Home Blog Iconic Experiences of New Zealand: Travel Specialist Insights

Iconic Experiences of New Zealand: Travel Specialist Insights

Monday, 17th June 2024



New Zealand has a well-deserved reputation for adventure. Its epic landscapes providing a natural playground for getting stuck in. But you need only scratch the surface a little and so much else is revealed in this compact country on the far side of the world. Maori culture, dark skies, wildlife conservation, movie sets and rugby sit alongside hiking, water sports and crazy adrenaline-fuelled activities ensuring iconic moments come thick and fast.

This was the nature of Travel Specialist, Trudy’s, recent trip to New Zealand. Experiencing one icon after another, she recalls her highlights below…

Kayaking to Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

I really loved the Coromandel area, the peninsula adjacent to Auckland in North Island. Popular with the locals, it has a nice quiet, sleepy beach-stay feel. There are many hidden coves along its coastline with the most popular Cathedral Cove. Since a cyclone in November 2023, this much photographed cove is now only accessible by water. You can take a water taxi or a guided kayak trip like I did. It was such a fun way to see the coast and learn about the history from our guides. And no previous experience was required. At Cathedral Cove we had time to explore the glorious beach and iconic rock structures and since it’s limited to sea access, at one point we were the only group there, which felt very special. For the return to Hahei beach, our guide turned a tarpaulin into an improv sail, and we happily sailed back.

There’s so much else to explore around the Coromandel area including Shakespeare’s Point, Hot Water Beach and historic gold caves where I saw my first glow worm and unfortunately a weta! This large, ancient insect is endemic to New Zealand and pretty cool if you’re into bugs!


Hobbiton Set Tour

Next up on North Island was Matamata. Most fantasy fans will be more familiar with it as middle earth’s Hobbiton – and it’s a must visit. I am not a Lord of the Rings fan, but you really don’t have to be. The set from the Hobbit trilogy has been maintained and group tours visit daily with the most amazing guides. They made it really fun and interactive throwing out interesting facts. They have recently introduced two ‘Hobbit Homes’ and the attention to detail was next to nothing with different rooms including kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, pantry and a study! You get at least 20 mins inside to take it all in and take photos. The tour ends with an apple cider overlooking the lake, which on my visit was in glorious sunshine. This is a lovely way to spend a morning.


Sanctuary Mountain, Waikato

Though not widely known, Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is a protected natural area in the Waikato region, only an hour from Hobbiton. Surrounded by a long predator-proof fence, this eco-sanctuary is home to many of New Zealand’s unique and endangered wildlife. There are different trails, and you can choose self-guiding or to join a guided walk as I did. Accompanied by a beautiful bird chorus, our lovely guide Rosie, shared wonderful facts about the forest and its wildlife as well as the ongoing conservation work. She told us that they recently taken in 10 critically endangered kakapo, of which six had escaped despite being flightless and fenced in!

new zealand-endemic-bird-titipounamu-astk

Te Pa Tu Maori Experience, Rotorua

Staying in central North Island, next was an amazing cultural experience outside Rotorua. Te Pa Tu is an award-winning evening celebrating Māori traditions and food and is something everyone should do when visiting the North Island. The night began with a ‘welcome’ ceremony performed by our hosts. We then learnt about their history and traditions as well as games where they got everyone involved. Further songs and performances followed, which were captivating – it was clear how important this is to them. The night finished with a hangi and banquet feast including homegrown vegetables of which the sweet potato was divine!


Dark Sky Project Summit Experience, Lake Tekapo

Heading to South Island it was straight into the alpine heart. The sun was setting when I arrived at Lake Tekapo and the beauty is just breathtaking. The small Church of the Good Shepherd at the lakeside makes the view picture perfect and understandably iconic.

Lake Tekapo is also part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, and it was the star gazing here that really blew my mind! This part of New Zealand is one of the best places for gazing at night skies and joining the Summit Experience at Mount John is a must. I had such a clear night and was able to see so much with the naked eye alone. The guide’s knowledge was incredible. He explained it all in simple terms for those like me who have never done anything like this before. You’re even provided you with warm coats for the duration and there were three different telescopes to look through revealing different stars and consultations. I was truly amazed by it all and felt really humbled.


Air Safari Scenic Fight, Mt Cook

Having enjoyed gazing upwards at night, I couldn’t wait to gaze down on a scenic flight from Mt Cook. And it was incredible and unforgettable! An absolute must do experience. Seeing the peaks and the lake’s from above was something special. The weather was glorious, so the flight by small, fixed wing aircraft was comfortable and I was able to marvel at views over Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, as well as iconic Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. Amongst everything I did on this trip, this was my standout experience. I felt very lucky and in awe of what I was experiencing.

new zealand south island mt cook scenic flight

Milford Sound Overnight Cruise, Fiordland

Getting to experience an overnight on the Milford Sound was something I was so excited about. Yet the entire drive from Queenstown it rained heavily and continued into the evening as we sailed out into the Sound. However, this is not unusual in Fiordland and creates a moody atmosphere and dozens of new waterfalls. And the weather didn’t stop us heading out by tender for a more intimate view of the scenery and wildlife. The following morning, however, the rain had stopped, and I was up before dawn to experience Milford Sound in all its glory. I felt like the only person on earth experiencing this magical moment.


Gondola, Luge & Dinner, Queenstown

From Milford, it was back to Queenstown. I love Queenstown! It is such a cool place. The fact that this buzzing town is on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains feels unusual, but it works. There are plenty of exciting things to do and the one I was able to experience was iconic once again. I took the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak where a thrilling Luge ride awaited. I felt like I was on Mario Karts just with an incredibly scenic view of Queenstown lights down below. The experience was completed with dinner at the top of the mountain. Buffett style, the choice was amazing. I’m not sure I have ever seen so many different desserts!


All Blacks Experience & Harbour Cruise, Auckland

You can’t visit New Zealand and not encounter rugby in some form or another. It is more than the national sport. It’s the national obsession! Therefore, spending couple of hours at the All Blacks Experience in Grand SkyCity, Auckland just felt right. You don’t have to be a rugby fan to enjoy it, and you’ll certainly learn a bit about the sport. Sometimes ex-players are in attendance, but even without All Blacks present, there is interactive fun and games along the way!

Almost as iconic in Auckland is sailing – this is after all, the City of Sails. Heading out into the harbour for an afternoon sail as we approached sunset was very relaxing. It’s most fun if the wind is up and the crew are working hard to pick up speed! You also have the chance to take the wheel and unleash your inner sailor.

new zealand-rugby-ball-astk

Feeling inspired?

If you’d like to start planning your own adventure, browse our holidays to New Zealand, call us on 01737 214 250, or you can send an enquiry to our Kiwi travel specialists to start discussing your options.