New Zealand is a place of prestine beauty. After traveling for a month there, I’ve created a comprehensive guide of New Zealand – including a google map of 100+ locations – that you should check out for more detail. But I wanted to feature my favorite places to hike, stay, eat, drink and things to do below. Enjoy!
Kepler Track – 46.3k / 29.8m
The Kepler Track is a loop, starting and ending close to the town of Te Anu. You can take a water Taxi from Te Anu to Brod Bay and shave off 5.6k. The first section of the the trek from Brod Bay to Luxmore Hut is a steep and consistent uphill climb which will bring you above the tree line to the Luxmore Hut. This hut is a great place to stop for lunch, if the weather is cold and rainy as it was when we were there, you may want to boil up some tea and soup as well. From Luxmore Hut the next 10k of hiking is perhaps my favorite section of hiking I’ve ever done in my life. You’re walking along a picturesque ridge above tree line with 360-degree spectacular views on all side of the neighboring mountains, the lakes and the fjords. After the ridgeline, the trail drops steeply to Iris Burn Hut. Pro Tip: bring your insect repellent the sand flies are intense. From Iris Burn it’s a pleasant and mostly flat hike through rain forest to the Rainbow Reach parking lot where you can either catch a bus / taxi back, or you can continue hiking another 9.5k to the Kepler Track parking lot to complete the Track. If you take the boat into Brod Bay and take the bus / taxi back at Rainbow Reach, you’re cutting out 15.1k shortening your total to 31.2k (and you’re not missing much).
Routeburn Track – 32.1k / 19.9m
This track was on my bucket list. I had high expectations and the trek exceeded them. The trail is one way, so you’ll need hire a car relocation service that will drive your car from Routeburn Shelter to the Divide parking lot. The start of the trek is a sustained climb to the Routeburn Falls Hut. The most scenic section of the trek is above the tree line between the Routeburn Falls Hut and Harris Saddle Shelter. If you have a clear day, it’s worth taking your time through this section and soak it all in. After Harris Saddle Shelter, the trail traverses a ridge with great views down the valley, then you drop into the forest and have a relatively flat and mellow hike out passing some great waterfalls.
Harris Saddle – 22.2k / 13.8m round trip
Everybody that visits New Zealand should at least make for this day hike. The trail from Routeburn Shelter to Harris Saddle Shelter is the first section of the Routeburn Track. Though it’s about a 1,000 meter elevation gain, the climb is gradual enough to accommodate all level of hikers. As mentioned above the stunning section of the trail is from Routeburn Falls Hut to the Harris Saddle Hut, but if you have energy, you can take a side trail at Harris Saddle Hut to climb another 290 meters to the top of Conical Hill. This is a short and steep hike with a little scrambling, but the extra effort pays off with the most epic 360 degree views. Start early and go at your own pace. During the Summer months you’ll have plenty of daylight to get to Conical Hill and back. But If you’re not feeling up for going out and back in a day, you can always book a bunk at the Routeburn Falls Hut, then come down the next day.
Mueller Hut – 8k / 5m round trip
The Southern Alps are a sight to see. The Mueller Hut is the perfect vantage point to take them all in. The trail is strenuous – starting with around 2,000 stairs that will set your quads on fire. Then depending on the time of year, you are navigating a fairly steep boulder field or a snow field. Bring your sunglasses and sun screen as the snow amplifies the impact of the sun. The hike can be done in a day, but if you want to catch sunset / sunrise and the stars at altitude, you may want to book a night in the Mueller Hut then descend back down the next day. If you have snow, there are ample opportunities to glissade on the decent.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing – 19.4k / 12m
With its black lava rock, craters, emerald blue lakes and orange stone, this popular day hike offers a wide variety of topographical and geologic diversity. There’s no surprise that this crossing made the list of best day hikes in the world by National Geographic. The peak of the trail and the best scenic views are from the Red Crater, about 8k into the hike. Since this is a one way hike, you’ll want to park your car at the end of the trail – Ketetahi road – then book a bus to bring you to the trail head – Mangateopo – the morning of your hike.
What a privilege to see the remote parts of the Fjordlands from the water. During the expedition, we’d disembark from our main ship the Spirit of Enderby and cruise around in zodiacs and hike on some of the most isolated islands in New Zealand.
I couldn’t have asked for a better team to guide the expedition. Each member of the team seemed perfectly suited for their role. They all have a passion for nature an ability to teach the guests, no matter the level of knowledge that guest has coming into the expedition. Though I spend a decent amount of time in nature, I had not historically paid much attention to the bird and flora species. But the enthusiasm of the guides and my fellow guests was contagious. My eyes and ears have now been opened to see the beauty in a specific tree or the song of a bird.
The biggest surprise of the trip was a helicopter tour of the Fjordlands. It was quite exhilarating and surreal seeing the topography from a bird’s eye view.
They trip is billed as an expedition, not a cruise. So, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of amenities. But the cabins on the ship were well appointed and bigger than some New York City studios I’ve seen. The food was impressive.
