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7 amazing towns and cities to visit in New Zealand

Cities tend to have a vibe about them, a sense that something might be happening just around the corner. Cities hold an energy that is infectious; and oh boy, is that true of New Zealand cities. A passion for art, street wall murals, live music, comedy, food markets, coffee, restaurants and bars make New Zealand cities and towns a great place to visit. This statement is underpinned by the premise that our cities are much smaller in size than bigger country cities, but ours offer a vibe that will wrap you up and take you in. Our cities offer eclectic, unique, authentic, heritage experiences that suit most any taste. Auckland As the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland is the vibrant economic heart of the country. This is where international flights land, it is where most of the international businesses host their head-offices and as such is a major contributor to the economic wealth of New Zealand. But there is more to this vibrant city than hosting head-offices and a healthy economy.  There is a plethora of gorgeous restaurants, artisan coffee shops, galleries and designer boutiques. There are opportunities for fun around every corner; whether that is sailing out of Waitemata harbour on a chartered fishing boat or hopping aboard a dolphin and whale watching cruise. The city is unique in that it connects two coasts, the calm Pacific Ocean with its white sandy beaches on the east coast and the wild Tasman Sea with black sand and untamed wilderness to the west. There are a number of islands scattered along its coastline, one of the most famous is Waiheke, the island of wine. The island is tiny but its climate is perfect for the 30 odd vineyards nestled in the rolling hills. So, if island hopping is on the cards, then sign up for a trip across the Hauraki Gulf. Cambridge A true nature lovers haven, known as the “town of trees and champions.” It is a small town with a big reputation for producing champion horses in racing and show-jumping, so much so that it has earned the reputation as the equine capital of New Zealand. But that is not its only notable accolade; in 2019 it was given the most beautiful large town award. With a curious and charming village feel, this quaint town is a gateway to multiple tourism must-dos. Rotorua, renowned for its geothermal activity, Maori culture and redwood forests, only an hours’ drive from Cambridge. The Hobbiton movie set, only 30 minutes away and a really magical experience. This was the noteworthy location used for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. With daily tours through the “shire”, you can immerse yourself in the smells, sights, and sounds of this incredible movie-set. Waitomo town, also a short one-hour drive from Cambridge is known for its extensive underground cave system which is home to thousands of glow-worms. Known as one of New Zealand’s best environmental attractions; a magical boat-ride through the grotto to view this natural light display will leave you awestruck by this unique wonder of mother nature. Wellington The vibrant harbour city of Wellington lies on the south coast of the North Island, known as the Cook Strait. The strait essentially separates the North and South Islands. It connects the Tasman Sea on the northwest with the South Pacific Ocean on the southeast. As the second-largest city in New Zealand, it is known as the culinary capital. Wellington is celebrated for its unusual cafes, distinctive bars, stunning coffee, and award-winning restaurants. Wellington houses Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, which came about as a result of the national museum and national art gallery merging. This is an incredible space, with world-leading displays and exhibitions. Gallipoli, it’s the current exhibition, is an outstanding and ground-breaking activation that tells the story of a WW1 scene in Gallipoli through the ‘voices’ of eight ordinary New Zealanders. The haunting commentary as one moves through giant-sized sculptures, 3D maps, and interactive experiences bring the reality of war to life in an unusual and memorable way. Nelson Nelson is a city on the South Island of New Zealand, facing the Tasman Bay. It’s known for local arts and crafts, great coffee, restaurants and galleries. It is also the doorway to some of the most beautiful alpine and coastal landscapes, incredibly beautiful bays and mountain