Travel: New Zealand
More than just Kiwis and Lord of the Rings, New Zealand blends cosmopolitan attitude with some of the Southern Hemisphere’s most spectacular scenery—and it’s surprisingly easy on your wallet
New Zealand is the ideal warm-up during a U.S. winter: cold months in the Northern Hemisphere correspond to warm months in the Southern, with long, sunny days and pleasant temperatures in the 70s. Large areas of New Zealand are designated as National Parks; they and the surrounding villages offer take-your-breath-away mountain scenery, indigenous Maori culture, world-class wineries, beaches, glaciers, waterfalls, and—a Kiwi specialty—a great café scene.
The antipodean nation boasts an open and easygoing attitude, though it’s somewhat more conservative than Western Europe. New Zealand was the first country in modern times to give women the vote—back in 1893. Same-sex marriage isn’t legal, but civil unions for both same-sex and opposite-sex partners have been in place since 2005. A Kiwi politician, Georgina Beyer, became the world’s first openly transgender Member of Parliament in 1999. More recently, one of the country’s biggest pop stars, Anika Moa, made headlines when she entered into a civil union with her partner, burlesque performer Azaria Universe.
Lesbian travelers can expect to feel welcome everywhere in New Zealand. Kiwis are known for their friendliness, which trumps a general bashfulness about sexuality. Even in small towns, the most insensitivity you’re ever likely to face is one or two people who might ask if you and your girlfriend are sisters.
Best of all, a vacation in New Zealand is a great value. Prices are cheaper, and standards are high. One U.S. dollar buys 1.33 New Zealand dollars (NZD) as of October 2010.
Most travelers to New Zealand fly into Auckland on the North Island, the largest metro area in the country. If you need a day or two to recover from jetlag, the hip inner city suburbs of Grey Lynn (sometimes called Gay-Lynn) and Ponsonby are the hearts of the queer scene.
These ‘hoods have great restaurants and cafés including lesbian-owned Garnet Station (garnetstation.com) and Richmond Road Café (richmondrdcafe.co.nz) which Jacqui Stanford from GayNZ.com recommends for its cute
The Ponsonby Road restaurant circuit features a concentration of LGBT-friendly food and wine spots. Hannah Jennings-Voykovich, editor of Express, New Zealand's LGBT newspaper, recommends SPQR (spqrnz.co.nz) and Ponsonby Road Bistro, which has a lesbian head chef and maitre'd (ponsonbyroadbistro.co.nz).
Karangahape Road, which locals usually call K’Rd, is Auckland’s happening bar and club area. Try Kamo (382 K’Rd) for early evening drinks, the Naval & Family (at the corner of K’Rd and Pitt Street) for a chill, no-pressure pub atmosphere, or D.O.C. Bar (352 K’Rd) for a youngish, vintage rock n’ roll vibe. For late night beats, head to LGBT-friendly yet mostly-straight Khuja Lounge. It’s just off K’Rd on Queen Street (khuja.co.nz).
If you're in Britomart, the central city transport hub, Hannah recommends Smith Bar (smith-bar.co.nz), Agents and Merchants Restaurant and Tapas Bar (agentsandmerchants.co.nz) and the next door Racket Bar (racketbar.co.nz) for impressive cocktails and chic atmosphere.
Visitors planning to crash in Auckland for a few days should check out Big Blue House, a centrally located, lesbian-owned B&B
(thebigbluehouse.co.nz) with affordable prices. For more lesbian-friendly hotel recommendations in town, see womentravel.co.nz. Don’t forget sightseeing in Auckland: walk up the dormant volcano on Rangitoto Island or take an inexpensive ferry ride to Devonport for great views of the Auckland Harbor.
New Zealand’s cities are pleasant, but the real adventure lies in the countryside. If your trip is less than two weeks, spend it in Queenstown, a region on the South Island known for stupendous scenery—it’s queer-friendly, but the lesbian scene is subtle.