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, this is a must see. I was able to nerd out with other LOTR fans. The Shire is on a quintessential bucolic working sheep farm. Each Hobbit hole is carefully crafted down to the smallest details on the exterior. The amount of intention that the art department put into the set was impressive. We did the lunch + tour package. I think it would be fine to just do the tour. Either way you’ll end with a pint in the Green Dragon pub at the end of the tour. Pro Tip: You’ve only got like 25 minutes in the pub, if you are focused you can get 2 pints in during that timeframe.
If Chelsea Market had a cooler more low-key cousin, it would be Ponsonby Central. Ponsonby Central looks like the façade of a homeware store. But when you enter you see find a catacomb of stalls stretching back into the block. There are a ton of fresh and hip eateries and cafés hidden within, that tantalize with their extensive menus. Whether you’re in the mood for late night cocktails and shots or roasting pork fresh off the spit, cream filled crêpes or a burger fresh off the grill, a hip haircut or homewares, a soothing shot of coffee or something a little more organic, then Ponsonby Central can accommodate your needs.
Busy and buzzy with cozy neighborhood feel, this established fish shack and cocktail bar is a mainstay of Wellington’s food scene. Ortega Fish Shack is a must go-to seafood restaurant within the city, a local institution perfect for any occasion. The two-story building, built in 2007, is decked out with nautical blue walls, marine themed portraits and quirky collectables. A medley of vintage crockery, family photographs and daily changing blackboards provide a backdrop for a solid local seafood. Teresa Pert’s hearty dishes include the likes of pan-fried prawns in garlicky lemon sauce and signature grouper served on creamy risotto. The drinks list includes an enormous selection of bottled and local craft beers, as well as some rare fortified wines.
You will find one of NZ’s most beloved brewery-taverns halfway between Takaka and Collingwood. The vibe is halfway between a pub in a farming village and a backpackers. We went on the suggestion of our Airbnb host and we’re so glad we did. The Mussel Inn is rustic NZ at its most genuine, complete with creaking timbers, a rambling beer garden with a brazier, regular music and other events, and hearty, homemade food. Try the signature Captain Cooker, a brown beer brewed naturally with mānuka.
100 percent organic 100 percent raw 100 percent of the time. I tried my first vegan eggs… incredibly tasty! The food is clean and the ambiance is bright, open and welcoming. Perfect charming little café.
No food list of New Zealand would be complete without a savory pie recommendation. We tried a lot of pies, but I’d have to say my favorite was at The Famous Sheffield Pie Company. Blink and you’ll miss this stellar roadside bakery, a purveyor of more than 20 varieties of pies, from traditional beef to more experimental flavor combinations – I tried whiskey and venison. Worth the stop!
Forty minutes from the adventure hot spot of Queenstown, New Zealand, is Camp Glenorchy: the country’s first energy net-zero hotel and campground. Camp Glenorchy aims to use 50% less energy and water than similar accommodations by relying on a solar garden and smart lighting; there’s also a smell-free composting toilet in each unit. The design channels the surrounding valley’s natural beauty through the use of construction materials like recycled timber while still incorporating upscale features like an in-room tablet that enables guests to monitor their energy use. This place is so inspiring. I’ve never seen sustainability and luxury work so well together. Though we stayed in our own cabin, they offer a bunkhouse and campground for travelers of varying budgets to enjoy their space. Apparently, we’re not the only person to think this place is amazing. It was ranked as one of the World’s Greatest Places by TIME Magazine in 2019.
This peaceful B&B outside of Punakaiki was a true haven. The room has a clean modern design that I Ioved, but the couple who ran it really made the experience. We loved hanging out and chatting with them over (an amazing) breakfast and tramping through the woods on their property.
Hotel Montreal sits just a block from the huge Hagley Park, which we ran through. The walk to the center of Christchurch is a flat 15 minutes. One of Christchurch’s best boutique hotels, the modern and comfortable rooms are all suites, so each is spacious and contains an area for lounging and a generous balcony overlooking the croquet lawn. Rooms include Bose speakers, posh tea from Harney & Sons and a fresh house coffee blend with cafetiere. There is generous storage including a large wardrobe, and an iPad.
Anybody that knows me knows I like whiskey… maybe it’s my Tennessee upbringing or my Irish roots, who knows?! The more than 180 bottles lining the walls of The Last Word, a tiny, whiskey-centric watering hole, can be amazing or paralyzing. I only had time for a quick Christmas Eve drink, so I went with a cocktail. The bartender whipped me up a twist on an old fashioned, complete with a topper of New Zealand’s famous Whittaker’s Chocolate.
Opening in 1991, the Wairau River Cellar Door and Restaurant is one of the regions original wine tourism destinations. The Rose family have a long and proud pioneering history in the Marlborough region with Phil and Chris Rose establishing their vineyards on the banks of the Wairau River in 1978. Their cellar is open for tastings every day, so you can sit outside, relax, and drink in the view of the beautiful Marlborough landscape while sipping on your favorite wine. Every wine I tasted was top notch… if I was closer to home, I would have been walking away with a case!