While the Northern Hemisphere rugs up for the cooler months ahead, New Zealand gears up for another balmy summer in the great outdoors. We’re talking big blue skies, long magical evenings and a decent dose of vitamin sea. Total bliss. To help you plan your inevitable summer road trip/s, we’ve rounded up the best places to visit in a New Zealand summer.
Bay Of Islands
Known as the “winterless north”, the Bay Of Islands turns things up a notch over summer. You’ll want to spent the majority of your time on—or under—the water with 144 islands in The Bay for you to explore. Sail alongside dolphins, cruise through the famous Hole In The Rock, kayak around calm bays and explore the incredible diving sites below. On land, there’s The Stone Store (aka New Zealand’s oldest stone building), the 27m-high Rainbow Falls to admire and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Ferry from Paihia to Russell where you’ll find historic buildings and a seaside setting of cafes, restaurants and galleries. Book a room in the newly renovated Duke Of Marlborough historical hotel for the ultimate summer getaway.
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning The Coromandel and its much-loved summer spots. However, narrowing it down to one destination is virtually impossible. The diverse peninsula has you spoilt for choice with the ever-popular Hot Water Beach, dramatic Karangahake Gorge, famous Cathedral Cove and humming Pauanui. To get off the beaten-track, check out isolated New Chum Beach (only accessible by foot or boat) or Whenuakura “donut island” (a 20-minute kayak from Whangamata). Stay active by cycling the 136km-long Hauraki Rail Trail from Kaiaua to Te Aroha or tackle the overnight hike to The Pinnacles for a magical sunset and sunrise.
Mount Maunganui (or simply just “The Mount”) is undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s best summer hotspots. Here you’ll find a sheltered bay on the harbourside and a bustling surf beach on the ocean side. Where these two meet, is the town’s namesake: Mount Maunganui. No summer in the Bay Of Plenty is complete without scaling the extinct volcano (it will take you about an hour and a half) and admiring the sweet 360-degree views. Once you’ve returned to sea-level, refuel at the iconic Copenhagen Cones or unwind in the Mount Hot Pools. The beach town hums over the summer months and various pop-ups make regular appearances. Check out the Night Owl outdoor cinema as well as The Little Big Markets for live music, handcrafted goodies and, of course, great food.
Over on the West Coast is the black-sand surf mecca, Raglan. The internationally-famed beaches attract surfers from all corners of the globe with its world-class breaks and consistently epic surf. If you haven’t mastered how to hang ten, Raglan offers many more summery things to see and do. Hike to the summit of Mount Karioi, paddleboard across the harbour, check out Bridal Veil Falls or simply dig into Raglan Fish’s unmissable fish and chips. Speaking of delicious eats, Raglan is an emerging foodie hotspot with some of the best eateries in the Waikato. Start with coffee from Raglan Roast, lunch at The Shack and finish with refreshing brews and woodfired pizza at Good George’s newly opened Beach Club.
As New Zealand’s sunniest spot, Nelson brings its A-game over the summer months. Hit Tahunanui beach, discover local art and wander Saturday’s much-loved market. It’s also New Zealand’s sole hop-growing region and the country’s craft brewing capital. Explore the various breweries, vineyards and orchards by cycling the Great Taste Trail that loops 174 km through the Tasman’s countryside and coastline. Nelson is also the gateway to the stunning Abel Tasman National Park with seemingly endless options for walking, kayaking and sailing. For a three to five day adventure, walk the 60km Coast Track along golden beaches and through lush coastal native bush. There are various huts and campsites along the way but book in advance—it’s one popular walk.
Let’s be honest, Queenstown is breathtakingly beautiful all year round and summer is no exception. You’ll be treated to long sunny days paired with fresh alpine air and a buzz of people from all around the world. Make the most of the sunshine and get on the water of Lake Wakatipu. There’s jet boating, parasailing, kayaking and cruising on the iconic TSS Earnslaw steamship. Walk or bike various picture-perfect trails including the option to cycle 25km to Arrowtown via the Queenstown Trail—you can get there and back in a day with a divine lunch stop in between. When day turns to night, check out Queenstown’s incredible restaurants, bustling bars or chill cocktail lounges. This is New Zealand summer at its best.
There’s no beach in sight but that doesn’t stop Central Otago from being a summer’s playground. Featuring dry weather and daylight that lasts until 10pm, summer is best spent al fresco in this region. Cycle the famous Otago Central Rail Trail or opt for the less-famous (but equally incredible) Roxburgh Gorge or Clutha Gold Trails. There’s also fishing, mountain biking, four-wheel driving and diverse walking tracks offering everything from a 30-minute stroll to a full-day adventure. Refuel and rehydrate at one of the many world-class Central Otago wineries or seasonally inspired restaurants. As for dessert? The local orchards are brimming with juicy peaches, sweet apricots and arguably the world’s biggest—and tastiest—fresh cherries.
Image Credit: Pure New Zealand