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New Zealand is absolutely stunning. Geothermal wonders of the North Island, the breath taking Southern Alps dissecting the South Island, Fiordland’s glacial valleys, predator free Stewart Island, several renowned wine regions, the list goes on. New Zealand is heaven to the discerning traveller, the botanist, the extreme sportsperson, the wine lover, the photographer, the mountain climber, and the foodie. And deciding how long you need to spend here is not easy.
Let’s think about some of the ‘bucket’ list things to do whilst in New Zealand, in no particular order, and work out how long it’ll take you to get through them. Firstly, a hike that’s often called the world’s best day hike: Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The Tongariro Crossing is a stunning 19.4km (12.1 miles) crossing over the volcanic terrain of Mount Tongariro, and taking in views of Mount Ngauruhoe – made famous by the Lord of the Rings series, as Mt Doom. So that’s easy, one day required to knock this off.
Waiheke Island is another must-do stop on your New Zealand adventure, and at only 35 minutes on a ferry, and 19.3km (12 miles) in length, it’s another one you can do in a day. Waiheke Island has around 30 boutique wineries, producing highly acclaimed red wines, as well as some notable Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.
Sticking with the North Island for one last area to explore, let’s think about Rotorua. The country’s 10th largest urban area is renowned for the geothermal activity that permanently features there. Geysers (including the famous Pohutu) and mud pools are a popular stop, and you can bathe in a confluence of streams, where hot meets cold. A couple of days exploring Rotorua, mudding, and watching geysers would be enough.
When you hop across the Tasman Strait, between the North and South Islands (an hour on the plane, or three hours on the Ferry), keep in mind that most visitors choose to spend roughly double the time they spent up north, on the South Island. Mainly because the stunning Southern Alps range, running north-east to south-west, makes travel time longer, and facilitates a massive variety of climates, flora, and fauna that are not to be missed.
Sticking with the Southern Alps, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aorokai/Mt Cook, is the jewel in the range’s crown. Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is 40% glaciers, and encompasses nineteen of New Zealand’s twenty 3000m+ (9840ft) peaks. You’re best to spend a day hiking in the national park on the east side of the divide, for incredible views of Mt Cook and the glacial lakes, and another on the west side, at Franz Josef Glacier, where you can access the glacier itself via helicopter. If you’re up for a backpacking experience then this is the place for it, there’s heaps of huts in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park to hike to and spend the night.
One of the biggest draw cards for tourists to New Zealand is Fiordland National Park, and its centrepiece Milford Sound. The imposing Mitre Peak, one of the most photographed peaks in the world, stands above the Fiord, beyond the wharf, and you can cruise right underneath it and 15km (9.3miles) out to the Tasman Sea. Or hop in a kayak and get away from the crowds. There are several permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound, but several becomes several hundred whenever some of the annual 8 meters (26ft) of rainfall comes down. For the best Milford Sound experience you should arrive in the afternoon, stay the night, and get up early to avoid the huge fleet of tourist buses arriving from Queenstown around midday to offload onto the cruise boats. If you’re up for walking one of the finest multi-day hikes in the world, the Milford Track, then allow 5 days, 4 nights, to get it done.
The South Island’s wild West Coast is an isolated stretch of coastline defined by its sub-tropical climes, astounding limestone rock features, and violent seas. The Southern Alps prevents the heavy clouds from the west, from getting over the divide, and so the rain falls on the West Coast, and the result is diverse rainforest. A new multiday hike is due to open late 2018, and it will be the perfect way to experience the diversity of the West Coast (3 nights, 4 days).
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world, but it’s a lot more than that. If bungy jumping, jetboating, skydiving, or snow sports are your thing, then there’s definitely no better town in the world. But if you happen to be more of a wine connoisseur, or a fine food lover, then Queenstown is equally brilliantly equipped for those experiences. The Gibbston Valley wine region to the east of town produces some of the world’s finest Pinot Noirs, and downtown Queenstown is home to a huge variety of excellent restaurants, cafes, and pubs, as well as beautiful botanical gardens. The town is nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and surrounded by stunning mountains including the Remarkables Range – it’s a photographer’s dream. In our experience you’ll need a few days here.
So the question ‘How long do I need to spend in New Zealand?’ can have a fairly simple answer from a practical perspective. But you’ll realise from the moment you arrive in the country its friendly, welcoming people, natural beauty, and outstanding food and wine, will start to change your opinion of what it is you need. And when you eventually leave relaxed, invigorated, and enthused, you’ll know that yes, you needed a holiday, but you’ll also know that what you’ve had has been so much more; enough for you to begin questioning what you need when you get back home too.