Abel Tasman National Park
New Zealand’s smallest national park is also its most popular thanks to incredibly special scenery, including water the color of the Caribbean Sea. The park can only be accessed by boat, helicopter or on foot – the 51 kilometer (32 mile) Coast Track is the most beautiful of New Zealand's Great Walks. Accommodations inside the park are generally simple huts that still have to be reserved well in advance by hikers eager to walk the entire trek. The best option for day trippers is to charter a boat (contact Indagare's Bookings Team for recommendations) and spend a day exploring Abel Tasman along the coast, with the option of stopping for a short hike.
Indagare recommends a charter company headed by a local captain who grew up in the Tasman area and is incredibly invested in the protection of this eco dreamscape. A day charter includes lunch on the boat and such activities as kayaking into small bays where you might spot seals. Abel Tasman is an "only in New Zealand" experience and a fantastic way to spend a day when you're staying in the Nelson-Tasman area (preferably at Edenhouse).
Established in 1862 at the height of the Otago gold rush, the settlement of Arrowtown is a great place to tour for a few hours. There are lots of shops, cafés and restaurants (head to Chop Shop for lunch), as well as a small Chinese Settlement with historic, preserved buildings. The latter is located on the banks of the Bush Creek river, a tributary of the wild Arrow River, and there are several beautiful hikes that originate or culminate in Arrowtown. You can also rent bikes here to explore this scenic area, where a lot of locals live since Queenstown itself has become expensive and overrun.
Auckland Art Gallery
Established in 1888, Auckland Art Gallery is the largest art museum in Aontearoa, NZ. It holds the most extensive collection of New Zealand and international art in the country, and houses 35 exhibition spaces over three levels. With exhibitions that present modern and contemporary art, works by Maori and Pacific artists, international collections, as well as programs for both old and young, visitors are bound to walk away with a fresh perspective.
In 2024, New York philanthropists Julian and Josie Robertson gifted a collection of 15 works from influential modern European artists, including Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Salvador Dalí, Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse, transforming the collection.
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Set in the middle of Auckland’s downtown park, the grand Auckland Museum gives visitors a crash course in Kiwiana. Spend an hour here, and you’ll have boned up on enough Maori culture, native flora and fauna, and New Zealand history to see you through your trip. (Cultural tip: New Zealand was not populated by convicts). After your visit, grab lunch in nearby Parnell, Auckland’s oldest suburb.
With the greatest number of exotic and native species in New Zealand, the Auckland Zoo strives to build a future for and improve the understanding of wildlife. From hippos to tigers to the beloved kiwi, visitors can see some of the world’s most impressive species while learning about conservation of these and many other creatures in wild spaces.
In the early 19th century, Europeans who came to visit New Zealand usually were drawn by a single destination: the Pink and White Terraces near Lake Rotorua. Formed by geothermal waters, the terraces were often referred to as the eight wonder of the world. Most of these early-day visitors were based in the town of Te Wairoa, on the shore of Lake Tarawera, from which they would set off to see the Pink and White Terraces. All was destroyed in 1886 when Mount Tarawera erupted in a blast so powerful that it could be heard on South Island.
Today, Te Wairoa, known as the Buried Village, can be visited for a glimpse of this slice of New Zealand history. The family running this archeological site has done a fantastic job excavating the ruins of the village, as well as a large amount of relics and day-to-day objects that were discovered, including china, wine bottles and decorative objet of the historic Rotomahana Hotel, which was also destroyed in the eruption.
The 12-acre grounds also abuts hiking trails through a native bush, one of which leads to a beautiful waterfall. The Buried Village is not worth an extra trip from Taupo, but if you're based in Rotorua and want to learn about this fascinating part of the North Island's history—this region was effectively the cradle of New Zealand tourism — it's worth a morning of exploring. (Come early to avoid sharing the beautiful grounds and surrounding forest with bus tours.)
Fly Fishing Taupo
Lake Taupo, the size of Singapore, is surrounded by glorious rivers and streams that are blessed with larger number of trout, making it a heavenly spot for fly-fishermen and women. One of the reasons the fish populations are so healthy is that you cannot purchase trout or find it on restaurant menus here. All fish consumed has to be caught privately, which has limited overfishing and poaching seen in other fishing destinations. There really isn't a bad time to fish in Taupo - during the winter months, the fish enter the rivers to swim upstream and spawn, while during the summer, you can also fish in the shallows of the lake.
