Moon New Zealand


By Jamie Christian Desplaces

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From green forests to blackened basalt and snowy mountains to golden beaches, adventure awaits around every bend on these dramatic islands. Experience Middle Earth with Moon New Zealand. Inside you'll find:
  • Strategic itineraries including a week on both the North and South Islands, designed for hikers, cyclists, adrenaline junkies, history and culture buffs, and Lord of the Rings fans
  • The top spots for outdoor adventures, like surfing, mountain biking, and trekking the Great Walks, as well as tips on how to do a New Zealand road trip. Go bungy jumping, paragliding, or jet skiing in Queensland, soak in refreshing thermal pools, or embark on a multi-day trek to rugged coasts, glacial valleys, volcanoes, and fjords
  • Can't-miss sights and unique experiences: Cruise the hypnotic black waters of the Milford Sound, spot wild dolphins, kiwis, and blue penguins, and explore the sprawling Waitomo Caves lit by twinkling glowworms. Sample local sauvignon blancs in Marlborough and craft beers in Wellington, or sip cider in the Shire. Learn about Polynesian culture and history, marvel at Maori carvings, and savor a traditional hangi
  • How to experience New Zealand like an insider, support local and sustainable businesses, avoid crowds, and respectfully engage with the indigenous culture, with expert insightfrom Aukland local Jamie Christian Desplaces
  • Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout, plus a full-color detachable map
  • Reliable background information on the landscape, climate, wildlife, and history, as well as common customs and etiquette
  • Helpful resources on COVID-19 and traveling to New Zealand
  • Travel tips: When to go, how to get around, and where to stay, plus advice for seniors, families with children, visitors with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ travelers
With Moon's expert advice and local insight, you can experience the best of New Zealand.

About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you.

For more inspiration, follow @moonguides on social media.


Dunedin Railway Station

tui bird

DISCOVER New Zealand


Planning Your Trip

Best of New Zealand in Two Weeks




Get Your Adrenaline Fix


Explore Middle-Earth



Hooker Valley Track.

Legend has it that a Polynesian demigod by the name of Maui fished New Zealand’s North Island from the depths of the Tasman Sea. Maui, it is said, sat battling his catch from the cocoon of his mighty South Island canoe, anchored beneath by Stewart Island.

This isolated nation, shrouded in mist and mystery and balancing precariously at the bottom of the globe, lends itself beautifully to such a romantic myth. The truth is that New Zealand’s moody, mountainous islands are the summits of a submerged continent. And so New Zealand, known in Maori as Aotearoa (“the land of the long white cloud”) straddles a pair of shifting tectonic plates. Subterranean activity forms its legendary landscape, from the highly volcanic zones in the north to South Island’s alpine spine.

In this compact country, adventure awaits around every bend. The scenery morphs from brilliant green forest to blackened basalt in the blink of an eye. Snow-topped mountains stand guard over golden beaches brilliant with blue surf. And bubbling hot mud pools give way to the world’s clearest lake. It’s a land so dramatic and imposing, and yet so welcoming, it will make a lasting impression.

surfing in Tawharanui Regional Park

Cathedral Cove

New Zealand seafood

Thanks in part to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies, the world is getting wise to what was once one of its best kept secrets. Part of you will wish it could stay that way, while another part realizes that such magic should not remain caged.

So kia ora, welcome to Middle-earth. Enjoy your journey. You’ll never quite be the same again.

bungee jump above the Waikato River in Taupo

Auckland’s City Sky Tower.

cycling in the Botanic Gardens in Queenstown


1 Milford Sound: This fabled fiord is home to sweeping glacial landscapes that give way to glassy black waters (click here).

2 Explore Waitomo Caves: A sprawling network of underground caverns is lit by twinkling glowworms (click here).

3 Maori Culture: Rich and vibrant Maori culture is evident throughout New Zealand (click here).

4 Watch Wildlife: Wild dolphins (click here) swim along the Bay of Islands, little blue penguins (click here) waddle ashore in Oamaru, and kiwis (click here) roam wild in national parks and wildlife reserves.

5 Hauraki Gulf: These glistening islands include the vineyard-stitched Waiheke Island, the wildlife sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi, and the striking Rangitoto volcano (click here).

6 Thrills and Spills in Queenstown: The birthplace of bungee jumping boasts world-class biking and hiking trails, ski slopes, paragliding, rock climbing, and jet-boating (click here).

7 Wai-O-Tapu: This vibrant, volcanic landscape verges on the psychedelic (click here).

8 Ride the rails on the TranzAlpine: This regal railway journey traverses South Island, taking in Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains, the Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass National Park, and the Otira rail tunnel (click here).

