Trains, trails and Māori culture: Reasons to visit New Zealand in 2024

The launch of an immersive Māori experience, scenic rail journey upgrades, and more new trails than you can shake a stick at are just a few reasons why you sho

Jessica Reid
29 January 2024

Hidden in the corner of the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand also known as Aotearoa in Māori-language – is one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. But being so far away from so many destinations, you need a good reason to make the long-distance journey. As well as new flight routes from Air New Zealand recently launching from the USA and Canada making the country even more accessible, there’s a also a great selection of new ways to explore the outdoors, immerse yourself in its Māori culture, and enjoy its world-famous wine.

Here’s some of the best things to do in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2024…

Choose a trail, any trail

The Tuatapere Hump Ridge track is set to finally open in 2024 (Graeme Murray/Tourism NZ)

There’s no better way to soak in Aotearoa New Zealand’s awe-inspiring landscapes than by exploring them on foot, and 2024 is providing new opportunities to lace up your walking boots. Firstly, the 11th Great Walk of New Zealand is finally set to fully open in the spring. We’ve been teased with the Tuatapere Hump Ridge track for a while now, but outdoor enthusiasts will soon be able to ramble along the south coast, hike up the sub-alpine zone, and march along historic viaducts in the native forest environment. The loop trail takes approximately three days to complete.

Later in the year will also see the launch of the Kawatiri Coastal Trail, a 50km heritage pathway for both cyclists and walkers connecting the towns of Westport and Charleston on the west coast. And if that wasn’t enough, the 210km Whale Trail – traversing the northeast coastline from Picton to Kaikōura – anticipates to veer adventurers to places off the tourist map.

Immerse yourself in Māori culture

Immerse yourself in Maori traditions in New Zealand (Alamy)

Taking quality time to immerse yourself in the Māori culture and traditions is an absolute must when you visit Aotearoa New Zealand. A new way to do so comes in the form of a unique multi-sensory exhibition called The Pounamu Pathway on the South Island’s west coast. Combing ancient heritage with modern technology, travellers will be able to visit four digital ‘hubs’ across the region: Greymouth, Westport, Hokitika and Haast. Each centre along this culturally significant landscape tells the stories of their local Māori communities. One of the first hubs to open is the Greymouth Centre, where a captivating exhibition of monumental sculptures and audio-visual presentations self-guide you through the history and legends of the Poutini Ngāi Tahu (people of the West Coast) and the Māwhera Pā (settlement).

Visit one of the world’s few Great Wine Capitals

Craggy Range Winery at Hawke’s Bay (Tourism NZ)

There’s a reason Aotearoa New Zealand’s wine is world-renowned. The climate and growing conditions allow the landscape to produce an abundance of quality grapes year-on-year. Now, the oldest wine growing region in the country (the first vineyards planted in 1851) has been named one of the Great Wine Capitals of the World. Sitting alongside the big guns of the wine world, such as Bordeaux and Napa Valley, Hawke’s Bay has more than 25 different soil types allowing it to produce nearly 40 varieties of wine, making up 90% of Aotearoa New Zealand’s entire red wine product. The most renowned? It’s hard to beat the Red Blends, Syrah, and Chardonnay, and one of the best place to test these out is at Craggy Range Winery.

For more wine heritage, journey to the South Island’s Monte Christo Winery. The oldest winery in Aotearoa New Zealand has been rebuilt and reopened to visitors at the end of 2023. It’s certainly set to be a highlight among those who consider themselves wine connoisseurs.

Access a 35-million-year-old cave system

One of the limestone arches in Oparara Basin (Clint Trahan/Tourism NZ)

After two years of upgrading, access to otherworldly Ōpārara Basin has now been greatly improved. Located in rainforest-rich Kahurangi National Park on the South Island, this cave system has been carved into limestone rock by the Ōpārara River over a 35-million-year-old period, resulting in a complex network of underground passages. Visitors who join guided tours can follow trails ranging from 10 minutes to one hour, with some of the most picturesque sights along the way including limestone tunnels, a mountain pool and river arches. Ōpārara Arch is the largest arch, reaching an impressive height of 43 metres. Ōpārara Basin is also famously home to the historic bones of moa – an extinct giant flightless bird.

Take the scenic route by rail

Visitors look out from the open-air carriage of a Great Journeys train (Great Journeys/Tourism NZ)

Road tripping through New Zealand is something on many travellers’ wish lists. But how about a greener way of exploring? Great Journeys – Aotearoa New Zealand’s tourist rail operator – has just upgraded its service to include a luxurious ‘Scenic plus’ package on all three of its trains. As well as being served locally-inspired cuisine with wine pairing, you’ll be onboard a carriage with panoramic windows, and the option to feel the breeze by stepping onto an open-air carriage – for scenic plus ticket holders only! Better yet, on Great Journey’s train, you’ll be able to tour both islands. The Coastal Pacific takes you through vineyard and alongside the ocean for dolphin spotting on the South Island, while the TranzAlpine takes you across the Canterbury Plains and into the snow-peaked mountains with glacial lakes. Hop on a ferry over to the North Island for a ride on the Northern Explorer from Wellington to Auckland. Highlights on this journey include the rural landscape of volcanic plateaus, white cliffs and mountains streams.

Journey to Middle Earth

Kaitoke Regional Park was one of the Lord of the Rings and new series, The Rings of Power, filming locations (Alamy)

Ever since The Lord of the Rings arrived on cinema screens in 2001, set-jetting travellers have visited Aotearoa New Zealand to step inside the dwellings of life-size Hobbiton. The movie set has recently been redeveloped so visitors can now step inside the Hobbit Holes and immerse themselves in the daily life in The Shire. Once finished here, travellers can then explore the extraordinary natural landscapes that have become known as Middle-Earth. Some places you may recognise from the screen include Kaitoke Regional Park and the forested area of Mount Victoria, both near Wellington. Recent Amazon spinoff, The Rings of Power also brought new attention to Aotearoa New Zealand when it was released back in 2022. The series returned to North Island locations such as the Coromandel Peninsula and Piha Beaches.

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