Later in the season, around November, car and camper van rates are low, and hiking and cycling tracks are dry and uncrowded. Translation: Now is the time for a road trip. Start in Auckland, head for the underground caving adventures and glowworm sightings at Waitomo Caves
, and discover the geothermal laboratory of bubbling mud pools and spouting geysers, as well as Maori culture and history, at the town of Rotorua on the North Island.
To stretch your legs, lace up for one New Zealand’s ten Great Walks
, a network of walking paths throughout the country that showcase dramatic landscapes and serene stretches of wildlife. The newest addition opens this December as the tenth Great Walk: The 34-mile Paparoa Track, on the South Island, is designed for both mountain bikers and hikers.
Wellington, New Zealand’s hilly, colorful capital, is home to fine museums and galleries, street art, vintage clothing, irresistible mementos, and the signature flat white coffee. Film and TV aficionados should take a tour of Weta Workshop
, a special-effects studio famous for its work on dozens of films, including Avatar
and Lord of the Rings
. Farther north, in the Hawke’s Bay region, art deco lovers will enjoy exploring the town of Napier, which was extensively rebuilt in this distinctive architectural style after an earthquake in 1931.
When to Travel: December through February
In New Zealand, you’re never far from the sea, and during summer this means beach picnics, kayaking, snorkeling, sailing, and swimming. Learn to ride a board or polish your skills at world-respected North Island surf destinations such as the Taranaki coastline, the Mount Maunganui beaches, or the black-sand Raglan surf spot, home to the world’s longest left-hand break.
The wild Great Barrier Island, northeast of Auckland, is the largest of the Hauraki Gulf islands, with imposing cliffs, white surf beaches, sheltered harbors, and sandy bays – ideal for both action and relaxation.
Don’t Miss: Down on the South Island’s Banks Peninsula, stroll the streets of quaint coastal Akaroa, a town that began as a French-British settlement nested in the crater of an ancient volcano. The downtown buzzes with historic architecture, art, and cafés, but this is a prime base for watching nearby wildlife, too. Akaroa waters host the rare Hector dolphin, one of the world’s smallest dolphins and endemic to New Zealand. The nearby Pohatu Marine Reserve is home to the miniature white-flippered and rare yellow-eyed penguins.