ranges. There are three national parks on its doorstep, each with a diverse range of sightseeing and exploration opportunities. Established by English settlers in 1841, the city’s history is showcased at Founders Heritage Park, a living museum with a vintage railway. Also, to be found at the park is the Miyazu gardens, named after its Japanese sister city. It’s a popular base for nearby caving sites, cycle tracks, vineyards and easily accessible via ferry from the North Island or local airports in the South Island. A city with the most recorded sun-shine hours is hard to beat, clearly! Christchurch Known as the garden city with an English heritage, Christchurch is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The city was destroyed by two earthquakes, one in 2010, the next came in 2011. It has grown back into a thriving, creative city, with friendly people, delicious gourmet food trucks, speak-easy bars and the ever-present coffee outlets. By now you may have realised that coffee is a common thread through New Zealand culture? The city centre offers a trail of street art, an opportunity to take a flat-bottomed punt to glide down the Avon River, cycling paths and the green expanse of Hagley Park and Christchurch Botanic Gardens with the Arts Centre on the outer border. The Art centre is a Christchurch landmark, home to galleries, museums, cinemas, boutiques and artisan eateries and well worth a visit any time of the year. Christchurch lies within the Canterbury region, and as such is also the basecamp for adventures, exploration and scenic trips. The TranzAlpine train offers a splendid opportunity to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery, with large reclined seats and huge panoramic windows. The train traverses through the open Canterbury plains, through rugged gorges and valleys and then ascends into the majestic Southern Alps. With little to interrupt your journey, this may be an opportunity of a lifetime to see the beautiful vastness of the South Islands’ interior landscape. Dunedin Situated at the head of Otago Harbour, Dunedin is on the South Island’s southeast coast. It’s known for its Scottish and Maori heritage as well as Victorian and Edwardian architecture. And much like the other towns featured here, this one is just as promising in terms of coffee, boutiques, eclectic eateries and bars. Dunedin’s Public Art Gallery, established in 1884 is renowned for being home to a selection of the country’s finest collections, showcasing pieces from New Zealand, Japan, Britain, Europe and more. Street art is something that New Zealand cities are embracing with a passion, and recently, Dunedin joined the call; bringing in local and international mural artists to colour blank-walled canvases. A walk around town is certain to unearth some amazing creative treasures. The name “Dunedin” comes from the Gaelic word for “Edinburgh,” and Dunedin is commonly called the “Edinburgh of the South”. True to this Scottish heritage, Dunedin’s whisky production is recognised as being some of the best in the world. Hiking and cycling trails traverse the dramatic landscape of the adjoining Otago Peninsula, which is where the only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal albatross can be found. The Peninsula is also home to the endangered Hookers Sea Lion, who are one of the rarest sea lion species in the world. Taking a wildlife tour through the peninsula may also offer the opportunity to view the endemic and rare yellow-eyed penguins, where around 500 breeding pairs nest and live. Finally, whatever your trip intentions are, there is something for everyone, whether traveling as a single person, a family or a group of friends, you can rest assured that this is no shortage of activities to suit all tastes. New Zealand cities offer the visitor a broad range of city-life fundamentals, in so far as food, boutiques, galleries, bakeries, bars and restaurants is concerned. And more than that, our cities are the gateway to so much more. They are the spring board to untold natural wonders and delights, which can be explored by foot, bicycle, train, boat or car. Launch yourself into the amazing Aotearoa, New Zealand, let us welcome you here. Kia ora. Veronika Vermeulen is Director of Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. has been offering 100% tailored journeys and private guided luxury experiences in New Zealand since 2000. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Veronika Vermeulen

