The active crustal movements in New Zealand due to its location where the Pacific plate and the Indian Ocean plate meet, endows the country with rich geothermal resources. Hot mineral water gushes from underground, forming many natural hot springs across the land
From towering glaciers to natural hot springs, from the wild vegetation to fireflies that shine in the night, New Zealand, lying in the far southwest of the Pacific Ocean, presents an abundance of natural wonders to people’s eyes. The country is divided into the North Island and the South Island by Cook Strait. In the North Island is situated the capital Wellington, Auckland, the largest city and Rotorua, the classic hot spring destination, while The South Island is known for the West Coast, as well as popular tourist cities such as Queenstown and Dunedin.
Peak tourist season is from December to February. A large number of Chinese tourists rush in during the Spring Festival in particular. If you also plan to travel during this period, make sure to book hotels in advance.
City of Sails
Facing sea on three sides, Auckland is the largest international port in New Zealand and the first stop for many who come to visit the country. Harbors and sailboats are Auckland’s symbols. As the sea is so near, local people are keen on sailing. That’s why it has the nickname “City of Sails”. In addition to sailing, the museum, wine tasting in the wineries, and leisure time on the beaches all draw travelers.
Perched on the hilltop inside Auckland Central Park, Auckland Museum features a rich collection of Maori cultural exhibits, animal and plant specimens, and various ancient weapons. When you walk out of the city, you will soon be welcomed by a large number of beautiful beaches, among which Mission Bay is the nearest and most frequented by the locals. They sunbath on the beach during the day and go for a stroll with family members in the evenings. Restaurants are arrayed along the beach and give a lively ambience. Waiheke Island, where poet Gu Cheng once lived, is about an hour’s boat ride from Auckland. The island is famous for its vineyards. Why not go to visit one of the wineries and sip a glass of wine in the beautiful scenery?
Natural Hot Spring and SPA
Rotorua is a place known for hot springs in the central part of the North Island. Geysers, mud pools, and natural hot springs are bubbling all around. As early as the 1980s, local people began to make good use of the thermal water to cure various kinds of physical discomfort. Now Rotorua has become a world-famous destination and is 3-hour drive from Auckland.
The Pohutu geyser inside Te Wharerewarewa Geothermal Reserve is the unquestionable landmark of Rotorua, with a jetted water column of 30 meters high. There is a typical Maori village at the entrance of the Reserve. Traditional Maori singing and dancing performances are presented at noon every day. Then there is the “champagne pool” at Wai-O-Tapu thermal Wonderland. It is a wide and amazing hot spring pool composed of bright orange and blue-green colors.
To bath in a hot spring pool is surely an essential experience in Rotorua. Polynesian Spa is awarded by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top ten hot spring spas in the world. Its geothermal mineral water comes from one acid and one alkaline natural mineral spring. The acid spring, namely the sulfur spring, has a wonderful effect on relieving muscle fatigue and pain, while the alkaline spring can deeply nourish the skin. The 28 mineral spring pools at Polynesian Spa are divided into Deluxe Lake SPA, Pavilion Lake Pools, Lake View Private Pools, Sky View Private Pools and Family Pools. Most of the pools boast the stunning scenery of Lake Rotorua.
Enjoy a spa treatment after bathing in the pool. AIX Mud Wrap is a classic one here that you shouldn’t miss. The treatment first energises and nourishes with a gentle full body exfoliation. Then a warm Geothermal Mud mask will be applied to calm and nourish the body, as well as clean and deliver essential nutrients to the skin, whilst you experience a relaxing La Gaia Pearl Mask scalp treatment massaged into your hair. Refresh with the Aix water therapy to rinse away the Mud mask. A truly blissful sensory escape. Rotorua’s thermal mud is packed full of minerals due to the volcanic nature of the region including sulphur, calcium, sodium and silicon, which release protective antioxidants for clean and refreshed skin.
Waikite Valley Thermal Pools is a unique place to bathe in the ‘Living Waters’ of the Te Manaroa Spring, the largest single source of 100% pure geothermal mineral water in New Zealand. Located in the stunning Waikite Valley, it’s just 25 minutes from Rotorua city. Hot pool bathing options include 5 pools in the main area with temperatures ranging from 35 – 40 °C. There are 4 private pools (bookings recommended) where bathers can select and control the water temperature of their individual pool. All pools are drained and refilled daily. Changing facilities, including showers and family change room are offered as is swimsuit/ towel hire. Waikite has a tasty café on site serving barista made coffee, freshly made snacks and meals.
