Today’s post is brought to you by STA Travel Student Ambassador, Emma Neely. Emma is a student at Michigan State University who has a passion for traveling and making friends around the world. She currently has traveled to 17 countries and counting!
Looking to plan a trip to New Zealand? Here are my recommendations for the best places to check out on both islands, based on a trip I took during my 4-month study abroad experience Down Under!
Day 1: Arrive in Auckland
Kia Ora! Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at the airport, I would purchase a round trip bus ticket via the SkyBus as it is cheaper than purchasing it on each leg of the trip. It runs 365 days a year 24/7 and takes approximately 40 minutes to an hour to reach the end of each route. It costs $32 NZD. It’s a lot cheaper than a taxi! Upon arrival at your hotel or hostel, I recommend you start with heading to the city center and going to the Sky Tower. Here you can see impressive views of the city, and (if you dare) you can bungee jump off the tower.
After seeing an aerial view of the city, it’s time to explore it on foot. I recommend stopping by world famous Giapo, an avante garde dessert shop where you can find unique ice cream, gelato, and sorbet. I recommend trying Aotearoa gardens. The word Aotearoa is now the most widely known and accepted Māori name for the entire country, so it’s only fitting that you would try that flavor as your first Kiwi snack! Afterwards head to the Auckland Art Gallery. This gallery is great to visit because not only does it help provide a comprehensive history of the settlement of New Zealand, but it is free to the public!
Day 2: Rangitoto Island
As you recall from the Sky Tower, Auckland is surrounded by a lot of water, and thus has an extensive ferry network. It also has a lot of volcanoes. As it so happens, Auckland is known by many as the city of sails and volcanoes. Take a ferry over to Rangitoto Island – hike this volcano. Most days of the week ferry’s start running at 9:15am for 30$ round trip, but on weekends it’s even earlier at 7:15am for an early bird discount of only 20$. Pack a picnic as there’s very little access to food or water once you get to the volcano. When you get back, reward yourself for the hard hike by satisfying another sweet tooth craving at Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar. This adorable shop is a local favorite!
Day 3: Mount Eden (Maungawhau)
Take a bus over to Mount Eden (also called Maungawhau) which is a dormant volcano just south of the city center, and also a superb to watch the sunrise. It is one of the region’s 48 volcanic cones, and it offers the highest natural viewing point of the city. The local authorities have stopped running buses to the summit of the volcano, so get there early enough to hike up it and still see the magnificent sunrise (it took us approximately 30 minutes). Afterwards check out the fun cafes and shopping that this hip village has to offer! Depending on the season, you should try and attend a New Zealand All Blacks game, head to the beach, or go shopping in the CBD (Central Business District). I recommend checking out Global Culture for some fun specialty souvenirs!
Day 4: Rotorua
After a fun few days in the City of Sails, it’s time to catch a bus to Rotorua. The best bus deals come from Naked Bus with fares as low as $1NZD; the trip from Auckland to Rotorua is about 2 hours long. Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture; both are at the heart of this city’s tourist appeal. It’s fairly easy to find hot springs, geysers, and mud pools all around, but some can be quite pricey. I recommend going to Kerosene Creek during the day, which is free of charge. It’s a freshwater stream and a naturally heated hot spring. As with all hot springs, it’s not safe to duck your head below the water.
If you happen to be in Rotorua on a Saturday or Thursday, there are some local markets you should check out. First is the Kuriau Park weekend market (held on Saturday mornings) where one can have breakfast, try freshly made food like rewena bread and other Māori traditional foods. You can also find jewelry, clothing, and fresh fruit and vegetables here. On Thursday evenings (from 5-9pm) there is a great night market to check out if the weather permits, with art, fashion, freshly made food, and boutique beer and wine to try. If not there on those days, there are some fun Maori heritage centers to explore and places to shop at. Another classic nighttime New Zealand activity is to explore the glow worms. Waitomo Caves is the famous place to visit, but you can go pretty much anywhere around Rotorua – just ask around at your hostel or hotel where the best place to go is nearby.
Day 5: Hobbiton – Matamata
If you haven’t seen the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit Trilogies, watch them before you arrive in New Zealand! These films have a special place in any kiwi’s heart because they were all filmed in New Zealand. Catch a bus to Matamata round trip from Rotorua to explore the magic of The Shire and Hobbiton. This is about an hour journey, and the bus runs shuttles twice daily (8:15 am or 1:15pm) costs about 115 NZD including the entrance ticket and tour fees (approx 80 USD). Have a beverage at the Green Dragon Inn and see where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins live! The tour is a bit expensive, but you could spend all day here as there is a lot to see and do.
Day 6: Queenstown
Today is your splurge spending day because there are some things money can buy. Take the Skyline gondola to the top of the mountain and observe the Remarkables for 33$ round trip. It is an iconic view of Queenstown that is gorgeous no matter what time of year! Because you are in the adventure capital of the world you have to go to AJ Hackett’s Bungy or at the very least go zip lining (I recommend Ziptrek Ecotours). If you really can’t swing these more expensive things check out some of the discount book websites where you can find a few Queenstown activities under 20 dollars for example you can find a 1$ jet boat ride or an 8$ kayak rental, or cheap mountain biking opportunities. If you have time, you should also go see the beloved kiwis by going to the Kiwi Birdlife Park located right near the base of the Skyline Gondola. It costs 48$NZD for admission which includes all daily events, feedings, encounters, and a self guided audio tour. If you purchase all day access, you can can come and go as you like. You can also purchase next day rollover, which allows you to return again to see any event you missed.
After you have finished your thrilling day, the adventure continues with a stop at the famous Fergburger. From between 11-18$NZD you can purchase a scrumptious burger, but be mindful of the time of year you are visiting. If coming during the summer, locals mention it can take over an hour and would recommend ordering over the phone in advance. Next to Fergburger is Fergbaker where you can buy desserts and savory pies – a must do down under. Looking for free desserts? The Remarkables Sweet Shop has free fudge tasting! Though you should probably buy something, they have a ton of different flavors so it is incredibly hard to choose! A block of fudge costs around 6$.
Day 7: Milford Sound
Do a glass roof bus – boat trip combo tour of Milford Sound. When I went, I used Juicy Cruise, but most of the tours have similar options. This tour stopped in Te Anau, and various other photo stops in Fiordland National Park. It’s about a 12 hour time commitment, but it is well worth your time and money at around 140$ give or take. It is one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever seen.
If you are looking for activities to do after this excursion you could go ice skating (Fridays its only $9.50) at the Queenstown Ice Arena in Queenstown Gardens. You also could go to The Find (also referred to as World Bar) which has funky cocktails served in teapots.
Also, experience an ice bar at Below Zero where you can sit on and take pictures with walls, furniture, sculptures & glass carved out of ice. They provide coats to keep you warm!
Day 8: Last Day!
On your last day, buy up all the souvenirs you need around town. If you have time, visit the Gibbston Valley Winery where you can see the region’s oldest vineyard, catch a glimpse of their winemakers in action, and taste authentic New Zealand wine and cheese in New Zealand’s largest wine cave. These were the best souvenirs I brought home!
Authored by Emma Anne Neely – STA Travel Student Ambassador. Ready to book your trip? Fly with Air New Zealand to get some of the best deals and non-stop flights Down Under.