowtown, offers Northern Italian cuisine (organic focaccia studded with rosemary, pillowy agnolotti with heritage zucchini and a showering of pecorino) made with thoughtfully sourced ingredients.

Ready to travel? Connect with Fora to plan and book your dream New Zealand getaway today.

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Furnished room behind open barn style doors