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Wellington city in the dusk
Wellington city in the dusk | © russellstreet / Flickr
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The 5 Best City Breaks in New Zealand

Picture of Joe Coates
Updated: 18 April 2018
New Zealand is a beautiful and varied land but when it comes down to it, its more famous as a place of wild and unbridled countryside than anything.

People wax lyrical about the mountains, hills and dales, as well they should, for they are poetic when you see them for the first time. Where do you go though, if you’re in the mood for something a little more metropolitan? Here’s our guide to the five best city breaks in NZ.

Auckland

Skyjump
The Skyjump at the Auckland Skytower | © Kevin Dooley / Flickr

Where is it?

Auckland is located in the North Island of New Zealand. It’s situated in the northern part of the island, about halfway between Tauranga and Whangarei. Its location means that Auckland gets to enjoy some quite beautiful weather, especially in the summer, and the fact that it’s set so close to beaches on either side means any city break can be punctuated with some time on the coast kicking back and relaxing after a long day spent pounding the inner-city pavements.

Shihad
Shihad in concert in Auckland | © Sara / Flickr

So, why visit?

Well, you’d be foolish for not at least visiting New Zealand’s largest city whilst spending a bit of time in this remote Pacific island. With a population of about 1.5 million in a country that is almost home to five million people, you can see just how vast Auckland is in the grand scheme of things. Yes, this makes it more of a mission to get around when compared to, say, Wellington, but when you think that London has about about seven times as many people living there, you realise Auckland isn’t so bad.

Rated as the third most liveable city in the world, Auckland is a thriving multi-cultural hub of cuisine, music, art and culture. This is probably due to its fantastic reputation as a cultural melting pot of ethnic groups.

It’s a vibrant and diverse place where nature and urban life go hand in hand, with 48 volcanic cones, more than 50 islands, and 29,000 km of coastline and beaches just minutes away from the arts and shopping of the central city. The fact you can be shopping in some of New Zealand’s, and the world’s, most reputable boutiques in places like Ponsonby, Parnell and Britomart, eat lunch in Michelin-starred restaurants, catch a ferry out to Waiheke Island to visit a vineyard or two and then be back in the city for an eclectic night out makes Auckland truly unique when it comes to city breaks and what you can do on them.

Queenstown

Queenstown doesn’t really need anyone to speak up for it when it comes to putting itself forward as an unbelievable place to go on a city break. Whether you go in summer or winter there is heaps to do and plenty to see.

HeliBoarding, QT, 2009 BG - 116
Queenstown has a lot to offer | © Grayskullduggery / Flickr

The surrounds of this little city are what make it truly unique, not just in New Zealand, but the world. The mountain and lakes make it a utopia for extreme sports enthusiasts, which isn’t the first thing that leaps to mind when you think city break.

Mountain biking, watersports, hiking and bungee jumping are just some of the things you can put your body and mind through in the summer time, whilst in winter hitting the numerous slopes that are dotted around the area is what it’s all about.

After a day of taking it to the limit or cruising the placid waters that front this lovely spot, you can head back into town and enjoy some of the best food NZ has to offer. The ingredients that most of the restaurants in Queenstown use are second to none. If you’re in the mood for something gourmet yet casual, we recommend checking out the institution that is Fergburger.

Christchurch

Christchurch may have been rattled and knocked about by the infamous 2011 earthquake, but the Garden City has bounced back like a rabbit hit with a shot of adrenaline, and is enjoying something of a renaissance.

Christchurch
Have a punt at Christchurch | © Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr

There’s a distinct feeling of England in Christchurch, New Zealand. City breaks here are as you’d look for in a such a break, but with a slight difference.

Whereas in European cities like Ghent, Bruges or Bologna, you’re there to wander the streets and have a look at the past, in Christchurch you stroll the leafy avenues and marvel at a city rising from the ashes somewhat. It’s a modern city due to the renovations required by the earthquake, and is just plain fresh and funky.

It’s well worth a look if the perfect break to a city for you is ambling about with nothing better to do than soaking in the vibe of the place you’re in, and periodically putting on the nosebag for a choice feed.

Wellington

What can we say about the capital of Aotearoa other than that it’s the ultimate destination for a short city break.

Blazing
The capital blazing with life | © russellstreet / Flickr

What makes it so fantastic is an abundance of things to do, exceptional bars, restaurants and cafes in which to take refreshment and restore yourself, but most of all its size.

Wellington Dinner
Lotus root and fish cake | © smalljude / Flickr

Wellington is exactly the size you want in a city where you’re giving yourself two to three days to explore. It’s compactness make it so accessible that you’ll have time to give it a skim and then go back to your favourite bits. It’s wonderfully metropolitan whilst being surrounded by beaches and hills, which you only have to take a short drive to explore.

Rotorua

Perhaps the Maori cultural capital of NZ, Rotorua is unique in every sense of the word.

Maori Culture
Rotorua is the Maori hub | © Tony Hisgett / Flickr

If you’re looking to get more of an understanding of the fascinating history of NZ through the eyes of the native people, then Rotorua is the place. You’ll be able to see the art of wood carving and pounamu carving up close, as well as see first hand the different Maori dances, including the famous haka.

When you want to get out and about there are a plethora of lakes to explore and play on.

Cruising
Racing down the luge track in Rotorua | © Henry Burrows / Flickr

And if you go to Rotorua and don’t have a race with your friends and family down the luge then you haven’t done it properly.

These are our five favourites, but why not check out Hamilton, Tauranga and New Plymouth too. All these places are a great way to spend a few days exploring New Zealand’s less famous city side.