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9 reasons New Zealand should be on your bucket list

May 03, 2020
9 min read
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Editor’s note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials note that the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. We are publishing travel deals and destination content because we should all use this time to think about and plan our next adventures. TPG doesn’t advise booking trips for travel until the late spring or early summer — and even then be mindful of cancellation policies.

Isolation keeping us grounded has given us all time to think about what travel we will take when it's safe to do so again. Bucket list trips are a popular topic right now, as travelers hunker down at home during the coronavirus pandemic and plan these trips.

New Zealand may not be as well known as its much larger neighbor Australia, but even if you have been to Australia many times before, NZ, the "Land of the Long White Cloud" is completely different. If you're interested in spectacular scenery especially, it punches well above its weight. It's as diverse as several continents rolled into one -- sweeping mountains, enormous glaciers, relaxing hot springs, sandy beaches and rugged coastlines. Here's why you should and see for yourself.

1. There are plenty of ways to get there

Yes, New Zealand is a long way from the U.S. It's literally the other side of the world, and even farther than Australia. Interestingly, it's a similar distance if you travel east or west. While you're going to spend a full day on an aircraft regardless of the routing, there are loads of different carriers that fly one stop from to Auckland (AKL), and some to secondary cities like Christchurch (CHC) and Wellington (WLG).

To break up the journey, you could stop over somewhere along the way, sleep in a proper bed and experience a new culture/country. Think Dubai (DXB) with Emirates, Bangkok (BKK) with Thai Airways, or Seoul (ICN) with Korean. There's plenty of competition, which is great for travelers -- there's often great cash fares as well as plenty of points redemption opportunities.

(Photo Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg / Getty Images)
(Photo Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

2. Breathtaking scenery

This is the absolute best thing about visiting New Zealand, in my opinion. It's not a huge country geographically but prepare for your jaw to drop when you see just how incredible and diverse the scenery is.

"I think every person dreams of finding an enchanted place with beautiful mountains and breathtaking coastlines, clear lakes and amazing wildlife, but most people give up on it because they've never been to New Zealand," President Bill Clinton once said.

There is virtually no other country on earth with scenery as diverse as New Zealand, and you won't have to spend weeks driving across a massive country to see it either.

New Zealand is made up of two islands -- the North Island and the South Island. If you only have time for one island, then I'd recommend the South over the North, as I think the scenery is slightly better.

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UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2004: New Zealand, South Island, Te Wahipounamu, Fiordland National Park, Milford Track, river Arthur. (Photo By DEA / C. DANI I. JESKE/De Agostini via Getty Images)
New Zealand, South Island. (Photo By DEA/C. DANI I. JESKE/De Agostini via Getty Images)

3. Lord of the Rings

If you're a Lord of the Rings fan, you may be aware that the trilogy was filmed entirely in New Zealand. The landscape around the Waikato town of Matamata was the setting for Middle Earth and a permanent tourist attraction remains that you can visit. The capital city of Wellington is home to Mount Victoria, which was the setting for Hobbiton Woods.

Given you have time, why not watch or rewatch the entire trilogy on the flight to New Zealand?

4. The adventure capital of the world

My favorite place in New Zealand is the town of Queenstown. It's famous for many reasons -- it's absolutely beautiful (especially the first glimpse of the town nestled next to the lake as you drive in from the north) and in winter, it's a perfect base to hit the ski fields nearby.

But perhaps the best reason is because Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world. There are loads of hair-raising, adrenaline-busting activities you can try your hand at — from bungee jumping, which was first operated commercially in New Zealand, to ski diving, to jet boating and white water rafting.

Try these out on an empty stomach just in case the thrills become a bit much, which will save room to celebrate afterwards with a legendary Ferg Burger, arguably the most famous dish in Queenstown.

A bungy jumper from The AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump, Queenstown New Zealand. The Kawarau Bridge Bungy jump was the World's first Commercial bungy Jump and opened in 1988. The 43m jump attracts tens of thousands of bungy jumpers each year. Queenstown, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand. 30th March 2011. Photo Tim Clayton.. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
A bungee jumper from The AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungee Jump, Queenstown. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis/ Getty Images)

5. Excellent wine

New Zealand is a great climate for growing wine. If you've ever had a good glass of sauvignon blanc there's a good chance it came from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. If you enjoy a crisp, dry white like this, then head to the north tip of the South Island where loads of Marlborough wineries welcome you for tasting and gourmet food. Sauvignon Blanc makes up 75% of New Zealand's almost 79 million gallons of produced wine each year.

If you prefer red wine, my favorite style, pinot noir, is famous in the Canterbury region of New Zealand -- and yes, that's where the rugby clothing company started more than 100 years ago.

6. Great skiing

New Zealand might not be the first place you think of to ski, but it has some fantastic ski fields in the South Island, which can rival the Northern Hemisphere skiing hotspots. The skiing in New Zealand will usually be much better than in Australia, where you can also ski.

While you can't sleep on the mountains themselves, each ski field has plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to keep you going all day and then Queenstown has excellent nightlife if you want to party into the night.

Related: From Cyprus to Australia: 5 unusual skiing destinations

View over Queenstown from the Gondola, with Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables, Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand, Oceania. (Photo by Matteo Colombo/Getty Images)
View over Queenstown from a gondola. (Photo by Matteo Colombo/Getty Images)

7. Most everyone speaks English

You probably already know this, but you won't need any foreign language skills at all -- English is the de facto official language of New Zealand. You can expect locals to be laid back, friendly and helpful -- don't be afraid to ask for help if you're lost.

8. Amazing fjords

Forget Norway. As part of the spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer, you can cruise through incredible fjords. The granddaddy of fjords in New Zealand is Milford Sound, consistently rated as one of the world's best tourist destinations, and even proclaimed as the "eighth wonder of the world" by Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling.

Milford Sound is possible as a (very long) day trip from Queenstown though it's a much easier experience if you overnight nearby before and after.

The majestic Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park. (Photo by Southern Lightscapes-Australia/Getty Images)

9. It's the gateway to the Pacific Islands

If you've come all the way to New Zealand, think about spending a little more time to explore the region. Some of the most spectacular tropical islands in the world are located in the South Pacific, and Auckland is the perfect place to explore them from. There's the Cook Islands, a popular tropical island destination for Kiwis given its proximity to the country. There's stunning French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and plenty more.

Scenes from life in the Cook Islands on December 17, 2009 in Cook Islands, South Pacific. The Cook Islands are a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand. The fifteen small islands in this South Pacific Ocean country have a total land area of 240 square kilometres and a population no bigger than a small New Zealand country town, 13,200 souls. These unique and friendly Polynesians have their own language and government and enjoy a vigorous and diverse culture with significant differences between each island. Despite some 100,000 visitors a year to the capital island Ð Rarotonga Ð the Cooks are largely unspoiled by tourism. They offer a rare opportunity for people from the cities of the world to experience a different type of vacation. There are no high-rise hotels, only four beach buggies and very little hype. Ideal for travellers seeking more than the usual cliches associated with the South Seas, each island has its unique qualities and offers the visitor a special experience.
Cook Islands, South Pacific. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Bottom line

New Zealand packs an amazing amount to offer into a country around the same size as the United Kingdom, land mass-wise. The long flights will soon be forgotten as you experience truly breath-taking natural scenery, plenty to do and see, friendly, safe locals and fantastic gourmet food and drinks (especially that white wine!).

Featured image by Marina Mathews

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Pros

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  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees