Our of all the destinations we’ve visited in New Zealand, Stewart Island will always have a special place in our hearts. However, it’s somewhere that many travellers to these shores will never visit! Often, this is because of time constraints. But it’s also because most travellers simply aren’t aware that New Zealand’s third island has so much to offer. It’s a long way away from the main tourist hubs, and the island itself tends not to be that well-publicised by tourism campaigns. We have already covered the gems of Stewart Island in our dedicated Stewart Island guide. So, today we will be focusing on nearby Ulva Island, the incredible wildlife sanctuary just offshore.
Steward Island is the butt of many jokes by New Zealanders about being stuck in a time warp. Culturally speaking, it’s seen as a bit of a backwater. Stewart Island isn’t exactly a cosmopolitan hub, but it’s a pristine slice of New Zealand that’s difficult to beat. Apparently, they say that nothing changes in Stewart Island, and that’s a good thing! Let’s be honest; paying more for petrol is a minor inconvenience for being able to explore one of the purest natural environments on earth. So along with his best tramping buddy, John Hall-Jones, Michael took a two-day break to visit tourist operators and to join Ulva’s Guided Stewart Island Walkson Ulva Island!
Ulva Island – a remarkable nature sanctuary
Only a 15-minute boat ride away from Stewart Island, Ulva Island is just 3.5 km long. Therefore, its isolation has made it a highly successful breeding ground for many native birds and other endangered wildlife. Ulva Island has been completely pest-free in 1997, and the Department of Conservation (Doc) allow small tours to visit under supervision. So as well as the opportunity to enjoy walking through rich New Zealand rainforest, you might also catch a glimpse of natives like the South Island Saddleback, kiwis, and even yellow-eyed penguins!
Note: As a predator-free island, DoC has some strict biosecurity procedures in place to make sure Ulva Island says that way! Consequently, this means wearing totally clean footwear, checking your bags for any pests/insects that might be in residence, and ensuring that all pockets and zips are completely sealed on bags. For more information, you check their online guide for visitors here.
Michael, John and Ulva
Ulva’s Guided Stewart Island Walks
Ulva Goodwillie started her guided walks in 2000, due to the need for visitors to the island to have a guide. She herself is named after the island and is a descendant of the first Maori peoples to inhabit Stewart Island. What she doesn’t know about the area, isn’t worth putting on a postage stamp! Ulva and her team of guides are passionate about sustainability and conservation, and offer a unique experience of New Zealand wildlife to visitors. They are also a sponsor of Gadget, DoC’s rodent detector dog, who patrols the island to keep Ulva pest-free!
Heading to Ulva Island
The day begins at 8.30am, when the water taxi collected Michael and John to take them to Ulva Island. The water taxi driver, Peter, is the ex-schoolteacher who never left. That’s the way it works down here!
The walk with Ulva covers the history of Ulva Island, and the very special birdlife that Michael loves. It goes without saying that you’re never too old to hug a tree!
Ulva Island birdlife
As we mentioned earlier, Ulva Island is home to a plethora of native birdlife. The little Stewart Island Robins are breeding at the moment, which is so special to see. It’s a curious thing to see the bald patches across their breastbone. Ulva explains that the Robins pluck the feathers from their chest to expose more of their body warmth to the eggs. I hope those kids are grateful!
The Stewart Island Robin
There’s a very good reason why Ulva rakes the ground occasionally with her stick. This action brings insects to the surface – these are easy pickings for the robins!
There’s a wealth of lichen and medicinal herbs on Ulva Island, and magnificent orchids. These Mollymawks (small Albatrosses) make for a great photo!
So, it’s now time to saddle up the horses and leave this beautiful place. It seems like the only challenge of Ulva Island is getting people to leave again!
For most visitors to New Zealand, their first port of call will be the city of Auckland. Many travellers never actually leave the airport, and instead choose to head straight onto a domestic flight to the South Island or other places in the north. As a destination, Auckland doesn’t usually get much a write-up on blogs or travel sites. As New Zealand’s largest city and main business centre, it doesn’t often strike tourists as a place that’s worth visiting. It might not have the mountain vistas of Queenstown or the steamy hot pools of Rotorua, but Auckland still as much to offer. We highly recommend staying overnight on nearby Waiheke Island, Auckland’s stellar lifestyle destination and a wine lover’s paradise!
