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Why New Zealand should be on your travel wish list for 2022

New Zealand has lifted its border restrictions to UK travellers, two years after imposing them. And this year, all eyes will be on must-see sporting celebrations and new experiences that embrace Māori culture.

An iconic view of Queenstown.

Photograph by Getty Images
Published 8 May 2022, 06:06 BST

In winter, the reappearance of the Matariki constellation in the night sky heralds the beginning of the Māori New Year, a period of reflection and revelry that will be officially recognised as a public holiday for the first time this year. From 21 June to 16 July, the entire country comes alive with communal feasts showcasing Indigenous cuisine, as well as art exhibitions, night markets and buzzing street parties. Celebrate among the country’s oldest Māori settlements in the Bay of Islands, mix stargazing with feasting at Mount Cook, or be dazzled by the annual light show in Christchurch.

Fully vaccinated travellers from the UK and Europe no longer need to isolate on arrival. A negative pre-departure test — PCR, LAMP or Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) — is required, as well as a negative RAT on arrival and on day five or six. For more travel guidance visit the government’s travel advice website

Follow in the footsteps of Kupe

It’s been nearly 1,000 years since Polynesian explorer Kupe first pulled up his wooden boat on the forested shores of Hokianga, an area north of Auckland. His arrival marked the beginning of a long ancestral journey that would eventually see his bloodline settle on these newly found lands. Kupe’s epic journey has now been vividly brought to life by his descendants at Manea Footprints of Kupe. The new immersive and multi-sensory storytelling experience weaves together art, artifacts, film and live dance against the backdrop of Hokianga’s stunning harbour. Tickets from NZ$65 (£34).

Embrace modern Māori art 

With its curved edges, mismatched windows and golden dome, the Hundertwasser Art Centre feels like a collaboration between Antoni Gaudí and Tim Burton. The new museum in Whangārei is dedicated to the work of late architect and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, but inside you’ll also find the Wairau Māori Art Gallery — the country’s first exhibition space dedicated to contemporary Māori art. The gallery will host three exhibitions a year, curated by leading Māori curators, with artworks reflecting both the Europe-derived and Maori cultures of New Zealand. Admission from NZ$21 (£11).

Discover geysers by night

The North Island’s Rotorua is a hotbed of geothermic activity — it’s belching fumaroles and roiling mud pools having inspired numerous Māori legends. It’s also home to one of the largest geysers in the Southern Hemisphere, the explosive Pōhutu. For the first time, Te Puia park invites visitors to visit the geyser and explore the volcanic landscape by night; join a Māori guide to discover the stories behind the geothermic wonderland, and keep an eye out for nocturnal kiwis hiding in the bush. Booking essential. Tours from NZ$50 (£26)

Greet the day from Maunga Hikurangi

Hail the morning sun from sacred Maunga (‘mount’) Hikurangi, one of the country’s northernmost peaks and one of the first places in the world to witness the start of each new day. Jump in a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a guide from the local Ngāti Porou tribe and drive to the summit, where nine carved pillars depict the legendary deeds of Māui, the deity believed to have fished New Zealand from the sea with a giant hook. As the sun rises, take part in a traditional dawn karakia (Māori blessing), enjoy a light breakfast and plant seedlings as part of a native tree regeneration programme. Tours from NZ$260 (£135).

Taste the flavours of Māori cuisine

‘Māra kai’ refers to the longstanding Māori practice of growing your own food and the positive impact this can have on local communities and the environment. The concept is becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand, with chefs adopting Māori cooking techniques and foraging practices. Among the restaurants leading the renaissance are Wellington’s Hiakai, which is bringing traditional ingredients like tītī bird, red matipo and mamaku fern to a wider audience, and Queenstown’s Amisfield, which employs expert foragers to help seek out hyper-local ingredients for its signature tasting menu. Keep an eye out for The Creation Dinner, a roaming storytelling and degustation hybrid event developed by Māori sisters Karena and Kasey Bird, winners of MasterChef New Zealand in 2014.

Four more dates for your diary

19-20 August: Beervana
Getting underway in the capital, Wellington, this summer is New Zealand’s biggest beer festival. Expect a two-day celebration of all things ale, with themed bars, silent discos, beer cocktails and plenty of good food. 

29 September-16 October: World of WearableArt
Fashionistas will be heading to Wellington for an extravaganza of fashion and theatre this September, as the World of WearableArt pairs cutting-edge designs with dance and aerial performances. 

8 October-12 November: Rugby World Cup
The rugby world’s eyes will be on New Zealand later this year, with the women’s Rugby World Cup kicking off in October. Matches will be held in Auckland and Whangarei, both on the North Island. 

20 July-20 August 2023: FIFA Women's World Cup
Jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, next year’s sporting spectacle will see 32 nations compete. Qualifiers are still underway, with ticketing information released in due course.

Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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