If you find yourself gazing wistfully at miraculous landscapes as often as we do—which is, just so we’re clear, very often—you need to make 2020 the year you get to New Zealand.
Whether you’re into extreme action or extreme lowkey leisure—e.g. aforementioned staring in awe at beautiful scenery—NZ will welcome you with open arms, into the kind of embrace you’ll never want to wiggle free from. Like, ever.
We speak from experience. Which is why we’re here to bring you our top 15 reasons why it would be a really wise idea for you to book your dream trip to New Zealand before the year is out.
1. The tramping
New Zealanders love tramping, and you’re going to love tramping too. Yes, basically it’s just another word for walking or hiking, but when you’re in the beauty of the New Zealand wilderness, you walk and hike like you never have before.
This year the nation is gearing up to welcome the new Paparoa Track, set to open in September 2019 on the South Island’s rugged West Coast, and the first Great Walk, a series of first class tramping tracks set to open in the next 25 years. The track will unveil the beauty of the mostly inaccessible Paparoa Range, a region that radiates astounding natural beauty.
2. Kaikoura: The town that’s been reborn
If you’re going to be in New Zealand, you should probably add Kaikoura to your itinerary.
After experiencing a period of closure in the wake of the earthquake that devastated the country in 2016, the charming coastal town has now reopened for business. Accessible via the breathtakingly scenic Coastal Pacific train journey, as well as via a recently reopened coastal road that runs from Marlborough, there’s never been a better time to visit the whale-watching capital of New Zealand.
Added bonus: the town will soon be home to a new hotel, the Sudima Kaikoura, due to open on The Esplanade later in the year.
3. The green with environmental friendliness
Given the majesty of the landscape, it’s no surprise that hoteliers in New Zealand often put planet before profit, so as to accommodate guests in sustainable style.
A most recent example of this eco-friendly trend is the newly opened Camp Glenorchynear Queenstown. Built to a world-first sustainability code, the eco-retreat features energy-efficient building design, smart lighting systems, composting toilets, and a solar garden.
Offering a range of cabins, bunkhouses, and campervan/RV sites, the owners hope to inspire their guests to embrace sustainable ideas in their own homes.
Nearby, you’ll also find the self-described community hotel Sherwood, set on three acres of alpine hillside overlooking Lake Wakatipu. Offering a unique opportunity for guests to get in touch with nature, Sherwood features a pared-back design, including original Kelvinator fridges and enamel crockery—for the retro lover in us all.
For those who like to take their environmental-friendliness to elegant heights, the Coromandel region on the North Island is home to the luxury eco retreat Manawa Ridgeis, built entirely from recycled timbers and energy-efficient materials.
4. Matariki: The Māori New Year
If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand in June this year, be sure to check in with the sky. The Māori New Year, known as Matariki, is hands down one of the country’s most distinctly New Zealand events, celebrated in either May or June, when the Pleiades star cluster—known to Māori people as Matariki—appears on the north-eastern horizon.
This year the cosmic celebration begins on the 10th of June, and trust us when we tell you that you won’t want to miss out.
Celebrated nationwide in a number of different ways, the event offers a chance to honour Matariki with the locals, whether it be at an art exhibition, a small-town festival, a parade, or a workshop.
If you love astrology, you can also travel to the Star Compass (Ātea a Rangi) in Waitangi Regional Park, Hawke’s Bay, to learn about how early Māori used the stars to navigate.
5. The Rugby World Cup
The Rugby World Cup comes but once every four years, why not celebrate the 2019 season in the game’s spiritual home? As well as the world-beating All Blacks, New Zealand has three other World Cup-winning teams—the female national team, the Black Ferns, and the Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams.
Suffice to say, New Zealand is to the rugby lover what Europe is to the lover of Renaissance architecture—basically somewhere you have to go.
If you really, really want to get into the spirit of this year’s World Cup season, we recommend attending a Super Rugby game, to watch New Zealand regional sides square off against teams from South Africa, Australia, Japan, and Argentina.
6. To cycle (in tandem) like you’ve never cycled (in tandem) before
There’s something about riding a bike that delivers a dose of immediate joy. That’s why we got just a bit excited when we heard that New Zealand is now home to something of a world first: a specially manufactured side-by-side tandem bicycle—either pedal or electric—fitted with guide wheels to set you scooting smoothly along a disused section of railway, situated on the east coast on the North Island.
Do we suddenly feel like all of the cycling memories we’ve made to date are kind of uncool? Yes, but that’s okay, because we’ve added this tandem miracle to our next NZ agenda.
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. Perks of the journey include: ample opportunities to take in breathtaking views of the ocean and coastline, and an optional one-day trip from Gisborne to Mahia, for those who don’t have time for two full days of tandem action.
7. The meeting of art and nature
If you love art and nature, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewain Wellington just gave you two more reasons to visit the country this year. The first is a brand new gallery, Toi Art, which opened in 2018 with an exhibition by contemporary sculptor Michael Parekowhai.
We’re told the mammoth new space is about the size of fifteen tennis courts—don’t worry, we gasped audibly too—and that it’s been billed as “the new home for New Zealand art” by Te Papa chairman Evan Williams. Basically, it’s kind of a big (literally and metaphorically) deal.
The second reason is an $11 million nature zone, Taiao, due to open in early 2019. Designed to unite all of the museum’s nature and environmental themed collections and exhibitions in one dazzling new space, Taiao is a sanctuary of both natural and manmade creation.
