‘Tiaki’, recognized all over the country, is a way of life here. It means taking care of people and place without leaving a trace, both now and for future generations. It goes without saying that New Zealanders care passionately for their environment and the protection of their endemic species; it’s ever prevalent as you travel around the country. 

My journey began in Auckland on the North Island. The ‘City of Sails’ is a vibrant metropolis full of exceptional eateries and surrounded by over 50 dormant volcanoes. Drive just 15 minutes outside the city, and you’ll find lush rainforests and beautiful beaches with soft volcanic black sand. Alternatively, take the 40-minute ferry to the uninhabited extinct volcano of Rangitoto Island, where there are plenty of walking tracks offering panoramic views of the city. You can also ferry over to Waiheke Island to enjoy the lovely beaches and wine tastings. 

M Social Hotel, a quirky, young and hipster hotel ideally located amid the hustle and bustle of city life. An alternative would be Hotel Britomart, a chic hotel with a relaxed and peaceful setting, serving sustainably-caught seafood on its menu. 

A self-drive is the best way of getting around New Zealand

The drives are long and winding, but with views like these (see below), the time goes by pretty quickly. Often, you’ll feel as though you’ve driven through a world of different environments in a single day.

Leaving Auckland behind, driving through miles and miles of farmland, we reached Hobbiton, a significant filming location for The Lord of the Rings. Dare I say it, I’ve actually never watched The Lord of the Rings (although I am familiar with some of the quotes from the films). I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this part of the trip, but I was utterly blown away by the film set. It’s hidden away on a beautiful 1,500-acre cattle and sheep farm with phenomenal views. I was expecting to be underwhelmed, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a whole village where they employ full-time gardeners to prune and plant vegetables and flowers outside 44 hobbit houses. It’s immaculate. It truly is spectacular and a must-see, even if you’re not at all a fan of the films!

Driving further south through the rolling hills, the stench of sulphur fills the air. Rotorua, a place full of geothermal wonder and an abundance of Maori history and culture is a place not to be missed. Take a trip to the top of Mount Tarawera, a dormant volcano which erupted in 1886 spreading over 17kms in distance. The volcano is closed to the public, however there are two companies who have been granted permission to guide people up it to walk within the crater. 

Just outside the main town of Rotorua is Solitaire Lodge, a picture-perfect old fishing lodge perched atop Lake Tarawera with Mount Tarawera in the foreground. Be prepared to leave this place a stone heavier! The food is outstanding, and guests are treated to a six-course meal every night. With endless activities such as trout fishing, helicopter trips, kayaking and walking, you’ll work the six courses off from the night before in no time.

Unsurprisingly, vineyards are abundant in New Zealand, with many wine tours available in Hawkes Bay on the North Island and Blenheim/Marlborough on the South Island. E-biking has become very popular, and with newly paved paths, you can enjoy multiple wine tastings whilst cycling through orchards and along river trails.

Crossing through the Marlborough straits from Wellington to Picton is where my journey to the South Island began. This three-hour ferry ride is extremely beautiful, and there are opportunities to spot penguins, albatross and dolphins along the way. 

Reaching Kaikoura, a place where bright blue, marine-rich seas contrast with snow-capped mountains, was a huge highlight. Resident sperm whales patrol the waters year-round. There are many whale-watching trips you can do, either by boat or helicopter, which is a must. Being able to see the extreme length of these animals from above is astonishing. 

Staying at Hapuku Lodge, a working deer and cattle farm, was a memorable experience. The lodge’s unique treehouses look out over olive groves and the ocean on one side, and fields of deer under snow-capped mountains on the other. It’s pretty surreal. 

Staying at Azur Lodge for the last night was extremely spoiling. Luckily the rain hammered down, so being stuck in a cosy little lodge, similar to a cabin you’d find in the middle of the alps, wasn’t too bad. 

With unimaginable and indescribable vistas, this place has it all. If you enjoy the outdoors, love exploring and don’t mind the unpredictable weather, New Zealand is the destination for you.