While the world’s attention is on the FIFA World Cup for men’s soccer in Qatar right now, we will be watching the Women’s World Cup next year. And while the strength of the reigning world champions, the U.S. Women’s National Team, is sure to draw many U.S. tourists down under, the local sites of the matches surely are, too, being that the tournament is being hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand.
Planning a big trip will depend on how much time (as well as money) you can budget for a long distance trip, and you’ll need a least a couple weeks to make the airfare as well as jet lag and time zone adjustment worth it. And you’ll need to temper your expectations as you can’t see it all in one go, even if you pick one country over the other.
If you want to make New Zealand your choice, this guide is meant to help you plot out more than a week’s worth of sightseeing. Within New Zealand, many of the matches will be played in Auckland, which has the largest international airport, making it a good starting and end point for your journey.
How to get there
And getting to New Zealand is easier than ever for Americans. Sure, it’s going to be a long-haul from no matter where you are, and from North America, it might even be the longest flight of your life, quite literally. But Air New Zealand has direct service to Auckland from several U.S. airports, including New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport as of September.
Once you’re in New Zealand, it’s also best to keep Air New Zealand in mind for getting between major cities and destinations within the country as it is the main connector as far as transportation is concerned; national rail service is quite limited and while you could drive, expect a lot of windy roads that will add on hours to the trip. But regional flights are quite easy to manage and often don’t take more than an hour.
Where to go
Sky Tower: The centerpiece of Auckland’s sky line where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city, surrounding waterfront, and nearby islands.
Auckland Museum: This is the perfect starting point for newcomers to New Zealand interested in learning more about the history and culture of the country, especially about the Māori, the indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand (a.k.a. Aotearoa, the Māori language name for New Zealand).
Britomart: A chic enclave of independent designers and boutiques as well as trendy cafés, bars, and restaurants, conveniently centered near the waterfront in Auckland’s Central Business District (CBD).
Waiheke Island: A must-visit for wine lovers traveling to Auckland. While New Zealand is best known for producing sauvignon blanc, most of the wines here are chardonnay, viogner, and syrah, all of which are showcased in humbling detail at the boutique winery Goldie Estate. You’ll also want to make your way farther inland to Batch Winery, where not only will you surely enjoy one of the best lunches of your trip at the winery’s restaurant (which boasts views of nearly the entire island being on a hilltop) but you’ll also have one of the best glasses of prosecco outside of Italy. Waiheke also has a number of cozy cafés and world-class art galleries, many of which are based around Oneroa, which for Californians might feel quite similar to Newport Beach. Pop into Akito for a flat white before heading up the block to the Paora gallery to see the work of Toi Te Rangiuaia, who plays with modern and traditional Māori patterns in his jewelry and sculpture, which has been sold and showcased all over the world.
Hobbiton: If you’re most interested in visiting New Zealand after watching the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, do not be ashamed—you are definitely not alone, the tourism industry definitely caters to this, and many people in NZ are quite proud of the country’s role as Middle Earth. It is possible to get a bus tour from Auckland to Hobbiton, where you’ll be given a full tour of the movie set that served as the main village of the Shire with all the tiny homes that belonged to Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin.
Where to eat
The Store: A café popular with the local business crowd for lunch and breakfast. On a nice day (or even semi nice), you can eat outside on the patio before or after perusing the shops in the Britomart district.
Cassia: One of the most popular restaurants in Auckland right now, Cassia’s menu is a mixture of Indian cuisines blended with traditional New Zealand styles. The restaurant also boasts a creative cocktail program and an extensive wine menu (with plenty of local bottles, of course) as well as a bevy of gin options as there are many gin distilleries in NZ. Reservations are a must.
Coco’s Cantina: Located on Karangahape Road (K-Road, to the locals), a popular nightlife strip, this family-run restaurant has an Italian-themed menu and decidedly eclectic vibe inside. The restaurant is also very amenable to dietary restrictions with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options.
Hello Beasty: Located right on Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour, a hotspot for outdoor and indoor dining establishments, this restaurant combines New Zealand cuisine with a fusion of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese dishes. It also has a full vegetarian menu.