Waiheke Island – just a short ferry ride away
Waiheke Island is only a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland’s downtown terminal, and it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s located northwest in the Hauraki Gulf, the body of water adjacent to the Auckland region. Despite being just 92 square kilometres in size, Waiheke is home to over 20 world-class vineyards due to its temperate, dry climate. Waiheke Island also contains stunning white-sand beaches, upscale eateries, and luxury accommodation. In short, it’s the quintessential holiday destination, and the perfect way to introduce yourself to what New Zealand has to offer!
Waiheke Island – when to visit
Like the rest of Auckland, Waiheke Island has a subtropical climate. It also has a unique microclimate, which gives it around 100 more hours of sunshine than the rest of the region. This makes it a great destination to visit at any time of the year, though the summer months of December – March tend to be the driest and warmest months, whilst June to September (the winter) are the wettest. The summer is peak season for tourism, with local Aucklanders also spending time on the island during the school holidays. This means that Waiheke will be a lot busier, and accommodation likely to be more expensive. For more information on the best time to visit New Zealand, you can check out our dedicated seasonal guide.
On our trip to Waiheke Island, we are met at the wharf by Breakfast on the Beach Lodge owner, Keith, where we are staying tonight. It’s so nice not having to muck around with taxis or rental cars! It’s a beautiful winter’s day on Waiheke Island, so Keith drops us off at Oneroa village to have a look around, while he drops off our bags at the lodge. We try something different for lunch and eat at ‘Delight’, a lovely Turkish cafe. The waitress is a sweetie, and recommends a delicious piece of carrot cake to finish. The food is tasty and the coffee is DIVINE!
What a wonderful evening! First, we joined our hosts for drinks and nibbles (although I concede that Waiheke wines with salmon blinis probably demand a better description!) Breakfast on the Beach Lodge is an architectural statement and co-owner, Marilyn, has dressed the interiors in pristine white and sea blues. The interiors are particularly gorgeous at night, lighting up all the colours of a Paua shell.
We’re dining at a very special place tonight. Thymes Table is a very unique restaurant on Waiheke Island. The choice is deliberately limited, with just one entree, one main and three desserts to choose from. I’m out of my comfort zone and entree is squid..never eaten THAT before! Those squid morsels wrapped in spicy pastry and deep-fried are great. The main course is pork (another challenge for me). All the flavours work, and the Spanish wine suggested for the main course was perfect. The interior decor is painted in Fishtail green. (Yes, that’s what it said on the paint pot, according to the Sanne our maître d’!). Don’t you just love those cylindrical lampshades hanging from the ceiling?
We’re back at the lodge. The bed has been turned down, and there’s a beautiful decanter of port waiting for us with chocolates to accompany. WILL THIS HELL NEVER END!!
Note: Ferries to Waiheke Island leave every half hour from Auckland’s downtown ferry terminal on Quay Street. As the commuter rush on weekdays makes the ferries very busy, we’d recommend waiting until 9 am to catch your ferry. The last ferry back to the city from Waiheke Island leaves at 12:30 am. You can find more information on fares and travel times on Fullers Ferries website.
In Part Two of this trip, we will be checking out Waiheke Island’s top vineyards! You can read our recommendations here.
As a destination, New Zealand has a wide range of offerings to suit every season. So, one of the most common questions we get from clients is this: What season should I visit in? Spoiler: it’s probably not what you think. When it comes to tourism, the summer is routinely pushed as being the best time to go on holiday. After all, if there is one thing that we all wish for on vacation, it’s great weather! But in the case of New Zealand, we usually recommend against this. Autumn is the ideal season to travel around New Zealand, and this post will explain why.
The Seasonal Calendar
When you are planning a trip to New Zealand, you need to get your head around the seasons. If you haven’t visited the Southern hemisphere before, this can really throw you! The easiest way to think about the seasons in New Zealand is that they are the total opposite of the Northern hemisphere:
Spring: September to November
Summer: December to February
Autumn: March to May
Winter: June to August
The high season of tourism in New Zealand is during the summer months, whilst the winter season sees a sizable influx of skiers and snowboarders in the Queenstown area. Spring and Autumn in New Zealand are the ‘shoulder seasons’ as they fall in between these main peaks. For more information on this, you can check out our dedicated seasonal guide.
