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Farm Stays And Urban Adventures In New Zealand

AP Photo/Tourism New Zealand
A woman views the Mueller Glacier in New Zealand's Mount Cook National Park in this undated photo.

It could be argued that New Zealand bears at least a mild resemblance to the Pacific Northwest. It’s got rugged terrain, lush vegetation and, of course, plenty of water nearby. But that’s where the similarities end.

“When it’s dark and cold, and gray and depressing here, it’s absolutely stunning and sunny there,” said KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley.

Its placement in the southern hemisphere makes Seattle’s winter the perfect opportunity to enjoy a New Zealand summer.

Getting There

Brumley recommends Air New Zealand out of Vancouver, British Columbia or San Francisco.

“It’s the best economy flight I’ve ever flown in my life,” he said. “It’s 12-plus hours, but it’s so comfortable that if you haven’t finished your movie, you’re going to wish they’d just circle the island a few times.”

Our sample itinerary, below, is going to send you down the length of the country, so plan to fly back out of Christchurch.

On The Ground

Credit Jaafar Alnasser / Flickr
Auckland is New Zealand's most populous city. Sky Tower, left, is nearly twice the height of the Space Needle.

Start in Auckland, the country’s largest city with roughly 1.4 million people — about a third of the country’s total population. You can try kayaking in the bay, or a host of sites and attractions including Mount Eden, which affords spectacular views of the skyline.

Head south to Rotorua, where you can find natural splendor and Maori culture. The area is also known for its geothermal features, including geysers and hot pools.

Farther south near Napier, you’ll find New Zealand’s wine country, and art-deco architecture. And just beyond is “windy Wellington,” the capital city. Wellington is home to a biennial jazz festival, museums and cultural attractions, and movie studios in nearby Miramar. New Zealand was the shooting location for The Lord of the Rings films, among others.

The South Island

A ferry takes you from Wellington to the South Island. And that’s where you grab a train.

Credit Christopher Chan / Flickr
Milford Sound's incredible scenery is one of the main tourist attractions on New Zealand's South Island.

KiwiRail takes you from Picton, on the other side of Cook Strait from Wellington, as far south as Christchurch. The largest city on the South Island, it’s been growing since a rash of earthquakes caused widespread damage a few years ago. Besides having the attractions any city might, Christchurch is a jumping off point for Antarctic exploration. You can learn more about that at the International Antarctic Centre.

In the far south, you’ll find glaciers and the spectacular Milford Sound, a fjord with rocky green peaks shooting straight up out of the sea.

Getting Around And Staying Put

For getting around, rent a camper van. The total driving distance, north to south, is about the same as Seattle to Los Angeles. But a lot of that is wiped out if you take the train on the South Island.

For lodging, you’ll have an array of options including traditional hotels. But Brumley recommends farm stays. 

“New Zealand is all about its agriculture and its nature, so it’s a great way to get grounded in New Zealand,” he said. “Get back to earth and be part of the community.”

You’ll need a few weeks to do this itinerary, but of course you can always pick a segment and focus on that, too.

“You could spend a lifetime in New Zealand,” Brumley said.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.