Sitting on the white sand sitting at Onetangi Beach—amid dazzling turquoise waters, colourful wildflowers and boldly painted food trucks serving up smash burgers and fresh ceviche—it takes me mere minutes to fall hard for Waiheke Island. But it takes much longer to experience all that northern New Zealand has to offer.
With 600-plus islands and more than 15,000 kilometres of coastline, there’s so much to explore in New Zealand that it’s difficult to check off the highlights of even just the North Island within a visit of one or two weeks. Why cram those top sights into an intense multi-day road trip if you can swing a leisurely extended stay?
Some destinations are simply too special to rush through. Long-stay vacations are a rising trend, thanks to more flexible time-off plans and remote-work scenarios. Embracing a slower pace of travel means not having to choose between restful beach days and exciting cultural experiences, both of which northern New Zealand offers plenty.
Long stays also make it more worthwhile to travel great distances. After all, it’s not easy to make it to Aotearoa, or “land of the long white cloud,” as New Zealand is known in
Māori. It takes more than 13 hours to fly directly to Auckland from Vancouver but it’s worth it.
And although the North Island is relatively compact (it’s a little larger than the island of Newfoundland), its winding hilly roads can add to your driving time, and unpredictable weather can sidetrack even the best-laid plans (tip: pack expecting to experience three seasons in a day).
Start your journey in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand and a hub for travellers. Rent a car and head south to the city of Rotorua and its numerous tourist attractions, then to the Northland to explore stunning subtropical beaches and fascinating historical sites.
The city’s corporate core has many hotels and apartments for rent, but you can also opt for a charming bungalow or spacious villa in the trendy suburbs of Ponsonby or Grey Lynn as your home base. Your urban forays must include the Auckland Art Gallery, shopping in Britomart, a swim in Kitekite Falls and a sunset hike up Mount Eden. Spend evenings mingling with the locals in the neighbourhood bars and restaurants near your rental.
Pick a sunny day to take the 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland to picturesque Waiheke Island for glimpses of olive groves and vineyards, pristine white sand beaches and brilliant blue waters around every bend. Reserve a Saturday morning for the famous Matakana Village Farmers’ Market, which is worth the hour-long drive north of the city, especially if you make time to visit Matakana Oysters and Sawmill Brewery.
One could easily spend a week or more sightseeing in and around Rotorua, which is almost three hours south of Auckland. Known for its geothermal activity and (sometimes strong) sulphur smell, this city also boasts world-class mountain biking trails. Get hands-on at a geothermal reserve and mud spa, go on a treetop walk in a redwood forest and watch a Māori cultural performance. From Rotorua, it’s an easy day trip to iconic tourist attractions, such as the Hobbiton movie set and the eerily lit Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
In the subtropical Northland region, about three hours north of Auckland, are beautiful orchards of persimmon, kiwifruit and mandarin trees—and more picture-perfect glorious
beaches. Take a scenic hike through a forest of majestic kauri trees, past stunning waterfalls. Stop by the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the country’s Declaration of Independence was signed in 1835. Admission tickets are good for two consecutive days, so you can take in, at your own pace, the site’s heritage buildings and two museums to find out more about Māori history and culture.
Stay a week or longer in each of these regions to explore the bounty of beaches and charming small towns. Having enough time to visit a destination’s bucket list of attractions and stumbling upon under-the-radar local gems—that’s the best part of the long-stay vacation.
BEFORE YOU GO
-Canadian passport holders need an approved electronic visa waiver, called a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA), to board their flight. Note that the application process can take more than 72 hours.
-Travellers planning to stay longer than three months must apply for a visitor visa, which takes at least 44 days to process.
-In New Zealand, travel insurance is required for some visa categories and is recommended for visitors using the NZeTA visa waiver.
-We recommend purchasing travel insurance as soon as you book your tickets. Our vacation package plans include full coverage to protect you from the costs of medical emergencies, trip cancellation and delays, as well as lost or damaged baggage.
Choose the right coverage for your trip. Visit amatravel.ca/travel-medical-insurance to get a quote.