9 Wineries and Breweries: The top wine-producing regions are Marlborough (click here) and Hawke’s Bay (click here), while Wellington (click here) bills itself as the craft beer capital.

10 Great Walks: These popular multiday treks showcase the nation’s landscapes—ancient native bush, rugged coasts, glacial valleys, fiords, and volcanoes (click here).

Planning Your Trip

Where to Go
North Island

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and most diverse city. Admire the world’s largest collection of Maori artifacts at the Auckland Museum or bungee-jump off the 328m Sky Tower. The town hosts fun festivals, such as Music in Parks and Taste of Auckland, and is rife with sailing events like the weekly Rum Races. To get outdoors, you’re never far from a beach, a park, or even a volcano.


There’s plenty to enjoy in New Zealand’s farthest northern region. Drive across the scenic sands of Ninety Mile Beach and explore forests of enormous 2,000-year-old kauri trees. There’s swimming with dolphins in the Bay of Islands, not to mention visiting the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document.


The Coromandel, North Island’s sunny peninsula, harbors magnificent beaches beneath a majestic mountain spine. Here you can find caves lit by glowworms, beaches where you can dig your own hot-spring spa in the sand, a real-life hobbit village outside Matamata, and surf the beckoning waves at the hip town of Raglan.


Many of New Zealand’s best bits lie within this area. The country’s geothermal heartland is the result of some of the most highly tectonic activity on Earth. Polynesian spas and the volcanic sites of Wai-O-Tapu take advantage of the area’s colorful sulfur springs, steaming mud pools, and volcanoes. The outdoor adventures include hiking across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or a suspension bridge in the Whakarewarewa Forest.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse


Explore New Zealand’s oldest vineyards with Napier, the art deco capital of the country. There’s also the sprawling Te Urewera to explore, or a colony of 13,000 wild gannets at the superbly named Cape Kidnappers to visit.


The perfect cone of cloud-kissing Mount Taranaki volcano beckons hikers to the otherwise flat Taranaki peninsula. The region is also home to some serious surfing beaches. Inland awaits the mythical Whanganui River, which can be explored by canoe or kayak on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.


Flanking a brilliant blue harbor, charming Wellington is home to a wealth of cultural offerings, including the compelling Te Papa museum. The city’s nightlife scene takes off along the happening Cuba Street District, while beer lovers will appreciate the serious craft beer scene.

South Island

This region of South Island boasts a bounty of wildlife and natural wonders. Visitors can watch for whales off the Kaikoura Coast, explore the Great Rides across Queen Charlotte Sound, and follow the Abel Tasman Coastal Track by foot or by kayak. Nelson appeals to craft beer enthusiasts, while oenophiles will prefer the Marlborough Wine Trail. Farther inland in Nelson Lakes National Park awaits Blue Lake—the world’s clearest.


Still recovering from the enormous earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Christchurch remains South Island’s cultural capital and “Garden City.” Nowhere is this moniker better earned that at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Close to the city, the Banks Peninsula—home to Hector’s dolphins—beckons exploration by kayak. Poetic in name and by nature, versatile Canterbury is home to New Zealand’s mightiest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, and its longest glacier. The Alps2Ocean Trail ends in the coastal town of Oamaru.


Even by New Zealand standards, the West Coast imparts a sense of eerie remoteness. This devastatingly beautiful stretch of land is wedged between the ferocious Tasman Sea to the west and the stoic Southern Alps to the east. Be awed by the Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Explore the cave network of the Oparara Basin. Cross the Haast Pass Highway into Mount Aspiring National Park.


Bungee jumping made Queenstown the adventure capital of New Zealand. The resort town offers everything from jet-boating to parachuting, yet there’s plenty to draw you away from its thrill-seeking sights. Otago’s abundance of wildlife (including the world’s smallest penguin) and natural wonders await exploration via some of the finest walks and bike tracks. There’s also the incredible Victorian architecture of Oamaru, the steampunk capital of the world. Dunedin is the “Edinburgh of the south,” home to some of New Zealand’s finest Victorian buildings.


Fiordland National Park is a hiking and kayaking haven of plunging granite cliffs and ancient black waters. The scenery is so astonishing you’ll either want to clap or cry. The rest of Southland is bordered by spectacular beaches so battered by Antarctic blasts that the trees grow bent over. But what draws everyone to this magnificent region are the fiords of Milford Sound.

When to Go

New Zealand lies in the southern hemisphere, and the seasons are reversed from those in the northern hemisphere.


