The Best Hotels in New Zealand: North Island

Unlike many “Best Of” lists that you’ll find on the internet, our selection of the best hotels in New Zealand is not based on algorithms or the amount a hotel may pay to third party sites to be at the top of their lists.

Instead, we’ve selected hotels that we’ve worked with over the past thirty years, all of which have consistently scored top marks with our travellers as they’ve made their way through the country’s key sites and destinations.

Our New Zealand Hotel Recommendations

Of course, there is always an element of personal choice in selecting the best hotels - what suits one person will not always suit another, and price will always be a factor.

We’ve taken a strong value for money approach in our selection, so they’re not always the most expensive or the most luxurious, but we feel they tick all the boxes when it comes to comfort, location, cost and service.

How do we go about choosing the best hotels?

As you’d expect, cleanliness, well presented rooms, comfortable beds and a good location are a given, but close to the top of the list comes customer service. We expect staff at all of our recommended hotels to go above and beyond for our travellers, and each property that makes our list is nothing short of what we consider outstanding.

There’s also something about these hotels - they may have a unique history, a top-rated chef or a particular architectural style that sets them apart from other accommodation in the area.

Those who have travelled with us before will know, we often suggest “mixing up” your accommodations so that you also have overnights in B&B’s, apartments and/or farm stays to really get a feel for what New Zealand hospitality is like - but we’ll get to those in another blog post.

So, let’s start by taking a look at some of the best hotels around North Island…

The Best Hotels in Auckland

Location is pretty important when visiting Auckland. You may see some top rated hotels that are in Auckland’s suburbs, but it’s a sprawling city and if you want to see the main sites and enjoy excursions in or out from the harbour, you really need to be down by the water.

Our first suggestion would be The Grand Millennium Hotel. Yes, a bit of a pretentious name but you’ll find the hotel has spacious rooms and open public areas with an excellent restaurant. It’s a short walk down to the harbour or to the Sky Tower, and we’re usually able to get rooms here at a very good price for a 4 star hotel.

Alternatively, Rydges Hotel is also well located on a pleasant side street which leads onto Queen Street and then just a short walk down to the harbour. Not quite as spacious as the Millennium but very comfortable with plush beds and coming in at a similar price.

More upmarket and the “new kid on the block” is The Fable. A 5-star rated hotel which is very tastefully furnished with luxurious décor that leads straight onto Queen Street and the hustle and bustle of the city.

And right on the harbourfront, you have The Pullman. Offering stylish accommodation with fantastic views of the city centre, harbour and surrounding parks. Guests also have access to a lovely day spa with a heated pool, sauna and steam room.

The Sofitel Hotel also boasts great views of Viaduct Harbour Basin. There’s a restaurant, French Press and a champagne bar on site. It also has very good sized rooms with balconies.

Finally, you might like to take a look at MSocial if you fancy something a little quirkier. Another weirdly corporate name, but again in a great location and full of fabulously fun interiors with great views across the harbour.

The view from the Club Lounge at The Grand Millennium Hotel

The Best Hotels in Paihia and Russell, Bay of Islands

In terms of size, these two settlements have hardly changed for over 150 years, so you’ll find very few high rises and corporations here. We actually favour some of the smaller Bed and Breakfasts in this area, but if you’re looking for an affordable hotel with great rooms and a great location, then you should definitely consider The Scenic Hotel, which is located just as you come into Paihia.

Or The Copthorne, which is in the next bay and closer to the Waitangi Park area. The Copthorne is more spacious and offers more in terms of facilities, but that all comes at a higher price.

The most characterful hotel in the area is The Duke of Marlborough on Russell – one of the oldest hotels in the area with wide decking around its frontage – sit on your rocking chair under the eaves and watch the world and the boats go by!

The fabulous outdoor pools at The Copthorne Hotel

The Best Hotels in Rotorua

The drive into Rotorua is down one long main street that leads to Lake Rotorua, and off the street are motels a plenty. It’s not until you get close to the lakeside that you’ll find the hotels we recommend, starting with Princes Gate which is a lovely historic hotel, originally built at the turn of the 19th century and features elegant rooms with traditional furnishings.

The Novotel Rotorua Lakeside, is a modern property with bright and airy rooms with fantastic views over the lake. The Millennium Hotel also offers spacious, comfortable rooms facing Lake Rotorua, and a really inviting heated indoor swimming pool.

A particular favourite with Silver Fern travellers has been the Regent of Rotorua, which always scores highly for its delicious restaurant dishes and its plush, spacious rooms.

The ornate exterior of the Prince's Gate Hotel in Rotoroa

The Best Hotels in Taupo

In most cases, our travellers will choose apartments or motels in Taupo, but if you want a hotel, the Hilton really is the best choice. It has spacious grounds, wonderful views over Lake Taupo and, unusually, very characterful colonial style architecture - it’s certainly not the sort you would typically associate with a Hilton Hotel!

The Best Hotels in Tongariro National Park

There’s only two hotels in the park, so it’s an easy choice; The Chateau Tongariro Hotel and the Skotel.

The Chateau Tongariro, as the name might suggest, is the more grandiose of the two. Offering large open spaces with an extensive range of facilities including a games room with billiards, sauna, indoor plunge pool and a fitness centre. The in-house cinema shows a range of films daily, too.

The accommodation is really a throwback “experience” of former glories, when visiting dignitaries and other notable travellers would drink champagne on the terrace and play golf on the 9-hole course. If you choose to stay here, then you have to view the accommodation in this light.

The Skotel Alpine Resort, which is almost hidden behind the Chateau, was primarily built for the ski season and has been crowned New Zealand’s highest hotel. But it’s more than just an upmarket ski chalet, with incredible views, pleasant interiors and a good kitchen in each room at a very good price during the summer season, it’s the perfect base for hiking and outdoor activities. Be sure to ask for a room with a view looking out across the park and not the car park!

The Chateau Tongariro with its impressive surroundings
The Chateau Tongariro and its impressive surroundings

The Best Hotels in Napier

If you’re looking for simple, clean and well located, The Scenic Hotel Te Pania is ideally positioned right on the waterfront, across from the open air pools and close to both the visitors centre and main street.

But, if it’s ostentatious charm you’re looking for, then head for the Masonic Art Deco Hotel. Featuring classic art deco architecture and décor throughout the hotel with super stylish rooms and interiors, it really is like stepping back into the 1930’s. The hotel is also located on the waterfront with panoramic views of the Pacific ocean and close to the Museum Theatre Gallery.

The exterior of The Masonic Art Deco Hotel plays host to a range of classic street cars

The Best Hotels in Wellington

As with Auckland, when visiting Wellington it’s all about location. Our recommendation is to be close to Lambton Quay so that you have easy access to the main shopping area, the restaurants along the quayside and to Te Papa, New Zealand’s National Museum.

With this in mind, we’d first recommend the James Cook Chancellor Hotel, with great views from the restaurant on the 7th floor, it’s probably in the best location. Turn left from the hotel and you’ve got the cable car up the Kelburn Heights. With great views of the harbour at the top and a lovely walk through the gardens back to the Quay, you’ll pass by the Beehive government buildings en route. If you turn right at the hotel instead, it’s an easy walk to Te Papa.

If it’s a museum experience you want, then take a look at the Museum Art Hotel. It was “moved” from the original site of the present Te Papa National Museum and is very much a cultural entity in itself.

Perhaps I should let the owners provide the description: “With abstract lines and playful patterns, we’re setting you up for eclectic dreams. Your Wellington hotel room is surrounded by urban hills and harbour views, landscapes of true visual indulgence. In a capital alive with expressive aesthetic, here you can let it soak in. This unusual accommodation in Wellington is your own creative hideaway.”

The Inter-Continental is very much the premier 5-star accommodation on the waterfront and if it’s a luxurious experience you want, then without doubt the Inter-Continental provides it from a location very close to the quayside too.

We should just mention a hotel, not on the waterside but nevertheless very much a Silver Fern favourite and that’s The Bolton Hotel. It has a range of accommodation options from elegant studios and suites to family style rooms, it’s very close to the shopping area and city sights, and has a good reputation for its customer service and ethos as a whole.

The stunning interior of the Hippo Restaurant at Museum Art Hotel

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So that’s our round-up of the best hotels on North Island – I hope I’ve given you some food for thought in selecting your accommodation. My next blog will be our list of the best hotels on South Island, so do keep a lookout for that one. In the meantime, if you’re planning a New Zealand holiday in the coming months and you’d like to know more about any of the hotels mentioned, just get in touch!    


New Zealand Borders Reopen for International Travel

After over two years of isolation from the rest of the world, the New Zealand government has announced that the borders will be reopened to international travellers. Hurrah!

To begin, there will be a phased opening with those travellers from Australia and the Pacific Islands already able to enter the country, subject to vaccination requirements.

There are a number of conditions of entry (that may well change as we progress through the year). Here, we've covered what you'll need to know about the borders reopening, full chapter and verse, and what you'll need to consider when travelling to New Zealand from the UK, with due thanks to the New Zealand Immigration department. 

When will travellers from the UK be able to enter New Zealand?

From 11.59 on 1st May 2022, vaccinated visitors from the UK who hold a valid visitor visa are able to enter New Zealand and self-test on arrival.

There are also other requirements to be met including: proof of vaccination, the negative result of a pre-departure test, the completion of a travellers declaration form and the negative result of a rapid antigen test (RAT) taken after your arrival in New Zealand.

What proof of vaccination is required to enter New Zealand?

You will need either a digital vaccine certificate (such as the NHS passport) or another form of confirmation from a government health authority or approval authority confirming you have had a full COVID-19 vaccine course.

