Wellington Bay, New Zealand's capital city

Compare the best New Zealand flights

The Maori refer to it as the “land of the long white cloud”. Film fans know it as 'Lord of the Rings' country. Four million people and 40 million sheep call it home. Whatever you think you know about New Zealand, prepare to suspend your beliefs and dive into the one of the greatest outdoor playgrounds in the Southern Hemisphere.

Why go?

Home to some of the most awe-inspiring scenery on the planet, there's so much to do, see and enjoy in New Zealand...

Welcome to New Zealand or “kia ora” as the locals say. A country of soaring mountains, magnificent fjords, shimmering lakes, a range of wildlife, a rich history, Maori culture, quirks of nature, surf and swimming spots, fantastic ski slopes, vibrant cities, and world-renowned wine, of course.

On the North Island, the Art Deco city of Napier in the Hawke's Bay region, the famous surf and sandy bays of Gisborne, and the wilds of the North Cape compete for the attention of tourists.

Wonderful hiking trails, such as those on the Kapiti Coast near Wellington, and the well-known Milford Track (trekking is known as tramping in New Zealand), plus the thermal springs and geysers of Rotorua, also attract visitors to this diverse land.

And if all that sounds a little exhausting, why not relax with a picnic of some local New Zealand lamb, kiwifruit (named for the country's national bird), a glass of home-grown wine, with Anchor butter on your bread and Cadbury chocolate to finish? Cadbury chocolate? Yes, there's a Cadbury World to visit in Dunedin on the South Island and, what with New Zealand's clean and wonderful countryside feeding its population of dairy cattle, you might just taste the creamiest chocolate ever.

Many visitors, especially backpackers, choose to tour New Zealand with a camper van. Van rentals, plus normal car hire rentals, are available at the major international airports. Booking in advance is strongly advised.

How to get there

Sitting pretty in the South Pacific Ocean, flights to New Zealand take around 24 hours, and include one or two stops, usually in the Middle East, Australia and the USA...

Divided between the North Island and South Islands, plus a handful of smaller islands, New Zealand sprawls across the ocean like a stretching cat. The main international airports on the North Island are in Auckland (AKL), New Zealand's largest city, and Wellington (WLG), which is the nation's rather windy capital and home to the fascinating Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand) - as well as a population of city-dwelling penguins.

The airport in Christchurch (CHC) is the main gateway to the pleasures of the South Island, which include the dramatic Fjordlands, the Southern Alps and playground-central Queenstown, where skiing is just one of the outdoor activities to be enjoyed.

Getting to and from the airport

Each of the major airports in New Zealand is well serviced with transport options...

New Zealand has a growing economy and this is reflected in its investment in tourism. In the last 20 years, each of the main airports (Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Queenstown) has improved its transport links into cities. You can now travel easily by train, bus and, in some cases, express shuttles.

For those on a budget, New Zealand's bus network is a good option and there are regular runs from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch airports into the centres.

Where to stay?

As such a vast country, you can expect a wonderful variety of accommodation options and places to stay...

Most first-time tourists to New Zealand opt for a city stay initially and then head out to the incredible countryside or coast roads. For this reason, car or campervan hire is hugely popular.

While city accommodation in places like Auckland, Queenstown and Wellington is of international standards, do factor in that outside the huge cities the quality of hotels can range from home-from-home bed and breakfasts to characterless lodges and motels.

The size of the country has led to a big increase in private homeowners opening their doors to travellers and it is worth doing your homework in advance (check reviews) to ensure you are not disappointed.

Depending on your itinerary - not everyone can spend a month or two discovering this beautiful country - a two-week holiday can include a city break combined with a beach or mountain stay.

Growing in popularity is the luxurious resort of Eagles Nest in Russell along the Bay of Islands. Christchurch is a good choice for those who appreciate an 'oldy worldy' atmosphere thanks to its older architecture. Another popular place to stay is Azur, in old Queens¬town, which is one of the country's most charming destinations.

Wherever you go, be sure to find yourself stopping often to take in the breath-taking vistas.