Located in the heart of Rotorua City, Silver Fern Spa Hotel offers 25 spacious and comfortable guest rooms, each with its own hot spring pool. Silver Fern Spa Studio provides a wide range of body, facial, and manicure & pedicure treatments, focusing on a healing experience of body and mind and using natural local ingredients including the widely known Manuka honey, Rotorua volcanic mud and other precious ingredients. The spa is also open to non-resident guests.
Surrounded by mountains, rivers, forests and lakes, Rotorua is also a perfect destination to get closer to nature. Lake Rotorua is the largest among the 18 lakes in the area. Trout swim beneath the blue water and swans wander on the water surface. Rotorua also boasts a few of the best mountain bike trails in the world. In addition, hiking, horse riding, fishing and boating are all ideal ways to immerse yourself in the beautiful scenery of Rotorua. Adventurers can try forest zipline.
Rainforest and Beaches
Slowly unfolding the beauty of Coromandel Peninsula step by step, the Coromandel Coastal Walk, which connects stony Bay and fletchers Bay, is a favorite for hikers. It takes about 7 hours for a return journey. Not only walking by the sea beaches, hikers will also pass through farmlands and jungles, and climb over the Moehau Gange to get a panoramic view of the ocean bay.
Hauraki Rail Trail is a cycling trail built along the ancient railway, with Thames Town and Te Aroha hot spring town at both ends. The cycling road passes through forests, bridges, farms, villages and towns. The scenic Karangahake Gorge and Owaroa water fall are the most popular stops. The whole journey may take 2-3 days. The road is smooth most of the time, and there are many hotels, restaurants and cafes along the way.
The Hot Water Beach in Coromandel is known for a special experience – hot spring pool DIY. Natural hot springs flow under the ground of the beach area. When the tide ebbs, the spring water can easily gush out from beneath when you dig the sand with a shovel. What an amazing feeling it is to dig out your own spa pool and soak inside while enjoying the endless Pacific Ocean before you. Nevertheless, if you want to make a pool big and deep enough, it takes extra time and effort. Shovels are available to rent in the beach cafes. After the happy hour of digging pools, as you go northward along the beach, you will slowly depart from the noise. Just choose a secluded corner for sunbath and rest.
For a more authentic spa experience, make sure to visit a decent spa center. The Lost Spring, Whitianga is a recommended destination that features several natural hot spring pools, a spa and a restaurant.
The Lost Spring is located in the heart of the Coromandel Peninsula, surrounded by tropical vegetation and waterfalls. Birds singing and water stream compose a unique chorus. It is said that the spring source has a history of 16000 years. It is deep buried at 667 meters below the ground and gushes out from the bedrock cracks. Therefore, the water is completely pure, sterile and rich in minerals. While you are bathing in the hot spring pools, the resort’s employees will bring cocktails and snacks to your poolside.
Built on a lush and serene treetop, the on-site spa combines local healing traditions and natural ingredients to provide a physical and mental rejuvenation experience. The signature treatment – Dreamy Delight begins with a luxurious foot treatment that includes coconut milk foot bath, sugarcane exfoliation and moisturizing lotion. After that, therapist will carry out a relaxing back massage with Pure Fiji exotic warm essential oils to relieve muscle stiffness and pain. The treatment ends with a moisturizing facial.
The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is set apart by the South Alps. The region features a diverse landscape including glaciers, rivers, and rainforests.
Franz Joseph Glacier and Fox Glacier are the two most accessible glaciers in the world due to their quite low glacier “tongue”. In comparison, Fox Glacier is smaller and quieter with a wider view. The two glaciers are only 30 kilometers apart. Franz Josef Glacier is located in Westland National Park, five kilometers away from the town of the same name. Fox Glacier is 10 kilometers away from Fox town. There is a charming firefly walk trail in Fox town, which is about 1.2 km long, running through the rainforest and the streams. When night falls, the blue light of the fireflies shines up the darkness.
As you climb up the glacier from the mountain foot, you will see unique ferns and sections of rainforest until you reach such a height that you find yourself amidst transparent ice wonders. In addition to the traditional way of climbing, Heli-Hike has become increasingly popular these days. A helicopter will firstly take you on a ten-minute tour to overlook the magnificent glaciers, rain forests and oceans from the air before landing on a high point of the mountain. From such a point that you normally won’t be able to reach by traditional ways of climbing, you will begin your 2-3 hours of glacier hiking. Make sure to wear warm clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, and raincoats and take some snacks for the glacier hike.
Located at the foot of Franz Josef Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools use natural glacier water and feature three public hot pools surrounded by lush trees. There is also a spa that features 2 treatment rooms, offering a series of massages and body treatments to especially help guests restore and rejuvenate after the hike.
