It’s always a good time to visit New Zealand. But just in case you need a few more reasons – try these 15 on for size.
1. Rocket land
The first astronauts to land on the Moon in 1969 may have been American, but 50 years later New Zealand has its own thriving space industry.
New Zealand scientist and engineer Peter Beck’s Rocket Lab owns the world’s only private orbital launch range on the tip of the Mahia Peninsula on the sparsely populated East Coast.
Rocket Lab plans to revolutionise the ability of satellite companies to reach orbit by launching smaller, less expensive rockets more frequently.
It all makes sense of course when you consider that New Zealand has some of the best night skies in the world and the biggest dark sky reserve on the planet.
NZ has the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and the two newest dark sky sanctuaries of Stewart Island/ Rakiura (in the deep south) and Great Barrier Island (north of Auckland).
2. On track
New Zealanders love their tramping (walking or hiking to the rest of us). So there’s understandable excitement about the new Paparoa Track, set to open in September 2019 on the South Island’s rugged West Coast.
It’s the first Great Walk – a collection of premium multi-day trails throughout the country – to come into being in 25 years and opens up the mostly inaccessible Paparoa Range, an area of astounding natural beauty.
This 55-kilometre track has a heart-rending back-story. It commemorates the 29 men who, in 2010, were killed in an accident at the Pike River Mine, set deep within the range.
3. A town reborn
The charming coastal town of Kaikoura was devastated by the 2016 earthquake that bears its name and virtually cut off from the rest of the country when roads subsided to the north and south.
Now, the whale-watching capital of New Zealand has reopened for business.
The spectacular coastal road from Marlborough wine country is now ready to drive.
The Coastal Pacific rail journey – considered one of the country’s most scenic – has just reopened on 1 December. And a new hotel, the Sudima Kaikoura, is due to open on The Esplanade later in the year.
4. Stay green
Hoteliers in New Zealand are putting the planet before profit by embracing the sustainability trend.
The newly opened Camp Glenorchy near Queenstown is built to a world-first sustainability code and features energy-efficient building designs, smart lighting systems, composting toilets and a solar garden.
The owners hope that the camp, with its range of cabins, bunkhouses and campervan/RV sites, will inspire guests to embrace sustainable ideas in their own homes.
Nearby, the self-described community hotel Sherwood, set on 1.2ha overlooking Lake Wakatipu, features a pared-back design including original Kelvinator fridges and enamel crockery.
In the Coromandel region on the North Island, luxury eco-retreat Manawa Ridge is built entirely from recycled timbers and energy-efficient materials.
5. Star treatment
In recent years, New Zealand has begun to embrace the Māori New Year, known as Matariki.
This distinctly New Zealand event is celebrated in May or June, when the Pleiades star cluster – known to Māori as Matariki – appears on the north-eastern horizon.
In 2019, Matariki started on June 10. Families can join in celebrations held around the country – everything from art exhibitions to small-town festivals, parades and workshops.
Be sure to visit the Star Compass (Ātea a Rangi) in Waitangi Regional Park, Hawke’s Bay, to learn about how early Māori used the stars to navigate. If you can’t make it during Matariki, you can still catch the stars year-round in the skies above.
6. Rapt in rugby
The Rugby World Cup only comes around every four years. What better place to prepare for the next contest in 2019 than in the spiritual home of rugby?
As well as the world-beating All Blacks, New Zealand has no fewer than three other World Cup-winning rugby teams – the female national team, Black Ferns, and the Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams.
Experience the country’s football culture by attending a Super Rugby game, where New Zealand regional sides square off against teams from South Africa, Australia, Japan and Argentina.
7. Celebrating First Meetings
The son of a Scottish day labourer, James Cook learned how to sail while working in the North Sea coal trade. He put this skill to good use when he embarked on a voyage in The Endeavour that resulted in the first official charting of New Zealand in October 1769.
Two hundred and fifty years later, visitors can relive his journey – including his historic first meetings with the native Māori people.
To mark the occasion, there will be various events taking place at the main landing sites in late 2019 with a flotilla that will celebrate the voyaging traditions of Polynesian and European people.
8. In tandem
This may be a world first. A specially manufactured side-by-side tandem bicycle – either pedal or electric – fitted with guide wheels will have you scooting along a disused section of railway on the east coast of the North Island.
On Rail Bike Adventures’ new two-day tour, you can ride 100km of railway track between Gisborne and Wairoa, with an overnight stay in pretty Mahia. The ride offers breathtaking views of the ocean and coastline along the way. You can also book a one-day option from Gisborne to Mahia. The new adventure hit the rails in late 2018.
