New Zealand’s Top Ten – insider information from an American Expat

Published: 13 May at 11 AM
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Filed: Expat Living,New Zealand

Local Expert Series: New Zealan'd top ten by Diane Morgan

You can read all the guide books you want but let me cut to the chase – I’ve been in New Zealand for nearly six years by now and these are my favorite NZ experiences. Please note most of these are warm weather activities. (Summer occurs in New Zealand between December and March!) If you want to avoid crowds, February and March are your best bet as school holidays run from Christmas until around Waitangi Day (6 February). Just remember your sun screen and a wind-proof jacket. New Zealand's weather can be pretty unpredictable, so make sure you're prepared. Enjoy!

  1. Mueller Hut, Mt. Cook Village
    If you’re after jaw-dropping views of mountains and glaciers, Mueller Hut’s for you. Head north from Twizel to Mt. Cook Village and buy your overnight hut passes from the DOC office near the Hermitage. The hike up to the hut takes about 3-4 hours and will knock your socks off! Be sure to bring warm clothing so you can enjoy the sunset and the sunrise.

    Diane at Mueller Hut with Mt. Cook in the background
    Diane at Mueller Hut with Mt. Cook in the background

  2. White Island, Bay of Plenty
    There’s only a few tour operators who can take you out to White Island, an active volcano in the Bay of Plenty. The high speed catamarans leave from Whakatane every few hours and a local guide will show you around the crater of a gurgling, bubbling volcano. The colours, sounds and sights are just awesome.

    White Island
    White Island

  3. Mt. Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park
    Most tourists will walk the Tongariro Crossing, which is a spectacular hike through the North Island’s volcanic plateau. However if you’d like to get off the beaten track – and avoid the crowds of hundreds on the Crossing – I’d recommend walking straight up Mt. Ruapehu. Drive straight up to the Whakapapa ski field parking lot and walk up from there. If you want to save your knees and spend more time in the higher, snowier altitudes, take the chair lift halfway up.
  4. Te Papa Museum, Wellington
    Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum and it’s right on Wellington’s waterfront. It houses all sorts of cool exhibits, ranging from the Treaty of Waitangi to the giant squid. I particularly love the section on Polynesian voyaging canoes. Come along and learn about NZ’s history – entry is free!
  5. A night out in Wellington
    Having lived in the capital for nearly six years, I’m partial to a night out in Wellington. I’d kick off the evening at my favourite restaurant, the Boulcott Street Bistro. After stuffing myself silly with their signature filet bernaise, I’d digest during a movie at the Embassy Theatre, the most beautiful movie theatre I’ve ever seen. For drinks, I’d vote for either Hashigo Zake for beers or The Library for cocktails. Then it’s Courtenay Place or Cuba Street for dancing!
  6. Snowboarding near Queenstown
    If you’re into winter sports, head down to Queenstown from June – September. Two years ago, we spent a week in a re-furbished gold miner’s cottage in the Gibbston Valley. It was conveniently located between a few ski-fields and several fantastic vineyards!

    Gold Miner’s Cottage, Gibbston Valley, Otago
    Gold Miner’s Cottage, Gibbston Valley, Otago

  7. Mussel Inn, Takaka
    My favourite pub in New Zealand can be found in Golden Bay, on the northwest tip of the South Island. It’s called the Mussel Inn and should be visited after a day out exploring Farewell Spit. Wash down your mussels with a pint of Captain Cooker – and enjoy the live music if it’s on.
  8. Franz Josef Glacier Walk
    Halfway down the South Island’s West Coast, join a half day or full day guided tour of Franz Josef Glacier. They’ll give you the boots and crampons – just follow them through this icy wonderland!

    Franz Josef Glacier Walk
    Franz Josef Glacier Walk

  9. Kaikoura
    There’s just something magical about Kaikoura! Head out for a morning of whale watching and then take a walk around the Coastal Walkway. If you’re up for a more challenging hike, head up Mt. Fyffe, with a stop at the lavender farm on the way down. For dinner, grab some freshly fried white-bait fritters from the food vans or splurge on a fancy seafood dinner in town.
  10. Northland beaches and a walk up Mt. Manaia
    There are beaches for everyone in Northland – soft white sand that stretches for miles, secret pirate coves sheltered by pohutukawa trees, and even black sand beaches. A perfect day in Northland would include a hike up Mt. Manaia on Whangarei Heads followed by a refreshing surf session at Ocean Beach.

    View of Mt. Manaia, Whangarei Heads
    View of Mt. Manaia, Whangarei Heads

About the author

Local ExpertOriginally from Wyckoff, New Jersey, Diane Morgan left the US in 2002 on a Watson Fellowship and has lived abroad ever since. She spent a year in Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship, completed her masters in Amsterdam, and has sailed on boats all over the world. She has been living in Wellington, New Zealand, with her Welsh husband since September 2007. Diane is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and works for the NZ Government as a business improvement consultant. Outside of work, she enjoys going to ballet classes and the cinema, hiking, cooking, writing, and travelling.

If you have anything to add about your own experience relating to this article, or perhaps have a question for Diane please leave her a comment below!
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