1. The Autumn is much quieter in New Zealand
Most travellers will anticipate the summer season being busy with other travellers. But a lot of people don’t realise that summer in New Zealand overlaps with the long school holidays as well as Christmas. (Northern hemisphere visitors are used to associating school holidays with the June – September period, and so often don’t make the connection.) This means that a lot of locals will be taking their holidays during this time as well, often with families in tow. In fact, many New Zealand workplaces completely shut from the 16-17th December (when schools usually finish) right up until the middle/end of January! (those lucky kiwis…)
So, key tourist spots will be much more crowded, there will be more traffic on the roads, and accommodation will book up incredibly fast. In fact, for especially busy areas such as Queenstown and Fiordland, you may need to book accommodation up to a year in advance of when you are visiting. For some travellers, this might not be much of a concern. But if you are someone who really likes to get away from hustle and bustle during their travels, this will be much more difficult during the summer.
Visiting New Zealand during the Autumn allows you to skip out on the local traffic of New Zealanders on holiday, and a lot of overseas visitors as well. We experienced this for ourselves on the West Coast – so we can guarantee that it gives you a much more peaceful vacation!
Top tip: It’s a really great idea to look up school holiday dates when you plan your trip, as schools also give two-week holidays at the end of each term. This helps you to avoid the times where there’s likely to be more local travellers around.
2. The Autumn is much cheaper in New Zealand
Most of us know that peak season equals ‘expensive’ when it comes to accommodation and flights. We’ve already mentioned that you’ll have to be a lot more organized with booking places to stay in the summer months. However, you’re also likely to pay more as well. Remember: prices always get pushed up when demand is higher! This is especially the case with providers such as Airbnb, who have grown in popularity in New Zealand. This means that flights are more expensive (and they usually aren’t cheap to begin with).
By comparison, the Autumn is when New Zealand’s seasonal price hikes start to drop along with visitor numbers. It’s true that the ‘shoulder seasons’ are more popular than they used to be. A lot of this is due to Tourism New Zealand encouraging people to holiday in these times to take pressure off infrastructure during the summer. However, it’s still noticeably cheaper to travel from March onwards.
3. The weather in the Autumn is still fantastic
New Zealand could have been a case study for the saying ‘four seasons in one day’. Visitors are often surprised by how volatile the weather can be! As a small island nation with mountains and coastline very close to each other, any sort of weather system can be thrown at you at any time. This can mean fierce southerly weather systems which skirt up from Antarctica, bringing massive squalls and temperature drops to the South Island. It’s not unheard of for a sunny, 30-degree day to end with lashing rain and 6 degrees! So, travelling in the summer certainly doesn’t guarantee you perfect weather.
In many cases, Autumn is actually a more pleasant season in New Zealand. Granted, you will likely experience cooler mornings and evenings at this time of year. But it’s also much drier in areas like the West Coast. In the North Island, you’ll also avoid the often punishing summer humidity. Best of all, you’ll still get those sunny days!
Believe it or not, the photo above was taken in April 2015. The only indication that it’s Autumn is the extra layer of clothes I’m wearing! If you are wanting to get into some outdoor recreational activities like hiking or cycling during your visit, it’s actually a lot more enjoyable at this time of year. Summer heat definitely makes exercise hard work! The New Zealand sun is strong, and the UV levels here are some of the highest in the world. This relaxes a bit in the Autumn months, so you are far less likely to end up with sunstroke!
4. You’ll get spectacular views in the Autumn months
The turning of the seasons is an incredible sight, and New Zealand is no exception. The sight of the golden and red colours of Autumn make self-driving tours of New Zealand such a pleasure! You’ll find the best Autumn scenery throughout Canterbury and Otago, the regions with the most deciduous trees. You’ll also be visiting just in time for the first snowfall on the southern alps! This usually happens in late April or May, which makes for some incredible photos. Because New Zealand’s mountains aren’t especially high, most don’t keep any snow during the summer months. If you really want to experience the snowy vistas of the New Zealand tourism ads, Autumn is the perfect time to visit.
Case Study: The Great Taste Cycle Trail Nelson/Tasman
With the roads peaceful and virtually empty in places, the bike trails throughout New Zealand are fantastic to ride during the Autumn months. The “Great Taste” cycle trail in Nelson Tasman is a cyclist’s dream, and compared to other tourist areas, underpopulated! We rode the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park from Motueka. It can be challenging with a bit of hill work, but stopping for a ‘breather’ gives you a chance to absorb views like this:
You probably won’t meet many cyclists in the Autumn in Nelson/Tasman, or in most parts of New Zealand for that matter! Where else can you get this all to yourself?
