Pete's winter guide to New Zealand
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 17 day New Zealand itinerary for our winter months 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.
Once you land in Auckland, head to the CBD and check into your accommodation. After you've had some time to rest you can spend the rest of the day exploring.
Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, is set between two harbours, and has a wide range of things to see and do for the whole family. The mild temperatures in winter make it easy to get out and about and experience vibrant city style and spectacular landscapes.
Pete's must do's:
Take an underwater journey through Kelly Tarlton's SEA LIFE Aquarium, with the world's largest sub-Antarctic penguin colony on display, come face-to-face with New Zealand's largest collection of sharks. For an outdoor wildlife experience take the kids on a dolphin and whale safari in the Hauraki Gulf.
Find cool interactive displays for the kids at Auckland Museum, or trace New Zealand's maritime history at New Zealand Maritime Museum, with fun interactive displays.
For a day out on the water, take a scenic 12 minute ferry across to the seaside village of Devonport, on Auckland's North Shore. Head up to North Head for Instagram-worthy views across the harbour – or experience sailing on an authentic Americas Cup Yacht.
Immerse yourself in the 'Winterless North'. Known for its longer summers and milder winters, the region is rich in history and culture. Take a journey along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway and explore the contrasting coastlines and scenic beauty along the way.
Pete's must do's:
Take a guided tour around New Zealand's most historic site, learn Maori, watch a high-energy cultural performance or just wander around at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is where the founding document of our new nation was signed between the Maori Chiefs and the British Crown in 1840. The grounds include the Treaty House, a fully carved Maori Meeting House, one of the largest Maori War Canoes in the world, and Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi which tells the story of Maori and European contact and the ongoing development of New Zealand as a nation.
Learn the myths and legends of Waipoua Forest while paying homage to the majestic kauri trees. The spiritual environment of the forest provides a natural stage for an unforgettable encounter with some of the largest remaining kauri trees in the world. Here you will find the largest living kauri tree in the forest, Tane Mahuta "Lord of the Forest" who stands at an impressive 51 metres (150ft) tall.
Cape Reinga is an ultimate northern New Zealand experience with the iconic Cape Reinga Lighthouse being a popular traveler's goal. See two oceans collide, as the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean in a spectacular swirl of currents and discover the spiritual 'place of leaping', where Maori spirits begin their final journey. For the ultimate adrenaline rush, sand board down the mighty Te Paki Sand Dunes before venturing along Ninety Mile Beach.
Welcome to Rotorua, New Zealand's coolest hot spot. Rotorua is one of New Zealand's true getaway destinations and a geothermal wonderland. With so many activities on offer, it is the perfect year-round destination, with activities for the whole family.
Pete's must do's:
Escape to Polynesian Spa and unlock nature's gift in Rotorua. Nestled on the tranquil shores of Lake Rotorua, this soul soothing retreat offers hot mineral bathing and spa therapies sourced from Rotorua's very own backyard.
Check out Rotorua's native and Redwoods Forrest. Something that's fun for the whole family - fly through the trees on a zipline as part of Rotorua Canopy Tours. You can also hire a mountain bike and trek through the forest, with 130km of trail network there is something for every skill level.
If you want a unique kiwi experience, only 10 minutes from Rotorua city centre, you'll find New Zealand's Agrodome. See the popular Farm Show, and after the show you can visit the Farmyard Nursery, which is home to the cutest baby animals ready for photos all year round! The Agrodome is a great winter destination, open all year around in any weather.
Get right into Māori culture, starting at Te Puia. It's a geothermal wonderland with the largest active geyser in the whole southern hemisphere. Explore Te Whakarewarewa, a 60-hectare Geothermal Valley, showcasing the famous Rotorua mud pools and over 500 geothermal wonders. Afterwards take the kids to the Kiwi House and viewing enclosure featuring two iconic native New Zealand kiwi birds.
Skyline Rotorua Gondola is the best way to take in the 180-degree views of Lake Rotorua, the city and surrounding landscapes. Once you reach the top, the kids can enjoy a ride on the luge – with three different options and over 5kms of tracks one ride is never enough. While the kids are racing you can enjoy a meal and drink at the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar, serving local New Zealand cuisine.
Wellington, the world's coolest little capital, is a compact and characterful city packed with cultural activities, one-of-a-kind shops and creative eateries. Taxis and public transport make it easy to get around car-free, or you can simply walk.
Pete's must do's:
Begin your day with a delicious coffee and breakfast at one of Cuba Street's zany cafes, then stroll the Wellington Waterfront Walk to Oriental Bay, an inner city, golden-sand beach. Look for the typographical sculptures of the Writers' Walk along the way.
Check out Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum. It's a stand-out example of how interactivity and creativity can bring exhibits to life. The treasures and stories of New Zealand's land and people are spread over six floors, so this could be an all-day experience.
If you're a Lord of the Rings movie fan, book yourself in for a Weta Studio Tour. Weta Workshop, located an easy bus-ride away in Miramar, is globally-recognised for cinematic design and special effects for award winning movies, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia and Avatar. All tours begin at the Weta Cave Shop.
