Dazzling Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand's longest lake. Shaped like an inverted "n" it is a highlight of a trip to Queenstown, which nestles against a curve near the middle of the lake. During the last ice age a huge glacier carved out the lake, which sinks to a depth of 1,300 feet (400 meters).The surrounding mountains that fed the glacier provide a dramatic backdrop to the crystal waters.
Atmospheric pressures cause the lake to rise and fall about 5 inches (12 centimeters) every 5 minutes. This gave rise to the Maori legend that the rise and fall of the water is the heartbeat of a giant who lies slumbering under the water.
The magnificent lake was the location for the Lothlorein scenes in The Lord of the Rings movie. If you’d like to get out on the water the most genteel way is to climb aboard the refurbished vintage steamship the TSS Earnslaw. Cruises across the lake will take you to Walter Peak where you can see a working high-country farm.
Set at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds amazingly comprise one fifth of New Zealand’s coastline. Not because the region is large, however, but simply because the serpentine coast weaves in and out of so many bays it massively adds to the mileage. Here the coastline is so stunningly rugged that mail is still delivered by boat to towns that are cut off from roads, and visitors can actually ride along with the boat that’s delivering mail. It’s a rural time capsule that hearkens back to life in the 1800s, where sheep still roam the forested hills and fishermen ply the waters for mussels and live off the bounty of the sea.
For an authentic experience in Marlborough Sounds, hop aboard a seafood cruise to sample the clams, mussels, and salmon the Marlborough area is known for. Or, to scour the shore on your own two feet, hike the famous Queen Charlotte Track that weaves through Queen Charlotte Sound.
Although the Rotorua area is speckled with dozens of lakes, Lake Rotorua is a different entity, detached from its neighboring lakes. Larger, deeper and much, much older, geologists believe it dates back over 200,000 years. Some of Rotorua’s other lakes were created by the Tarawera eruption of 1886, but Lake Rotorua is the original waterway to grace this section of the North Island.
Unlike the ocean, the waters of the green-hued lake are colored by sulfur and minerals, and the 920-foot elevation makes it a little cooler to the touch. It is the second largest lake on the North Island, is surrounded by a geothermal playground and offers a variety of activities for travelers. Take a cruise through the Ohau Channel, which connects with Lake Rotoiti, or go fly fishing where the waters connect and try to reel in a big one. Slide into the seat of a kayak and silently paddle the lakeshore, or strap on a helmet and go hurtling over falls while rafting on a nearby tributary.
Experience everything you want to know about the icy continent of Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre, from indoor ice storms to ATV rides and penguins.
Feeding time at the NZ Penguin encounter is hugely popular, as is the Penguin Backstage Pass tour for an up-close view of these cute creatures. Go for a rough and ready ride on the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, watch snow being made and throw snowballs, chill out in an ice cave and see the aquarium displays of Antarctic wildlife. Don’t worry about keeping warm: chillproof jackets and overshoes are provided.
Hop aboard a vintage tram for a leisurely tour of central Christchurch. It’s the most relaxing, fun way to get your bearings and see the city's attractions and landmarks.The trams leave from Cathedral Square in downtown Christchurch. The route then crosses Worcester Bridge over the River Avon, loops past the Botanic Gardens and travels along past the shops of Armagh Street. All trams have an informative on-board commentary. Why not combine sightseeing on wheels with your evening meal, and take an evening ride on the Restaurant Tram? The colonial-style tram has every comfort, and the menu features local lamb and seafood.
In the movie trilogy Lord of the Rings, there are more than a handful of mysterious places which are either sinister, dark, or foreboding. On the other hand, there are also places which are so peaceful and magical that you wish they could only be real. One of these places—Rivendell—is the home forest of the immortal elves who lead a life of peace and tranquility. The lush forest provides a welcoming enclave, and all who enter are immediately enraptured in a refreshing sense of calm.
While Rivendell might be fictional, however, the place where the scenes for the movie were filmed couldn’t possibly be more real. At Kaitoke Regional Park, about 50 minutes north of Wellington, the peaceful surroundings and ancient forest make it the perfect hideout for elves. While you’re unlikely to find any pointy-eared characters enjoying a moment in the forest, you will find a spot where the sun filters through treetops to create a welcoming setting.
Located alongside the scenic island of Rangitoto, the emerald landscapes, striking coastline and thick forests of Motutapu Island attract visitors from across the globe. Sandy beaches and easy walking paths offer up plenty of opportunity for rest and relaxation, while the 300 Maori archeological sites that scatter the land showcase a rich history and detail ancient lives of early inhabitants.
