Aotearoa 101: your mini travel guide to New Zealand

From glacial fiords to sweeping black sand beaches, Aotearoa is a land like no other. Here’s a beginner’s guide to navigating the land of the long white cloud.

Mount Ngāuruhoe and Upper Tama Lake on the North Island's Tongariro Northern Circuit.


This story was originally published in Gourmet Traveller‘s New Zealand issue, April 2021.

Want more food and travel stories about Aotearoa? Pick up a copy of Gourmet Traveller, on sale now, or become a subscriber.


The name Te-Ika-a-Māui means the fish of Māui and refers to the creation story of Māui and the giant fish. In Māori mythology, the demigod Māui went out fishing with his brothers and caught a giant fish – the North Island. His brothers carved up the fish, creating the many mountains, lakes and valleys we see today.


A land of sun, sand and kaimoana [seafood]. Home to the sailor’s paradise that is the Bay of Islands, as well as the historically significant Waitangi Treaty Grounds.


The City of Sails sits on an isthmus between two harbours. The Waitematā is a daytrippers’ paradise, full of islands to explore by boat, including the winery-laden Waiheke. To the west, the wild surf and black sand of Piha and Muriwai are legendary.


Special mention

Towering prehistoric bush shrouds this peninsula, long popular with locals for its white sand beaches and rolling surf. Once a region of sleepy beach hideaways, the Coromandel is now firmly on the international tourist map, thanks to its many pristine (and highly photogenic) beaches, such as Cathedral Cove, Hahei and New Chums.


A plentiful land of orchards and fresh produce. Tauranga’s Mount Maunganui is NZ’s answer to the Gold Coast, while Rotorua offers Māori cultural experiences.


A land of vibrant green pasture, immortalised by Sir Peter Jackson, who built Hobbiton in the Waikato town of Matamata, where it remains open to visitors today.

A map of Te-Ika-a-Māui, New Zealand’s North Island.

(Illustrations: Laura Jacobs)


Black sand beaches and dairy country sit in the shadow of mighty Mt Taranaki.


Home to Mt Ruapehu and NZ’s northern ski fields; Tūroa and Whakapapa. Head here for the Tongariro Crossing.


Considered by some to be the Bordeaux of the south, this warm climate region produces some of NZ’s best reds. Head to Church Road or Craggy Range for a taste.


The nation’s capital is famous for good food, great bars and even better coffee. Hiakai, Ortega Fish Shack and Rita are must-visits. An hour north of the city, the Wairarapa marries quaint country towns with world class pinot noir.

Sheep grazing in Rotorua.

(Photo: Getty)


Te Waipounamu translates to the waters of greenstone. Pounamu – greenstone or New Zealand jade – is a highly valued stone found in rivers throughout the South Island.

Pounamu is considered a taonga [treasure] in Māori culture, with carvings often passed from generation to generation.


The spiritual home of sauvignon blanc and gateway to the Marlborough Sounds. Here, you’ll find the Abel Tasman National Park, which sees lush native forest meet pristine white sand beaches.


Biting winds and rugged coastline define this remote part of New Zealand, where visitors brave the wildest weather to see the famous blue ice of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.


Head here to explore the glacial waters of Fiordland and Milford Sound – a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A map of Te Waipounamu, New Zealand’s South Island.

(Illustrations: Laura Jacobs)


Home to Aotearoa’s highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook. Head north of Christchurch to Kaikōura for whale watching, or drive south to visit NZ’s only French settlement, Akaroa.


The land of pinot noir and snow-capped mountains. Queenstown offers easy entry to the winter playground but serious snow bunnies flock to Wānaka, where they can alternate between the slopes of Cardrona and Treble Cone. Cellar doors abound but to experience the very best, you’ll need to book ahead at Amisfield.

Vines along the Wairau River in Marlborough.

(Photo: Getty)

Related stories