The majority of people who visit New Zealand spend some amount of time in Auckland. This makes sense, of course, since Auckland is the country's largest city, and is also where most international flights arrive.
In New Zealand, people joke that the country isn't divided up into the North and South islands it's actually divided into Auckland and The Rest of New Zealand. Auckland is a perfectly fine city, don't get me wrong, but if you're visiting New Zealand, you should definitely visit some other cities as well. Auckland is great for a couple of days, but it lacks the character that you'll find elsewhere in the country.
Here are five cities that should make it onto your itinerary that are NOT Auckland.
Many people assume that Auckland is the capital of New Zealand since it's the largest city in the country. But the capital of New Zealand is actually Wellington. By comparison, Wellington is a much smaller city than Auckland, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in its culture and quirky personality. Wellington is home to New Zealand's government, but with tons of international restaurants, museums and an art-filled waterfront, it doesn't feel like your average world capital.
Cool things to do in Wellington: Visit Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand; ride the historic cable car up to the botanic gardens; listen to buskers on Cuba Street; soak up some sun at Oriental Bay.
Believe it or not, the North Island town of Rotorua has been welcoming tourists for well over a century. In the 1800s, Rotorua's Pink and White Terraces were the top tourist attraction in New Zealand. Sadly, the terraces were destroyed in a volcanic eruption in the 1880s, but Rotorua's geothermal offerings are still impressive today. As long as you can get past the strong smell of sulphur in the town, you can see geysers, bubbling mud and mineral pools in all shapes, sizes and colors.
Cool things to do in Rotorua: Visit a geothermal park like Wai-O-Tapu; go to a Maori cultural dinner/show (Mitai Village is my favorite); take the gondola up for views over Lake Rotorua.
Nelson is the second-oldest city in New Zealand and is found near the top of the South Island. The city is known for its arts scene and for the fact that it's one of the sunniest places in the country. Nelson is on the shores of Tasman Bay, and is also very close to Abel Tasman National Park.
Cool things to do in Nelson: Rent a kayak and explore Abel Tasman; visit some art/crafts galleries; enjoy a glass of wine at a local winery; swim at Tahunanui Beach; visit the World of Wearable Art museum.
Dunedin is usually referred to as a college town because of the large number of university students that call the city home. However, this South Island city is worth a visit even if you're not studying. The town has some great architecture, is within driving distance of the Otago Peninsula (where you can spot albatross and little yellow penguins) and is home to the steepest street in the world.
Cool things to do in Dunedin: Climb Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world; go on a chocolate tour at Cadbury World; drive the Otago Peninsula; take a surfing lesson at St. Clair Beach.
Lastly, no list of cool New Zealand cities would be complete without mentioning Queenstown. Queenstown is a little resort town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables mountain range rising up behind it, and is often referred to as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand thanks to the wealth of adventure sports you can sign up for. You'll find everything from bungee jumping to snowboarding to jet boating to zip lining here. (Just don't forget your RoamRight Adventure policy!)
Cool things to do in Queenstown: Bungee jump at the Kawarau Bridge, where commercial bungee jumping began in the 1980s; ride a jet boat through narrow canyons; take the Skyline Gondola up the mountain for some great views; ride the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship on Lake Wakatipu; take a day trip to Milford Sound.
Would any of these not-Auckland cities make it on to YOUR New Zealand itinerary?
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Graduate student by day and avid traveler and blogger by night (and on weekends and during holidays), Amanda is just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a "normal" life with a desire to discover the world beyond her Midwest bubble. Amanda's adventurous nature and inability to say "no" have led her to some pretty amazing adventures all around the world. But she has no desire to stop exploring anytime soon. Read Amanda's blog, A Dangerous Business, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.
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