An increasingly popular international visitor destination, New Zealand has much to offer every category of traveller, with perhaps the best-served those looking for outdoor activities amongst some of the most spectacular and varied scenery on the planet. Both North and South Islands have their gems, with cosmopolitan Auckland, the main point of arrival for most tourists, surrounded by natural beauty, beaches, rugged coastlines and lush agricultural interiors.
The lively city and its surroundings offer a wide choice of activities to visitors, easily accessed form any Auckland hotel set in the downtown area or the suburbs. Along the peninsula within an hour’s drive of the city are no less than 100 beautiful beaches, ranging from secluded coves, to rugged rocky bays and sandy strands, each with its favourite water sports including sea kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, snorkelling and swimming. Many have beachside cafes and bars, with sunbathing and snoozing also popular! Car hire is useful if beaches are your thing, as bus travel to the more remote beaches can be unreliable.
Sports here are a major leisure occupation, whether active or passive. The city’s gyms and fitness centres welcome visitors, and cycling, jogging or just walking along the gloriously scenic coastal trails is a great way to stay fit while on holiday. Other options include golf, with several fine courses locally available, yachting, white-water rafting and fishing. Less active but no less enjoyable is a visit to Eden Park Outer Oval Stadium for one of its regular Test cricket matches. Rugby, both league and union, has a huge following in Auckland, with matches taking place every week in several of the city’s stadiums.
Boating, swimming with dolphins on guided trips and fishing are activities easily arranged at Waitemata harbour, and extreme outdoor sports such as mountaineering, caving, abseiling, bungee jumping, skydiving, paragliding, rock climbing and caving are popular in the region around Auckland. Daytrips into the breathtaking countryside, coastal areas and mountains around the city bring visitors to more than 20 huge regional parks, covering many different ecosystems including scrublands, the Waitakere Ranges, Muriwai National Park with its famous gannet colony and the massive natural harbour at Kaipara.
The offshore islands dotting the ocean around Auckland are another favourite destination for getting away from it all, either for a day or a longer stay. Most of the Hauraki Gulf archipelago is uninhabited or with few permanent residents to disturb the native flora and fauna. Waiheke Island, one of the largest in the chain, is one of the closest to the city and the most populated, with vineyards, visitor facilities, art galleries and spectacular beaches. Motoihe has traces of ancient Maori civilisations and great fishing, and Tiritiri Matange island, part of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime park, is a conservation area with boardwalks and a historic lighthouse. Great Barrier Island is a must-visit for its hot springs, surfing, mountain biking, walking and hiking trails and superb white-sand beaches.
The famous thermal wonderland of Rotorua, with its lake, hot springs and geysers has been a tourist hotspot for over 100 years. The city itself is built over a massive geothermal field, with the known steam and sulphur vents and thermal pools mostly set in parks and reserves in the area. However, new mini-eruptions of mud, steam and superheated water regularly appear in new locations. The massive volcanic zone includes Lake Taupo, the largest active volcanic site in the region, with four more large calderas and several smaller in its area. The city takes full advantage of its possible perilous location, with hot water and heating provided free by Nature herself, enhanced by man-made technology. Close by, the 100-year old ‘new’ geothermic ecosystem still forming after the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera is a dramatic, exciting destination.