In the summer season, the golden beaches of Kaiteriteri are packed with travellers. In April, they are almost completely deserted! This is something you will see across New Zealand during the Autumn. It’s one of the best things about the season!
Tomorrow: another perfect day exploring New Zealand in the Autumn!
New Zealand Honeymoon destinations such as Rotorua and Queenstown are heavily promoted overseas. With these locations having such a heavy presence on social media sites like Instagram, it’s hardly surprising that they are popular choices. They certainly won’t disappoint any new couples that visit! However, this does lead to the misconception that New Zealand is a destination only for couples with a blow-out budget. It’s true that if you stick to the more popular destinations for your trip, it’s going to cost you a lot more than the areas which are more off the beaten track. But it’s these gorgeous and lesser known places in New Zealand that will really make your Honeymoon memorable! Our top 10 New Zealand honeymoon destinations and activities are for fun seeking, nature-loving Honeymooners who want to have the adventure of a lifetime!
Where to begin with your honeymoon in New Zealand?
As most international travellers begin their trip in Auckland and finish in Christchurch, we’ll go from North to South. We’ll add in any useful links for easy reference and information.
1. – Waiheke Island near Auckland – for the wine lovers
Waiheke Island is just a short 50-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, but while you’re here it’s very hard to imagine that New Zealand’s largest city is so close! Waiheke is definitely what you would call a ‘lifestyle’ destination in terms of its offerings. The island is a gorgeous, relaxed gem surrounded by the bluest waters, beautiful beaches, world-class vineyards and restaurants. If you are flying into Auckland, this makes for a fantastic first stop on your Honeymoon! It’s not unusual for people to travel straight from the airport to the ferry terminal in order to maximise their time here.
Waiheke Island is 92 square miles in size, and home to over 20 vineyards! This makes the island incredibly unique and easy to explore. However, it isn’t the best place to navigate long distances on foot; the main part of the island away from the beaches is extremely hilly, and there can be quite sizeable distances between areas. But it’s an easy place to hire bikes, cars, even retro scooters if you are feeling adventurous! It’s also a great place to pick up a guided tour. We highly recommend Waiheke Wine Tours by locals Wayne Eagleton and Jean Goodbrand, who truly know Waiheke Island inside out. They can let you know about all the goings-on and hotspots on the island during your time there!
You can check out our guide to Waiheke Island here.
2. – The Coromandel Peninsula – Kayaking & hiking
A very common question that our travellers ask is this: “shall we go to the Bay of Islands, or to the Coromandel Peninsula?” As a result, we have written an entire post on this subject – “Bay of Islands v Coromandel for the timestrapped traveller.: The key advantage with the Coromandel is that it’s much closer to Auckland (2 1/2 hours vs. 4 hours) and has just as lovely scenery as the Bay of Islands. You’ll get the same warm climate, and the giant Kauri Trees and golden beaches on the eastern side of the peninsula which make for some truly stunning coastal walks. The Coromandel is the perfect destination for any couple that wants to get out and get active during their Honeymoon. You have some fantastic options, such as kayaking, boat tours, diving, and hiking.
Hahei Beach is one of the top locations here. It offers beach access to the world-famous Cathedral Cove Walk (the beach from the start of the second Narnia movie!) and the glorious Kayaking from Hahei Beach Village. Hot Water Beach is also a fun place to visit, since it’s exactly what it says on the tin! Go at low tide and bring a shovel so that you can dig your very own spa pool! This is a very popular activity year-round, so be warned: the carpark will be busy!
Northern areas of the Coromandel Peninsula
If you want to get to some of the more remote and quiet areas, the rule of thumb is to drive north. Generally speaking, the further up the peninsula you go, the less touristy it becomes. The north-east of the peninsula is also where you will find some of the best beaches! Kennedy Bay is a stunning location that is well worth putting in your itinerary.
For other activities, the Coromandel is famous for its local artists and galleries. If you want to pick some authentic momentos of your trip, this is a great place to do it.
Note: The Coromandel Peninsula is notorious (even with NZ locals) for its windy roads with sharp corners and hairpin bend. In the far north, many roads are still unsealed. It’s important to take your time and not rush; it’s your Honeymoon after all!