Whether you are a beginner or advanced fly fisherman/woman, it pays to go with an expert here, since the terrific Taupo guides can take you off the beaten path and into more rugged back-country terrain. Indagare Tip: One of the great joys of fly-fishing is that even first-time novices can master the movement quickly and, with the help of a guide, can end up catching quite a few trout (catch and release), which is an undeniable high. Contact Indagare's Bookings Team to be connected with the area's best guides.
Gibbston Wine Region
The Central Otago region that surrounds Queenstown has six smaller wine appelations, which focus on Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay. It’s tiny compared with Marlborough farther north on the South Island, but wine lovers should spend a day exploring the bounty here, because the setting at the foot of the Southern Alps is stunning. If you have time, it’s worth visiting wineries in the Cromwell, Lowburn and Bannockburn areas, but the one that’s closest to Queenstown is Gibbston. Some of the wineries not to miss here are Peregrine (2127 Kawarau Gorge Road), with its contemporary architecture; Amisfield, which has a gorgeous restaurant; and boutique label Brennan Wines (86 Gibbston Back Rd), with incredible Pinot Noirs. En route back to Queenstown from Gibbston, you will cross the Kawarau Bridge, home to the world’s first bungee jump.
The best way to visit this impressive waterfall, close to Taupo town, is to take a hike or bike ride that kicks off or culminates at the Falls. You can admire the Huka Falls—which are the waters of the massive Waikato River being pressed through a narrow ravine here—from a narrow footbridge that spans the river. To get even closer, there are several boat rides, including a rapid jet that does speedy tricks beneath the Falls and the more leisurely River Cruise ( a better way to get photographs of the turquoise-green extravaganza).
Indagare Tours: Heli-Adventures
Helicopters are an enormous part of New Zealand culture. From their introduction in the 1960’s to aid in deer hunting, to their more practical use as means of transport throughout the island country’s vast, undeveloped natural landscape, helicopter excursions provide a wow-factor to any New Zealand itinerary.
One of the most memorable ways to explore Queenstown, with its dramatic mountain peaks, alpine lakes and natural fiords (as well as the awe-inspiring territories of the 1.2 million-hectare Fiordland National Park), is to embark on an adventure by helicopter. With an experienced pilot-guide, discover untouched terrain in some of the most remote locations on the South Island. Fly fish in a back stream, hike atop a mountain peak, hunt in unspoiled forests, picnic on an isolated beach, swim in a high-altitude alpine lake, spear for crayfish off the coast… and do it all knowing that there is no other person within miles of you. Or, simply watch as your expert guide commandeers for you while you sip Champagne and take in one of New Zealand profound, breathtaking settings. Contact Indagare’s Bookings Team to plan a tailor-made helicopter adventure.
The whaling capital of Kaikoura, on the South Island’s east coast, has been called the “Serengeti of the South Pacific” due to the range of animals that can be seen here, from Albatross to sperm whale. A stunningly scenic, 2.5-hour drive north of Christchurch (break it up by lunching at Pegasus Winery), Kaikoura is a former whaling town that today draws sealife enthusiasts, especially between October and March. Much like Queenstown has a package tour for seemingly every adventure sports you can think of, Kaikoura has outfitters for such nature-focused activities as swimming with seals or dolphins, whale watching aboard a helicopter, sea kayaking, fishing and albatross encounters.
But the most popular excursion is Kaikoura Whale Watch (www.whalewatch.co.nz), whose headquarters are in a former train station. If you’re used to the more lackadaisical whale tours of the American Northeast, you are going to encounter the Switzerland of New Zealand in terms of organization. There’s a strict number of people on the boasts, everyone has to be seated when the boat is in motion (ie, almost always) and tours book well in advance and should be reserved. Whale watching is also a time commitment: the tours include a generous hour for check-in and a brief safety video, so if you are booked on the 10 a.m. tour, you won’t even leave the station until 11 a.m. It is suggested you check in an hour in advance, but there is little to do at the whaling station except browse the gift shop (which is probably the point), so don’t be fooled: you don’t need to be there more than 20 minutes before the tour.