Travelers can explore one of the Island’s popular walking tracks, like the Motutapu Walkway, which connects the causeway to Rangitoto and the Matutapu ferry dock. Several World War II military sites in the northern junction offer history buffs with a look at gun pits, shelters and other fortresses. Outdoor adventurers can overnight at one of the island’s popular campsites and those looking to give back can volunteer at the Motutapu Restoration Trust, where locals and out-of-towners work alongside each other to plant trees, clean up beaches and monitor wildlife.
Christchurch is known as the garden city, an Anglophile settlement of well-tended gardens and tree-lined streets. Pride of place in this flower-loving town goes to the Botanic Gardens, attractively set within a loop of the winding Avon River. The gardens are planted with thousands of exotic and indigenous plants, with particular note going to its lime tree walkways, inviting lawns and seasonal flowers such as magnolias, azaleas and roses.
A number of conservatories protect a range of species, including desert plants, tropical blooms, begonias, alpine plants and orchids. The gardens are an ideal location for a picnic, or to find a relaxing spot for an hour or two, away from the bustle of the city.
Without a doubt, Hagley Park is the greenest, most relaxing, yet also most happening 1 sq. mile in Christchurch. On the relaxing side, this central park offers dozens of opportunities for leisurely moments in the city. Paddle the waters of the Avon River which borders the park on one side, or spend an hour sniffing through the botanical gardens which are completely surrounded by the park. Lay a blanket on the expanse of grass and enjoy a midsummer picnic, or photograph the wildflowers which famously bloom as the park comes alive in the spring.
For as mellow as Hagley Park can be, however, it can rapidly change into a pulsing gathering place during one of the numerous Christchurch festivals. At large events such as the World Buskers Festival or the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, tens of thousands of Christchurch locals can descend on the spacious grounds.
Pegasus Bay Winery is a family-owned and run winery and restaurant located in the Waipara Valley, north of Christchurch. Pegasus Bay wines are made with estate-grown fruit from the Donaldson family’s vineyards.
The Donaldsons have been growing grapes and making wine since the early 1970s. A husband, wife and three sons team, the family uses natural methods, and the winery produces a sauvignon, Reisling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet. The winery is also known for half a dozen reserve wines.
Much like the fascinating Te Papa Museum in Wellington, the Canterbury Museum offers an in-depth look at the history and culture of Christchurch. Located in the Christchurch city center (and only sustaining minor damage in the 2011 earthquake), visitors can ogle over the Neo-Gothic architecture before even stepping foot in the door. Admission to the museum is technically free of charge (though donations are gladly accepted), and you can easily spend hours getting lost in the culture of Christchurch, Canterbury, and New Zealand.
Exhibits at the museum run the gamut of history, from the early days of Maori discovery to the modern street art of Christchurch. The museum itself was established in 1867 by the explorer Julius Haast (for whom such places as the town of Haast got their name), and the Canterbury Museum has been deemed a historical site that you can visit during a day trip to Christchurch.
Built between 1873 and 1887, the Larnach Castle is the only castle in all of New Zealand. Sitting on a beautiful 35 acres, the castle grounds and interior are a wonderful way to spend a day. For an extended stay, you can stay at the 4-star Larnach Lodge, located on the castle grounds.
Constructed for an Australian banker and politician, the castle presents a combination of American, Venetian, and Gothic styles of decor and architecture, making it wholly elaborate and unique. In addition to its ornate interior and beautifully maintained garden, tourists and guests gather at Larnach for a supernatural experience: the castle is said to be haunted by multiple members of the Larnach family.
Be sure to take some tea or a light lunch in the ballroom, one of the most beautiful parts of the castle, as well as visiting the on-grounds plant nursery.
With a prime location at the heart of central Auckland, Albert Park is the ultimate urban garden, with its pretty flower beds and towering palm trees set against a backdrop of looming skyscrapers and the landmark Auckland Sky Tower. With the Central Business District and Auckland Art Gallery to the west, and the University of Auckland to the east, Albert Park is among the city’s most popular green spaces, and its shady benches and grassy lawns provide ample space for picnickers.
A former military barracks, Albert Park was laid out in the late 19th-century and features a series of flower gardens and walkways around a central Victorian fountain. Notable features include the historic band rotunda; the Albert Park House, now a museum; a series of oak trees planted in honor of the United States Navy's Great White Fleet; and a number of statues and memorials.
The brainchild of the renowned marine archaeologist and diver, Kelly Tarlton's SEA LIFE Aquarium is an aquarium designed to thrill the whole family. It was the first aquarium to use curved-glass viewing containers and a conveyor belt to move people along. There is an exciting array of specimens from tropical marine fish to Antarctic penguins.
Highlights include the gigantic stingrays, turtles and octopus that you will see in the deep water exhibit and the pufferfish and stonefish in the venomous-fish tank.