Veronika Vermeulen is Director of Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. has been offering 100% tailored journeys and private guided luxury experiences in New Zealand since 2000.

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  1. As a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, I’ve read the book twice and seen the trilogy of films twice, for me Hobbiton would be top of my list of places to visit. Not sure quite what to expect from the smells of this movie set. I’d have to go easy on souvenirs too, otherwise my case would be over the weight limit for the return journey.

    1. Fiona – I was a huuuuuge LOTR fan when it first came out too! Even went as far as to attempt to learn Elvish and cook some hobbit food (I kid you not). Visiting Hobbiton and getting a feel for it all in real life would be amazing. Souvenirs would be worth the extra baggage allowance! I hope you get to go one day :)

  2. I think that this piece had probably been waiting to be written for a long-time. Everybody returns from New Zealand talking about the incredible landscapes and the advertising campaigns always show some spectacular views.

    People forget the cities and that’s where you meet New Zealand’s best selling point of all, the very warm and welcoming people. The countryside’s great but between trips you really ought to visit New Zealand’s buzzing cities.

  3. New Zealand must be on so many people’s wish lists. My aunt and uncle in Australia have been to NZ a couple of times and have loved everywhere they’ve explored, especially Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. I’ll have to send them this article and ask if they’ve been to the Te Papa, that’s the kind of place I’d like to go. The Gallipoli exhibit sounds like one worth doing, as haunting as it may be it’s important to remember the history and the lives lost from war.

    I’d love to go to New Zealand one day but you’d want a while there to see as much as possible. How long would you say is an adequate minimum? Two weeks could cover a few places but I guess the more weeks you can afford the better.

  4. New Zealand is really a special country. As somebody from the U.S., I am always amazed to consider the size of New Zealand and its population. I was there last year, and flying into Auckland felt pretty magical. I also flew from the North Island to the South, from Wellington. I didn’t get a chance to stop in Wellington, but it looked like a great place to do some exploring and relaxing. Lots of great, bright sunlight. I would love to try Christchurch next time! It seems like there’s a lot to do there as well.

  5. I’ve heard about Dunedin quite a lot from friends who’ve been to the city. And from the pictures, it would seem that he was right to recommend that I visit it one of these days. It would be quite a ways away from where I am visiting my sister, but it got me thinking that the mix heritage and history of Dunedin (being Maori and Scottish) is certainly enought reason to stop by. I’ve yet to discover what such combination of traditions can contribute to a city in terms of food, art, architecture, etc.

    1. I think you might be misunderstanding the order of the pictures, Darren. As with all posts on A Luxury Travel Blog, the image that relates to each sub-heading comes after, rather than before.

  6. Hi Darren,
    there are two images from Wellington. The first one is a general photo reperesenting all of New Zealand and then each location has another photo that relates to the cities. I did write the article and Iam from New Zealand. Thank you!

    1. I went to New Zealand from Ireland in 2017 for my 50th birthday celebrations with my partner and what a trip which I cant wait to repeat. We got just over 2 weeks there and did some time on both islands in a campervan. We visited some amazing places such as Rotorua, Napier, Nelson,Auckland, Taupo, Queenstown, Milford sound, and Dunedin among others.

  7. Can’t wait until New Zealand opens its borders and we are able to visit again! Is there any indication as to when this might be yet?

    1. Dear Jeff, indications are that we only start an immunization program by mid of this year and hope that everyone is vaccinated by the end of this year. There will be a bubble between some Pacific Nations (hopefully including Australia)that have a good check on things, but for countries like the USA or England borders will not be open until early 2022 unfortunately. I wish I had better news. Once open so we expect a huge increase of travelers to our country. We have many wanting to book for 2022 now. We customize packages and make reservations but still not taking any funds until we have a better overview of where the world is going. Warmest regards Veronika

  8. When is New Zealand likely to open up to international tourists again? They have done such a great job keeping the virus at bay but, from what I understand, the vaccine roll-out has been slow (and I suppose that’s understandable because there is no need for a vaccine when there so few cases). However, it does leave me wondering how vulnerable the country is – and how prepared it is – for when the world stands opening up again…

    1. Sorry for the late reply, somehow things ended up in a spam email. The government is rolling out the vaccine now and we believe we have the population immunized by end of the year. We hoping earlier but for now, that’s the message our government is giving us. We are prepared we just took a different approach, as we could stay most free of Covid19, with other Island Nation like Taiwan.

  9. Is there any news yet on when the NZ borders might open? I am so looking forward to going back, but it kinds of feels that they’ve been the victim of their own success currently. They’ve kept COVID at bay, but how do they now go about opening back up?

    1. We will open for sure, but only when our population is vaccinated. The process has started and will be finished before the end of the year. We feel all very lucky down here and don’t feel like victims. We can travel free and have concerts and large events to go to. We have no lesser problems economically than other countries, some statistics say we doing better the most countries. Yes, we have many tourism businesses struggling here, as much as around the world, but many have survived due to a strong domestic market. Export of technologies and agriculture is strong as well. Of course, personally, I wish we would open sooner than later as I rely on overseas customers.

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