New Zealand is like an iceberg – there's a lot more beneath the surface. The largest cities (Auckland on the North Island and Christchurch on the South Island) have a busy bee vibe and vibrant gay communities. The smaller places are laid back (like Whangarei in Northland and Queenstown in the Southern Alps region) but provoke “I love it here” comments.
For a dozen straight years, New Zealand has been a top destination for out travelers. Since the pandemic, the desire to flee to the far flung island nation known for its pristine natural surroundings, breathtaking backdrops, and Kiwi hospitality has risen exponentially.
Happily, more travel operators are “getting it” and have laid out rainbow welcome mats and flags. Gay welcoming accommodations and tours are everywhere now, but for those who want gay exclusive or women-only/men-only experiences, they are easily found in all the NZ tourist meccas.
According to the guide books, you could spend a week per island – just covering the highlights. Hiring a campervan for four weeks would get you below the surface and a good look at Aotearoa - the Land of the Long White Cloud.
ROAD TRIP TIPS
A road trip of any duration should begin with Tourism Radio (a GPS system that lets you know where you are, know where to go and know what to do) plus a pin-up poster that says “leave your worries behind.” You can self drive in a sporty car, or leave the driving to the sightseeing coach experts. Either way, the sights and sounds of New Zealand will amaze and soothe you.
My most recent detour was getting on the road from Auckland to the Bay of Islands - north of Auckland on the East Coast towards the top of the North Island. February's sunny skies and warm weather beckoned me across the big pond from arid Adelaide to evergreen Kiwi-land.
Like most travelers, I visited Auckland on my first trip to New Zealand, long enough to enjoy slow food and wine in Ponsonby, and a drive around the City of Sails with two stunning harbors and many marinas. (Every fourth Kiwi owns a boat, and 1.4 million coastal lovers live in Auckland – a third of the nation's population.)
Seeking somewhere new, I chose the Bay of Islands for an indulgent escape from Auckland before returning for the Big Gay Out event in Coyle Park. Bay of Islands was so awesome I had no trouble understanding why so much of New Zealand's story commences here. First settlers, Treaty of Waitangi, first government, first tourists.
The road from Auckland leads to twin-coasted Whangarei, the gateway to the Bay of Islands region. The cluster of 144 islands is dotted with tiny places named Opua, Pahia, Russell and KeriKeri – all with gay places to stay and gay welcoming operators like the overnight cruise on the Ipipiri (operated by Fullers Great Sights).
After two days of kayaking, snorkeling, arts & crafts shopping and sampling the seafood and local beverages, it was hard to depart. Next visit I'll stay longer and dedicate time to play a round of golf (with ocean views), paddle to the Haruru Waterfall, soak in a hot tub overlooking the Waitangi River, and relax with Baystay B&B hosts Niek and Rob (transplants from The Netherlands).
Back in Auckland, a side trip to Waiheke Island was on my agenda for sculptures by the sea and a cuppa with Tim and Matthew at Moana Vista B&B – but missed the sunset and last ferry so it is another reason to return to NZ.
Go | Stay | Play
Playing There - Things to See & Do