Tart Bakery: New Zealand is well known for its coffee culture (and there is an ongoing debate between NZ and Australia over who invented the Flat White), but what might be less well known is its bakery culture. You might worry about overindulging on bread in France or Italy, but you have no idea about the carb-filled treats you’re in for when coming to NZ. Tart has lots of options from danishes to banh mi, but you absolutely must get a hot pie (meat or veggie). This is more of a flaky hand pie in the English style, not like, well, a tart in the American or French ones.
Lord of the Fries: This Australian fast casual chain boasts to be 100% vegan, and while it serves award-winning plant-based, American-style burgers and hot dogs, the restaurant is best known for, what else, the fries, with choices inspired by Australia’s festival scene.
Where to stay
Hotel Britomart: Located in the Britomart district near the waterfront and Ferry Building, this is the perfect spot for business travelers and anyone else wanting to splurge a bit on their accommodations. The rooms are on the smaller side, but still exceedingly cozy and comfortable. The hotel also has several onsite dining options, all of which are good ideas. The most notable are Daily Bread, where you should definitely treat yourself to one of the decadent pastries (especially the doughnut, which in New Zealand is puffier, without a doughnut hole, and filled with jam) as well as Kingi, which serves upscale breakfast and a sustainable seafood-focused menu for lunch and dinner.
Park Hyatt Auckland: Not only is this touted as one of the best hotels in Auckland, it’s also one of the newest. Originally scheduled to open with the unfortunate timing of March 2020, the Park Hyatt opened later that year and has been open roughly two years now (albeit due to shutdowns, actual open dates total closer to a year). The Park Hyatt Auckland is the height of luxury, with spacious and pristine marble bathrooms, full walk-in closets, living spaces in each suite, private balconies, and uber-comfortable queen and king beds—a must for recovering from a long-haul flight. Guests should also take full advantage of the onsite spa, therapeutic pools, fitness center, and outdoor heated pool. (And dog lovers should know about Beau, the hotel’s resident comfort dog—a fully-trained, 3-year-old labrador, originally trained for 14 months as a seeing eye dog—who keeps watch on the lobby and is more than happy to accept your affection upon check-in.)
Where to go
Art Deco Trust tours: At the heart of Hawke’s Bay is the town of Napier, which has the largest community of buildings worldwide designed in Art Deco style—to the point that the city is applying for UNESCO Heritage Site status. The best way to see Napier is from the inside of one of the classic cars owned and operated by the Art Deco Trust, with volunteer tour guides who will delight and educate you about the history and culture of the area.
Clearview Estate Winery: Wine is a big business in New Zealand, but many of the wineries and tasting rooms are not as…exclusive as some in Northern California or France might appear from the outside. You can look forward to a laid-back experience that will be both informative about the local wines but also relaxing as it should be while on vacation. Clearview Estate is a prime example of that, just outside of Napier on the way to Cape Kidnappers, where you can visit the indoor/outdoor tasting room with flights of small lot, coastal wines such as chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, and plenty of rosé.
Where to eat
Mister D: A contemporary bistro with a contemporary menu, this is the ideal brunch spot with dishes centered around cheesy eggs, seasonal vegetables, and the “baker’s corner” with some of the best doughnuts in New Zealand.
Craggy Range Winery: Come for the wines, stay for lunch. With a heightened seasonal menu, the restaurant at Craggy Range (located at the valley of said range with breathtaking views) does wine pairings with food better than most with many of its dishes made from local vegetables and seafood.
Where to stay
Art Deco Masonic Hotel: Located right in the heart of Napier and steps away from the waterfront along Hawke’s Bay itself, this boutique hotel has more than half a dozen rooms highly curated and decorated to specific themes, either around Art Deco patterns or dedicated to some of the famous personalities who have stayed there, including both Mark Twain and Queen Elizabeth II.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers: If you had one place on earth in which to choose to spend a pandemic lockdown, this would be it. Located near one of the most breathtaking natural landscapes you’ll ever see with your own eyes, the Farm at Cape Kidnappers is cozy charm at its most luxurious level. (Albeit, yes, the name Cape Kidnappers is a bit off-putting, but there is historical reason to it.) The property has more than two dozen tiny homes, which exude coastal living but with all the modern touches. You’ll want to spend a few nights here at least to fully enjoy both the cottages as well as everything available on the property, including a golf course, an infinity pool, and dinner by the fire in the main house. There are also lots of trails for hiking, walking, and running, and a hotel guide can drive you down to the Cape itself for photography of the cliffs as well as an up-close look at the world’s largest colony of gannet birds.
