Cities, culture and even caves abound in this country of contrasts, says Robin Barton. You can see both islands, try craft beers, go whale watching and practise your skiing all in one trip.
It’s possible to explore both islands in two weeks, although internal flights are recommended rather than driving long distances. Aim to spend slightly longer in the South Island.
Starting from Auckland, head south to the Waitomo Caves in Waikato, on the western side of the island. Here you’ll get a flavour of the country’s beauty, strangeness and adventurousness in one experience – floating in darkness through watery caverns full of glow-worms.
Emerging from this subterranean world into daylight, make the short hop to Lake Taupo. This region has two attractions: the volcanic Mars-like landscape of Mount Tongariro, and the outdoor activities around the lake.
Fishing, boating, hiking or sky-diving, in Taupo you can stay within your comfort zone or venture a little beyond it.
Bear south east to Napier, do some wine tasting around Hawkes Bay and grab a bit of beach time on the east coast around sunny Gisborne, before checking out the forests of Te Urewera National Park and its rich Maori culture.
From Napier, take a flight to Christchurch on the South Island. You’ll be spending eight or nine days here but there’s a lot to pack into them. A short drive up the coast is Kaikoura, New Zealand’s whale-watching capital – take a boat or plane trip to view any leviathans in the area.
Continue northwards to Nelson, one of New Zealand’s most ‘liveable’ cities with fantastic food, wine, art, crafts and festivals. This is also the craft brewing capital of New Zealand; a cycle trail, the Great Taste Trail, swings by several food, wine and beer producers.
After a sojourn in the city, continue to Abel Tasman National Park to explore its sheltered coves and warm waters on foot or by paddle.
The weather changes as you head south down the west coast. Rain and winds swirl around the coastline and scenery gives way to snow-tipped peaks, the tallest of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook, suitable only for experienced winter climbers.
To the south are the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, where helicopters ferry walkers onto the ice for a toe-chilling walk. The mountains are more accessible around Wanaka and Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure playground.
From here, it’s time to head back to Christchurch, making sure you stop at Bank’s Peninsula, named after James Cook’s talented on-board naturalist Joseph Banks, for a wildlife-watching boat trip.
With just a day in Christchurch, hire a bicycle to follow the Avon River; the Anglophone street names are no coincidence: this is New Zealand’s most English city.