Pete's guide to New Zealand

I’m Pete, and I’m a kiwi.

As one of New Zealand's national symbols and favourite birds, you could say I make a great local guide for getting a bird's eye view on our superb country. Well, I've put together a 16 day New Zealand itinerary to inspire you to get your beak into all sorts of unique Kiwi experiences. Get off the beaten track, explore like a local, get up close with some of my feathered (or scaly) friends, and discover New Zealand's commitment to conservation.

AucklandDay 1 & 2
New Zealand Auckland aerial view of Mt Eden.

Start with a fossick around Auckland, New Zealand's largest city. Set between two harbours, Auckland has an amazing range of things to see and do. It's a place where vibrant city style and spectacular landscapes go hand in hand. So, get ready as the adventure is about to begin.

Pete's must do's:

  • The west coast is wild. Explore its spectacular waterfalls, over 250 kilometres of walking tracks and stunning white and black sand beaches. Hop along to the impressive clifftop gannet colony at Muriwai Beach. A short walking track takes you to a viewing platform above the main colony. From there you can spot about 1,200 pairs of gannets nesting from August to March.
  • History buff? Uncover the world-class exhibitions in the beautiful Auckland Museum. It has the world's largest collection of Māori taonga, representations of all the major tribes of Aotearoa - that's the Māori name for New Zealand!
  • Migrate across Auckland's Hauraki Gulf to Tiritiri Matangi Island. It's a protected haven for native and endangered species and a nature lover's paradise! This is where you can see the country's rarest birds, like the kokako and saddleback. Then venture a little further to Rotoroa Island, an arts, heritage and conservation park, and the Gulf's newest wildlife sanctuary. Now open to the public for the first time in 100 years.

Fly from Auckland to Rotorua.

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RotoruaDay 3

Pick up a rental car and let's hit the road.

Welcome to Rotorua, New Zealand's coolest hot spot. Rotorua is one of New Zealand's true getaway destinations and a geothermal wonderland. Home to our globally unique Māori culture, this is the place where the traditional and contemporary parts of our culture are celebrated for all to share. Rotorua has an exciting fusion of contemporary Māori culture and outdoor adventure.

Pete's must do's:

  • Get right into Māori culture, starting at Te Puia. It's a geothermal wonderland with the largest active geyser in the whole southern hemisphere. And watch out! It erupts once or twice every hour, sometimes reaching heights of 100 feet. Then head to an evening cultural show in the heartland of Māori culture. Manaakitanga (hospitality) is something the Te Arawa Māori have been showing visitors for more than 150 years.
  • Check out Rotorua's native and exotic forests at your own pace. At Rotorua Canopy Tours, you'll find a network of trails, tree platforms and swing bridges to explore. Or, my favourite - fly through the trees on a zipline for a more surprising point of view. You can hire a mountain bike and trek through the Whakarewarewa Redwood forest. The 130km trail network has something for every skill level. Even mine!
  • Mate, if you love the forest like I do, Rainbow Springs Nature Park is not to be missed. Learn about New Zealand's natural history within the native trees and meet with creatures that call this great land home. Like me! For something truly special, upgrade to the Kiwi Encounter Behind the Scenes Tour. You'll get up close and personal with itty bitty Petes - it's the biggest kiwi hatchery in the world. 100% of your ticket goes toward the park's kiwi conservation program, so it gets two thumbs up for me. If only I had some!

Drive from Rotorua to Hawke's Bay.

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Hawke's BayDay 4

Award-winning food and wine, outstanding architecture, and warm balmy days surrounded by magnificent landscapes - Hawke's Bay is pure paradise! This region is full of wonderful things, best experienced with a glass of Hawke's Bay Syrah in hand. If you have hands.