Here you can expect rare treats, like the mummified foot of an extinct moa, beaked whale skulls, and the chance to pit your intelligence against a kea parrot. That last part makes us a little nervous—no one wants to be outsmarted by a bird—but we also kind of can’t wait to do it next time we’re in town.
8. The flavours your tastebuds will thank you for
When you think of indigenous New Zealand cuisine, you may think of a hāngi—a method that involves cooking food underground in a stone fire pit.
But our sources tell us that there’s a revolution underway in New Zealand, a foodie movement that is making it possible to sample authentic—and reinvented—indigenous flavours in many more places, from fine dining restaurants, to food trucks, to kai (food) festivals.
If you want a true taste of the country’s best cuisine, we recommend booking a table at Pacificain Napier to experience chef Jeremy Rameka’s five-course seafood menu, which may or may not include kina (sea urchin) and paua (abalone).
While you’re in town it’s also worth checking out Monique Fiso’s Hiakaipop-up events, delicious occasions dedicated to Māori cooking techniques and ingredients.
If you’re heading to New Zealand in the near future, the Kawhia Kai Festival, held every February at the remote harbourside settlement in the Waikato, serves up tasty traditional dishes such as kaanga wai (fermented corn) and koki (shark liver pâté).
Because we all know that mouth watering flavours are automatically enhanced when tasted next to a breathtaking view.
9. The (less extreme) professional sports
If you’re less about the getting lost in the wilderness and more about the watching of the golf—or if you’re into both—we’ve got great news.
The New Zealand Open golf tournament celebrates its 100th anniversary in early 2019, hosted at two stunning 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.
Because if you’re going to commit to watching a round of golf, it’s always best to do it in scenic style.
10. The boutique brews
If you like your beer serves cold with a side of creativity, you seriously do need to get to get to New Zealand stat, for a refreshing reason you may not have expected. With access to some of the world’s finest hops, the country’s craft beer brewers are building a bit of a stellar international reputation for their brews.
Having had the pleasure of tasting a few of their artisanal beverages ourselves, we totally get it.
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, in New Zealand you’re never far from a decent drop. Serious enthusiasts can even take a craft beer cruise on board the Celebrity Solstice, led by Australian beer expert Dave Phillips, to visit more than 10 craft breweries from Northland to Dunedin.
11. Helm games
If you consider yourself to be a bit of a sailing aficionado, this is the event for you. In late 2019 Auckland will host approximately 400 of the world’s best sailors, 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, this event is likely to be used by many nations as a selection regatta for the 2020 Olympics.
If you’re a serious sailor, you’ll also have the chance to 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. We don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of experience we’d probably talk about at barbecues and Christmases, and children’s birthday parties, for years to come.
12. The redefinition of thrill
If you love adrenalin, this one’s for you. The man who brought bungy jumping to the world, and now the company that bears his name, has just taken the A.J. Hackett brand of adrenaline-pumping action to the next level with the Nevis Catapult. In case the name itself isn’t explanation enough, allow us to walk you through the wildness of this latest creation.
Set 150m above the Kawarau River in the Nevis Valley outside of Queenstown, the Nevis is the world’s biggest catapult thrill, reaching speeds of 100 km/ph in 1.5 seconds, all with 3Gs of force—we know, it’s kind of a lot.
If you like to take your excitement to really (really) ridiculous heights, you may also want to consider Wild Wire’s Lord of the Rungswaterfall climb, where you can scale 450m to the top of the Twin Falls outside of Wanaka.
Alternatively, in Rotorua, OGO’s new Mega Track offers the longest (and fastest and steepest) giant-inflatable-ball-rolling stretch in the world. If that’s not something that’s worthy of adding to your bucket list, then we don’t know what is.
13. The bespoke souvenirs
If you love to travel, you probably appreciate the beauty of writing the chapters to your own story. But sometimes it’s nice to introduce a different narrator, to ink in the details you might have missed.
The Māori tattoo, tā moko, is more than skin deep, it represents connection to your family, to the land, and to your history. If that resonates, we recommend a visit to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute’s Tā Moko Studioin Rotorua, located 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 story. But unlike other tattoo sittings, you won’t get to see the design beforehand; this is an exercise in trust. According to the studio tattooists, it’s all about “getting what you’re meant to receive”.
If you’d like to leave New Zealand with a souvenir designed just for you, be sure to allow ample time to receive you tā moko. A calf tattoo usually takes about three hours; a forearm, three to six hours.
Bookings are essential, at least 72 hours in advance.
14. To read what is written in the stars
If you’re heading to New Zealand this year, don’t forget to take a moment, once it’s dark, to stop and look at the stars.
The first astronauts to land on the Moon may have been American, but today 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, situated 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 is home to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the most expansive of its kind on the planet.
15. The celebration of first meetings
If you’d like to add a particularly unique kind of experience to your New Zealand itinerary, the kind you can’t experience any place else, then this one’s for you.
The son of a Scottish day labourer, James Cook, learned how to sail while working in the North Sea coal trade—a skill he put to good use when he embarked on a voyage in The Endeavour, a trip that resulted in the first official charting of New Zealand in October 1769.
Two hundred and fifty years later, visitors can now relive his journey –including his historic first meetings with the native Māori people. To mark the momentous occasion, various events are set to take place at the main landing sites in late 2019, starring a flotilla that will celebrate the voyaging traditions of Polynesian and European people. For the inner history nerd in us all.