9. Art and nature
We have two good reasons to visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.
The first is a new gallery, Toi Art, which opened in 2018. The mammoth new space – about the size of 15 tennis courts – has been billed as a game-changer for art in New Zealand.
Second is an $11 million nature zone, Taiao, opening in 2019. Interactive experiences and hundreds of rare specimens showcase New Zealand’s unique environment.
Maori culture and cutting edge science combine in this dazzling new space.
Want a more intimate experience? How about sailing on Lake Taupo to witness art and history in the making as Māori master carver Matahi Brightwell puts some previously unseen finishing touches to the 40-year-old rock carving of his ancestor Ngatoroirangi.
On Lake Taupo, admire the spectacular views as you sail or take a tour out to the giant artwork. Matahi will be on the job from early February.
10. Flying kai
When visitors think of indigenous New Zealand cuisine they probably think of a hāngi – where food is cooked underground in a stone fire pit. But there’s a revolution underway in New Zealand that means it’s possible to sample authentic and reinvented indigenous flavours everywhere from top restaurants to food trucks to kai (food) festivals.
Visit Monique Fiso’s new Wellington restaurant Hiakai which is dedicated to Māori cooking techniques and ingredients or Pacifica in Napier to try chef Jeremy Rameka’s five-course seafood menu which might include kina (sea urchin) and paua (abalone).
At the Kawhia Kai Festival, held every February at the remote harbourside settlement in the Waikato, you can try dishes like kaanga wai (fermented corn) and koki (shark liver pâté.).
11. Full swing
The New Zealand Open golf tournament celebrated its 100th anniversary in early 2019, hosted at two golf courses near Queenstown – Millbrook Resort and The Hills.
Professional golfers will compete for the prestigious title while a minimum of 140 amateurs and professionals will also play alongside one another in a unique Pro-Am format.
Set on 200ha, the 27-hole Millbrook course was designed by master golfer Sir Bob Charles and is ringed by snowy mountains, while the privately-owned Hills course is set in a glacial valley and features Sir Michael Hill’s contemporary sculpture collection.
Love golf? Why not book in a few holes yourself?
12. Boutique brews
With access to some of the world’s finest hops, New Zealand’s craft beer brewers are getting an international reputation for their brews.
From Northland’s award-winning small-batch brewery McLeod’s to the Catlins Brewery that started in a garage in Kaka Point in South Island, you’re never far from a decent drop.
In 2019, enthusiasts can even take a craft beer cruise on board the Celebrity Solstice led by Australian beer expert Dave Phillips that will visit more than 10 craft breweries from Northland to Dunedin.
13. Helm games
Auckland will host about 400 of the world’s best sailors in late 2019 as part of the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 world championships.
The ideal build-up to the America’s Cup, which Emirates Team New Zealand will defend on the Hauraki Gulf (Tīkapa Moana) in 2021, the event is likely to be used by many countries as a selection regatta for the 2020 Olympics.
You can get behind the helm of an authentic America’s Cup sailing yacht on Waitemata Harbour for a two-hour sail or a three-hour match race.
14. Quite a ride
He’s the man who brought bungy jumping to the world and now the company that bears his name is taking the A.J. Hackett brand of adrenaline-pumping action up a notch with the new Nevis Catapult.
Set 150m above the Kawarau River in the Nevis Valley outside of Queenstown, it’s the world’s biggest catapult thrill, reaching speeds of 100kmh in 1.5 seconds, all with 3Gs of force.
Want more? Then consider Wild Wire’s Lord of the Rungs waterfall climb – 450m to the top of the Twin Falls outside of Wanaka – or, in Rotorua, OGO’s new Mega Track, the longest (and fastest and steepest) giant-inflatable-ball-rolling stretch in the world.
15. Under your skin
The Māori tattoo, tā moko, is more than skin deep – it represents connection, whether to your family, the land, your history, or any aspect of your life.
If that resonates, you might consider a visit to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute’s Tā Moko Studio in Rotorua in the centre of North Island.
The process starts with a conversation (korero) with one of the tā moko artists, who will then create a tattoo that reflects your life. It’s an exercise in trust because you won’t get to see a design beforehand: it’s about “getting what you’re meant to receive”, according to the studio tattooists.
And you will need time: a calf tattoo takes about three hours; a forearm, three to six hours. Bookings are essential, at least 72 hours in advance.