New Zealand doesn’t exactly need a great deal of introduction. If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit movies, you’ve already glimpsed just a little of the astounding natural beauty that the tiny island nation in the southern hemisphere has to offer.
While it’s sad that the country doesn’t have the hobbits, elves, and ents of Middle Earth – there’s still an abundance of things to see and do in New Zealand over the summer. Its diverse geographical conditions attract all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts to visit New Zealand to seek out adventure, photo opportunities, and stunning landscapes.
As a developed country, its flawless infrastructure and impeccable tourism industry caters to tens of thousands of tourists all over the world. It’s that perfect blend of first world conveniences and stunning natural beauty that has been largely unspoiled by the country’s development.
My ten day visit to New Zealand in late 2010 featured an astonishing range of environments. From the snow capped mountains and ancient glaciers around Franz Josef to the wide grassy fields surrounding Queenstown, from windswept beaches to the labyrinthine caves near Rotorua; this country has a lot to offer to its visitors.
Though vacation friendly all round the year New Zealand is a haven in summers. Despite its proximity to Australia, New Zealand escapes the worst of the baking summer days that can make a Sydney or Brisbane summer unbearable.
6 Destinations for Summer in New Zealand
Franz Josef Glacier
If the summer heat is proving too much for you to bear, you’ll be pleased to find that some parts of New Zealand stay cool year round. Franz Josef Glacier winds its way down from snow-capped mountains and into a temperate rainforest, creating a startling contrast as you emerge from the jungle as a sweaty mess and soon find yourself literally chilling on top of a glacier.
Taking some time atop the glacier (both half and full day hikes are offered) should be something on every aspiring traveller’s bucket list. There’s something surreal and humbling about being atop such an ancient and beautiful force of nature, and the nearby town (also called Franz Josef) is delightfully quaint to boot.
Interested to learn more? Read about my experience climbing Franz Josef glacier.
Known as a thermal wonderland, Rotorua is a fascinating town once you look past its strong, sulphur smell. Most famous for the various geysers and hot-springs that surround it, Rotorua is also a great place to spend a bit of time in the shade.
And by ‘shade’, I mean ‘underground in a rubber tube doing some black-water rafting’. The nearby Waitomo Glow Worm Caves offer you another chance to escape the heat by going underground, getting wet, and marvelling at the living starscape created by the hundreds of thousands of glow worms who call the caves home.
Curious about blackwater rafting? Read about my time exploring the Black Labyrinth.
An adventure traveller’s Mecca, Queenstown is the home of bungee jumping, white water rafting, canyon swinging, paragliding, dirt biking, and even drift diving. It is a haven for those who want to live their lives a little on the edge, but there are certainly options for those who like to keep their feet a tad more firmly planted on the ground.
Famous not only for its adrenaline seeker delights, Queenstown is also home to the legendary Ferg Burger and is a perfect starting point for a visit to the nearby Milford Sound and its stunning high cliffs.
You can read more about my love affair with Queenstown or about my visit to Milford sound.
The Bay of Islands
A day trip from the bustling city of Auckland, New Zealand’s famous Bay of Islands is a subtropical paradise full of stunning beaches and opportunities to get out in the water.
Cruise tours, chartered yachts, and kayaks criss-cross the azure waters of this island paradise within an island paradise, and nearby boutique towns are full of photo opportunities and adorable cafes just begging to be explored.
If getting wet isn’t your thing, a number of hikes and breathtaking clifftop vistas are on hand to keep your feet on the ground while your spirit soars.
Ohau Snow Fields and Mount Cook
While the snow fields aren’t in action over the summer, there’s plenty to admire about the Southern Alps. Lake Ohau is a glacier fed lake that retains its beauty even when the snows have mostly melted, and nearby Mount Cook (Aoraki) is the highest mountain in the country.
Stargazing and hiking are popular pastimes in this region of New Zealand, and even in the summer the temperatures this far south remain pleasantly cool.
Fans of The Hobbit just might be in for a treat too, as Lake Town (and the legendary battle with Smaug) were filmed in this region.
If seeing the sun rise before anyone else in the world appeals to you, Gisborne is the place to go to. Like much of New Zealand, Gisborne has no shortage of adventurous activities for those so inclined; but it stands out as also having a very cool, laid back vibe that ought to appeal to those who need a break from the pursuit of a faster pulse.
Very popular among the locals and tourists alike, it offers some of New Zealand’s best vines. Where good wine is found, you can also find good food – and Gisborne is a great place for gourmands to satiate their appetites for the finer things in life.
Gisborne is also home to one of the biggest New Year’s parties going: the Rhythm and Vines festival. A three day music festival that falls over New Year’s, the event draws musical acts from both New Zealand and around the world; but also features enough activity variety to keep people entertained for the whole three days.
Master Your Own Destiny!
Mountain climbing, deep sea diving, bungee jumping, paragliding, surfing, dirt-biking or whatever your adventure poison may be; it is all available in New Zealand.
While New Zealand does boast a great network of buses, trains, and cheap local airlines to get you around; there’s something to be said for being in charge of your own destiny and getting out on the open road on your own terms. If you have more time, I recommend you consider a road trip through the South Island.
There is nothing more adventurous than exploring your dream destination by driving a car yourself and deciding your own itinerary. Hiring one suiting your needs is a great way to make your trip all the more enjoyable.
What are your favourite spots in New Zealand?
Featured image by Harald Selke.