3. – Blackwater Rafting Waitomo Caves
Now, this really is a “classic Kiwi” adventure! The Waitomo area is located midway between Taupo and Rotorua, so it makes for a great stop partway through your trip and either to or from Auckland. The region is basically like swiss cheese, with limestone cave formations all over the place to explore through caving activities and forest walks. Accommodation is more limited, but Kamahi Cottage and Waitomo Boutique Lodge are great options.
Established in the mid-1980s (I did my first visit in 1988) the Waitomo Caves Blackwater Rafting is now frequently listed as one of the top adventure activities in New Zealand. It’s easier for you to watch the video to get a sense of the adventure – but take it from me, it’s safe and fun. This is a true ‘wet water’ experience, there’s no avoiding it! But a shower and BBQ is provided after the tour. The tour takes about 4 hours in total. All you need is swimwear and a towel – the fun is guaranteed! We’ve seen people of all ages do this tour and love it, from families, to Honeymooners, to people in their seventies!
If you aren’t big into water activities but love caves, the Ruakuri cave tours are a great alternative which still gives you the cave experience. You can read our dedicated Waitomo Cave guide here.
4. – Orakei Korako Flight + Walking excursion
The area between Rotorua and Taupo is the most geothermally-active region in New Zealand. This is an incredibly unique part of New Zealand’s scenic diversity that you won’t find in many other countries! There are many different geothermal reserves that you can easily visit – among them Waiotapu, Waimangu, and Te Pui. These tend to be a little more touristy, and Orakei Korako is the quietest of the lot. Here, you will find all of the bubbling mud pools, hot springs and geysers you could dream of.
You can combine a visit to the Orakei Korako with a scenic flight from Taupo over the area. Plus, you can take a guided walk through this volcanic wonderland! The advantage? – you won’t have to put up with the truckloads of tourists at the other reserves. Be sure to have good walking shoes and a rain jacket (just in case!)
To visit here by driving, it’s best to base yourself in either Taupo or Rotorua. Rotorua is the closest of the two at a half-hour drive, and also offers other forms of relaxation like the Polynesian Spa. Taupo allows you easy access to the Huka Falls, and to the famous Tongariro Crossing Great Walk as well.
A word of caution here: The Tongariro Crossing is a challenging track which is 8-9 hours one-way, and so should only be done by those with a good fitness level. The weather is also extremely changeable, so you need to bring sturdy shoes, layers of clothing and waterproof garments. Several tourists are rescued every year from this track, and this is usually down to a lack of preparedness. You don’t want to put a dent in your Honeymoon trip!
5. – Abel Tasman region – Romantic Vineyard Cottage stay
The Abel Tasman region and Honeymoons are a perfect match for romance! Abel Tasman and neighbouring Golden Bay see some of the best weather in the whole country. The northern coast of the South Island has some of the highest annual hours of sunshine, and a pleasant climate all year-round. Not surprisingly, this makes the region especially famous for its beaches. Think pristine white sands and turquoise waters – in terms of scenery, you could easily be in the Pacific Islands! This makes it a great place for all kinds of water activities like kayaking, paddleboarding and sailing, as well as hiking and cycling trails. The area is home to the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of the most stunning walks in New Zealand.
In terms of your trip planning, there are four key areas:
Nelson city, the largest settlement in the area which is home to a fantastic arts and crafts scene.
The wider Tasman region between Motueka and Richmond, which is home to Abel Tasman National Park and remarkable nature experiences.
Golden Bay in the north-west, which is a more hilly and sparsely populated coastal area home to Farewell Spit and Cape Farewell, which is a fantastic place for horse-riding and bird-watching.
Nelson Lakes National Park to the south, which is home to spectacular forested valleys and mountains at the tip of the Southern Alps.
Where to stay
We’d recommend that couples stay in this region for at least 2-3 nights, as there is so much to explore here. One of these days you should definitely reserve for exploring Abel Tasman National Park, which is home to a variety of water taxi services to get you in and out of different bays (you can read more about the water taxi services here.)
In terms of accommodation, a vineyard cottage stay is such a wonderful way to celebrate your first time together as a married couple. A fine example of a romantic setting can be found at places like the Kina Beach Vineyard Cottage, which is conveniently located between Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park. Here, you can walk through the grapevine rows down the beach, or just sit on your veranda amidst the privacy and scenery.
