Insider's Guide to New Zealand | Brownell Travel

Insider’s Guide to New Zealand

Maybe it’s the incredible scenery, maybe it’s the wine, or maybe it’s the friendly people…but whatever it is, New Zealand is a destination that seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. And if you are traveling across the world to this incredible spot, you need to do it right. And that’s where our partners at Southern Crossings come in. With years of experience and firsthand knowledge, they work with our team to create one-of-a-kind itineraries for our clients. To give you a taste of all that is New Zealand, they have shared the scoop for our Insider’s Guide to New Zealand.

*COVID-19 Update: Domestic travel has reopened in New Zealand as of Thursday, May 14 and we are waiting for official news as to when international borders will reopen.

When To Travel

  • Dec-Mar for the best weather, but do avoid the very busy festive dates if you can.
  • Sep-Nov or Apr-May for shoulder season rates and less tourists.

Where to Go


The northern tip of the North Island is known for its wealth of beaches and warm year round climate. There’s also rich Maori and colonial history throughout the region throughout the region as it’s known as The Birthplace of the Nation.

  • Don’t Miss: A charter cruise through the 144 islands.
  • Stay: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, Helena Bay, Eagles Nest, Tarapunga, The Landing Residences, The Glasshouse


By far the country’s largest city and the financial and Commercial capital and gateway city for all international arrivals.. The city graces two huge natural harbours filled with islands such as Waiheke, which blends fine island vineyards with spectacular coastal vistas.

  • Don’t Miss: A visit to Waiheke Island
  • Stay: Park Hyatt, Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour, Hilton Auckland, The Boatshed Waiheke Island, The Hotel Britomart

Central North Island

A large plateau where steam literally seeps out of the ground, as well as boiling pools of sulphur, mud and erupting geysers. Volcanic peaks and deep lakes dominate the landscape. Maori culture is at its best here, with a wide variety of experiences available.

  • Don’t Miss: Rich Maori culture in Rotorua.
  • Stay: Huka Lodge, Treetops Lodge, Solitaire Lodge, Poronui Lodge

Hawke’s Bay

The fertile countryside of the Hawke’s Bay is covered in orchards and vineyards. Charming towns such as the artists retreat of Havelock North and Art Deco Napier are must visits, and there is a surprisingly large number of luxury accommodations hidden amongst the vines.

  • Don’t Miss: Private guided cycling tour of the regions vineyards.
  • Stay: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Craggy Range Cottages, Greenhill Lodge


The nations capital city is compactly situated around a picturesque harbour and home to many fine national institutions such as Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. Movie fanatics must see Sir Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop here too.

  • Don’t miss: A visit to the ‘Beehive’ – New Zealand’s parliament where you can see debates in chamber and our current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
  • Stay: Intercontinental Hotel or further afield Wharekauhau Country Estate


Gateway to the gorgeous Abel Tasman National Park, a slice of paradise home to pristine golden sand beaches, amazing hiking tracks, and native rainforest. After a day out, relax with a hoppy brew in the towns burgeoning craft beer scene.

  • Don’t Miss: A day trip into the Abel Tasman National Park by boat for hiking or kayaking
  • Stay: Edenhouse, Falcon Brae Villa, Te Koi – The Lodge at Bronte, Stonefly Lodge


After rugby players and Lord of the Rings, perhaps New Zealand’s most famous export comes from this region, New Zealand’s widely acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc. Stay in a vineyard lodge, or venture further afield to the labyrinth of waterways that make up the Marlborough Sounds.

  • Don’t Miss: Cruising the Marlborough Sounds with a Sav in hand.
  • Stay: The Marlborough Lodge, Craggy Range ‘The Shack’ Villa, French Fields or further afield Bay of Many Coves

Christchurch and Canterbury

The long established stately country homes and manicured gardens of Christchurch remain, but the ever changing city centre is now a well planned maze of laneway boutiques and hip bars. The plains surrounding the city are a patchwork of farms, dotted with azure blue lakes and bordered by the soaring Southern Alps.

  • Don’t Miss: Swimming with the world’s smallest dolphins.
  • Stay: Hapuku Lodge (Kaikoura), The George Hotel, Otahuna Lodge, Annandale


New Zealand’s iconic alpine scenery is at its most dramatic here. The resort town is surrounded by snowcapped mountain peaks, ancient glaciers, dense rainforest and dark deep lakes. The ‘Adventure Capital of the World’ has almost every adrenaline activity possible, and some you’ve never heard of!

  • Don’t Miss: Helicopter excursion to Milford Sound.
  • Stay: Blanket Bay, Matakauri Lodge, Eichardt’s Private Hotel, The spire Hotel, Azur, Hulbert House, Millbrook Resort, Chalet New Zermatt


Situated on the shores of Lake Wanaka which mirrors the magnitude of the surrounding Southern Alps, boasting endless adventure activities in an untouched picture perfect setting. A more laid back version of Queenstown.

  • Don’t Miss: Hiking the local high country for unbelievable views.
  • Stay: Mahu Whenua, Minaret Station or further afield The Lindis

How To Get There

  • Los Angeles with American Airlines or Air New Zealand.
  • San Francisco with United Airlines or Air New Zealand.
  • Houston with Air New Zealand.
  • Dallas with American Airlines.
  • Chicago with Air New Zealand.
  • New York Newark with Air New Zealand.
  • Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines or Air New Zealand.
  • Vancouver with Air Canada or Air New Zealand.

Note: Delta does not fly directly to, or codeshare on, any destination in New Zealand, but does fly to Sydney, Australia and codeshares with Virgin Australia on to New Zealand.


