I cant wait to go back. NZ has a fabulous reputation as a country to visit, and in my opinion, well deserved. However, nobody’s perfect, and, writing from personal experience as a visitor, there are parts that either ‘miss’ or where you have to plan your visit carefully. It’s a matter of preference too, and what’s not great for me, might be your top destination.
There are (or were) a LOT of tourists. But, predictably, they do tend to swarm in a few honeypots. In those places, the normally friendly NZ welcome is hard to find. Lacklustre service, overstretched facilities and poorly trained, inexperienced staff from all over the world, earning a bit of extra cash to fund their travels, wasn’t ideal. When I go back, I’ll be avoiding Queenstown. When visiting Auckland, I’ll avoid the busier places (Devonport, across the water, was lovely). Choose any organised trip within NZ carefully: trips are well organised, but I felt very ‘processed’. The more remote, smaller outfits were a better bet for me. I heard some real horror stories about coach tours. When travelling with my Ramblers group, we were privileged, our itinerary took us off the beaten track and we had the flexibility to adapt our plans to suit the weather and the interests of the group.
Arguably, no visit is complete without visiting Milford sound or Doubtful Sound, but it’s busy. We stayed overnight on a boat in Milford, that was amazing, but a day trip there would have felt very ‘crowded’ (probably because it isn’t crowded at all, you just get shipped around IN a crowd). Doubtful Sound is just as spectacular, a little quieter, and overnight would be best. Stay in Te Anau to avoid the Queenstown madness.
Dunedin felt a little old fashioned and dull (sorry, Dunedin) although the main museum is startlingly good and it did redeem itself with incredibly helpful and welcoming people (same old story, it’s away from the honeypots….). And the railway station is an art deco marvel. The albatross colony at the end of the nearby Otago Peninsula is an obvious draw, but feels like a money making machine. The trick here to really see and learn about the birds (and they are definitely worth seeing) is to take a boat trip and view form sea. Fantastic.
Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier need a mention. There are many lovely hikes around here, and I will certainly visit again, but unless you take an expensive helicopter ride, be warned: views of the glaciers are underwhelming, it’s just not safe to get close enough. But I admit, I am a bit choosy when it comes to glaciers……
As part of the Covid 19 economic rescue package, the NZ government is creating some 11,000 environment jobs, investing in nature (conservation, bio diversity etc). Impressive and forward thinking. I wonder what it will be like when New Zealand opens up to visitors again. It will be a long time yet, they are being, understandably super cautious. I’ll be first in the queue.