The Rugby World Cup of 2011 was about the best thing to happen to New Zealand tourism. Cities and towns up and down the country put on events and highlighted their best assets.
Here are my picks for some of the cool events to get to with or without rugby:
If you haven’t visited before, Auckland is set in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf surrounded by islands for day trips. If visiting wineries is your thing then a ferry out to Waiheke Island is a must.
It’s fair to say Auckland was alive and pumping with World Cup fever. The annual Boat Show was shifted to fall during the tournament and renowned opera singer Dame Kiri te Kanawa performed with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
But for a hidden gem, rent a kayak (if you’re feeling energetic) or take a ferry out to Rangitoto Island, just a stone’s throw from the CBD. There is a path to the top of this dormant volcano which is well worth the huffing and puffing for the views both of the city and into the huge crater carpeted in native New Zealand foliage.
Whangarei is north of Auckland and the gateway to the Bay of Islands. A visit to Waitangi, an hour north and the birthplace of New Zealand, is a must. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on these stunning grounds between local Maori chiefs and the British crown with sweeping views overlooking this harbour dotted with islands. For history and culture buffs, this may be a highlight of your visit to New Zealand. The nearby town of Paihia is where you take the jet boats around the harbour, fishing charters or the ferry over to historic Russell village.
Hamilton is just over an hour’s drive south of Auckland. The region stretches from the rugged surf of Raglan on the west coast to the city, past dairy farms, across the mighty Waikato river and towards the Bay of Plenty. If antique shopping is your thing, visit Cambridge, Thames or Paeroa. But if you’re a The Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll have to visit Hobbiton. Frodo’s house and his friends are all set in the Matamata hillside and this is the current base for Peter Jackson’s next movie, The Hobbit.
Rotorua is known for its adventure activities and while the tourists will be queuing to luge down the hill or bounce down it inside a giant inflatable ball, or visiting Wai o Tapu to wander through New Zealand’s equivalent of Yellowstone and watch boiling mud and sulphur lakes, you should book a private hot pool at Polynesian Spa and treat yourself to a geothermal mud-mask massage. Rotorua is the cultural heart of New Zealand with several opportunities to visit authentic Maori villages, eat a traditional hangi and be welcomed onto a marae like a dignitary.
Napier This art deco city was completely rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake and the shops and businesses in the CBD are now housed in these building making Napier the second largest art deco city, behind Miami. Drive to Havelock North for the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market at Black Barn vineyard, then head out to Waimarama Beach if the day is nice, come back and have dinner in the bright pink Pipis Pizza restaurant for homemade pizzas and pasta and a busy, fun atmosphere where you help yourself to drinks from the fridge and they bill you for the empties on your table.
Palmerston North is home to the Rugby Museum for paraphernalia from All Black greats going back to the beginning of last century. Browse the farmers markets here and in the neighbouring town of Fielding, just ten minutes away. But for something a little unique, drive two hours east to cute Greytown for lunch. This little village is full of antiques and homewares and also home to Schoc on Main Street – only the best chocolates in New Zealand! Do a blind tasting of their quirky flavours (the lemongrass trips most people up) and have your personality revealed through your chocolate preferences with Schoc’s Chocolate Therapy.
Wellington is New Zealand capital city and its bars will be alive and heaving with excitement. They know how to throw a party here, they get practice every year for the Rugby 7s.
The innovative Te Papa Museum should be on your agenda, and so should a cable car ride up the hill from the shops on Lambton Quay for stunning harbour and city views. Many festivals, events and exhibits are timed to take place during the World Cup (you can even plant a tree with rugby great Brian Lochore), but for something unique, visit the Weta Cave in the suburb of Miramar and see where the Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong and Avatar came to life.
Nelson, at the tip of the South Island, is famous for the stunning Abel Tasman National Park, orchards and several wineries within spitting distance of each other. It’s also the birthplace place of rugby in New Zealand and recreated that first ever game to coincide with the first of three World Cup games being held here between Australia, USA, Italy and Russia. But for something completely different, visit Oi You!, the urban art exhibition in Founders Park, inspired by famous street artist Banksy. Oi You! features over 100 pieces of art including 23 from the legendary Banksy on loan from a local collector.
Dunedin is New Zealand’s Scottish city with Larnach Castle being one of the city’s icons – that and the infamous university students who will ensure any visitors here are in for a rollicking good time. For something to write home about, get along to one of the Nude Rugby matches. These started in 2002 and are now traditionally held before each test match on St Clair Beach. The nude haka alone is worth seeing! If you dare.
Invercargill is in the deep south and is where the Scots actually settled. If you listen carefully you’ll even hear the locals roll their r’s. It’s so southern down here that you can almost see Antarctica. Well not quite, but you will most certainly feel it. Fill yourself up with fresh Bluff oysters – arguably regarded as the best in the world. While the season will have officially ended just before the tournament starts, the best, plumpest and juiciest are being kept on the chiller for fans.