December-February is New Zealand’s summer and its peak season. This is the time to come in order to make the most of outdoor activities. Tour operators, bars, and restaurants are open extended hours and accommodations fill fast—especially between Christmas and mid-January, when most Kiwis holiday.


September-November and March-May, destinations are quieter and the temperatures a little cooler, though there are still plenty of scorching hot days, depending where you visit. You’ll have a greater chance of scoring some great deals on tours, attractions, and lodgings.


June-August is New Zealand’s winter and is the coldest and wettest time of the year (except for parts of South Island). A visit is best avoided, unless you’re into snow sports. There are world-class ski hills around Ruapehu on North Island and throughout the Southern Alps. Parts of the country, especially small hubs and coastal regions, go into hibernation and many attractions and services have limited hours (and some even close). However, hotels in winter sports hot spots such as Queenstown may charge high rates.

Know Before You Go
Passport and Visas

New Zealand has a visitor visa waiver agreement with the United States and Canada, as well as Australia and many European nations. Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months. Visitors must have an onward ticket and funds equivalent to $1,000 per month of stay.


The only way of reaching New Zealand is to fly here. The majority of visitors fly into Auckland International Airport via Air New Zealand. Though New Zealand is a relatively small nation, its sights are spread out and isolated. Domestic flights and an excellent nationwide bus service offers a means to reach the main cities and attractions, but you’ll need a shuttle bus to visit more remote sights—which is both inconvenient and expensive. Rail service is limited. Your best option is to rent a car or a camper van—you won’t regret it. This country was designed for road trips.

Best of New Zealand in Two Weeks

Visitors should plan at least two weeks just to explore the highlights on North and South Island, with one week on each island. Fly into Auckland and begin your journey there. Consider renting a campervan to tour the country; holiday parks and campgrounds are cheap and plentiful. However, most highways are long, two-lane roads and driving distances are far. It’s possible to cover greater distance in less time by taking domestic flights from Auckland to Wellington, or from Wellington to destinations on South Island.

North Island
Day 1: Auckland

Fly into Auckland and recover after your long flight. Check in to your hotel and then walk along Queen Street, stopping at Aotea Square to admire its carved waharoa, finishing your stroll at the water’s edge. In town, dine alfresco on fresh seafood at Soul Bar & Bistro near the Viaduct while admiring the harbor yachts. At night, get your energy going at Britomart, home to the trendiest bars and eateries.

Aotea Square

Day 2: Excursion to Waiheke Island

Take a ferry over to Waiheke Island for a half-day tour of the vineyards before heading back into town. If you’re feeling brave, take the plunge from atop of the Sky Tower, or simply soak up the views with a cocktail in the tower’s Sugar Club. In the evening, head to Ponsonby and nearby Karangahape Road (K’ Road), where swanky shops, ethnic eateries, and a smattering of LGBT-friendly venues await.

Day 3: Bay of Islands

Head north to the Bay of Islands, stopping in one of a collection of sleepy seaside settlements such as Paihia, where you can swim with wild dolphins. Don’t leave without checking out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Te Kongahu Museum—the site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Maori chiefs and the British Crown.

Day 4: Waitomo Caves

Stop in at the Waitomo Caves, a mind-blowing underground wonderland beneath the lush rolling farmlands of Waikato. The caves are adorned with glowworms and offer further adventures like rappelling. Surfers should spend the night in the hip surf town of Raglan, 90km northwest, and hit the waves in the morning.

Day 5: Rotorua

Two hours east of Waitomo, Rotorua literally fizzes thanks to volcanic activity, resulting in bubbling mud, steaming springs, and erupting geysers. Visit Wai-O-Tapu to experience the geothermal heartland, then soak in the waters of a Polynesian spa. When you’re done exploring the volcanic wonders, check out a Maori cultural show at the Tamaki Maori Village and feast on a hangi for traditional Maori cooking.

Day 6: Tongariro National Park

Less than 2.5 hours southwest of Rotorua awaits the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park. One of the world’s great day hikes, the spectacular route winds past three active volcanoes, including The Lord of the Rings’s “Mount Doom.” If hiking is not your thing, head to Lake Taupo instead, where an extraordinary Maori artwork sits carved into the sheer rock above Mine Bay.

Day 7: Wellington

South of Rotorua, it’s a long drive to Wellington. (Another option is to return your car rental and take a domestic flight from Auckland instead.) It would be easy to spend the day at the extraordinary Te Papa museum, but then you’d miss the Zealandia wildlife reserve, the Wellington Cable Car, and the Botanic Garden. Head to Mount Victoria for a spectacular sunset view. Once you’ve built up a thirst, quench it in the city’s numerous craft beer joints. Tomorrow, you’ll take the ferry from Wellington to Picton to begin exploration of South Island.