Where to go
Altitude Tours: There is no shortage of things to do in Queenstown, from snow sports to water sports to tours around Lord of the Rings filming locations. There’s also a huge wine region here, and the Central Otago area is one of the southernmost wine regions worldwide. The best way to see everything there is to offer is with a designated driver, and Altitude Tours will take you around some of the best properties in the area as well as a stop for lunch at Bannockburn Hotel, a terrific restaurant that is both upscale and casual at the same time with a perfect view of the valley floor.
Heliworks: Truly the best way (and in some cases, the only way) to see those Lord of the Rings sites is by helicopter. The trip is not for the faint of heart—you will fly over mountain peaks at 10,000 feet—but if you can survive it (or at least not look down too much), it’s worth the journey (which is only a little more than an hour anyway). How can you pass up the experience of landing on a mountaintop glacier?
KJet: An experience unique to New Zealand, these speedboats are custom designed to sail (or really, fly) over shallow waters for a thrilling experience that includes zooming over rivers with the occasional 360-degree spin. Each boat fits more than 40 people and the trip is about an hour long.
Onsen Hot Pools: If you’ve filled your need for speed, a great way to restore your mind and body is a dip in the hot tubs at this hillside onsen, where you can enjoy hot green tea, local dark chocolate, and breathtaking mountain and river views while indulging in the jet spas.
Where to eat
Fergbaker: If you haven’t had a hand pie yet, this is where you should get one. (Or if you have already had one in NZ, get another here.) No matter what the weather or the time of day, there is always a line out the door—a good indicator not just of its popularity but also its consistent quality. Don’t worry too much about the line as it’s takeaway only, so the queue moves quickly.
Boardwalk: Located right on the waterfront, you can go from champagne happy hour with oysters straight into dinner with lots of dishes around local seafood, and there is a vegan/vegetarian menu available as well. (The mushroom fettuccine is a particularly surprising culinary experience with a flavor profile you wouldn’t expect for fettuccine, and you should get it to see for yourself.)
The Lodge Bar: There’s a strong cocktail culture in New Zealand, but especially in Queenstown, where the espresso martini is in demand virtually everywhere. Enjoy one inside this cozy establishment, but be sure to make a reservation in advance.
The Bunker: Despite the name, this is actually more of a rooftop pub, but it’s a great spot for after-dinner drinks (especially great martinis) and late night live music.
Little Aosta: While this is actually in the next town over in Arrowtown, Little Aosta is worth the 10-minute cab ride. You’ll find hearty Italian cuisine, including wood-fired pizzas, hearty pastas, and a twist on a local favorite, the cheese roll. (You can’t leave NZ without having a cheese roll, which is basically a grilled cheese sandwich rolled up, and yet it’s so much more than that.)
The Blue Door: If you wanted to live in picture perfect small town and find your local watering hole, this would be it. Right next to Little Aosta and Aosta (the fine dining older sister establishment), this tiny bar (and you can’t miss it with the titular blue door) is cozy and warm with twinkling lights, beer, wine, and cocktails, and it is dog-friendly.
Where to stay
Eichardt’s Private Hotel: It doesn’t get more central or closer to the lakefront than this, nor more historic. The oldest hotel in Queenstown, it’s also one of the most lauded in New Zealand given extensive renovations expected for a luxury hotel in the 21st century. Book well in advance as space is limited to seven suites and four lakefront apartments along with a larger residence and penthouse.
Sherwood: While the rooms are more on the budget side, there are more upsides to this hotel than not. The location, itself alone, is prime real estate right on the lake, about a five minute drive to the airport and 10 minutes in the other direction into the center of Queenstown. (And cabs and Uber are easy to arrange in Queenstown.) And the onsite café, bar, and restaurant is open from breakfast to late night, and it’s so good for every meal you’ll almost never want to eat or drink anywhere else, from oat lattes to espresso martinis. And all of the vegetables that go into the dishes are grown onsite in the property’s vegetable garden, so you won’t get anything out of season.
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