From Auckland, New Zealand Air (airnewzealand.co.nz) or Jetstar (jetstar.com) offer regular flights to Queenstown. Travel around the Queenstown region can be accomplished without a car by booking day tours and using buses. Some destinations, like remote Curio Bay, will require renting a car. Driving is on the left, but visitors get used to it quickly. The awesome lesbian couple who owns Aspen Lodge Backpackers (aspenlodge.co.nz), Sally Woods and Mandy White, have lived in Queenstown for the past eight years and can give visitors the lowdown on everything local. They recommend Vudu Café (vudu.co.nz) for a casual breakfast or lunch and Botswana Butchery for a more upscale dinner. Halo Café has dairy-and-gluten-free options. The region around Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s main wine-growing regions and is particularly renowned for Pinot Noir. Many wineries offer tastings, including lesbian-owed Desert Heart Vineyard (desertheart.co.nz).
Don’t miss world-famous Milford Sound, a colossal fjord surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges. A two-hour cruise includes
awe-inspiring views, penguins, dolphins, and waterfalls everywhere. A luxurious fly/cruise option costs NZD $465 from Air Fiordland
(airfiordland.com). The more affordable bus/cruise option costs $175 (mitrepeak.com/packages) but the bus trip is five hours each
way. For hikers, the four-day Milford Track is one of New Zealand’s officially designated “Great Walks”; you’ll need to book your
reservation far in advance. Get locals’ prices by booking direct with the New Zealand Department of Conservation (doc.govt.nz/
The town of Wanaka is an hour from Queenstown and makes a great alternative base or place to visit with a more upscale feel. All the same activities—skydiving, paragliding, river jet boating, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, golf and more—as in Queenstown are available, but the experience is less touristy and more custom-made.
Lesbian-run Criffel Peak View B&B and Apartment (criffelpeakview.co.nz) comes very highly recommended for Wanaka lodgings. Proprietor Caroline Holland recommends visiting the award-winning Bald Hills Vineyard for wine tasting (baldhills.co.nz), taking a thrillseekers' jet boat ride up the Matukituki Valley (wanakariverjourneys.co.nz), and, if money’s no object, a helicopter ride over the 300 glaciers that make up Mount Aspiring National Park.
New Zealand’s towns boast their own quirky style. In Arrowtown, about 20 minutes from Queenstown check out Dorothy Browns (dorothybrowns.com). It’s a 55-seat boutique cinema where film fans can order wine and a board of local cheeses with movie tix.
For the extreme explorer, try Curio Bay in the Catlins. It’s a four-hour trip from Queenstown to the very southern tip of New Zealand. Sally Woods of Aspen Lodge Backpackers recommends Curio Bay's Nick Smart, “the ultimate easygoing Kiwi nice guy,” for inexpensive surfing lessons. Rent a cottage, see bottlenose dolphins and seals, and watch penguins come into the shore at night. Just remember to get cash and groceries before you go—the easiest place to stock up en route is in Invercargill.
Another activity on any visitor’s bucket list should be a bus ride or self-drive to spectacular Fox Glacier, about four hours from Queenstown. This year-round destination—a 13-kilometer sheet of ice amid mountains and valleys—is accessible on foot. Trekkers can walk onto the glacier in less than 30 minutes from Fox Glacier town.
Nature lovers shouldn’t miss Punakaiki on the South Island’s west coast for phenomenal coastal scenery, a roaring sea, a chilled-out vibe, and gorgeous rainforest walks. The beaches and walks around the Abel Tasman National Park and Queen Charlotte Sound, both at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, are great places to visit in summer. If possible, avoid visiting between Christmas and the end of January when New Zealand children are on summer vacation and bookings are tight.
Can’t decide which region to explore? Try this method of narrowing your choice down: pick your favorite New Zealand wine—many
are widely available in the US—and plan your visit around the region in which it’s produced. Knock back a glass of red during sunset—you can’t go wrong.