New Zealand's major centres hold a trove of cultural, artistic, environmental and culinary wonders for a city break that will both enrich and entertain.
To truly appreciate the lay of the land in New Zealand's biggest city, it's a good idea to tackle at least one of Auckland's volcanic cones - there are more than 50 of them. Mt Eden offers unsurpassed 360-degree views of the city; One Tree Hill is a recreational playground, with plenty of spots for a picnic; or after a short ferry ride to Rangitoto, you'll soon be walking through rocky landscapes and lush bush before being treated to panoramic vistas at the top.
If you want more time on the water, get out on it with one of the many charter options. Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari offers a great chance to spot some marine life with the city never far behind. You can keep the glittering Waitemata Harbour as a backdrop, when you dine and shop at Commercial Bay, a stunning design feat in Auckland's downtown. At this slick new precinct, you can load up on designer goods before filling your boots at the cut-above food hall, or stopping a bit longer at one of the more formal restaurants, often with views as impressive as the food.
A wonderfully creative way to acquaint yourself with this southern city is to embark on the Dunedin Street Art Trail, where you can experience more than 30 vibrant, whimsical artworks by local and international artists.
But no trip to New Zealand's "wildlife capital" is complete without a trip out to The Royal Albatross Centre, the world's only mainland-breeding albatross colony. These impressively wing-spanned birds are a joy to watch but aren't the only avian drawcard; Blue Penguins, too, are in their natural habitat here, plus sea lions and fur seals also call the Otago Peninsula home. For more nature loveliness, head to Tunnel Beach Track, so named because of the hand-carved rock tunnel that was built in the 1870s, allowing passage to the secluded and sheltered beach at the base of the magnificent sandstone cliffs along the coastline.
You'll need to set aside a good few hours to explore one of the Waikato's greatest treasures; the Hamilton Gardens are a visual feast of botanic wonderment. Each themed area offers richly imagined flora displays, such as the Indian Char Bagh; Italian Renaissance; Japanese Contemplation and Surrealist Gardens, among many others. And don't forget to stop and smell the roses at the gorgeous Rogers Rose Garden.
For more manicured magic, take a tour of the Zealong Tea Estate, the only commercial tea estate in New Zealand. On their "Discover High Tea Experience" you'll tour the tea trail, take part in a ceremonial tea tasting, and be treated to a selection of sweet and savoury morsels to complement your brew. A certain Mr Baggins would certainly approve and while out this way, you can pop over to the Shire yourself at nearby Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata.
Christchurch's post-quake revitalisation is flourishing and one of the best ways to take it all in is by bike, due to the city's flat elevation and purpose-built cycleways. The Urban Explorer Tour with Chill Explore is a three-hour tour where you'll absorb all the local highlights of heritage sites, parks, gardens and hospitality hotspots.
Once you have your bearings, you'll want to spend some more time getting to know some of those spots a bit better, such as the Riverside Market, a seven-day indoor farmers' market overlooking the Avon River; a great place to stock up on local produce, meat, seafood, baked goods and coffee.
For art buffs, the Christchurch Arts Centre is a hub of creative expression, packed with galleries and museums, performing arts and film centres. When you're ready to unwind, take a seat at Cellar Door, set in the beautiful south quad of the centre, and take your tastebuds on a journey of local and international wines.
With the title of "New Zealand's craft beer capital", you won't have any trouble quenching your brew thirst in Wellington. To celebrate the amber stuff to its fullest, pick up a Craft Beer Capital brochure or download it online, and follow the trail collecting stamps as you go – get the full set and there's a certificate for your efforts.
There's treasure of a different kind to be found on Cuba Street. Home to eclectic fashion and independent boutiques, Cuba is a fascinating slice of bohemia, where you can pick up one-of-a-kind items from vintage watches, to classic records old books and clothing, all of which will have everyone asking in admiration, "Where did you get that?". Once you have your outfit sorted, immerse yourself in the cultural treasures of the Wellington City Gallery, just look for the hard-to-miss 'Quasi' character, a giant hand-creature sculpture perched on the roof.