Jump aboard an Antarctic Snowcat, a vehicle usually only used in Antarctica, and travel through the penguin enclosure where you will see king and gentoo penguins.
If you’re up for some added excitement you can snorkel with the fish or for a real adrenaline rush you can swim with the sharks or stingrays.
Even though a scant eight miles separate Sumner from the city center of Christchurch, this coastal suburb set right on the beach may as well be its own island. Sumner Beach is the de facto “beach town” that is associated with sprawling Christchurch, where bikini-clad sunbathers and wetsuit-clad surfers mingle on the golden shores. Sleepy in winter but pulsing in summer, Sumner is a hangout of sun-seekers and sportsmen who flock to the beach and the hills. Joggers and walkers stroll on the boardwalk which parallels the popular shore, and paragliders and mountain bikers play on the hills which rise just behind town.
A relaxing, slow-paced, agreeable outpost, when the large earthquake of 2011 triggered landslides in the surrounding hills, Sumner Beach and its associated community were almost completely cut off from the city. Though the road has been fixed and Sumner is accessible again, evidence of the earthquake is still evident in the massive rock piles by the coast.
The Arts Centre of Christchurch was long the creative hub of the city. Located in Gothic Revival buildings that were once home to the University of Canterbury, the center took a hit in 2011 when a major earthquake damaged 22 of the 23 buildings. The Arts Centre is currently closed to the public, but work is underway to reopen the Art Centre in stages.
The site’s origins date back to the late 1800s. Along with the University of Canterbury, the buildings housed a girls and boys high school. Both high schools moved off-site and by the mid-1950s a growing population forced the University to move to a larger campus. That’s when the Arts Centre was created.
Separating Christchurch from Lyttleton Harbor, the Port Hills are a playground for Christchurch outdoors-lovers who are looking to work up a sweat. Rising to height of nearly 1,800 feet, the Port Hills are located a short distance from downtown and are criss-crossed by multi-use trails. Hit the hillside on a rented mountain bike or go for a scenic hike, or watch as paragliders leap from the slopes overlooking the beach town of Sumner. Many of the trails were closed as a result of landslides in the 2011 earthquake, but most of the trails have since been reopened and are a refreshing getaway from the city.
In addition to the trails, the Port Hills are known for the native birds which make their homes on the hillsides. Catch a glimpse of a New Zealand wood-pigeon as it floats above the hills, or hear the call of a native bellbird as it rustles about the bush.
Located at the center of town in what many are deeming the “New Christchurch”, the Bridge of Remembrance is a historical monument that holds significance for numerous sets of people. Initially, this arcing bridge over the Avon River was erected as a public war memorial. Commemorating the soldiers who lost their lives in the battles of World War I, the bridge also remembers the brave soldiers who fought valiantly in ensuing wars. Located on Cashel Street, the bridge was turned into a pedestrian mall in 1976. Then, in February of 2011, the bridge endured a terrible beating during the earthquake that devastated Christchurch. Battered but not broken, the bridge managed to still stay standing amidst the piles of surrounding rubble. Though access to the bridge will once again be available in 2015 (with certain sections re-opening in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the Great War), the fact it remains standing have made it a memorial for lives which were lost in the earthquake.
Smack in the middle of downtown Auckland just off of bustling Queen Street, Aotea Square is a popular spot for festivals, gatherings, and events. Located just across from the Auckland Town Hall, Aotea Square provides over an acre of open space downtown, and after a massive renovation in 2010, can now accommodate up to 20,000 people for rallies or open-air concerts. Aside from a handful of shade producing trees, the square houses large, public works of art such as statues and Maori sculptures, the most famous being the Waharoa gate that serves as the entrance from Queen Street. In summer, dance under the stars when part of the square is converted into a dance floor, or strap on skates in the middle of winter when an ice rink is built in the square.
Mona Vale is a sanctuary of calm in the midst of bustling Christchurch. Gardens lined with rhododendrons and camellia sit next to a brilliant fernery, and a colorful rose garden provides the perfect moment for stopping to smell the flowers. The 13-acre gardens border the Avon River, and surround a homestead of Victorian architecture that is listed on the historic registry. Dating back to 1897, the elegant property has seen numerous owners make their own improvements to the grounds, and the exceptional gardens are a favorite location for wedding ceremonies in summer.
Unfortunately, the devastating earthquake of 2011 damaged many of the historic buildings, although the gardens remain open for strolling the grounds and drooling over the architecture from afar. In 2014, however, the city council approved the funds for the renovation of Mona Vale, and the famous buildings such as the Bath House and Homestead will be once again be open for visitors.