WHERE: Located on the Eastern side of the North Island, ‘The Mount,’ as it’s colloquially known, is a relaxed beach-side town with sweeping views, and a sheltered inner harbour. Its peak, Mauao (as it’s known in Maori) rises 230 metres above sea level and is a well worth the hour-long walk it takes to get to the summit. With a mild climate and a perpetual holiday feel, ‘The Mount’ should be on any traveller's bucket list.
WHY: Sarah’s a self-confessed beach buff, so the fact that this place is top of her list is a no-brainer. “Anywhere with a bit of surf and sand and I’m in my happy place. What I like most about the Mount is it still retains a small-town feel, despite being a popular holiday destination. The beach seems endless, and even on the busiest days you never feel crowded. There's nothing better than relaxing on the sand and watching the huge freighters crossing the horizon in the distance,” she said.
WHERE: A 35 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, Waiheke is tranquil escape on the outskirts of New Zealand’s largest city. A haven of beautiful beaches, vineyards and olive groves, the island is becoming known for its unique food and wine culture. If you're a fan of the outdoors, the Island also boasts many cliff-top trails, forest walks, and for those with an eye for history - a series of World War II gun emplacements and underground tunnels.
WHY: The perfect mix of food, wine and beautiful scenery, Sarah ranks Waiheke as a NZ must see. “What I love about Waiheke is that it's the perfect oasis in the middle of Auckland. You can be in the heart of the city in the morning, and relaxing on a pristine beach in the afternoon. I love its quirky vibe and artisan atmosphere, and there’s nothing better than exploring the boutique restaurants and eateries. Oh, and the wine. I really love the wine. Definitely make time to visit the vineyards while you're there,” Sarah explains.
WHERE: New Zealand’s southernmost region, Stewart Island is an hour long ferry ride from Bluff, or a 30 minute flight from Invercargill. Over 85 percent of the island is a National Park and the native little Brown Kiwi makes its home here. With 280 km of walking tracks crisscrossing the island, most people come here for the hiking and the wildlife. The main settlement is Halfmoon Bay, and there are only a handful of cafes and restaurants, as well as one shop.
WHY: Stewart Island is a wild and beautiful destination and its remoteness is one of the reasons Sarah likes this part of the world so much. “If ever I need a break from civilisation, Stewart Island is front of mind. I like that it isn't pretending to be anything it's not. The authenticity of the Island is refreshing, and a welcome escape from the trappings of suburbia,” She said. “The nature and bird life is truly astonishing, and I definitely recommend taking the time to visit Ulva Island, a protected bird sanctuary just offshore, home to dozens of native species,” Sarah explained.
WHERE: A 50 minute drive from Queenstown, Wanaka is a small lakeside resort town nestled at the foot of the Southern Alps. Best described as Queenstown’s laid-back little sister, Wanaka is the perfect mix of sensational scenery, fine dining and adventure. Gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park, Wanaka is home to an abundance of overnight hikes, scenic walks and lakeside activities. It is also the base for ski field's Cardrona and Treble Cone, and during the winter months the town’s population swells to over triple its size.
WHY: Sarah calls Wanaka her home, so naturally she loves to talk about its attributes. “Many travellers use Wanaka as a thoroughfare for other destinations, not as a destination itself - which in my opinion is a wasted opportunity. With some amazing outdoor activities on offer, beautiful scenery and world renowned wineries on your doorstep, this town is truly an adventure playground. Wanaka over delivers on every promise and is well worth visit,” Sarah said.
Note: You may need to consider an independent coach tour to include these must-see places in your New Zealand experience because they aren't on the most-well-travelled coach tour routes. That's part of their charm.