When my (now) husband and I got engaged last spring, we immediately started planning for an epic honeymoon – even before we sorted out the details of our wedding! New Zealand seemed like a perfect choice – neither of us had been before and it offered the ideal combination of luxury and adventure that we were both looking for in a honeymoon locale. Plus, as we were married at the end of March, New Zealand would be entering autumn – our favorite season.
As destinations go, New Zealand isn’t necessarily close, but this makes it perfect for a longer trip like a honeymoon. However, flying from the West Coast of the US is actually easier than you might think. From LAX, Air New Zealand has daily direct flights to Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city (about an 11.5-12 hour flight). And from Auckland, it is very easy to connect to all other cities in the country on shorter domestic flights. Since we first spent 5 days enjoying the beaches of Fiji at Kokomo Private Island, our flight to New Zealand was only about 2.5 hours from Nadi – the main international airport in Fiji. Air New Zealand also offers direct flights from the US out of Hawaii, San Francisco, Houston and now, Chicago.
Planning Your Trip
New Zealand is comprised of two main islands – North and South. Despite being a relatively small country – less than 5 million people and about the landmass of Colorado – there are so many different areas worth exploring. I definitely recommend visiting about 3 different areas for a 10 day trip – and likely by the last day you’ll be planning for your return trip to explore the rest of this amazing country. For our honeymoon, we chose to visit the Christchurch / Canterbury area and Queenstown on the South Island and the Wairarapa Valley on the North Island.
New Zealand is a driver-friendly country and many people choose to explore it that way. There is even a ferry service between the two main landmasses that makes it easy to travel between them without flying. However, with a shorter itinerary, I do recommend maximizing your time in each place by flying short hops on Air New Zealand. Flights are only about an hour or so depending where you are traveling between. The airport environment is also much more relaxed than most of the US – no need to arrive at the terminal hours and hours prior to your domestic flights.
First Stop: Christchurch
Our first stop in New Zealand was Christchurch where we stayed at the incredible Otahuna Lodge, just 25 minutes outside the city center. This Relais & Chateaux property was once New Zealand’s largest private residence, built by Sir Heaton Rhodes in 1895. A stunning Victorian mansion with just 7 rooms and exquisite cuisine, guests truly feel transported back in time.
On our first full day in Christchurch, we had absolutely perfect weather. So after a delicious breakfast of freshly baked breads and homemade yogurt, we set off on a bike ride through the countryside to enjoy the scenery and stretch our legs from the long travel the day before. That afternoon, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the garden and a cooking class in the Otahuna kitchen before settling in to a delicious 5-course meal (with local NZ wine pairings!) in the dining room.
The next day, we set off on a full day adventure with Canterbury Guiding Co. We took the Tranzalpine Railway across the Canterbury Plain and up into the Southern Alps. In Arthur’s Pass National Park, we disembarked the train and met our guide for some hiking and exploration. The weather was really crazy this day – pouring rain one minute, then sunny and rainbows the next! But we made the most of it. And as we drove back to Christchurch, we stopped at Castle Hill Rock – a filming site for Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia – for another hike and photo op.
Second Stop: Queenstown
Reluctantly, we bid farewell to Otahuna and flew to Queenstown. Our good luck with the weather followed us and we had a beautiful few days in this city. Queenstown is truly a jewel of New Zealand. While a smaller city, it is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and full of fun activities. Our home base in Queenstown was Azur Lodge – a gorgeous boutique property with only 9 villas set atop a hillside just 5 minutes’ drive from the center of town. While I loved the design and decor at this property, it was the jaw-dropping views that really stole the show.
What to do in Queenstown:
- Onsen hot pools – An instagram moment if I’ve ever seen one! This day spa offers private hot tubs overlooking the Shotover River Canyon
- Shotover Jet – As I said Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand, this is a must do for an adrenaline rush. For about 25 minutes, you’ll be driven through a narrow canyon – dodging rocks and spinning 360s.
- Skyline Luge – Everyone told us to do the luge in Queenstown. My initial impression was that it would be a bit corny, but we went for it anyways and I could not have been more wrong. Get ready for a real life game of Mario Kart – this is pure fun!
- Milford Sound Tour – Milford Sound is a stunning fjord in Fjordland National Park in the Southwestern portion of the South Island. You can drive there from Queenstown, but it takes hours so most folks will plan a half day or full day trip by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft. We chose the latter as it is about half the price, but I’d recommend the helicopter for anyone that has issues with motion sickness or a fear of flying and/or heights (I hear the helicopter is smoother)! After a scenic flight over the mountains, you’ll arrive in Milford Sound for a cruise through the fjord – admiring the many waterfalls – before your return flight to Queenstown via a different route.
- Better by Bike – This is an amazing way to get out of the city and explore the countryside! Better by Bike will pick you up at your hotel in Queenstown and drive you 30 minutes to Arrowtown and the lake district. From there, they will suit you up with a mountain bike or e-bike (definitely recommend the e-bike!) and a trail map and send you on your way. We spent a beautiful morning biking along the river, crossing bridges, watching bungy jumpers and stopping along the way for tastings at a cheesery and local wineries!
Where to Eat in Queenstown:
- Rata – Modern New Zealand cuisine; Upscale for a nice dinner, or go for a late lunch as we did and enjoy the pre-set menu at a lower price point
- White & Wong’s – Eats meets West cuisine inspired by street food from Southeast Asia
- Botswana Butchery – Upscale dining with a broad selection of high quality meats
- Madame Woo – Inspired by Malaysian hawker food
- Mrs. Ferg Gelateria – While all the tourists are lined up at Fergberger next door, stop in for some delicious gelato
- Azur Delivery – Not an actual restaurant, but one of my favorite things about our hotel in Queenstown. While the property serves breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails + amuses bouches, there is no onsite restaurant for dinner. Instead, they offer you take-out menus from the many restaurants in town and will pick up whatever you like and set it up in your room. This is the best view in town! And you can wear your pajamas.
Last Stop: Wairarapa Valley
For our last stop in New Zealand, we flew up to Wellington and then drove two hours into the Wairarapa Valley where we spent three nights at the beautiful Wharekauhau Country Estate – another Relais & Chateau property, but with a totally different flavor. This estate began in the 1840s as a sheep station and remains a working sheep farm to this day. Guests can stay in one of 16 different cottage suites spread across the property and experience rural New Zealand life – where sheep outnumber humans 7 to 1.
Our first full day at Wharekauhau, we took a guided wine tour of the Martinborough region – famous for its Pinot Noirs. The wineries are centrally located around the town of Martinborough so it’s easy to visit a few for tastings. On our last full day in New Zealand, we enjoyed the hotel’s famous farm tour – learning about sheep shearing, sheep dogs and sheep herding, and meeting the resident eels – before trying our hand at archery in true LOTR style.
New Zealand was an incredible honeymoon destination and combined perfectly with Fiji for a blend of relaxation and adventure. I cannot wait to go back and explore more of this gorgeous country.