Tipping is not compulsory or expected – hotels and restaurants do not add a service charge to their bills. Tipping is entirely discretionary in appreciation of good service. Employees do not depend on gratuities for their income nor are service charges routinely added to accounts by hotels and restaurants; however a tip of up to 10% in recognition of excellent service has become the custom in cafes and restaurants. You should not feel obliged to tip tour guides or concierge, but it is however appropriate where service has been exceptional. Taxi drivers and hotel porters also appreciate a small change tip for their services.

Eat and Drink

  • Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
  • Central Otago Pinot Noir
  • Canterbury lamb
  • Crayfish and Scallops
  • Whitebait Fritter
  • Pavlova
  • Hokey Pokey ice cream
  • Kiwifruit
  • Whittakers Chocolate


  • By day things are very informal, jeans or shorts and a t-shirt is fine.
  • Dinner at the lodges is slightly more formal, but dinner jackets and ties are not required.
  • Do pack layers for warm days and cool nights.
  • Always keep a light rain jacket or windbreaker handy.


  • Fiji for a tropical island escape
  • French Polynesia (Tahiti/Bora Bora) for an Overwater Bungalow experience
  • Australia, ideally for lengths of three weeks or more

Pearls of Wisdom

  • New Zealand has some incredible locations for hiking and walking however we call it ‘tramping’ we don’t know why?
  • ‘Arvo’ is a casual way of saying afternoon. Not to be confused with ‘Avo’ which is a casual way of saying avocado.
  • Always look RIGHT when stepping off the kerb! Down here we all drive on the left-hand side of the road.
  • In New Zealand, the traditional way to greet your Maori guide is by pressing noses known as a ‘Hongi’.
  • Heading to the beach? In New Zealand a swim suit is called ‘togs’.
  • Whilst New Zealand does have its fair share of cows, going to the ‘dairy’ means the convenience store.
  • The ‘Wop Wops’ (local speak for the middle of nowhere’ might be just the place you’re looking to escape to

FAVORITE Experiences

  • Charter the 89 foot Ata Rangi for a luxurious cruise through the sparkling waters of the Bay of Islands.
  • Accompany a Department of Conservation ranger as you track down a rare native Kiwi bird for a checkup.
  • Indulge in a wine flight in the boutique Martinborough vineyards.
  • Helicopter to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Fiordland National Park and dine on crayfish freshly lifted from the ocean floor.
  • Picnic on a glacier with one of New Zealand’s most treasured All Blacks (rugby football).
  • Charter a jetboat for an exhilarating spin through Mount Aspiring National Park.
  • Spot the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) from your own private observatory.
  • Learn the epic legends (myths) and local tales with a Maori elder.

Maori speak

‘Haere Mai’

A formal greeting and welcome to a place.

‘Kia Ora’

A less formal greeting and welcome to a person.

‘Kia Kaha’

An encouragement to stay strong when times are tough.


Refers to family and ancestry and our connection to people.


Refers to food as a meal and gathered.

‘Haere Ra’


Kiwi Speak

‘Good as gold.’

As in: ‘How’s the job?’ ‘Good as gold.’ Meaning the employment in question is as good as having gold in your pocket. In the old days having gold, as opposed to paper money, meant you could exchange it for goods and services anywhere.

‘Ka pai!’

Maori for ‘good’. Even your average Palagi or Honky feels confident enough using the above. Indeed some, the daring and reckless Pakeha, even attempt to place it in a full sentence: ‘Ka pai kai (food) in my puku (belly).’

‘She’ll be right!’

Arguably the most popular Kiwi phrase of all time. Can be used in response to a number of enquiries: ‘Shall we lock the car?’; ‘Do we have enough petrol to get us to Blenheim?’

‘He’s a kumara short of a hangi.’

The lights are on but nobody’s home. His elevator doesn’t go to the top. Dumber than a box of rocks. Not playing with a full deck. If you don’t get my drift by now, you obviously don’t have both oars in the water.

‘Sweet as.’

As Kiwi as a potato-top pie, a box of Jaffas, or a game of Swingball. Literally translates to ‘yes’, or ‘agreed’. ‘F***ing A’ or ‘Right as rain’ can also be used.

‘She’s a bit of a dag.’

The woman in question, who has come to a Kiwi-themed party dressed as Peter Plumley-Walker (true story), is a bit of a ‘hard case’, comedian, or joker. (Plumley-Walker was a cricket umpire who famously died during a bondage and discipline session in 1989 and whose still-bound body was turfed over Huka Falls.)

‘Rough as guts.’

This Kiwi isn’t averse to getting his hands dirty or afraid of a little bit of hard work. Alternatively, it can also mean the New Zealander in question fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. You get the idea.

‘Righto, give it heaps!’

Typically muttered to your best mate who has bought, against everyone’s advice, the worst car in the country. Alas, the next couple of minutes won’t be pretty; best to block the kids’ ears unless you want them to hear the epitome of profanity.


Another nickname for the Capital, this time given to Weta Workshop and Weta Digital for bringing Hollywood’s typical duties downunder. It also meant a shorter commute for Peter. And Richard and Tanya, let’s not forget Richard and Tanya.

Tu Meke

Used in loose terms as ‘Too much.’ In a more formal sense, tumeke translates to ‘astonishing’.

‘Get your A into G, you little toerag!’

The ‘A’ is otherwise known as your butt. The ‘G’ means ‘gear’. Even though this sounds like a telling off, toerag is actually a term of endearment. The definition derives from old England, where convicts once tied bits of shirt around their toes and feet as a makeshift sock, hence ‘toerag’ means scoundrel, criminal or thief.

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