New Zealand: Plan your dream trip

Caroline Cassidy

The spectacular scenery of New Zealand wowed many a filmgoer thanks to the big screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, but there's more to Middle Earth than just the view.

New Zealand holidays
New Zealand holidays

Pic: Corbis

In fact, whether you're a thrill-seeking adventurer, a wildlife fan or are just hoping to relax with a glass of vino, New Zealand has it all. We check out the highlights, things to do, and the how, when and where of the Antipodean islands.

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Being surrounded by water, New Zealand's climate is a temperate one with moderate rainfall throughout the year.

Summer lasts from December to February, and this is the time to enjoy the many water sports on offer, or take advantage of the long, sunny days and mild evenings. This is also the time of year when you'll find festivals, concerts and sporting events taking place. However, from mid-December to early February there are a host of school and public holidays, so if you are hoping for a quieter time, the autumn and spring periods may turn out to be the better option.

In autumn, from March to May, temperatures are a little cooler but still comfortable, and in spring (September to November), it's worth checking out the blossom festival in Alexandra, Central Otago, and Hastings in Hawke's Bay. If you're heading for the rapids, this is the most exciting time as the melting snow guarantees an unforgettable thrill ride.

As winter hits in June, the colder weather hits and the mountain ranges on both islands provide fabulous skiing. Whatever time of year suits you best, it's worth remembering that the weather can change quickly in New Zealand, so be prepared with a good selection of clothing.

British passport holders can enter New Zealand as a tourist and stay for up to six months without a visa, provided you don't plan on working. It is, however, important to visit your doctor eight weeks before you plan on travelling, to check whether you need any vaccinations.

As for travel on the islands themselves, there are reasonably-priced domestic flights and regular ferries from the North to the South Islands, as well as a good public transport system. But if you plan to be on the move, hiring a car is a great way to get around.

Things to do, places to see
With a landscape that includes mountains, sandy beaches, bush, plains and fiords, the possibilities are many and varied, and as the home of bungee jumping, black-water rafting and zorbing, it's an adrenaline junkie's dream.

The North Island
The North Island boasts vibrant cities in the shape of Auckland and Wellington and stunning beaches around the Bay of Plenty, while Hawke's Bay is wine country. The North Island is also where you'll find plenty of geothermal hotspots. Try The Coromandel, where you can dig your own personal bubbling pool at Hot Water Beach, or head to Rotorua, where you'll find geysers, hot springs and boiling mud pools.

At Matamata, south of Auckland, you can see the Hobbiton Movie Set with your own eyes, and immerse yourself in the lush land of The Shire in the Hamilton & Waikato region. And a trip to the Waitomo Caves, where glowworms light the stalactites and stalagmites, is well worth it.

Throughout New Zealand runs the rich history and culture of the Maori people. Take in a guided tour of Mount Hikurangi or the kauri forest at Waipoua to hear about the myths and legends surrounding the islands' indigenous people.

The South Island
On the South Island, the mountains at Lake Wanaka offer the best skiing and snowboarding, while the lake itself is ideal for kayaking or sailing, and there is fishing, hiking, climbing and skydiving to be done all year round.

Fiordland, in the south of the island, is where you'll find breath-taking scenery, including the Sutherland Falls, and a kayak is the best way to take it all in.
Within two hours of the airport, Canterbury offers golf, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, whale watching and hiking, and a balloon ride over the stunning plains is a must if you're in the area.

Where you go in New Zealand rather depends on what you're looking for in a holiday. Those who have already enjoyed what the islands have to offer have one piece of advice - don't try to do it all in a two-week break.

Where and what would you recommend seeing and doing in New Zealand? Leave your comments below...