6. – Remote West Coast beaches and rainforest
The West Coast of the South Island can rightly be called ‘Paradise’. It’s wild, lush, and underpopulated – the perfect place to explore and find new nature experiences. In terms of tourism, the West Coast is by far one of the most undeveloped parts of the country. Due to competing with the more well-known South Island destinations such as Queenstown and Glenorchy, it often doesn’t make onto the itinerary for many travellers. Yet it’s such a unique part of the country that you cannot experience anywhere else; it will put you in mind of Jurassic Park, in a time before humans existed!
This coastline is pretty well-known for receiving huge amounts of rain (which explains why it’s home to so much temperate rainforest!) and the bulk of this actually falls in the summer (which is December, January, February in the southern hemisphere). If you are Honeymooning in the low season between May and September, this is one of the best parts of New Zealand to visit. You will most likely to be treated to clear sunny days and incredible views of the snowy Southern Alps!
The entire coastline has so much to offer, so here is a quick north-to-south summary:
Karamea and Westport: The far north of the West Coast receives very little tourism because it’s effectively the ‘end of the line’ – the highway ends at the foot of Kahurangi National Park, which has no through road to the Tasman Region, so you will have to double back on yourself to continue your trip elsewhere. However, its geographic location means that the climate is far more like the Tasman than the rest of the West Coast (i.e. less rain) which is better for visits during the summer months. It’s also home to some beautiful white-sand beaches and the incredible Oparara Arches – these are well worth a visit!
Punakaiki: If you are a little shorter on time visiting the Punakaiki area will give you a great taster of what the West Coast has to offer. This village sits right on the edge of Paparoa National Park and you have some wonderful hiking opportunities down the Punakaiki River on the Inland Pack Track, and caves to explore just a short drive north in Charleston. Of course, you’ll need to check out the iconic “Pancake Rocks!” (best to do at high tide). If you are driving south, consider a stay at The Breakers Boutique B & B.
Greymouth & Hokitika: The West Coast is coal mining country, and so has some fascinating history for you to explore. You’ll find old coal mines and abandoned settlements on the West Coast Wilderness Cycling Trail, and beautiful inland lakes such as Lake Kaniere or Lake Mahinapua.
Franz Josef and Haast: This is generally the most touristy part of the West Coast, as it is home to the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. However, there are other unique offerings as well. Consider visiting the world-famous white heron colony at Waitangi Roto, or the moody coastline of Gillispie Beach.
7. – Heli-hiking on Fox Glacier
The glaciers in New Zealand are unique in that they flow a lot faster than other glaciers throughout the world. It’s only around 25 kms from our highest peak – Mt. Cook is 3654 metres high – down to the Tasman Sea. Is this what makes New Zealand scenery so unique – in this 25km you have alpine country with majestic glaciers, lush rainforest, and then beaches and lagoons. You can do this all in one day!
We advise a Heli-hiking trip, which is worth every penny. The glacier is extremely steep, so the only way you can reach it is by helicopter. You’ll get two short helicopter flights, and two hours of walking on a safe part of the Fox Glacier with a local guide. The trips are small, with a max of 11 people. Special ice equipment is provided for the hike. Bring your own sunglasses (the glare can be extreme) and a good jacket! Layers are important, as sunlight bouncing off the ice can quickly warm the surrounding air. Including safety briefings at the start, the trip is about 3-4 hours.
Note: These heli-trips are very dependant on weather conditions, and pilots can only make a call 30 minutes beforehand as to whether they are safe to go. The best weather is generally in the morning, so try to book for then if it’s available. But prepare yourself for the possibility that a cancellation could happen. It’s a good idea to spend a couple of days in the area to give yourself another opportunity on the off-chance this does happen.
8. – Rob Roy Valley Walk – a magical valley near Wanaka
The Otago region is widely considered one of the most stunning on New Zealand, and with good reason. The stark alpine and grassland has a unique splendor that is difficult to beat! Wanaka is a great place to base yourself during your time, with its central location. We are often asked whether Queenstown or Wanaka makes for the best base. So often, in fact, that we wrote an entire post on it. It really comes down to personal preference; Queenstown is much more of an international hub, whilst Wanaka is a bit more laid-back and ‘kiwi’ in its personality. But in both, you will find similar local scenery of rolling hills and picturesque lakes.
For those Honeymooners keen on one-day hikes, the Rob Roy Valley Walk is definitely a highlight. We recommend staying in Wanaka for two nights, and taking one of the days to travel up the West Matukituki Valley (1 hour from Wanaka) The walk is about 5 hours return, and is home to waterfalls, glaciers, and a classic New Zealand swing-bridge. It’s a more strenuous walk, but most will manage it if you take your time. You’ll gain access to a stunning alpine valley, a perfect place for lunch and to meet the local Kea birds!