Pete's must do's:

  • The Hawke's Bay Trails are over 200km of flat, off-road limestone trails that link activities and attractions, iconic landscapes and lots of food and wine stops. Sip on a glass of New Zealand wine at one of the amazing vineyards, or relish in the fresh local produce from the farmer's markets.
  • Cape Kidnappers is famous for its iconic landscape and is home to the largest accessible mainland gannet colony in the world. They might not be kiwis, but they're worth a look! You'll find The Farm at Cape Kidnappers here - a luxury lodge whose golf course is classed in the top 20 in the world.
  • Make sure to stop by and check out the unique art deco town of Napier. In 1931, the city was reduced to rubble by a 7.8 earthquake. Within 2 years it was rebuilt in the styles of the times - Art Deco, Spanish Mission & Stripped Classical.

Drive from Hawke’s Bay to Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre.

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Mount Bruce National Wildlife CentreDay 5

Take a drive from Hawke's Bay to Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre. Us kiwis are quite shy and nocturnal, so this is an essential stop if you'd like to see us! Plus, the world's only white kiwi in captivity is here. A real, rare beauty. Be immersed by the native New Zealand wildlife and hop on an exclusive guided tour to make sure you get the most out of your visit.

    Drive from Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre to Wairarapa.

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    WairarapaDay 5
    Cyclists in Martinborough, New Zealand.

    Wairarapa is a region of big skies, wide valleys and small towns with heaps of character. Just an hour's drive or train ride north east from Wellington, it's renowned for its premium wines, gourmet food and boutique accommodation. The region is at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail.

    The wine village of Martinborough is here, with small vineyards producing handcrafted premium wine. Across the Wairarapa you'll find small speciality producers creating cheese, bread, olive oil, chocolate and beer. Take some with you, or enjoy in one of the relaxed restaurants and vineyard cafes.

      Drive from Wairarapa to Wellington.

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      WellingtonDay 6
      Mount Victoria, Wellington, New Zealand.

      Welcome to Wellington, the world's coolest little capital. It radiates energy, culture and character, and it's known for a vibrant arts scene, world class cafés, restaurants and an active outdoor lifestyle. I think you'll be impressed. Wellington is a creative, cosmopolitan city, combining the sophistication of a capital with the warmth and personality of a village.

      Pete's must do's:

      • Say kia ora to the critters and creatures at Zealandia, the world's first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary. Meet some of New Zealand's rarest birds, reptiles and insects.
      • Visit the Weta Cave, a mini museum with movie props and collectables from Weta Workshop on display. Surround yourself with 20 years of creativity at Weta Studios. Get up close to the authentic props, costumes and concept designs created for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, as well as Avatar, District 9, and more.
      • Discover the treasures and stories of New Zealand at Te Papa, the country's extraordinary and interactive national museum. You can walk right into a whale heart there - I'm not kidding about that!

      Fly from Wellington to Christchurch.

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      ChristchurchDay 7
      Christchurch International Antarctic Centre.

      Let's fly south! Christchurch is a short flight away on the South Island, and you'll find it's a hub of urban creativity. Christchurch has a unique heritage, picturesque gardens, and unexpected adventure. Set against a majestic ocean-to-alps backdrop, the city's glorious gardens and parks, vibrant street art and serene river scenery set it apart.

      Pete's must do's:

      • Head to the International Antarctic Centre. You'll journey through modern day Antarctica and experience a taste of this unique continent. Take a ride on all-terrain, amphibious Hagglund, experience a magical simulated 4D Antarctic cruise and hang out with little blue penguins. Some of them are my mates!
      • Visit the Christchurch Arts Centre, one of the biggest and best collections of Gothic Revival architecture in New Zealand. Immerse yourself in arts, crafts and delicious food - ah, food! - as you discover something different around every corner.
      • The Orana Wildlife Park puts the "wild" in wildlife! It's the only open range zoo in the country and it has a massive New Zealand section with kiwi, a wide range of native birds and reptiles, and two walk-through aviaries. At nearby Willowbank Wildlife Reserve you can journey into natural New Zealand and marvel at its many native animals. There's an accessible kiwi viewing area that lets you get right up close with my flightless friends.

      Take a day trip to Akaroa or Kaikoura & return to Christchurch.

      day trip
      Akaroa or KaikouraDay 8

      Looking for a day trip options and like being on the water? You'll get to see New Zealand's marine wildlife all up close and personal. Take a day trip to Kaikoura, just a three hour drive from Christchurch. That's where whales, dolphins, fur seals, albatrosses and other birdlife hang out, along with spectacular new seabed and geological formations.

