As we adjust to a new way of living, now is the perfect time to rethink the way we travel, writes Brett Atkinson.

While New Zealand's international borders remain closed, focus on these guidelines when exploring the country to encourage and develop the reinvention of a more resilient and sustainable travel industry.

1. Travel more slowly

Take a leaf from RV explorers in the United States and Australia's Grey Nomads and start exploring in a more leisurely way. Classic Kiwi railway journeys include the Northern Explorer, TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific, and it's definitely worth stopping en route to explore National Park, Arthur's Pass or Kaikōura during these journeys. Brilliant New Zealand road trips range from the Thermal Explorer through the volcanic centre of the North Island, or the Southern Scenic Route linking Dunedin to Queenstown via the Catlins, Invercargill and Te Anau. That's the ideal distance for the collected musical highlights of the Finn brothers, Flying Nun's best songs, and the audiobook of Michael Gill's biography of Sir Edmund Hillary.

Gisborne's Tolaga Bay Wharf spans 660m into the Pacific Ocean. Photo / Vaughan Gillard, Tourism Eastland
Gisborne's Tolaga Bay Wharf spans 660m into the Pacific Ocean. Photo / Vaughan Gillard, Tourism Eastland

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Travel the Pacific Coast Highway around remote East Cape taking in the historic wharf at Tolaga Bay and the first-to-see-the-sun lighthouse at Te Araroa.

2. Explore in more depth

Even on shorter trips, slow down, adopt a specific themed focus, and dig a little deeper to explore a personal interest. The wine regions of Martinborough, Marlborough and Hawke's Bay deserve a long weekend each, ideally interspersed with dining at restaurants and negotiating vineyard country more slowly by bicycle. Wellington has a great collection of museums, ranging from Te Papa's national showcase to the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and the Turnbull Gallery at the National Library of New Zealand. Lonely Planet has ranked Christchurch as one of the best cities in the world for street art. Check out the interactive map of the city's most interesting street art at watchthisspace.org.nz or join one of their guided walking tours.

Slow down while you travel in Central Otago, and spend an afternoon at Cargo Brewery at Gantley's. Photo / Leigh Jeffery
Slow down while you travel in Central Otago, and spend an afternoon at Cargo Brewery at Gantley's. Photo / Leigh Jeffery

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Partner adventure sports with the best of Queenstown and Wānaka craft breweries including Altitude, Rhyme and Reason, Searchlight and Cargo.

3. Learn as you travel

Travelling more leisurely and staying longer in a destination also gives visitors the opportunity to sign up for classes and events reflecting specific interests or developing new skills. Bonz 'N' Stonz Carving Studio in Hokitika offers classes in carving pounamu, bone and pāua shell, while getting creative is also available at New Zealand Glassworks in Whanganui. The one-day glassblowing course offers specialist one-on-one instruction, and there's a more concise Make a Paperweight experience spanning just 30 minutes. For specialist week-long photography tours exploring the Bay of Islands, the North Island's volcanic Central Plateau, and the rugged West Coast of the South Island, see photographyworkshops.co.nz.

Once lockdown is over, learn a new skill while you travel at Auckland Fish Market's Seafood School. Photo / ATEED
Once lockdown is over, learn a new skill while you travel at Auckland Fish Market's Seafood School. Photo / ATEED

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The Akaroa Cooking School's harbourside location is a brilliant spot to learn to recreate the flavours of past and future travels in Spain, Italy and Southeast Asia. There's a strong focus on harnessing local produce and ingredients. In Auckland, the Auckland Seafood School at the Auckland Fish Market offers briny-fresh experiences with the flavours of Vietnam, Mexico, Japan and the Pacific.

4. Be kind (to yourself)

Take the opportunity to focus on your own physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing by spending time in a retreat. Easily reached from Auckland or Hamilton, Coromandel's Mana Retreat Centre is a relaxing place to combine meditation and yoga, and specialist weekends embracing music and dance are also available. On Auckland's West Coast, Te Wahi Ora Women's Retreat has been offering relaxing escapes for 25 years, with holistic life coaching, massage and counselling combining with restorative beach and bush walks along Piha and in the Waitākere Ranges.