Wellington is also a great place for gardens and wildlife. The historic red cable car will take you up to the Botanic Garden, and then a 30-minute walk will find you at Zealandia Ecosanctuary – 255 hectares of protected forest that's home to some of New Zealand's rarest birds, reptiles and insects.
Nelson boasts a spectacular natural environment and the sunniest climate in the country. You'll see what makes this region so special – beautiful beaches, the Abel Tasman National Park and vineyard areas connected by biking trails. Nelson has also long been a magnet for creativity with a thriving local arts and crafts scene.
Pete's must do's:
Spend the day walking, cruising or kayaking the Abel Tasman National Park. The sheltered bays of the park are ideal for spotting marine life such as seals and dolphins who often play in the coastal waters. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track follows the coastline through native bush, over limestone cliffs and along golden beaches.
See the world class Nelson Classic Cars Collection, alongside award-winning garments and works of art from the internationally renowned World of Wearable Art event. Discover how two very distinct collections collide in a celebration of design, innovation and wonder.
Nelson's wonderful climate helps to produce sensational wine, cider, beer and artisan foods, so get on your bike to discover the Great Taste Trail. You'll bike to craft breweries, cellar doors, food producers and much-loved restaurants. Local bike hire operators are ready to help with maps and tips for a magical day trip.
The seaside settlement of Kaikoura is New Zealand's leading eco-tourism destination offering wildlife experiences of all kinds. Located on a rocky peninsular, the unique ocean environment provides an abundantly rich habitat for a variety of marine life.
Pete's must do's:
Giant sperm whales can be viewed all year-round on a unique whale watching experience. Trips leave the town several times a day where you'll also encounter an array of marine mammals and birds in their natural habitat.
Take a spectacular scenic flight by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft to view whales, dolphins, the Kaikoura coastline and mountains. View new seabed and geological formations from the air.
In Maori language 'kai' means food, 'koura' means crayfish, so be sure to indulge in the ultimate seafood feast. Try a freshly cooked crayfish or the freshest seafood from the 'catch of the day'.
Christchurch is a vibrant, energetic city where urban regeneration and creativity thrive. Picture amazing street art, innovative projects, a booming hospitality scene and state-of-the-art architecture that is changing the way the city looks, feels and functions – all the while staying true to its heritage and traditional English feel.
Pete's must do's:
Get cosy under a warm blanket and glide along the Avon River/Ōtākaro on a relaxing eco-friendly punting tour. An experienced punter will propel you slowly along the water while you admire the Botanic Gardens or the changing face of the city from the tranquillity of your own boat.
Visit the International Antarctic Centre to get a taste of the "coolest" continent. Watch Little Blue penguins being fed, take an ice voyage with 4D effects and at selected times get up close and personal with Huskies at the Husky Zone. There's so much to see and do so best to make a day of it.
Soar above the suburbs on the Christchurch Gondola as it takes you to the Crater Rim at the top of the Port Hills. Enjoy the stunning views 500 meters above sea level and experience the Time Tunnel, a 'ride' through the history of the Port Hills and Christchurch.
Visit the Christchurch Arts Centre, one of the best and most extensive collections of Gothic Revival architecture in the country. Immerse yourself in arts, crafts and delicious food as you discover something different around every corner.
Enjoy amazing scenery of Mackenzie Region from the stunning turquoise of the lakes to New Zealand's tallest mountain (Aoraki Mount Cook). By night, the Southern sky comes alive to reveal millions of stars as far as the eye can see.
Pete's must dos:
Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo and experience the breath-taking backdrop of the chiselled Southern Alps coated in snow.
At night, don't miss stargazing at the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, which has been designated the largest International Dark Sky Reserve in the world.
Take a scenic flight from Lake Tekapo for breath-taking views over the Southern Alps, the West Coast Glaciers and of course the magnificent Aoraki Mount Cook.
Visit Tekapo Springs and relax in the hot pools, while enjoying the stunning views over the lake. The crystal-clear water is sourced from the surrounding alpine springs and heated with recyclable energy.
Nestled alongside the pristine waters of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Queenstown is a premier four-season lake and alpine destination. With the perfect mix of action and relaxation, this is the place to enjoy family fun, invigoration and adrenaline-fuelled adventure.
Pete's must dos:
Get the adrenaline pumping ski fields, Coronet Peak ski area caters for all levels, and is only 20 minutes' drive from central Queenstown. The Remarkables Ski Area - Remarkables by name, remarkable by nature, with levels for everyone.
Enjoy an iconic Queenstown experience and take the Gondola up Bob's Peak, high above Queenstown to the Skyline complex. From the top enjoy panoramic views of the Southern Alps and across Lake Wakitipu.
Take the family to the picturesque former goldmining village of Arrowtown, charming and quirky nestled below the beautiful peaks that surround the Arrow River. Arrowtown is full of boutique cafes, restaurants, galleries and a great base for some scenic walks.
The Queenstown Winter Festival occurs every June over four days. The Winter Festival has grown into the Southern Hemisphere's biggest celebration of winter with fireworks, entertainment, live music, comedy – with lots of family fun, loved by both locals and visitors.
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.