With summer in full swing in the Southern Hemisphere right now, there is no better place to visit than New Zealand. Around the Christmas period temperatures are starting to rise and it will be the nicest weather of the year. Also, the sun is out a lot more than the rest of the year, so it’s the perfect time to check out all of New Zealand’s beautiful coastlines, amazing landscapes, and awesome hikes. Wear your jandals the whole summer, grab yourself some fish & chips during sunset or have a barbie on the beach and your Kiwi summer will be sweet as! Seriously, nothing beats a New Zealand summer. To make sure you will have the best time of your life, we made a list of the 15 best places you can’t miss during your summer trip!
Remember: the UV levels are extremely high during New Zealand summer, so make sure you are always wearing sunscreen!
Bay of Islands
We’re kicking off with one of New Zealand’s most popular summer destinations: Bay of Islands. About 200km above Auckland you can find some of the most stunning coastlines. It’s called Bay of Islands for a reason, and you can guess what that is 😉 With its location up north you are almost guaranteed of nice weather here. Your visit won’t be complete without a day cruise through the bay, taking you to some of the most beautiful islands. Be aware that it will get crowded here during the summer holidays, so make sure to book your accommodation in advance.
The Coromandel Peninsula is the locals favorite New Zealand summer holiday destination. And for a good reason: the beaches and coastline here are amazing! The Peninsula is located at the same height as Auckland, but a huge bay in between makes sure that it is nothing like the big city! The main attractions are:
- Hot Water Beach, which has a hot water spring underneath the beach that you can only reach during low tide. You can dig your private hot spring 2 hours either side of low tide.
- Cathedral Cove: a beach with a tunnel cove which leads you to a second beach (only reachable at low tide). Ideal for hiking, kayaking or a boat trip. The walk starts from Hahei, which also offers one of the most beautiful beaches of the area.
But the attractions are definitely not limited to those two. Take the scenic drive up north from Thames, it’s a curvy road along the shore of the bay. Discover the rough roads of the far North where you have the mesmerizing Coromandel Coastal Walkway. The Peninsula also inhabits New Zealand’s most beautiful beach: New Chums Beach which is hidden away and best reached during low tide. Another nice drive is the 309 road. This 22km long gravel road takes you straight through the middle of the Peninsula with scenic stops along the way. A big part of the peninsula is covered by the Coromandel Forest Park, and we can really recommend the tough but amazing Pinnacles Walk. In our opinion, the Coromandel is the best beach destination in New Zealand, and summer is the best time to visit!
East Cape & Gisborne
The East Cape is an area that hardly any tourists visit. The SH35 – Pacific Coast Highway takes you all around the cape with small villages rich of Maori culture and secluded bays. At the far east point, you can find the East Cape Lighthouse, where the sun rises the first of the whole world! If you want to escape the big summer crowds, the East Cape is the place to be! And when you make it to Gisborne, make sure you also visit the Te Rere Rock slides 40km from the city. Bring a bodyboard to slide down this natural slide.
First sunrise of the world
Tongariro National Park
Located in the center of the North Island, the Tongariro National Park offers one of the most beautiful and famous hikes of New Zealand: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. And that is exactly the reason why you should visit this park during summer. It’s a tough 20km hike taking you over active volcanoes, through huge craters, and showing you the most beautiful lakes and sceneries. The walk climbs up from 800m to a 1886m and consists out of boardwalks, loose gravel, and steep rocks, so good weather is a necessity for a safe hike. Summer offers you the best chance. Beside this walk, the park has many scenic smaller hikes, more amazing volcanoes, and stunning waterfalls.
Mount Maunganui, also know as ‘the Mount’, is a buzzing town on a small peninsula next to the city of Tauranga. With its long, white beaches and good vibes in town, it’s an ideal summer destination! Don’t forget to climb up to the iconic mountain Mauao. This 232m high hill is located at the end of the peninsula and from the top you have a beautiful view over the long stretched surf beach. Located on the east coast of the North Island this spot is ideal to watch the sun come up. Can’t miss during your New Zealand summer!
Further below Gisborne, you can find the huge Hawke’s Bay area with the two biggest towns, Napier and Hastings. The two towns together are NZ’s Art Deco capital, because of the style that the towns have been built up after the devastating earthquake in 1931. This area often has the best weather of New Zealand: mild winters and beautiful, hot summers! So if you want a true hot New Zealand summer, then head here! It’s also famous as a wine country, and you can’t miss out on visiting some of the most beautiful vineyards, best visited in late summer. You can find many waterfalls around, which are ideal for a plunge during the warmer weather months. Te Mata Peak gives you a great view over the area and inland you’ll find Lake Waikaremoana, a stunning lake which offers great hikes and beautiful scenery.
On the west side of the North Island is the most perfect mountain Mount Taranaki, located in the Egmont National park. The perfect volcano has a lot of similarities to Mount Fuji in Japan, it is even used as the background of the movie ‘The Last Samurai’. Although we have been there in winter, we have to say that summer is much better! Not only can you find some of the best surfing beaches of New Zealand around the mountain, but it’s also the best time to do some of the beautiful walking tracks, like the 3-day Pouakai Circuit. The huts along the circuit are definitely better to stay in during Summer and the paths are better accessible without snow. If you don’t have time for 3 days you can also do a day hike to the Pouakai Tarns via the Mangorei Track. On top of the mountain is always snow, but during summer you even have the opportunity to hike all the way to the top!