      For something a little closer there's a magnificent French town in New Zealand. Head to Akaroa and see the superb scenery, historic buildings and stunning harbour. You'll be in good company - the marine wildlife is rich. Take a cruise on the stunning Akaroa Harbour to swim with the dolphins or to watch the Hector's dolphins, the world's smallest dolphins, at play.

        Fly from Christchurch to Hokitika.

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        Franz JosefDay 9
        Franz Josef Wildlife Centre.

        Pick up a rental car and let's hit the road.

        Stop at Franz Josef at the West Coast Wildlife Centre, a unique and interactive experience that brings nature, conservation and wildlife all under one roof. Take part in a guided tour and see my good mate Rowi kiwi! Rowi is the rarest of the 5 kiwi species in New Zealand. Enjoy the natural bush walkthrough and get behind the scenes look at the hatching and incubation programme. We sure look cute, especially when we're babies! Plus we are firm believers in parenting equality. Both the male and female Rowi take turns incubating their eggs.

        • Rent a car

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        WanakaDay 10

        There is so much to see on the drive from Franz Josef to Queenstown via Wanaka that you can take at least a full day to explore.

        Pete's must do's:

        • Take time to take in the marvellous views and mountain reflections from the forested shores of Lake Matheson. This one of the most popular walks on the West Coast and only a short distance, so the whole family can do it. Don't forget to take selfies with the reflection of the Southern Alps on the calm lake waters. Dawn and dusk are the best viewing times when the lake is generally calm.
        • Jump on a swing bridge over the Makarora River and go on a short walk to the Blue Pools. Visit the DOC centre to help you get started. They know everything about the nature here
        • Look out for Kea, the world's only alpine parrot. They live in the Southern Alps, and they're very, very cheeky! Keep your eyes on your keys and your snacks before my naughty cousins nick them. Their outer plumage is olive green and brown, and if you see them flying overhead you'll see their feathers are bright reddish-orange underneath. You might encounter them on ski fields or, if it's summer, take a great day walk at the Rob Roy Glacier. It's a popular kea hangout, too.

          Drive from Wanaka to Queenstown.

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          QueenstownDay 11
          Aerial view of Queenstown, New Zealand.

          Surrounded by majestic mountains and nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is known for its stunning scenery, adventure, and cosmopolitan vibe. Its mountains, lakes, rivers and valleys are just waiting for your footprints. So, get outside and enjoy the natural beauty with a nature experience you'll have nowhere else.

          Pete's must do's:

          • Take a tour of the New Zealand conservation areas that were the backdrop for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Search for hobbits!
          • Visit Kiwi Birdlife Park, 5 acres of forest sanctuary tucked away right in the heart of Queenstown. They coordinate conservation projects throughout New Zealand. At the Kiwi Birdlife Park, there are so many ways you can experience the special world of birds and ancient reptiles. I still like to go myself to learn something new!
          • The Queenstown Trail network has 120km of easy to intermediate trails following pristine rivers, lakes and mountain ranges as well and it passes by iconic Queenstown experiences like bungy jumping, jet boating and wine tasting. Perhaps you'll get some inspiration for your next adventure along the way

          Drive from Queenstown to Te Anau.

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          Te AnauDay 12

          I love a good road trip. Especially in my native New Zealand! From Queenstown, follow the road to Te Anau as it winds around Lake Wakatipu. It'll deliver you over easy rolling country straight to the shores of Lake Te Anau, the biggest of the South Island’s many lakes and a great starting point for your next adventure.

