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If you long to explore New Zealand’s beautiful Bay of Islands, Paihia makes a wonderful base. Known as “the Jewel of the Bay Islands,” this seaside town has golden beaches, lovely coastal walking trails and waterfalls, and a colorful population of local birds. Paihia also holds an important role in the country’s history. It was here, after a century of conflict between indigenous Maori tribes and Western settlers, that peace was finally made and the groundbreaking Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
The seaside town of Russell is one of the most popular destinations in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. The area teems with a mash-up of indigenous and European history, evident in its architecture and historic sites. Sail around the bay on a chartered yacht or iconic tall ship or explore the multiple personalities of The Gables 1847, which has served as a bakery, bordello and shelter for AWOL sailors on the lam.
The Māori call Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau — a maiden desired by 100 lovers,
and a valuable territory fought over for centuries for its fertile land and
natural harbours on the Pacific Ocean (to the east) and Tasman Sea (to the
west). Today, it’s New Zealand’s largest city: 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.
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.
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.
Sample the beloved vintages of the Marlborough Wine Region in Blenheim, an agricultural town in the heart of New Zealand’s renowned wine hub. More than 20 wineries are just a hop, skip and a corkscrew away from Blenheim, where a stream of cafes and restaurants serve up tasty, artisan fare. One of the sunniest towns in New Zealand, Blenheim is the perfect destination for foodies and wine lovers who love to soak up the sun while sipping the fruits of a vineyard’s labour.
Staggering beauty and heart-pumping thrills await in the resort town of Queenstown, which is also known for its Hobbits—much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in the area. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Queenstown for the kayaking, bungee jumping, jetboating, white-water rafting, hiking and skiing. More mild-mannered adventurers can take a quiet cruise through nearby Milford Sound, part of the Fjordland National Park World Heritage area, or sample South Island pinot noir from one of the region's 75 wineries.
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.
City slickers, culture vultures and beach bums alike fall in love with Sydney. Hang ten at famed Bondi Beach or stroll the calmer sands of Coogee. Cash burning a hole in your pocket? You’ll find great shopping in the Rocks district and along George and Pitt Streets. Climb to the top of the Harbour Bridge or take a skywalk on Sydney Tower for a 360-degree view of the city. But whatever you do, don’t leave town without cuddling the koalas in the Taronga Park Zoo—they’re ridiculously adorable.
Australia’s third-largest city, Brisbane is the hub of Queensland culture, offering a peek at the past and a glimpse into the future. Visit the historic Windmill and Old Commissariat Store, built by convicts in 1828, or fast-forward to the present (and beyond) with a trip to the new Gallery of Modern Art. Mingle with locals atop Mount Coot-tha, cruise the Brisbane River to South Bank’s sandy beach on the City Cat and make sure to fill the cuteness quota at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, home to koalas and kangaroos.
Lovely, laid-back Melbourne has something for everyone: family fare, local and international art, haute boutiques, multicultural dining, Australian and Aboriginal history, spectator sports, and pulsing, swanky nightlife. Cruise on the free City Circle Tram loop to check out unique attractions like the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Healesville Sanctuary, which buzzes with local animal species.