When the season is right and you see an abundance of whales, dolphins and other sea life, this is absolutely worthwhile. Those prone to motion sickness should bring Dramamine – the Pacific can get rough even on sunny, nice days.
In 1986, New Zealander A J Hackett first took a daring leap off a bridge, tethered only by a super-stretchy elastic cord strapped around his ankles. The technology may have been fine-tuned somewhat, but essentially, daredevil bungee jumpers are still using the exact same method innovated by Hackett. (“Bungee" is Kiwi slang for an elastic strap). The place where he opened the world’s first commercialized bungee platform is Kawarau Bridge, near Queenstown.
Originally, Hackett had a one-month lease on the bridge (and his workers were paid a commission per jumper), as general consensus agreed that as soon as he killed a tourist, the whole operation would be shut down. With the subsequent success, the operation kept growing and growing – today, Hackett runs three other bungee sites around Queenstown and some 30,000 jumpers leap from Kawarau (and bungee is actually the safest of Queenstown’s adrenaline-infused offerings, including paragliding and jet boating).
Marlborough Winery Tour
Oenophiles grumble that there is no place really nice to stay in Marlborough, one of New Zealand’s flagship wine regions (they are the largest exporter of Sauvignon Blanc in the world). And indeed the central town of Blenheim is as charmless as it gets, with barely a single cute restaurant but every imaginable fast food label. However, once you get into the Wairau valley, set against the Mount Richmond Forest Park and with glorious rolling hills, these drawbacks are fast forgotten.
There are numerous wineries, many of which have excellent restaurants. Some of the best ones to visit include: Seresin, a boutique label that also produces a beautiful olive oil; Hans Herzog, a quirky winemaker who also dabbles in Grüner Veltliner and Montepulciano; and Cloudy Bay, where a Raw Bar keeps guest well-fed during the summer months.
Getting There / Where to Stay:
Martinborough Wine Tour
Vintners have been cultivating in Martinborough since the late 1970s, but the region started emerging from the shadows of New Zealand's more famous wine-making areas (Marlborough and Hawke's Bay) only recently. Particularly the Pinot Noirs have been making a huge impression – in 2010 a vintage from Schubert winery was named the World's Best Pinot at the Decanter Wine Awards, beating out competition from Burgundy (incidentally, the Martinborough soil conditions closely resemble those of the famous French region).
Touring in Martinborough is easy, thanks to the close proximity of the cellar doors (tasting rooms). You can practically visit on foot, though many choose to rent bikes, complete with saddle bags for holding purchased bottles, of course. If you just need a one-stop-shop, head to the Martinborough Wine Center in the center of town, which also has a lovely café and restaurant for lunch (know that it's cheaper to buy directly from the cellar doors).
There are more than 23 wineries in this region. Here are some of Indagare's favorites to visit:
Part of the Fjordland, arguably the most dramatically stunning scenery in New Zealand, Milford Sound was carved by glaciers during the ice ages. The setting is composed of sky-scraping mountains that plunge into deep-blue lakes and river fjords. The region is best explored via helicopter, since these can land atop glaciers and get you off the beaten path. There are also outfitters in Queenstown that offer fly-over tours via prop planes.
If you have time, combine a flight with a short cruise into the sound – the photo opportunities are seemingly endless. But be sure to arrange to be on a smaller boat. Milford Sound is a popular tourist destination and the majesty of the setting – Rudyard Kipling described it as the “eighth wonder of the world” – can be dimmed somewhat when you end up on a boat with hundreds of other camera-toting tourists.
Serious hikers can also tempt one of the challenging, multi-day “tramps” that pass through this region, including the Milford and Routeburn Treks.
The thermal wonderland of Wai O Tapu, midway between Taupo and Rotorua, may be the more famous geothermal site, but the hidden Orakei Korako is worth a visit to escape the crowds. Located across serene Lake Ohakuri (there's a ferry boat that runs visitors over on demand, not a set schedule), this field is a steaming, stunning reminder of the area's geothermal activity.