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Be kind to yourself with a holiday focused on wellness, like Glenorchy's Aro Ha Retreat. Photo / Supplied
Be kind to yourself with a holiday focused on wellness, like Glenorchy's Aro Ha Retreat. Photo / Supplied

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Aro Ha Retreat's luxury Glenorchy location blends sub-alpine walks and cookery classes with yoga, massage and mindfulness. It's dubbed a "wellness adventure" and time spent rebooting and recharging at Aro Ha also includes a wholefoods vegan menu and spa therapies.

5. Discover second cities

The nation's big three of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch offer significant urban appeal, but negotiating city traffic can be a hassle, so consider venturing to smaller, more manageable regional centres. Napier's Art Deco architecture is partnered by the Spanish Mission style of nearby Hastings, while the surrounding Hawke's Bay region of food, wine, beer and cider is compact and easily negotiated. Relatively isolated on the east coast of the North Island, Gisborne's attractions include more great wine, the sylvan walking trails of the Eastwoodhill National Arboretum and the opportunity to commune with stingrays on Dive Tatapouri's reef tour. Invercargill has brilliant museums for motoring buffs including Bill Richardson Transport World, the Classic Motorcycle Mecca, and the Burt Munro World's Fastest Indian exhibition at E Hayes & Sons.

New Plymouth's Social Kitchen. Photo / Supplied
New Plymouth's Social Kitchen. Photo / Supplied

Recommended Experience

Combine the arty appeal of New Plymouth's Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Centre with restaurants such as Social Kitchen, Ms White and Polpetta.

6. Focus on sustainable and ethical

Welcome to the best time for a reset for the global tourism industry, ideally with an increased spotlight on local operators focusing on sustainable and ethical outcomes. For case studies and news on tourism companies that have signed up to the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment, see sustainabletourism.nz. Highlights include EcoZip Adventures on Waiheke Island, San Souci Inn in Golden Bay and the hip Sherwood Hotel in Queenstown. North of Auckland in Matakana, the Sawmill Brewery is the only New Zealand craft brewery to have been awarded B Corp status, an international certification reflecting a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. To explore eco-aware and sustainable accommodation and hospitality businesses around the country, check out the handy regional map on ecofind.co.nz

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French Pass to d'Urville Island. Photo / MarlboroughNZ
French Pass to d'Urville Island. Photo / MarlboroughNZ

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Driftwood Eco-Tours offer multi-day tours exploring remote D'Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds and 4WD explorations of remote sheep stations and rural areas around Hanmer and Kaikōura.

7. Support Māori experiences

Experiencing Māori culture has traditionally been a key attraction for international visitors to Aotearoa. It's estimated more than 14,000 people are employed in Māori tourism, representing a fifth of all small- to medium-sized Māori businesses, and Māori are twice as likely to be employed in the tourism sector than the overall New Zealand workforce. A good online resource listing Māori-owned and oriented tourism experiences is maoritourism.co.nz, with NZ Māori Tourism listing operators as diverse as Footprints Waipoua exploring the kauri forests of the Hokianga, and Āmiki Tours, who weave cultural storytelling into their urban walking tours of Christchurch/Ōtautahi.

Journey with Dunedin's Horizon Tours to the Otago Peninsula to learn about the southern night skies from the perspective of Māori myths and culture. Photo / Hayden Parsons, Dunedin NZ
Journey with Dunedin's Horizon Tours to the Otago Peninsula to learn about the southern night skies from the perspective of Māori myths and culture. Photo / Hayden Parsons, Dunedin NZ

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Journey with Dunedin's Horizon Tours to the Otago Peninsula to learn about the southern night skies from the perspective of Māori myths and culture.

8. Explore your own city

Staying closer to home, it's easy to explore the cultures and flavours of the world. Plan a series of foodie-focused micro-breaks in a specific neighbourhood by diving into Chinese regional cuisine along Auckland's Dominion Rd (once we're out of lockdown, of course), or by checking out the global food stalls at popular weekend events like the Riccarton Farmers' Market in Christchurch or Dunedin's Otago Farmers' Market. For up to date listings of Auckland's food trucks serving international flavours, see aucklandfoodtruckcollective.com.

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Pencil in the Auckland International Cultural Festival – usually held around late March-early April for the opportunity to meet migrant communities making the city the most diverse and cosmopolitan in the country. Definitely come hungry to experience the huge array of international flavours and street food.

For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew