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Nelson’s thriving arts and music scene has helped to establish it as a destination for free spirits and art-lovers. Festivals, studios, galleries, craft markets… Every cranny of this South Island city seems to buzz with artistic energy. Lord of the Rings fans will flip for the Jens Hansen workshop in Trafalgar Square—Hansen is the goldsmith who designed the “precious” guarded by Frodo in the LOTR films.
Wellington boasts a compact downtown area that’s easy to explore on foot and a wealth of architectural styles, from 19th-century wooden cottages to Art Deco masterpieces. Discover the city’s Maori roots at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea and the Museum of New Zealand. Sip coffee and people-watch in lively Courtney Place, or survey the city from scenic Mount Victoria. When the sun goes down on Windy Wellington, take a nocturnal tour of Karori Wildlife Sanctuary to meet some colourful inhabitants.
Rare yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals and the world's only mainland albatross colony share residence in Dunedin, New Zealand's oldest city. When you're not watching wildlife, this South Island Otago Coast town also boasts impressive historic architecture from its days as a gold-rush mecca. Visit the 1906 Flemish Renaissance railway station or the country's largest center of higher learning, which resembles Glasgow University, thanks to the area's early Scottish settlers.
Hailed by Rudyard Kipling as "the eighth wonder of the world," the breathtaking Milford Sound is the star of glacier-carved Fiordland National Park, providing an emerald-green and waterfall-rich backdrop for hiking, biking and kayaking. Frequent downpours only enhance this South Island beauty, sending numerous waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. Passionate nature lovers book in advance to hike the 33-mile Milford Track, a legendary route through alpine passes and temperate rainforest.
If you like Art Deco architecture, you must visit Napier. The town was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, then completely rebuilt in gorgeous Art Deco style. A number of local wineries also offer tours and tastings.
Bubbling mineral springs and pools promise maximum relaxation in Rotorua, on New Zealand's North Island. Therapeutic hot mud pools, dramatic geysers and a buried village are within easy reach of the city. What happens in the bubbling mud geysers of "Rotovegas"—the area at the top of Fenton Street—stays in Rotovegas. Once you've made the most of the mud, soar nearly 2,000 feet on the Skyline Gondola for views of Lake Rotorua, then zip back down to explore the lake by paddle steamer, fishing charter or WWII amphibious vehicle.
European, Polynesian, Asian and strong Maori heritages give the Auckland its distinctive culture. Discover the history of the world's largest Polynesian city through Maori treasures at Auckland Museum and experience the lives of 19th-century settlers at Howick Historical Village. Find Polynesian handicrafts at Otara Market or people-watch in bustling Ponsonby and Parnell. Adventure junkies can get their fix from kayaking, sailing and high-octane bungee jumping.
Nusa Dua is a hotbed of luxurious accommodations, golf resorts, fine dining and R&R. Surfing and diving are popular activities for more active visitors to this beach destination. Trek up the many steps to Mother Temple Besakih and combine sight-seeing with muscle toning. An array of spas, galleries and boutiques await those who prefer less exertion. Local Barong performances can be admired at Batubulan.