Visitors walk on wooden paths along the terraced fields, ranging in color from deep purples to chalky whites, alongside bubbling hot pools and craggy fault scarps covered by steam. Orakei Korako has 35 live geysers, and if you're lucky you can witness Diamond Geyser spew boiling water high into the sky. The self-guided walk takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how much time you spend at each area. The native bush and trees, looking like the set from Jurassic Park, is also impressive.
Orakei Korako is located a 30-minute drive north of Taupo and from Huka Lodge and Acacia Cliffs Lodge.
This beautiful botanic garden on the edge of Lake Wakatipu is a good spot if you choose to spend an afternoon in town. It starts a few yards past Eichardt's Hotel and has extensive grounds with some stunning plant life, including a massive Douglas Fir. Those interested in a longer walk can also continue along the lake. Amazingly, this is one of Queenstown's lesser-visited attractions (apparently everyone is too busy getting out on the water or up on the mountain), so it's also a great place for a green breather to escape from the crowds.
Rotorua doesn't figure on everyone's itinerary – particularly first-timers – but if you are based here for a few days, spend some time in the Rotorua Museum located near the re-developed waterfront. The Rotorua area is rich in Maori culture and history, and the museum's multimedia exhibitions are informative and well-presented.
There's a large collection of Maori treasure, including massive carvings, as well as a great art collection of fine art, largely by New Zealand artists. Don't miss the many representations of the Pink and White Terraces, an incredible terraced geothermal field with hot pools that was destroyed during a volcanic eruption in 1886. After a visit, take a stroll in the elaborately planted Government Gardens that surround the museum.
Royal New Zealand Ballet
New Zealand's resident ballet company came onto the international scene when star dancer Ethan Stiefel, a former principal with both New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater, took over as artistic director in 2011. The repertory of the company includes everything from contemporary new commissions to tried-and-true classics (Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote). Stiefel no longer heads the company, but the fact that the Royal New Zealand Ballet has since toured in the U.S., the U.K. and Italy must be credited to his more big-picture approach to the dance world. The performances in their hometown of Wellington are extremely popular – if you know you will be in town during one of their runs, be sure to organize tickets well in advance.
This fast-paced speedboat ride through Shotover Canyon is one of Queenstown’s most popular and touristy activities, and fame has only grown since Prince William and Kate partook during their New Zealand trip in 2014. During the 25-minute ride, the boat skims across the water, gets close to the steep canyon walls and does 360-degree spins, all at neck-breaking speed. Outdoor enthusiasts who would rather hike along this scenic river will loathe this, while speedsters, especially with teenage kids, will love the rush.
Auckland's iconic Sky Tower rises to nearly 1,100 feet and hosts a number of the city's vertigo-inducing activities. There's the Sky Walk on the 53rd floor, where you walk the perimeter of the tower along a four-foot platform. You're suspended by a safety harness, of course, but this is still not for the feint-hearted (or those with vertigo). Also on the 53rd floor is the Sky Jump, where dare devils base jump (attached to a wire, so there's no bouncing up and down like with a bungee) 630 feet into the abyss.
Less adventurous travelers can still enjoy 360-degree panoramas from the Observation Deck on the 60th floor, which has a few glass panels along the floor that cause a rush of excitement when walked over. The Sky Tower is part of so-called Sky City, a convention center with a casino, several restaurants and bars, but it all feels much like a no-descript mall, so there's no need to linger once you've had your fill of panoramas.
Bob’s Peak, part of Ben Lomond mountain, rises high above Queenstown, and the Skyline Gondola complex is like an amusement park on top of it. After an extremely scenic, steep ride up via a gondola (active types can also hike up) visitors arrive in an epi-center of sports: there’s a Bungee Jump, a Paragliding outfitter and several Luge runs, as well as a large restaurant and café, both with massive scenic terraces that offer stunning panoramas. Several of Queenstown’s best hikes also originate here, like the challenging Ben Lomond that’s almost entirely uphill but rewards with even more stunning views. In short, it’s a typical Queenstown mix of glorious nature and package tours; adrenaline junkies and those who prefer to watch. For a first-day overview of the town and its offerings, this is not to be missed.
