For some, the word "honeymoon" conjures up visions of fancy European hotels and five-star dinners; for others, it’s all about relaxing on white sand beaches in tropical locales. For those looking for something more off-grid, but still full of once-in-a-lifetime luxury experiences, there’s New Zealand.
"New Zealand is a destination everyone can enjoy, but it’s particularly good for couples who want to experience a bit more seclusion, natural scenery, and adventure," says travel specialist Miriam Geiser. "It's not necessarily overly fancy or ornate."
Meet the Expert
Miriam Geiser is the managing director of and New Zealand specialist for bespoke travel advisory firm KK Travels Worldwide. She is based in Chicago.
With natural environs unlike anywhere else in the world, the remote country situated deep in the southwest Pacific Ocean offers a chance to experience rugged coastline, uncut mountain regions, Alpine scenery, and breathtaking waterfalls and glaciers, all within roughly the same surface area of Colorado. For oenophiles, there’s also the Marlborough wine region.
If all of this sounds like the makings of the ultimate romantic adventure, read on for everything you need to know to start planning your New Zealand honeymoon—including where to stay, what to do, and how much to expect to spend on your trip.
The current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. In an effort to combat the spread of the virus within the country, New Zealand is currently limiting foreign visitors to those with prior authorization from the New Zealand government. For the most up-to-date and latest information on travel restrictions and requirements, check the CDC, U.S. Department of State, and New Zealand consulate websites.
Average Cost of a New Zealand Honeymoon
As with any destination, the cost of a New Zealand honeymoon can vary greatly, depending on the traveler’s choices in lodging, airfare and transportation, dining experiences, and activities. At the top-end level, with business class airfare, stays in multiple luxury lodges, and guided tours and activities, Geiser says to expect to spend anywhere from $20,000 to $35,000 for a two-week trip. Couples willing to mix and match accommodations, do their own driving, and trade in a few helicopters or guided tours for bike rentals and casual hikes can expect a lower range, between $12,000 and $18,000, while still having a truly memorable vacation.
Best Time to Visit New Zealand
Per Geiser, the most popular time to visit New Zealand for American travelers is between November and April (winter in the Northern Hemisphere is summer in the Southern Hemisphere). "That’s when it’s going to be the warmest, and you’ll have access to the most activities in the most comfortable climate," she says. Unfortunately, that also tends to be the most expensive time to visit, which is why Geiser also recommends looking into shoulder months.
If you do opt to travel during North America’s summer months/New Zealand’s winter months, you’ll be greeted with lower rates at some of the country’s luxury lodges, as well as skiing and heli-skiing options in the southern part of the South Island.
Where to Stay in New Zealand
For honeymooners, New Zealand is perhaps best known for its luxury lodges. Often nestled away from cities, these resorts are designed to help guests take full advantage of the country’s natural beauty with breathtaking views and plenty of activities like horseback riding, sea kayaking, fly fishing, animal encounters, golfing along the coast, and more. A few of Geiser’s favorites include:
- Robertson Lodges. With three stunning waterside properties (Kauri Cliffs in Northland, Cape Kidnappers on Hawke Bay, and Matakauri near Queenstown on the South Island), the Robertson hospitality brand is known for offering beautiful interiors, top-rated spas, and delicious fine-dining experiences in farm, coastal, and mountainous environments.
- Huka Lodge. Something of an "old grand dame" when it comes to luxury New Zealand accommodations, the central-North Huka Lodge is "very well known, and very beautifully designed," says Geiser. Overlooking the Waikato River, the property has lots of private nooks and crannies perfect for romantic dinners and picnics.
- Otahuna Lodge. Located just south of Christchurch on the South Island, Otahuna has "a little more of an Old World, Downton Abbey type of feel, but it’s not pretentious," says Geiser. "It has really beautiful gardens and has been regarded as one of the top gastronomic experiences in New Zealand."
- Wharekauhau. Located at the southern tip of the North Island, near Wellington, this Relais & Chateaux property is just across the water from the South Island’s famed Marlborough wine region. Book the resort’s signature Foley Wine Flight to experience vineyards by helicopter.
- Blanket Bay. Spectacular stone-and-timber architecture abounds at this luxe-rustic retreat, which is an ideal home base for mountain and water activities in Blanket Bay’s Southern Lakes region.
- The Lindis Group. These newer properties boast a more modern aesthetic, but offer the same great range of activities and beautiful natural scenery.
What to Do in New Zealand
Explore all that nature has to offer.
If there’s anything to know about New Zealand, it’s this: You’re coming for the natural wonders—and you’ll be surprised by the variety packed into one place. Geothermal hot springs, rugged, rocky coastline, glaciers, bright blue lakes, beautiful fjords and rivers, snow-capped mountains...it’s literally all here. And because it’s relatively easy to access, self-driving tours are especially popular.
"It really is a breathtaking, beautiful destination," says Geiser. Her top New Zealand destinations include Milford Sound, the Bay of Islands, the hot springs of Taupō and Rotorua in the Central North, Mount Cook National Park, Hawke Bay, and the Franz Josef Glacier.
Get your adrenaline pumping.
New Zealand is a haven for adventure activities and extreme sports. On the water, your options include (but are certainly not limited to) white water rafting, sea kayaking, and jet boating. On—and above—land, you can mountain bike, canyon swing, go rock climbing and zip-lining, skydive, and even try zorbing. If you’re looking for a home base from which you can try it all, head to Queenstown. Nicknamed "the adventure capital of the world," this south-central South Island town is located on the coast of Lake Wakatipu, at the base of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Want to really go over the edge? Book a bungee jump off the Kawaru bridge, or head to Nevis Point to experience the tallest bungee jump in the country.