          Pete's must do's:

          • Now that you’re down here, Fiordland is a must! It’s home to many of our rarest native bird species. Visit the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary to see some of them up close. You’ll meet the flightless Takahe and our native forest parrot, old mate Kaka. During the daily feeding session, you can step inside the enclosure right with them. Visit any time. No bookings are needed, and the best part is it’s completely free. A gold coin donation is always appreciated, of course. (That's a one or two dollar coin, for reference.)
          • On the western shore of Lake Te Anau, you can see nature’s work at the Glowworm Caves. They're 12,000 years old and carved into marvellous swirling shapes by the river that flows through them. Enchanting! A scenic boat cruise takes you across the lake into a very quiet, hidden grotto where the only other souls are the tiny, shimmering glowworms unique to New Zealand.
          • If you have a day to spare, spend it in gobsmacking Milford Sound. There's barely a corner of Fiordland National Park or the Milford Sound region that isn’t overflowing with waterfalls and wildlife. From birds in the native forest to fur seals, dolphins and penguins in the sea, you could say the locals are quite unique!

            Drive from Te Anau to Invercargill.

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            InvercargillDay 13
            Invercargill Bluff oysters, New Zealand.

            The Southland region is exceptional for the range of nature tours, bird-watching and short walks it has. Head to Bluff - the most southerly town in mainland New Zealand - a small place that's really unique.

            Pete's must do's:

            • Drop by the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, where you can see New Zealand's oldest resident. His name is Henry, and he's a 110-year-old tuatara, or lizard. His ancestors have been around since dinosaur times! While you're there, enjoy a stroll through Queen's Park, 80 hectares of parklands, gardens and wildlife.
            • Invercargill has some of New Zealand's best local cuisine straight from the ocean. It doesn't get fresher than that! You haven't tried seafood until you've tasted the oysters, blue cod and crayfish from this part of the world.
            • Take a short drive to the port town of Bluff, home of the iconic Bluff Oyster. Snap a photo at the famous Stirling Point signpost and explore the popular Foveaux Walkway. It's an easy coastal walk through to Lookout Point, and well worth the trip. Remember to watch for Southern Right Whales along the way.

            Take a day trip to Stewart Island & return to Invercargill.

            day trip
            Stewart IslandDay 14

            Stewart Island is New Zealand's third largest island, sitting 30 kilometres south of the South Island. It has a population of less than 400 people. Small as! So journey over the Foveaux Strait and discover some of New Zealand's most untouched natural beauty.

            Pete's must do's:

            • Over 85% of the island is national park and with 240 kilometres of treks, including the Rakiura Track, it is a walker's paradise. The hiking, bird-watching and short walks are a must do
            • The island is a haven for my rellies - or relatives - the brown kiwi or Tokoeka. Did you know, they outnumber humans on Stewart Island! Your chances of spotting a kiwi in nature are better here, because this is where my mates are active both day and night. Go on a kiwi spotting journey and you'll be among the few people to say they have spotted one of us shy creatures in the wild
            • Take a guided walk on Ulva Island, where you'll find a predator-free bird sanctuary with dozens of native species. I can totally relax here. You'll also see blue penguins and the rare yellow-eyed penguins waddling among the rocks

              Drive from Invercargill to Dunedin.

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              DunedinDay 15 & 16
              Larnach Castle Dunedin.

              Oh boy, you're going to love Dunedin. It's one of the world's great small cities, with unspoiled architecture and loads of Scottish influence, charm and character. It's also proud to be New Zealand's hub for learning, heritage, arts and culture. Close to the city is Otago Peninsula, where you can see rare and wonderful wildlife species' in their natural habitat.

              Pete's must do's:

              • This is NZ's wildlife capital! Some of the world's most unique and rare marine and terrestrial species can be easily found in our stunning coastal landscapes and hinterlands. Venture along the Otago Peninsula for encounters with little blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, albatross, fur seals and sea lions.
              • Otago Peninsula also has a blue penguin colony on Pukekura Beach at Taiaroa Head. And every evening at dusk these enchanting little birds waddle up the beach to their homes after a day at sea.
              • Visit Larnach Castle, built in 1871 by Scottish merchant William Larnach. The castle and its splendid gardens have been carefully restored. You'll learn about Victorian culture and the castle's scandalous and tragic history.
              • Find out more

                Read more about Dunedin.

              Well, that's it, my friends. It's time for you to head back to Auckland. It's been a pleasure sharing New Zealand's highlights with you. If you ever need a guide while you're here, just ask for Pete.

              Flight from Dunedin to Auckland.

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