Te Papa New Zealand Museum
Banish all thoughts of a dusty museum – the Te Papa is an incredible place where you can easily spend a day learning about New Zealand culture, nature, history and contemporary life in interactive and beautifully presented exhibitions. Children especially will be entertained thanks to hand-on displays, which incorporate sight, sound, smell and touch into a visit. Much like in the Museum of Natural History in New York, there are whole sections devoted to animal life, including the skeleton of a 69-foot blue whale. There are also dramatic explanations of how the country came to exist, the massive volcanic eruption of 1886, and many Maori treasures, including a massive carved doorway.
The six-story building sits right on Wellington's waterfront and its cafés and gift shops are also of a surprisingly high quality. In short, if you are passing through Wellington even briefly, it would be a huge loss not to make a point of visiting this fascinating museum.
Indagare Tip: Start with the innovative film-cum-movie set-cum exhibit Golden Days, which depicts some of New Zealand's most fascinating historic events of the last 1000 years (in 13 minutes).
Most incredibly, it is open every day of the year and free of admission, although most visitors make a donation to this wonderful place.
Tongariro National Park
Even before The Lord of the Rings put this national park, a 30-minute drive south of Taupo, on the map (much of the finale was filmed here), it was one of New Zealand's best known. The nearly 200,000 acre park comprises three active volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe the latter of which stood in for Mount Doom in Peter Jackson's films (it truly looks like the type of cone-shaped volcano a child might draw).
For avid hikers the park is renowned for its challenging, multi-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, which can also be done in an abbreviated version in the course of a day (hikers should be very fit; there's a reason the word "alpine" is in the description). One of the highlight of this hike are the spectacular Emerald Lakes, which appear like visions of lush, green life in the middle of the barren volcanic landscapes. Travelers staying in Taupo should arrange for a transfer and pickup, as the trail does not loop; you can start out at Mangatepopo Hut, then walk the hike's most scenic 5-6 hours, including the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake, and finishing back near Route 46, where you can get picked up.
Families with kids not up for the challenge should consider heading to Whakapapa ski area, where during the spring, summer and fall, you can take a chairlift into the eerie landscapes – black rocks, barren fields, seemingly endless expanses — and have an easier walk in the scenery that stood in for Mordor (and needed little CGI).
The Queenstown area has four golf course. The most famous is The Hills (Rapid 164 McDonnell Road, Arrowtown), home of the New Zealand Open. Owned by Sir Michael Hill, the course is a unique combination of an outdoor sculpture garden and 18-hole course: there are works here by such artists as China’s Liu Ruowang and New Zealand’s Mark Hill and Chris Booth. It’s a very unique golf experience. The Hills is member's-only, but a good concierge at the top hotels in Queenstown should be able to pull some strings.
Top Golf – North Island
The North Island abounds with great golf course, but the two best ones are associated with resorts run by the Robertson family: Kauri Cliffs, up north in the Bay of Islands, was created by David Harman and centers around incredible, 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean (it's a par 72 PGA Championship course). The other stunner is located in Hawke's Bay region at Cape Kidnappers. That one was designed by Tom Doak, a golf architect icon, and is currently rated number 38 in the world by Golf magazine. The fact that players golf with views from a 600-foot-tall cliff certainly helps with the Wow factor.
Framed by the New Zealand's famous Southern Alps, facing massive Lake Wakitipu and surrounded by other lakes, stunning rivers, and the saw-toothed Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown occupies what is arguably New Zealand's most scenic setting. Hiking in this natural splendor is absolutely mind-blowing. Some of the best hikes originate right in town, like the challenging Ben Lomond Trail, which kicks off at the top of the Skyline Gondola and rises some 5,700 feet. More serene (and flat) is the loop around Lake Hayes, which can be combined with lunch at Amisfield Winery. Or start in Queenstown's gorgeous Botanic Garden and begin the loop around Wakatipu (walking around the entire lake is a multi-day excursion – Wakatipu, New Zealand's third-largest lake, is 50 miles long) To get away from the tourist crowds, head to Moke Lake, a short drive outside of town, and hike the easy but gorgeous track. The Wakatipu area has many more options. A good website for researching the trail that's right for you is: www.wakatiputrails.co.nz.