Other popular destinations in South Island also include Queenstown, a widely recognized activity hub offering options from bungee jumping and skydiving to wandering alpine pastures, horseback riding and hiking. For more relaxing alternatives, you can ride on a hot-air balloon or go to visit wineries. Tekapo, located by Lake Tekapo, is a quiet town known for its vast starry sky. The accommodation experience is unique, featuring rows of independent cottages by the lakeside.
Food and Wine
Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. Start a wine tour across the regions famous for grape planting and wineries – from Hawke’s Bay in the North Island, to Martinborough, and then Marlborough on the South Island. While wandering amidst the vines, you will find that many wineries are open for you to go in and taste their wines. Likewise many vineyard restaurants are waiting for you to try. Hawke Bay produces Bordeaux, Syrah and Chardonnay; Martinborough produces Pinot Noir; and Marlborough has the world’s top Sauvignon Blanc.
Seafood. More than 15,000 kilometers of coastline gifts New Zealand with a rich selection of seafood. Experiences not to be missed — crayfish in Kaikoura, bluff oysters in Southland, green shell mussels in Marlborough, and whitebait patties on the West Coast. The soft texture and mild taste of scallops from The Coromandel is particularly popular among first-time travelers to New Zealand.
Maori hangi or ‘roast dinner’. Maori people, the aborigines of New Zealand, still keep their traditional way of cooking, namely Maori hangi, or roast cooking. They dig a pit in the ground, put in hot red rocks, and then place in the wrapped meat and vegetables into the pit and fill the gap with soil. As a result, the cooked food has a natural smoky flavor. The dinner is usually enjoyed with a Maori welcome ceremony and traditional performances. Today, visitors can experience the dining ritual in Rotorua, Northland and Christchurch.
Farmers’ markets. Make an early start on the weekend and visit a farmers’ market with local people. There, you can enjoy diverse food that the local farmers have planted, picked and prepared, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and homemade delicacies. Don’t forget to bring home some jam, pickles and bread. These farmers’ markets can be found throughout New Zealand’s major cities and towns. Famous ones include the Matakana Market and La Cigale Market in Auckland, Harbourside Market in Wellington, Bay of Islands Market in Paihia and Lyttelton Market in Canterbury.
Manuka Honey. This world-famous New Zealand honey has natural antibacterial properties and can be added into a variety of food, drinks, health care products and skin care products to play its unique functions. Recommended places to try a full range of Manuka Honey products: Bay of Islands Honey Shop in Kerikeri Town, North Island; Huka Honey Hive in Taupo; Arataki Honey Visitor Center in Havelock north, North Island.
New Zealand Travel Guide
Seasons & Climate
Spring: September to November, temperature: 4.5-18OC. New Zealand in spring is full of the breath of new life. Colorful flowers bloom and waterfalls are revived by the spring rain. It’s perfect to go to a beautiful town for an outing.
Summer: December to February, temperature: 21-32OC. Enjoy the sunshine, sea and sand. New Zealand has plenty of beaches and lakes, offering good places to spend the joyful summer days.
Autumn: March to May, temperature: 7-21OC. Enjoy the long, sunny and golden autumn by hiking, cycling or boating.
Winter: June to August, temperature: 1.5-15.5OC. The mountain tops are capped with snow and the air is fresh and clean. The North Island has more rain, while the South Island is colder but drier. Skiing, visiting wineries and joining several winter festivals are all good ideas.
Currency & Costs
The monetary unit of New Zealand is the New Zealand dollar / NZ$. Major credit cards can be used in New Zealand, of which Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted. Currency exchange can be carried out in banks, hotels and currency exchange offices.
A general daily expenses reference in New Zealand — Hotel breakfast: NZ $15 – $40, cafeteria lunch: NZ $10 – $25, fast food: NZ $3 – $5, cappuccino: NZ $4 – $5, Big Mac: NZ $5.20. Tipping is not obligatory in New Zealand. Hotels and restaurants don’t add service charges to the bill.
Driving in New Zealand
To hire a car and do self-driving is a popular way of traveling around New Zealand. However, to drive in New Zealand may be more challenging than in other places.
A valid international driver’s license is a must for any traveler who wants to drive in New Zealand. Traffic drives on the left-hand side, and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the front of the car – that is, during driving, so the driver is always in the middle of the road and the front passenger is close to the roadside. Due to the diverse geographical landscape, there are many narrow, hilly and winding roads. It means you should not only be very careful when driving, but also understand the fact that your actual driving time is often longer than what is generally estimated according to the distance. Except for between major cities, there are few motorways and most roads are single lane.
You can log on to the official website of the Automobile Association to join in the “AA’s new Visiting Drivers Training Programme” (https://www.aa.co.nz/travel/rental-vehicles-and-transport/visiting-driver-training-programme) to have a virtual online experience of driving in New Zealand. There are different driving tasks and road rule tests. You will get a certificate after passing the tests.