Wellington’s magnificent harbor

South Island
Day 1: Marlborough Sounds

Take the ferry from Wellington to Picton and start the morning with a coffee in the pretty seaside town, then take a walk or bike ride along the coastal Queen Charlotte Track to marvel at the Marlborough Sounds. As you head back, watch for dolphins. After your exercise, explore the abundance of first-class wineries.

Day 2: Abel Tasman Coast Track

Rent a kayak or book a tour to explore the Abel Tasman Coast Track, a Great Walk that can be explored by paddling ashore to numerous mainland beach landings. Head into the tiny port of Mapua to savor some craft beers.

kayaking along the coastline of Abel Tasman National Park

Day 3: Kaikoura

A New Zealand must-do, the rich waters off Kaikoura are home to resident sperm whales, as well as a few other migratory species, dolphins, fur seals, and albatross. Book a cruise to see these majestic beasts up close.

Day 4: Christchurch

South of Kaikoura, Christchurch remains on the mend following two major earthquakes. It’s still a cultural paradise, with wonderful museums, art galleries, and the Christchurch Botanic Garden. Squeeze in a drive to the scenic Banks Peninsula, where secluded beaches await—and you may spot dolphins or penguins. The historic French village of Akaroa is the perfect place to relax and refuel.

Day 5: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

On the way to Aoraki (Mount Cook), New Zealand’s tallest peak, call in for breakfast at the Astro Café atop Mount John and enjoy 360-degree views over the McKenzie District—including the impossibly blue Lake Tekapo. The drive into Mount Cook Village alongside Lake Pukaki is mesmerizing, with Aoraki rarely out of view. Book a scenic helicopter flight over to Franz Josef or Fox Glaciers, where you can land on the ice. Explore some of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park on foot via several short walks.

Day 6: Queenstown

There’s enough fun in Queenstown to spend the entire two weeks here. The top of your list should be bungee jumping or jet-boating the Shotover River. Afterward, ride the gondola to Bob’s Peak for views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables mountain range—it’s one of New Zealand’s most memorable vistas.

Day 7: Milford Sound

Save Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most iconic sight, for last. Take a flight from Queenstown for an aerial view of Fiordland National Park before cruising or kayaking (or both) through Milford Sound. It’s a long day, but cheaper, to travel by road—allow at least four hours to drive each way, or consider taking this lengthy winding journey by coach. Break it up with a night at Te Anau, 120km south of Milford Sound.

Get Your Adrenaline Fix

New Zealand bills itself as the adventure capital of the world. The nation that gave us commercial bungee jumping, the zorb, and the jet-boat is stitched together by thousands of kilometers of world-class hiking and biking trails, pounded by ferocious surf, and sliced by raging rivers. It is one big playground.

Bungee Jumping

Commercial bungee jumping began at Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, home of the nation’s highest bungee jump: the Nevis at a knee-trembling 134m. On North Island, the 47m Lake Taupo bungee is the country’s highest water-touch jump.


There’s no more joyous way to explore the forest canopy than dangling from a zip line. Discover the country’s best in Queenstown and Rotorua.



On Sale
Oct 19, 2021
Page Count
512 pages
Moon Travel

Jamie Christian Desplaces

About the Author

Having spent four years between Asia and Australia and with no inclination to return back home to the UK, Jamie Desplaces opted to give Aotearoa New Zealand a try. That was way back in 2012, and he’s still there.

Just a few weeks after arriving, he secured an assignment to write about the country’s fracking industry, a two-month investigation that was hailed by environmental and political organizations, and won a feature of the year award. Jamie quickly discovered the sacred connection between Kiwis and their land, a connection that he now feels. From the glistening beaches of the subtropical far north to the majestic fiords of the deep south and the volcanoes and vineyards and vast alpine backcountry that stitch it all together, he has explored every corner of this country – and continues to do so.

It’s also somewhat poetic that Jamie, having attended the same school as J.R.R. Tolkien, whose tomes of Middle-Earth tales inspired the movies that have so promoted the majesty of Aotearoa New Zealand, now has the opportunity to share its legend with others.

Jamie’s work has been published in Beats, Escape, Massive, and on He has published a novel and is head writer at Verve magazine in Auckland, where he lives with his partner, Heather, and their dog, Squid.

Learn more about this author