Abel Tasman National Park
The smallest National Park of New Zealand, but one that you should not miss this summer! If you can’t choose between chilling on the beach, or doing a nice hike, this is the place to combine the best of both! In the north of the South Island, this long stretch of coastline offers beautiful hikes and gorgeous golden beaches. You can walk the complete Abel Tasman Coast Track in about 3 days and stay overnight, but make sure that you book your accommodation way in advance! Another option is to buy a ticket for the boat taxi. You can choose where you will be dropped off, and how far you want to hike before you will be picked up again. Or you can combine hiking and kayaking. The area is so beautiful that you can easily spend 3 days or more in the National Park.
The Golden Bay area is a bit off the track, located above the Tasman Bay and the Abel Tasman National Park, but definitely worth a visit! Firstly, the scenic route takes you via Takaka up to the bay and you can find the most scenic lookouts along the way with beautiful waterfalls and the clearest springs you’ve ever seen. Secondly, the beaches are just amazing with a gorgeous golden color, hence the name. It’s also a beautiful place for kayaking, so it’s ideal to visit in summer. At the northern point of the bay, you can find Wharariki beach with its iconic rock formations and it’s also the place where Farewell Spit start.
This is a hard one because the West Coast is also great to visit during winter, because it provides a stunning backdrop on the Southern Alps! Although summer slightly wins for us, because even during summer you can still see snow on the mountains and go helihiking on the glaciers, but then with better temperatures! It stretches all the way from Westport to Haast, 400km, and offers a beautiful coastal drive, In this stretch of land there only live 31.000 people. Some of the highlights of this road trip are the Punakaiki Pancake rocks, Hokitika Gorge, Fox, and Franz Josef glaciers and it ends with the beautiful Haast Pass to Wanaka and Queenstown. Make sure to bring some insect repellant because you will be walking bait to all the sandflies.
Queenstown is the adrenalin capital of New Zealand. There are so many thrilling activities over here, like bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boat rides, and much more. But that’s not all: it has the most beautiful and amazing landscapes. A visit to New Zealand isn’t complete without a visit to Queenstown, and many people that have visited would say that this is their favorite town of the country. To be honest: Queenstown is a place you can easily visit any time of the year but, of course, the best weather is during the summer months, which is ideal for the many, many beautiful hikes in the area. You can also go up with the Skyline Gondola to admire the beautiful area from above. Or visit the two ski-areas Coronet Peak and the Remarkables. Skiing won’t be possible during this season, but the views are truly magnificent! Don’t forget to visit Glenorchy as well, a small town close to Queenstown with a stunning drive towards it.
Close to Queenstown you’ll find the smaller place Wanaka, located at the edge of Lake Wanaka. It’s also an extremely popular town to visit, mainly because of the amazing surroundings. The summers are hot and dry, ideal for hiking, cycling and perfect for water sports. Calculate enough time for all the stunning hikes because there are a lot! One of the most famous places in Wanaka is the Wanaka Tree. Standing in the water, this must be the most photographed tree of New Zealand. Sunbathing around the lake during summer is also not a bad way to spend time. Yes, Wanaka is definitely one of our favorite towns for a real New Zealand summer!
Kaikoura is a small town, 2 hours north of Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island, and is famous for all its ocean wildlife. That is also the reason why you should visit this place in summer. It’s here that you can swim with wild seals and playful dusky dolphins. In summer the water is already ice cold, so imagine how it would be in winter! Luckily, a thick wetsuit will keep you warm for this amazing experience. Besides the sea life encounters, you can also go on a whale watching tour.
Deep in the South Island, you can find Fiordland, with one of New Zealand’s highlights: Milford Sound. It is a 120 km one-way drive which you’ll have to return as well, but it is so worth it. Along the way, there are many beautiful hikes and even one of the 10 great walks of New Zealand. The Milford sound itself are spectacular mountain peaks that drop down into the dark waters. Busses full of tourists come here to go on a cruise, and the cruise is beautiful but we really recommend to check out the hikes as well! The sunrise is spectacular here if it is not too clouded. It rains a lot in this place so to have the best chance of good weather you’ll have to go during summer.
Last but not least: our favorite part in New Zealand! You definitely should not skip the Mackenzie District on the South Island! In this region, you’ll find the highest top of New Zealand: Mount Cook and right beside it you’ll find the Tasman Glacier. While it’s also an amazing place to visit in winter, we definitely prefer summer. Two reasons: beautiful weather with still having snow AND lupins! The tops of the mountains are covered in snow all year round and the glacial lakes here are amazing. There are often icebergs floating around, especially during summer when the glacier melts harder. Also in the Mackenzie District is Lake Tekapo. It is one of the bluest lakes we have ever seen and in the early summer you can see lupins flowering up the area. And maybe you can even take a dip in the ice cold water during summer 😉 Also, the Mackenzie District is a Dark Sky Reserve which means that there is almost no light pollution. The night sky is really incredible, so don’t stop exploring after sunset!
Where to Stay
Of course, the best way to travel around in New Zealand is by campervan! That way you have the freedom to go wherever you want and it’s also cheaper than staying in ho(s)tels. Please note that summer is peak season in New Zealand and the popular campgrounds are often full way in advance so bookings are necessary!
It’s also possible to drive a car and stay in hotels during your trip around New Zealand. This will be more expensive but gives you a bit more luxury.
We hope that this information makes your New Zealand trip even more amazing than it will be anyway. Let us know in the comment which place you have already visited or want to visit this summer!
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