Experience the wildlife.
Birders will of course want to schedule a kiwi encounter, but in the Bay of Islands and off the coastal village of Kaikoura, whale watching is the main draw. Look for sperm whales, humpbacks, and the occasional orca, along with seals and dolphins.
Visit the Marlborough Wine Region.
Located at the northern end of the South Island, Marlborough is world-renowned for its sauvignon blanc. You’ll find a range of vineyards and wineries in its Southern Valleys, Wairau Valley, and Awatere Valley.
Splurge on a Heli Tour.
Whether you’re heli-skiing, heli-fishing, or heli-touring, helicopter rides are a popular option in New Zealand. If you’ve ever wanted to splurge on sight-seeing from above, a New Zealand honeymoon is definitely the time to do it.
Explore Middle Earth IRL.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was famously filmed in New Zealand, but you don’t have to be a Tolkien fan to find something to appreciate about the Hobbiton movie set tour experience. After the two-hour walking tour of the lush green "Shire," you’ll stop for drinks at the Green Dragon Inn.
Escape to an island.
If you’re planning to spend time in Auckland, be sure to take the ferry to Waiheke Island. Dubbed "The Hamptons of New Zealand" by Vogue, the island is home to a bounty of wineries, often deserted beaches, and upscale shops and restaurants. Though hotel rooms can be hard to come by and most overnighters stay in rentals or private homes, Geiser recommends The Boatshed for its "Maui meets Cape Cod" vibes.
Learn about Māori culture and traditions.
New Zealand’s longest inhabitants are the Māori. Today, they today make up around 16 percent of the country’s overall population. To learn more about Māori culture and traditions, plan a visit to a marae—available only via organized tour—or seek out a traditional hangi feast, in which food is cooked over hot stones in a large pit. And prepare to be left in awe of the Māori haka ritual—outside of the maraes, it is performed by many New Zealand rugby teams ahead of their matches.
New Zealand Honeymoon FAQs
How long does it take to get to New Zealand?
With time changes and a thirteen hour flight from Los Angeles, you should prepare to lose about two days each way when traveling between New Zealand and the United States.
Should I go to New Zealand or Australia?
Both Australia and New Zealand are absolutely marvelous destinations in their own right. You could spend a month in each, and not fully experience everything they have to offer. And while you could certainly create a honeymoon itinerary featuring stops in both Australia and New Zealand (the flight from Sydney to Auckland is just under three hours), Geiser recommends sticking to the country that best aligns with your travel priorities.
If it’s people-watching, laying on the beach, and vibrant city culture you’re after, Australia might be the better bet. The same is true if seeing unique natural wildlife is at the top of your list—kangaroos, platypuses, dingoes, and koalas don’t exist naturally outside of Australia. If you’re looking to prioritize adventure activities and wish to spend your days and nights in more secluded natural environments, New Zealand is likely the destination for you.
What are the key differences between New Zealand’s North and South Islands?
While the South Island is larger, the North Island is more densely populated. Roughly one-third of the country’s entire population lives in Auckland, which is located on the North Island. The South Island is also considered to have more natural attractions. Climate-wise, you’ll experience subtropical weather at the northern tip of the North Island, but skiing and other winter sports happen at the southern tip of the South Island, due to its relative proximity to the South Pole.
Do I have to pay any fees to travel to New Zealand?
Yes, but the fees are nominal. To visit New Zealand as a foreigner, you’ll need to apply for an NZeTA (New Zealand Electric Travel Authority), which costs around $5 USD. If you hold an American passport, you’ll also pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy of $35 NZD (about $24 USD) to visit the country of New Zealand. The tax helps to fund conservation efforts and tourism infrastructure.
Bring lots of layers.
While New Zealand is mostly known for mild temperatures year-round, the climate can change dramatically as you move through different areas of the country. Parts of the North Island have subtropical weather, while inland mountainous regions are cold enough to keep snow on the peaks. Because you’ll likely experience both on your travels—and will spend a good deal of your time outdoors—it’s best to come prepared with a variety of clothing options.
Clean your hiking boot soles ahead of your trip.
New Zealand is very careful to not introduce foreign agents into its natural environment. For that reason, you’ll need to declare your hiking books when going through Customs upon arrival. (Yes, seriously!) If the soles aren’t free of American dirt and soil upon inspection, an agent will quickly clean them for you and hand them back in a plastic bag. If you don’t declare your boots, and they’re instead discovered via a luggage scan, you will pay a fine.
Plan for two to three nights in each destination, max.
While in other honeymoon destinations, such as Italy, your time may be best spent lingering in each town or city for four to five days, Geiser says shorter stops—two to three nights, max—make for a better New Zealand experience. "It’s more of a fast-paced itinerary," she says of the trips she plans. Reason being: Because the country isn’t massive—it’s roughly two-thirds the size of California—you can cover a lot more ground while wasting a lot less time in transit.
Don’t forget about the cities.
But don’t necessarily prioritize them, either. As mentioned above, you’re here for the scenery. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and most diverse city, and Wellington is the capital, but neither necessarily runs parallel to what you might find in France’s Paris, Japan’s Tokyo, or Italy’s Rome. Per Geiser, if you are looking for that in-town experience, Queenstown offers the most in terms of fun restaurants and nightlife. Two favorite eateries: The Botswana Butchery and Madam Woo.