Since this is in Mount Aspiring National Park at a high altitude, the weather will be cooler than surrounding areas. It can also change fast, so be prepared with waterproof layers. Water and snacks are also a must!
9. – Dart River Safaris – with Lord of the Rings From Queenstown
Glenorchy might as well be known as ground zero for New Zealand’s fantastic scenery, as the region featured heavily in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. For many travellers who visit New Zealand, this is exactly what they have come to see. This pretty little village is just one hour’s drive from Queenstown, so it’s easy to fit in a visit. We guarantee you’ll enjoy the drive to Glenorchy in your car – the scenery will take your breath away! There are plenty of stopping points along this route, which you;ll definitely want to use because there are some glorious photo opportunities.
If you have the time it’s well worth doing an overnight stay in Glenorchy, especially if you are a couple who enjoys being in more secluded locations. Accomodation options are more limited here than Queenstown, but we highly recommend checking out Camp Glenorchy, a unique eco-complex. The local pub also serves up some great hearty fare!
If you really want to experience the ‘film scenes’ of Lord of the Rings in a hands-on way, the Dart River Safari is a must-do. This jetboat excursion takes you through some of the most iconic scenes from the films, and gives you a real thrill ride that you will never forget!
Glenorchy is also very close to some of New Zealand’s best walks, such as the Routeburn Track, the Greenstone Caples track and the Rees-dart track. These have both day and multi-day options.
Next you’ll take a thrilling jetboat ride down the Dart River back to Glenorchy. I highly recommend this trip as you really get the best overview between the Fiordland and Mt. Aspiring National Parks.
10. Dunedin – nature discovery with albatross and penguins
Nature tours don’t get much better than the Elm Wildlife Tour on the Otago Peninsula! If you are real bird-lovers, this is a must-visit. Trust us, seeing the native yellow-eyed penguins walking along the beach is a magical experience. The Otago Peninsula is an hour’s drive from Dunedin, so a trip here is easy to fit in if you are visiting the city. Quick note: the Speight’s Brewery is a must-visit!
We highly recommend joining a combined Penguin/Albatross tour with Elm Wildlife. Part of the tour cost contributes to penguin conservation projects on the Peninsula for research and helping sick birds. A guide will drive you onto a private farm property by the beach, and you’ll take a 20-minute walk to the nesting area of the Yellow-Eyed-Penguins. It’s one of the most incredible sights to see these birds returning from fishing in the evening and walking up the beach to their nests to feed their chicks. There are seals, sea lions and sometimes even sea elephants. You’ll be right in the middle of this gathering!
You’ll also get to view the Southern Royal Albatross colony at Tairoa Head, on the far end of the Peninsula. It’s the only nesting site in the world close to a human settlement for these giant birds (they have up to a 2.5 metre wingspan!).
Note: It’s nesting season for the penguins between mid-August and the 24th November, so access to the bird nests is not permitted.
The Otago Peninsula also has some lovely walking opportunities at Sandfly Bay and Tunnel Beach. The Caitlins forest park south of Dunedin is also a great option for those wanting to go a bit further afield.
Most travellers come to New Zealand to experience nature, wildlife and adventure activities. Honeymooners will find that these special locations – and beautiful, romantic hideaways – are perfect for starting out a wonderful life together.
You can check out Guest NZ’s dedicated Honeymoon itineraries here.
Happy travelling in the top 10 New Zealand honeymoon destinations!
As a country, New Zealand is home to some incredible diversity. In its people, its culture, and most of all its landscapes. No matter what kind of scenery you are the chasing, the chance is that you will find it here. Depending on your preference, you can ski on snowy mountains, hike through rainforest, or relax on pristine white beaches. For the latter, this will have you bound for Abel Tasman National Park. This gem at the top of the South Island is home to a landscape that looks more like the Pacific Islands than almost anywhere else in the world. Here, you can explore a variety of outdoor activities to your heart’s content. Kayaking, boating, cycling, hiking…you’ll find it all here.
Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is located in between Golden Bay and Tasman Bay on the South Island’s northern coast, just over 60km north of Nelson. It’s probably the best-known of New Zealand’s national parks after Fiordland, mostly due to it being home to the world-famous Abel Tasman coast track. This incredible hike spans 60km along the coastline, taking 3-5 days in total. However, there are many day options available for those who are shorter on time or who just want a taster.
One of the best things about the Abel Tasman track is that it’s easily accessible by water taxi for pick-up and drop-off at various points, allowing you to choose which part of track interests you the most. On this particular trip, we chose to do the Bark Bay to Torrents Bay section, which is 7.8km long and gives you the most spectacular ocean views, not to mention a swing bridge crossing!
Journey by water taxi
We’ve both had a crappy night’s sleep, and yikes, we have to be at the Nelson Wharf at 7.45am! We face each other across the breakfast table with Panda Bear eyes, communicating only in monosyllables. But we are still excited; we’re about to take what is arguably the most beautiful walk in the Abel Tasman National Park! To get there, we’re using the Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle – a great option for people wanting to stay in Nelson City. Paul the Skipper not only pilots the shuttle, but as a former welder helped to build it and knows every inch of his vessel. In fact, he’s already helping to build another one! Michael is fascinated by the mechanical boarding bridge unfolding from the front of the boat. Perhaps I’ll buy him a mini version for Christmas.
Skipper, Paul, greets everyone boarding the Shuttle. I’m impressed with his genuine friendliness! Once onboard, we discover the true meaning of ‘mingling with the crew’ as we’re handed over to Rory. Rory is an all-rounder and not only makes the tea any coffee, but finds the time to speak with passengers and gives everyone equal attention. Before taking to the track, we’ll sail up to Kaiteriteri and back down to Totaranui, right on the edge of Abel Tasman. I squeal like a kid as we pass sunbathing seals, gliding past a group of shags having a quick team talk. As I clamber across the deck with other passengers to take a photo of Split Apple Rock, I have visions of my camera hurtling down to the murky depths! Finally, our moment has come. ‘Lower the drawbridge me hearties’, because we’re here at Bark Bay to begin our walk!
Update: You can no longer get the water taxi directly from Nelson up to Totaranui. Instead, you will need to take the shuttle bus to Kaiterikeri and pick up the water taxi from there. You can check out the details here.
Like many of the more remote parts of New Zealand, you won’t find any cellphone reception on the Abel Tasman track. In the 21st century, this often comes as an uneasy surprise to a lot of people. But try to see it as a chance to really disconnect from modern life and get into nature; it can be quite a wake-up call to realise how much these devices rule our lives! Who knows? It could be the start of some well-needed adjustments.
In any case, it really pays to be prepared. Be sure to pack some decent wet weather gear, food and plenty of water, because you just never know! As a small island nation, weather can change very quickly in New Zealand, especially in the coastal regions like Abel Tasman where rain fronts can blow in at a moments notice.
Off the beaten track
The Abel Tasman track isn’t all downhill either. Some may find this track a little more challenging, depending on how far you want to go. It’s technically classified as an ‘intermediate’ track, but for the most part it’s fairly easygoing. It’s here that you’ll get to see the Park in all its glory. The bush is lush with growth from the previous night’s rainfall, and we’re breathing in pure oxygen. Much of the walk gives beautiful views of the coastline, where the whiteness of the sandy beach contrasts spectacularly with the green of the sea.
I’m frequently looking down on canopies of giant-size Punga Ferns, also known as nature’s umbrellas. DOC staff have thoughtfully placed seating at strategic spots for walkers to rest and reflect. This exactly the scenery you see in Instagram shots of the region, and there is zero need for any filters!
I’m totally focused on taking photos, and am halfway across the Falls River Swing Bridge before I realise that although it’s built to sway slightly, I’m unprepared for it. But no worries, this beautiful swing bridge is an architectural masterpiece and it’s incredibly safe. We arrive at Torrents Bay, and I still have a spring in my step. “Let’s go on to Anchorage Bay and get picked up from there” suggests Michael. I stupidly agree.
By the time we reach Anchorage Bay, I feel as though a massive pin is the only thing keeping my hip from separating from the rest of me! I realise that if I stop now it’ll be the fireman’s lift the rest of the way, and Michael’s back is not up to the job. Doggedly, I stride on. Finally, we reach the beautiful Anchorage Bay. As I stretch out on the warm sand, I see the Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle arriving onto the Beach, and there’s Paul at the Helm eager to hear all about our day. I’m pleasantly tired. It’s been a fabulous day.