So this past Christmas, we made the trek back to show my family my native New Zealand. I grew up on the South Island in the quaint city of Dunedin. Just in case you're thinking of heading there, I will share some of the highlights and tips from our trip, which may only apply if traveling from North America.
TIP: Hawaiian Airlines recently started flying to NZ. Fares are competitive and they are the only airlines still serving free meals. Inflight entertainment was also free and had good variety. If you're a tall traveler, you'll want an exit row / bulkhead or aisle seat: for sure. Seat space can be quite compact.
Price flying from Bellingham airport or Portland airport. We flew from Portland and saved a few hundred dollars per ticket, stayed in an airport hotel with free breakfast and airport shuttle, and was able to park our car there the entire time for $25. Well worth the 2+ hour drive.
TIP: Stick to renting an automatic vehicle. You'll be driving on the left hand side of the road, possible navigating your way through a farmer moving his sheep. Why complicate things?
Travel during the U.S. Winter because it's summer there. Best months in NZ are January/February. We traveled in Mid-late Dec, and it was still fine, but not as warm as I was hoping for.
We flew to Honolulu on the big island of Oahu, and had an overnight layover, which was actually quite fun. It broke up the long flight and we had some beach and shopping time. It felt like a mini Hawaiian vacation. And of course, it was sunny.
Once in the downtown area, rodeo drive style shopping awaits you with all your favorite name brand stores. Look for the walkway with all the surfboards chained to the sides. If it wasn't so colorful, you might miss it. They call it the Surf Locker, and it leads directly to the warm sandy beach of Waikiki! Just down the street and across the road is the International Marketplace, where interesting local vendors peddle their wares and you can try and haggle for a good deal.
The next day we flew to Auckland (north island) then took an interisland flight to Christchurch (south island). We spent time with one of my aunts. She took us to a beautiful botanical gardens, the paua house, Quake City, the cardboard cathedral, and container pop-up mall. It was sad to see the toll on the city from these large quakes, but the people are resourceful, creative in continuing business, and determined to rebuild their beautiful city.