Your documentation must confirm that you've had one or more COVID-19 vaccines (how many doses depends on which vaccine you have received), as well as:

  • Your name
  • The name of the vaccine or vaccines you received
  • The name of the agency that administered the vaccine
  • The name of the place where you received the vaccine
  • The date of each dose or the date when a primary vaccination course was completed

What pre-departure tests will you need to take before your flight to New Zealand?

You must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 result from one of the following:

  • A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken no more than 48 hours beforethe scheduled departure of your first flight to New Zealand, or
  • Supervised rapid antigen test (RAT)taken no more than 24 hours before the scheduled departure of your first flight to New Zealand, or
  • A supervised loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test taken no more than 24 hours before the scheduled departure of your first flight to New Zealand

You still need to take one of the relevant pre-departure tests even if you have been vaccinated against COVID-19, or you are self-testing on arrival.

These tests must be carried out by approved private health centres, not local community set ups offering free tests.

Medical Exemptions

If you cannot take a test due for medical reasons, you must provide a medical exemption certificate. You will need to get this 72 hours before your flight and present it as part of your check-in documentation.

If you have recently recovered from COVID-19

Even if you have recently recovered from COVID-19 (within the last 90 days), you still need to provide details of a current and valid pre-departure test. Your test may show a positive result, so you will need to see a medical practitioner who will examine you for current symptoms of COVID-19. 

If they are confident you do not have a COVID-19 infection and don't pose a threat to others, you will need them to provide:

  • A medical certificate with the date of your previous positive test, within 48 hours of your flight to New Zealand
  • Documentation stating that they consider you as no longer being infectious with COVID-19

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 3 months, the New Zealand health authorities recommend you book your medical examination in advance of receiving your test results.  

What tests will you need to take when you arrive in New Zealand?

Eligible travellers entering New Zealand will be given a pack of rapid antigen tests (RATs) upon arrival at the airport, along with instructions on how to use them.

You must take 2 tests. Take a test on day one when you arrive in New Zealand, and another on day 5/6.

How will you report the results of your tests to the New Zealand health authorities?

You must report both test results, irrespective of whether you test negative or positive.

After you complete your traveller declaration, you will receive an email from the New Zealand Ministry of Health. You'll need to follow the instructions in the email and report your results using the link that they send to you.

You can also call a COVID-19 Test Results phoneline with your result. Details on how to do this will be provided in your test kit. 

If you return a positive test result

If you return a positive RAT result you will need to:

  • Report it immediately and let them know that you have recently arrived in New Zealand
  • Isolate for 7 days, the same period as a community case in New Zealand
  • Get a PCR test. Tell the healthcare provider who does the test that you have recently arrived in New Zealand. The PCR test results can provide valuable insight into any potential new variants coming into New Zealand.

If you return a negative RAT

If you return a negative RAT, you must still report your result. You do not need to self-isolate. 

If you test positive after day 6

If you test positive after being in New Zealand for 7 days or longer, you will need to isolate for 7 days. You should have a contingency plan in place for this, you'll need to source your own accommodation and cover any associated costs, you may also need to pay for any healthcare costs should it be required.

How do I complete the New Zealand Traveller Declaration Form?

This form must be completed if you are travelling by air in order for you to be issued with a Travellers Pass to show at check-in and upon arrival in New Zealand.

You can start your declaration 28 days before your flight and you will need to include the results of your pre-departure test. Here's a handy guide on how to complete and submit your Traveller Declaration form, but if you're struggling, just give us a call.

How do I keep up to date with the changing entry requirements?

By referring to the Silver Fern Holidays website of course! We'll regularly update the website with any new changes to entry requirements. Or, you can sign up to receive our regular e-newsletters, get in touch at to be added to our mailing list.


Visiting Akaroa: The Jewel of Banks Peninsula

Akaroa: Māori for “Long Harbour”

Most Silver Fern travellers who wish to visit the small town of Akaroa on the South Island’s Banks Peninsula, do so at the end of their New Zealand holiday.

It’s an ideal, easy-going place to have a restful couple of days before returning to Christchurch and catching the plane back home.

Google Maps will tell you that the drive is only an hour and twenty minutes, but in my experience the twisting roads and the many options to stop along the way means the journey will take you most of a morning. The peninsula was named for botanist Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain James Cook on the Endeavour.

The History of Akaroa

Akaroa has a special point of difference in history - it was the only French settlement in New Zealand.

In 1838 a French whaler, Captain Langlois, decided that Akaroa was an ideal location for a town that could service the whaling ships. He subsequently acquired the peninsula in a dubious land deal with the local Māori. He then returned to France and arranged for a group of French and German families to sail to New Zealand, with the intention of forming a French colony.

However, by the time Langlois and his colonists arrived at Banks Peninsula in August 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi had already been signed. The signatories, including two Akaroa chiefs and New Zealand's first Governor, Hobson, had declared sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand.

In spite of this unexpected turn of events, the French settlers decided to stay on and over the next few decades, Akaroa became quite cosmopolitan. The French established themselves at one end of town, the British at the other, and people from Portugal, Italy, Spain, China and Australia joined them.

Akaroa’s population never grew much past 1000 - today it has about 650 permanent residents, but its population increases by around 4000 during the peak of the cruise season.

The distinctive character of Akaroa village is enhanced by the large number of well-preserved colonial buildings. The historic French cemetery and the French street names with their unmistakable French style, run throughout this seaside town.

Akaroa celebrates its French heritage with a biannual event, FrenchFest, where visitors and locals alike can enjoy a re-enactment of the French landing, a French inspired market day and an evening Cabaret.

There are two museums which recount Akaroa’s continental past and they’re both very much worth a look-in to discover more about the history of Akaroa.

Akaroa Museum is in the village itself, and over the hill from Akaroa in Okains Bay you’ll find the Māori & Colonial Museum. Here, you’ll find significant Taonga Māori and early Pākehā items among the range of treasures on display in the museum’s diverse complex of heritage buildings. 

The Geography of Akaroa

Akaroa is situated on the shore of French Bay, inside Akaroa Harbour, which is a rocky inlet on the Banks Peninsula that was formed when the sea breached the erosion-enlarged crater of an ancient volcano. One of the few mistakes Captain Cook made in his cartography of the area was to assume the peninsula was an island.

Where to Stay in Akaroa

One of the attractions to Akaroa is the low-rise accommodation, which sits in stark contrast to the many floor hotels that are part of the Christchurch city landscape. For overnight stays you’re really looking at motels, apartments and small bed and breakfast establishments. Our tried and tested recommendations for places to stay in Akaroa are:

Oinako Bed and Breakfast

An iconic landmark since 1896, Oinako holds a cherished place in the heart of Akaroa’s French heritage. Elegant rooms, superb harbour views, beautiful period features and peaceful surroundings are the hallmark of this historic home.   

Te Wepu Pod Retreats

For something a little different, check out the latest in alternative accommodation - which seem to be a new favourite amongst farmers! It’s a 15-minute walk from the nearest road, but you do get to sleep on real beds in double-glazed, New Zealand-made pods with some of the most incredible and tranquil views you’ll ever experience (even more so from the private woodfired hot tub). As they say, “more solid than canvas, much more romantic than an ordinary hotel room”.

Akaroa Coastal Studio

The Akaroa Coastal Studio is perched above native bush, with spectacular views of the harbour. Attached to the owners home, it’s a quiet, private room with its own entrance, queen-bed, kitchenette and en-suite bathroom. Studio guests can also enjoy private use of the outdoor spa pool too.

Like many accommodations in New Zealand, they can also book activities directly for you.

Akaroa Criterion Motel

A newly renovated motel, it offers large studio apartments with stunning views over the harbour, private balconies, double glazed and under floor heating.

Akaroa Waterfront Motels

Probably our pick of the motels because it is the only motel in Akaroa on the water's edge. All units are self-contained with their own kitchenette and private bathroom to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

Akaroa Village Inn

No longer an inn but really another set of apartments that are well located with all the amenities you’d need. Family-friendly with a lovely outdoor pool, laundry service, cooking facilities and free parking - it’s perfect for those looking for a home away from home.

Other accommodations to consider are Mount Vernon Lodge or the Tresori Motor lodge – both offering convenient and comfortable self-contained studio apartments.

Activities in Akaroa

If you’re looking for things to do in Akaroa, most activities involve sea action. But if you are a “land-lubber” and fancy making it a walking holiday, you’ll also find plenty of walks to enjoy - ranging from just a few hours to three-day track walks. Most of the walks have spectacular views of the Akaroa harbour once you get up into the hills above the township.

Walks & Hikes Around Akaroa

To really make the most of the local scenery, then a walk around the Banks Peninsula is the way to go. Here’s some of our favourites:

Banks Track Walk

Let’s start with the big one – The Banks Track walk. Pioneered hut-to-hut walking over private land, it’s still regarded as the finest private walking track in the country.

Beginning in the village of Akaroa, the Banks Track includes spectacular volcanic coastline, waterfalls, native bush, open pasture, and delightful beaches. You can choose between the three-day Classic Walk or the two-day Hikers Walk option.

Akaroa & Banks Peninsula Short Walks

Recommended short walks are through native bush to the Gardens of Tane and across to the historic lighthouse.

Further afield, we’d suggest the Misty Peaks full day circular walk and the Round the Mountain trail which encompasses Purple Curry Reserve.

For a comprehensive guide to all the walks in the area, please visit the Banks Peninsular Walks website.

On the Water in Akaroa

If for any reason you’ve missed seeing dolphins in the Bay of Islands or off the Kaikoura coastline, you’ve plenty of opportunities to see them in Akaroa’s waters.

Here’s some of the operators who will take you out to see the local bird and fish life:

Akaroa's Fox II

Fox II Sailing will take you out into the harbour on New Zealand’s oldest ketch. With 2 wooden masts and 6 sails, there is always a halyard to hoist or a sheet to be pulled! So, if you’re into sailing this is the trip for you – the crew are pretty good on their local history and wildlife too and know exactly where to spot dolphins - you’re guaranteed a good time!

 Black Cat Cruises & Swimming with Dolphins

Black Cat Cruises proclaim they are the original dolphin swimming encounter. It is fair to say they have won numerous awards for their eco tours and only allow a maximum of twelve swimmers, so you can be sure of a quiet, personalised experience.

Pohatu Penguins Sea-Kayaking Safari

And if it’s penguins you’d like to see then this is an excursion you should take. Explore by kayak the towering volcanic cliffs, reefs and sea caves of Pohatu marine reserve to encounter its unique wildlife.

 Akaroa Dolphins Harbour Nature Cruises

Harbour nature cruises offer a more luxury option. You’ll board a cruise boat to view the dolphins, seals and seabirds on a 2-hour float around Akaroa Harbour - all the while enjoying complementary, award-winning drinks and food. For something even more special, they also offer private charters. You can hire a boat from 2 hours to a full day with many additional services available, such as catering, entertainment, and your own onboard photographer.

A similar operation is also provided by Southern Wanderer Scenic Cruises and EcoSeaker Harbour Cruises, but on a smaller cruise ship.

Where to Eat in Akaroa

And after all the excitement of the day, where are you going to relax and enjoy an evening meal in Akaroa?

Our absolute number one recommendation would be Bully Hayes restaurant and bar, which has panoramic views of the harbour and serves up an extensive menu of New Zealand produce, complemented by some fine local wines and craft beers.

And if it’s the wine you’ve come for, the French Farm Winery has a wide selection as part of their bistro offering in a peaceful garden setting.

For something different, you have to try Mandala. Run by a Fijian husband and wife team, they serve a tasty blend of Pacific Indian flavours with the best of traditional European food. 

Finally, there is Ethels Cinema, Café & Bar. Akaroa’s twin screen movie theatre that often features the latest blockbuster, documentary, foreign and arthouse films.

Each cinema has plush seating with a table for snacks, coffee or glass of wine. As well as the latest films, Ethels also offer dine-in and takeaway food including daily baked savoury and sweet treats. It’s also the place for Italian pizza, fresh salads, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

For such a small township, Akaroa certainly packs a punch and although some locals complain about the large cruise ships that visit the area, there is no doubt that the local tourist operators benefit from their presence.

I’ve found visiting in the autumn months to be the best time to visit – with the many hues of the season offering a wonderful display of colour against the rich light that softens the landscape at this time of year.

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For more information about visiting Akaroa, do get in touch, we’re always happy to chat about this marvellous little place!


Christmas in New Zealand - Silver Fern Holidays

Christmas in New Zealand: Celebrate Like a Kiwi

Want to make the festive period extra special? Then, consider Christmas in New Zealand. 

With Christmas on the horizon, we thought it a good idea to give you a picture of what it’s like in New Zealand and some of the delights that await you if you decide to visit the country at this time of the year.

Christmas time in New Zealand is unlike anywhere else in the world. Spending the holiday season in New Zealand is an amazing way to learn more about the Kiwi culture, and give yourself a break from the bleak British winter too! 

As New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas is a much warmer affair than you might be used to. Christmas imagery in New Zealand still features lots of classic wintery designs, but it all comes with a special Kiwi twist. A traditional Christmas in New Zealand takes influence from Britain, North America, and the indigenous Māori population. 

This diversity is a big part of what makes New Zealand the incredibly unique place it is. 

So, we’ve put together a special guide to Christmas in New Zealand so you can really make the most of your festive Kiwi holiday…

Traditional New Zealand Christmas Food

Let’s be honest, for most of us a big part of Christmas is the food! Whether it’s a roast dinner with all the trimmings or arguing over the last Quality Street, food is a big part of tradition. 

New Zealand is no different and food plays a big part in Christmas celebrations. 

Like Australia, the warm weather does have an impact on a typical New Zealand Christmas dinner. While some families opt for a traditional roast dinner, it’s not the norm. Barbecue or a picnic at the beach is much more common. Seafood and locally grown vegetables are especially popular choices. 

Families with Māori roots often have a Hangi. A Hangi is a traditional form of underground cooking where fish or meat, vegetables and Kumara (which is similar to sweet potato) are wrapped in flax leaves or cloth sacks. They’re then placed on hot stones in a pit before being covered with a wet cloth and buried with earth. 

The Hangi is left to slow cook for at least four hours, which gives the food a delicious smoky flavour. Because the Hangi takes so long to cook, it’s perfect for Christmas day where people have more time to relax together and enjoy each other's company while they wait. 

A traditional Kiwi dessert is a pavlova pudding but be aware, serving one may end in a heated debate! Both New Zealand and Australia claim to have invented the pavlova, as do England and America. The ribbing is mostly good-natured, and it’s already been proven England invented it anyway! 

Pavlova - New Zealand Christmas Dessert - Silver Fern Holidays

Decorating for Christmas Like a Kiwi 

Christmas in New Zealand takes inspiration from a number of cultures and you can see this reflected in the decorations. It’s very common to have a traditional pine Christmas tree but that’s not the only traditional Christmas tree in NZ. 

The Pōhutukawa tree blooms in December and will continue to do so until early January and is known for its bright red flowers. They’re most common on the North Island but they do grow on the South Island as well, they’re just rarer and tend to bloom slightly later. 

Pōhutukawa trees are heavily featured on Christmas cards and in songs and poems, and because of their bright colouring, they don’t need as much decoration as a pine tree. 

Not only does the ​​Pōhutukawa tree feature heavily in festive imagery, but it’s also incredibly important to Māori culture. On the windy clifftop of Cape Reinga is an ancient ​​Pōhutukawa tree, which the Māori believe is where the spirits of the dead begin their journey to Hawaiki. 

Hawaiki, in Polynesian mythology is considered the ancestral homeland and is where all life begins and where spirits return to at death. 

You can find out more about Hawaiki in our blog post where we take a closer look at some of our favourite Māori myths and legends.

Pohutukawa in Bloom - Doubtless Bay, New Zealand - Silver Fern Holidays
Pōhutukawa in Bloom - Doubtless Bay, New Zealand.

Traditional Christmas Gifts in New Zealand

Every Christmas, you’re almost always guaranteed to get a pair of fluffy socks. As children, we might not get that excited by socks but as adults, we realise they’re actually a pretty great gift. New Zealand has a similar tradition with jandals. Jandals is slang for ‘Japanese Sandals’ and have been a popular gift since the 1950s.

If you want to make sure you’re on the good list and get plenty of great gifts from Santa, make sure to leave a treat for him. In New Zealand, it’s traditional to leave Santa some pineapple chunks and his reindeer carrots. Probably a healthier choice than cookies and milk!

Where To Spend Christmas in New Zealand

Now you know how to celebrate like a Kiwi, you just have to decide where to spend Christmas! You’ll find plenty to enjoy on both the North Island and the South Island. 

Christmas in Auckland 

If you’re looking for some traditional festive cheer, Auckland might be the perfect place for you. For over 80 years, Auckland has hosted an annual Santa Parade to get everyone into the festive mood. It’s normally held at the end of November, although it can be early December depending on the weather. It’s known for its marching bands, multi-cultural performances and decorated floats. 

If you want to spend more time with the locals and celebrate like a true Kiwi, head over to Auckland Domain for the Coca Cola Christmas in the Park. It’s filled with live music acts and performances from some of NZ’s most loved artists. 

For something a bit more classic, visit the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s annual Christmas concert. Concerts are usually held in mid-December at the Holy Trinity Cathedral and often bring in local community choirs. 

When you’re doing your gift shopping, you can’t go wrong with a market. Orewa Twilight Christmas Market is an annual market filled with artisan products and delicious local food - perfect for choosing some gifts to bring home, and a treat or two for yourself.  

If you’ve decided to travel solo, there are plenty of community events on Christmas day itself. The Auckland City Mission hosts an annual community lunch that’s incredibly popular for locals and visitors alike. In 2016, it had over 550 volunteers and 2000 guests. It’s a great way to make some friends over the holidays. 

The Auckland Santa Parade - Silver Fern Holidays
The Auckland Santa Parade

Christmas in Queenstown 

Of course, not everyone is looking for a traditional Christmas. Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of the world, is the perfect spot for an adventurous Christmas! Most places in New Zealand will be closed on Christmas day, but Queenstown never sleeps. 

Most activities will operate on a reduced schedule but you can still find plenty to do like kayaking and jet boating through Skippers Canyon rapids. There’s normally restaurants open as well, but if you’re looking for something less formal, then head down to the lakeside. 

Queenstown is surrounded by the beautiful Lake Wakatipu waters, or you can hike towards Glenorchy, which is perfect for working up an appetite. 

One of our favourite ways to dine in Queenstown is the Skyline Gondola which hosts a special Christmas and New Years Eve dinner. You can take a gondola up the mountain, enjoy live music, a buffet of traditional Kiwi food and even try out a luge ride!

It’s essential that you book in advance for Christmas day activities. Get in touch with us if you’d like help planning your Christmas adventure.

Queenstown as seen from Skyline Gondola - Silver Fern Holidays
Queenstown as seen from Skyline Gondola

New Year in New Zealand 

Being one of the first places in the world to welcome in a new year, New Zealand is the place to do it. If you’ve spent Christmas in Queenstown or Auckland, they’re great spots to enjoy the New Year as well. Of course, to make the most of your trip, you can always spend Christmas on different islands. With a short internal flight between islands for New Year’s Eve, there’s really nothing to stop you enjoying the best of both. 

Queenstown is great if you’re looking to party the night away. The city’s bars and clubs will be busy with live events, bar crawls and plenty of music! Make sure to head to the lakefront for midnight though where you can catch a fireworks display over the water. 

If you’re spending New Year in Auckland, the Sky Tower will give you the best views of the city and the fireworks show. If fireworks aren’t your thing, Auckland also hosts plenty of music festivals to see the new year in and harbour party cruises for some beautiful sights. 

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Ready for your own festive New Zealand adventure? Get in touch with us and see how we can help you with a tailor-made holiday or one of our exciting small group tours.


Singapore Stopovers: A Complete Guide to Changi Airport

Singapore – the tiny island state just off the coast of Malaysia, has long been one of the favourite stopovers when travelling to New Zealand, with the tropical city offering a vast array of things to do and see with a few days between flights.

Singapore Airlines, the national carrier, is one of the most comfortable airlines we’ve travelled on. With well-balanced value combined with impeccable service, as well as some of the most sensible flight times between the UK and New Zealand.

For many of our travellers, the best combination of flight times and cost result in their spending several hours in Changi Airport itself (sometimes referred to as Singapore Airport).

In most other airports, it would be time filled with thumb-twiddling and numerous cups of coffee. Changi, on the other hand, is not like other airports and is often pegged as the best airport in the world.

Why is Changi Airport the best?

The first thing you’ll notice is the sheer enormity. In fact, there have been numerous accounts of people spending whole weekends in Changi Airport and not running out of things to do.

It also bags a number of award-winning and record-breaking attractions, including the Rain Vortex - the world’s tallest indoor waterfall in its newly-built Jewel Terminal.

There’s a futuristic glassed ceiling building containing the never-ending Shiseido Forest Valley indoor gardens, as well as sound and light shows projected onto the 40-metres high Vortex.

They’re just a couple of the unique attractions you’ll find, but after a long flight, these in particular are great for invoking a sense of calm and tranquillity as you recharge ready for the next leg of your journey.

Although the carefully curated gardens of New Zealand are well-respected, the options at Changi are almost endless with gardens in each terminal. Seeing nature within such an industrialised setting never gets old.

What can you do at Changi Airport?

Terminal 1

Terminal 1 welcomes arrivals with a 24-hour water lily garden and the Piazza Garden with its Singaporean plant species. There’s also the Tropical Rainforest Vivarium, which is a feast for the senses with flora chosen especially for their scent as well as a diverse range of complementary colours.

For those spending more time in Terminal 1, also open 24-hours is the rooftop Cactus Garden and Bar, which has several species from around the world. The Discovery Garden, which features a combination of sculpture and nature also has a number of raised pathways, enabling visitors to grab the perfect selfie with their favourite piece.

Terminal 2

For those exploring Terminal 2, the Enchanted Garden offers motion-sensored nature sounds, sparkling lighting and reflective sculptures contrasting with the genuine ferns and flowers.

Also in Terminal 2 is the delightful Sunflower Garden - staving off the jetlag with a good dose of sunlight during the day and innovative lighting by night. There’s also the popular Orchid Garden, with themed areas based on the elements of fire, water, earth, and air.

Terminal 3

Typically, the New Zealand and UK flights depart from Terminal 3, which is peppered with its own garden highlights. It offers the world’s first Butterfly Garden in an airport, as well as the Crystal Garden - another wonderful blend of sculpture with the natural world.

Not to be outdone, the new Jewel terminal has arguably got the pick of the crop, with the Canopy Park, and the 24-hour multi-level Shiseido Forest Valley, one of Asia’s largest indoor gardens, with over 100 different species of plants from around the world.

The free-to-visit garden comes complete with walking trails, and even a sensory section containing light shows, music and targeted scents. It offers one of the most peaceful and thought-provoking natural experiences you’re ever likely to come across at an airport.

What can kids do at Changi Airport?

If you’re on a family holiday to New Zealand and you opt for a Singapore stopover, there’s plenty for the kids to do too. For a more energetic garden visit, a small entry fee allows access to the Canopy Park, spanning the entirety of the top floor of the Jewel Terminal, with an enormous suspension bridge offering panoramic views of the Rain Vortex, including a nerve-wracking glass floor section.

In addition to the traditional Petal Garden, the Topiary Walk offers a fun trail through animal-shaped foliage, and the Hedge Maze is Singapore’s largest.

Kids can also enjoy the smaller mirror maze, the Foggy Bowls (mist-releasing bowls that give the illusion of being amongst the clouds), and the four integrated Discovery Slides - offering fantastic views of the Rain Vortex and the Forest Valley.

Baggage storage facilities mean you are free from the constraints of your luggage and with plenty of restaurants in the Canopy Park, you could easily spend a half day in this section of the airport alone.

Also at Jewel is the Changi Experience Studio, with interactive games including the chance to race a Boeing 747.

For those wanting to stay in Terminal 3, kids old and young will love The Slide@T3 - Singapore’s tallest slide, and the world’s tallest slide in an airport!  And you could lose the little ones for days at a time in the Games Area in Terminal 4, with arcade machines on offer as well as PlayStations, X-Boxes, and a Wii to enjoy free of charge.

If you want something a little more chilled, in Terminals 2 and 3, classic kid’s films are played on giant cinema screens alongside recent releases, complete with comfortable seats and popcorn.

And for the adults?

Sometimes you just need a bit of grown-up time and a relaxed meal! With almost 200 bars, café’s and restaurants to choose from throughout the airport, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

Food & Drink - For a kid-free zone, challenge your friend or partner to make you a cocktail at the dedicated zone within duty free in Terminal 4, or try suggested food and beer matches at Tiger Beer’s Vortex-view restaurant.

For those desperate for a bit of fresh air, Hub & Spoke Café’s menu offers a range of Western and Singaporean classics served alfresco at Terminal 2.

Wellbeing - If all the kids splashing around at the Terminal 1 roof-top pool, have you craving a bit of peace and quiet, head for the Wellness Oasis Spa for a facial and a fish pedicure.

Shopping - If you’re desperate to flash the cash, fear not as Changi offers a mind-boggling array of duty-free shopping experiences - from local brands to international luxury and everything in between.

Art & Culture - For culture vultures, Changi is absolutely bursting with artwork.

Terminal 1’s Kinetic Rain installation made up of shining metal droplets suspended overhead that shift position inspired by the flow of passengers and planes through the airport. It’ll have you staring in wonder (or confusion, depending on how much sleep you managed on your flight).

Similarly, Terminal 2’s A Million Times at Changi, where hundreds of clocks harmonise their hands into creating messages and pictures.

In Terminal 3 the 13m tall Daisy is painted in Singapore’s national colours, with a giant propeller a nod to its location as it follows the movements of passers-by.

Finally, for those extending their holiday with side-trips to other Asian destinations, Terminal 4 offers its own shape-shifting piece, Petalclouds, which can be enjoyed from both the Departure and Arrival halls.

For a more traditional offering, Singapore Rojak is a giant heritage mural depicting a Singaporean Street Scene, with market stalls inviting observers in with their colourful wares. The garden in T4 also contains a series of giant bromeliads juxtaposed against an enormous steel creative centrepiece, and a gentle koi pond.

Wherever you turn at Changi Airport, you’re sure to find something incredible to look at.

Can I stay overnight at Changi Airport?

Yes! In fact, we recommend it to really make the most of your visit.

With the world’s highest indoor waterfall, tallest airport slide and the only airport Butterfly Garden, we’d be surprised if Changi could be beaten on number of sleeping options.

Free of charge rest areas are spread throughout the airport, offering comfortable seating including reclining massage chairs. Airport lounges also offer showers and multiple areas to relax and watch a movie while you recoup.

If undisturbed sleep and a private room are your top priority, we can book you a room at the transit hotel onsite with a bed and a shower available for blocks of 6 hours - perfect when travelling on Singapore Airline’s service between UK and New Zealand.

What if I don’t have much time to spend at Changi Airport?

Changi’s got you covered! It’s known in flight-booking circles as one of the most efficient airports around. Connection times here may be tighter than allowed elsewhere, and even if you’re only taking the Sky Train between terminals, you should still manage a glimpse of the Rain Vortex.

Unlike many other international airports that operate strongly reduced hours overnight, Changi offers a range of restaurants, duty free and other shopping options open into the late evening, with some Terminal 3 dining available 24/7.

We recommend you should also squeeze in a visit to one of the gardens, many of which are also accessible by night.

What about COVID-19?

Not only is Singapore one of a handful of countries (along with New Zealand, of course!) that the UK government will accept vaccination certificates from, they were also one of the first whose national airline carrier insisted their cabin crew wore facemasks to protect passengers, way back in early 2020.

Already known as one of the cleanest countries in the world with their infamous chewing gum ban imposed in 1992, since the pandemic hit, cleaning regimes have been stepped up even further. The airport website has a dedicated Covid-19 Hub to help make your time in the airport as safe and seamless as possible.

Anything else I should see?

Oh, so much more – but what would be the fun in exploring for yourself if we spoilt all the surprises before you arrived?

OK, I’m sold… how do I get there?

If you’re looking to book a New Zealand holiday, just give us a call to discuss your requirements with us so that we can book your transit through Changi.

If you plan to explore the city too, keep a look out for our upcoming blog post with all our latest tips on how best to spend your time whilst visiting Singapore.


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