New Zealand has been off limits for more than two years, but that all finally changed this summer when the country relaxed some of the world’s strictest pandemic-related border controls and flung open its doors to all international visitors.
“We’re looking forward to hearing American accents in our bars and restaurants,” New Zealand’s minister of tourism, Stuart Nash, told me at a recent Kiwi Connect event in Los Angeles. “It’s a fantastic time to visit New Zealand.” Prepandemic, in 2019, international tourism accounted for 42 percent of tourism expenditure, with 368,000 Americans visiting during the year. With its new If You Seek tourism campaign, New Zealand wants to encourage a certain type of tourism.
Aotearoa (the Māori name for the country) is now ready to welcome “people who will embrace its values of manaakitanga (a deep expression of hospitality and reciprocal understanding/connection) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship and care for the environment).” New Zealand has long encouraged stewardship of the land and showing respect when you visit; this has been codified in the Tiaki Promise pledge for travelers.
Once you’re there, New Zealand offers a compact but diverse experience for travelers, Nash insists. “You can do the country in 10 to 12 days and just have completely different experiences every single day, while also getting high-quality food and wine.” Road tripping is easy, he says. “Drive for two hours in New Zealand [and] you can see a whole lot of stuff.” An EV network is being established, and the government says that there are public chargers at least every 75km on most of New Zealand’s state highway network. “There aren’t many places you’ll go where you can’t charge your vehicle,” Nash insists.
This forthcoming winter (their summer) is the time to go, Nash adds, with a favorable exchange rate and fewer visitors. “The sooner you get there, the less tourists there’ll be,” he says, adding that they expect it to be between three to five years before they get “the real comeback.”
Starting September, Air New Zealand is launching a direct flight from New York–JFK to Auckland, with another direct option out of Dallas from American Airlines in late October. An added bonus: If you travel to New Zealand in 2024, you may even get to experience Air New Zealand’s new lie-flat beds in economy.
Much has changed and opened since we were last allowed into New Zealand. Here are six new ways to explore and appreciate the country.
See New Zealand from above
Auckland’s Sky Tower has been offering panoramic views of the city for 25 years, but in 2022 it entered the VR realm, with the new SkyCity SkySlide experience that virtually whisks you through twisting tubes over the city. Other vertiginous experiences include an alpine swing with glorious mountain views at Cardrona Alpine Resort in the South Island and an epic (if not totally environmentally friendly) helicopter gin tour in Queenstown.
Discover new food and drink
Anyone who’s eaten roast lamb or sipped a crisp Hawke’s Bay sauvignon blanc knows New Zealand offers delicious food and drink, but the country’s culinary scene has continued evolving in our absence.
In Wellington, Evil Twins’ new location serves up that famous New Zealand coffee while new Concord bistro offers oysters, saucisson brioché, or steak and bottomless fries. In Auckland, options include French-style patisserie coffee joint Javalab Café and Mr Morris, a new (in 2020) restaurant focusing on sustainable and local produce (king salmon, quail with mandarin) that’s garnered awards along with a local following.
At Big Mountain Mead, in the township of Ohakune by Mount Ruapehu in the middle of the North Island, the brewery will serve mead made from local manuka bush honey and mountain water by late September.
A big theme at the recent Kiwi Connect event in Los Angeles was one close to AFAR’s heart: regenerative travel. New Zealand is well aware of its natural beauty and cultural significance and offers many opportunities for travelers to experience, respect, and preserve both (with advice on its Tiaki Promise site).
In 2020, tour operator Nelson Tasman launched what it says is the country’s first zero carbon itinerary, packed full of biking, kayaking, and sailing, where featured businesses are “zero carbon or carbon positive certified” and are regularly audited on their reduction and offsetting of emissions. If you book a trip through the Nelson Regional Development Agency, it will offset your travel to, from, and around the region. “It’s not perfect yet,” the company admits, “but in a world where every small footprint counts, it’s a great way to dip your toe into conscious travel.” (Note: The region was experiencing severe flooding at time of writing.)
At Flockhill Station, a four-bedroom “homestead” set on a 36,000-acre working sheep station (which guests can visit), there’s a robust sustainability program encompassing a variety of environmental initiatives, such as energy efficient design and smart water and waste systems, plus measures to increase biodiversity, including wetland preservation.
Adventure on land and sea
In 2021, Auckland Sea Kayaks launched a new three-day expedition of the Cavalli Islands on the northeast coast, exploring caves, tunnels, and beaches, while a new experience from Taxicat Adventures visits the previously untouched (and fairly inaccessible) Western Bays side of Lake Taupō in the North Island, discovering waterfalls and secret coves.
For bikers, the new-for-2021 55-km Lake Dunstan Trail between the townships of Clyde and Cromwell in the South Island passes lakes and rivers for an epic one-day ride. In Wanaka in the south, the “world’s highest waterfall cable climb” awaits, and the operator Wildwire has recently launched some potentially less daunting canyon and hike adventures. Not so new, but just as rewarding: any of these 10 great multiday walks around the country.
Immerse yourself in culture
February 2022 saw the opening of the Wairau Māori Art Gallery at the Hundertwasser Art Centre in New Zealand’s northernmost city of Whangarei. A whakataukī (proverb) on the gallery’s site is a “poetic reminder that while we follow in the footprints of our ancestors, the time eventually comes for us to leave our own as part of an ongoing continuum of footprints.” The gallery aims to show three exhibitions of contemporary Māori art annually.
Check into a new hotel
Dozens of hotels have opened across the country since 2020, including the Mayfair, a boutique city center hotel in Christchurch (which has bounced back since an 2011 earthquake) offering views of the Southern Alps, the five-star Park Hyatt Auckland on the city’s waterfront, and the 18-room Intrepid Hotel, built in a former Cadbury Chocolate warehouse in Wellington’s Te Aro neighborhood, to name just three.
If you prefer privacy, the newest PurePod (a kind of solar-powered glamping cabin), Kokomea PurePod, opened this year, set high on the Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington with views to Kāpiti Island.
The country’s If You Seek tourism campaign says that “the true magic can be seen, felt, heard, touched and smelled by manuhiri (visitors) who immerse, embrace and respect Aotearoa’s unique culture, people and natural environment.” There are now many more ways to do exactly that.
Tim Chester Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.